Wednesday, December 14, 2016

NOTES

You've spent weeks writing your latest draft, tightened the structure, nailed the characters, hit the arcs, refined the dialogue and you're finally happy with your screenplay... time to send it out.

Notes, feedback, or whatever you want to call them, are vital before sending your script out to producers, directors or agents. It doesn't matter how many years you've been writing, how far you are along with your career, everyone needs feedback on their work... EVERYONE!

The main reason for this is what I call 'Shite Blindness'. When you've been working on a screenplay for so long, reviewing, rewriting and working through several drafts, you are going to be too close to your work to be objective enough to see what's wrong with it and make the hard decisions. You might have an inkling something is wrong and not be able to put your finger on it. You might be completely blind to the screenplay's obvious faults. What you really need is an objective opinion on your work. And not just one persons, but several if you can.

I would recommened sending your screenplay out to at least two professional readers and three peers, for their thoughts. It's always better to have a fresh perspective on your screenplay than to go it alone and realise you have a gaping hole in your plot, just after you've pressed send on that email. If you don't actively seek feedback to help improve your screenplay, the producers, directors and agents you send your work to are going to notice its faults and you're just giving them an easy excuse to say no to you and your work. Get those problems with your screenplay sorted first, then send it out knowing it really is the best it can be.

Don't be tempted to rewrite your work while you're waiting for those notes. If you think of something make a note of it for later. Wait until everyone has come back to you and then read through those notes in one sitting. Leave them alone for a day. Cogitate on them. Then come back and read them once more.

Now's the time to compare each set of notes. If more than one person makes the same point, or mentions the same problem, then you can be sure that point is something you need to look at closely and deal with. There will be other issues raised, but if only one person mentions them you don't necissarily need to change them. It's up to you if you choose to or not. The only concerns you must address are the ones mentioned by more than one person.

Happy writing!


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

SUPPORT

Tim Clague ponders his next feature.
Being a writer can be incredibly isolating at times. It's even worse when you're starting out and it's just you and that blinking cursor and a half baked idea.

It's essential to connect with like minded people who know the pain of being a writer, people you can ask for advice, practice your pitches on, or just simply get drunk with, people you can trust to give it to you straight and tell you when your idea stinks like three week old halibut. Why? Because writing is a specialist skill with its own unique set of problems and only those who do it can understand and sympathise. Who else is going to understand the agony of spending three hours staring at a blank page, or the unbridled terror and panic when you realise your second act doesn't work an hour before a deadline?
Danny, Debbie, Steve and Adam.

Online connections are great, but there's nothing quite like meeting face to face with your peers and just chatting shit with them. They are vital not only for your mental health, but also to your career. So where can you meet these like minded people? Creating your own writers' group is one solution.

Me, Scott and the Tims.
Early this year I met up with fellow scribes Danny Stack and Tim Clague for a few beers and eventually the conversation came around to how many screenwriters there were in Bournemouth. Tim immediately suggested a Facebook group would be a great idea to bring us all together. "I've thought about one before," I piped up. "Brilliant," said Tim, and in his typical get-up-and-go style told me to "get on and organise a page then!" So I did... the Bournemouth Screenwriters Group was born and we now have sixty-three members.

So far this year we've met up three times and all three occasions have been extremely enjoyable, relaxed affairs. We even had two new members join us last night; a new writer Wayne and the Hollywood legend that is Tim John, author of Adventures in LA-LA Land and screenwriter of current box office smash A Street Cat Named Bob.

Wayne, Tom, Me and Scott.
So if you're sat at your computer on your own and need a little fellow writer company, or even just a hug, search out your nearest writing group and if there isn't one, start your own. Trust me, there are plenty of other writers out there equally eager to meet up with like minded people and share their experiences. As Tim would say... make it happen!

Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

UK SCRIPTWRITERS PODCAST

I've said it before and I'll say it again, writing is a lonely profession... but only if you let it be.

Those total legends and all round lovely chaps Tim Clague and Danny Stack have hit the nail on the head again with their latest UK Scriptwriters Podcast (which you can find here and here). Their monthly (or when they get around to it) podcast is always essential listening, fun, informative and something every one of you writers should be tuning in to.
The legendary Danny Stack and Tim Clague

Not only do they cover the basics, delve deep into a vast variety of screenwriting topics and concerns (some you may have never even thought about before) but they also conduct fascinating interviews with a wide range of important media people. Recent highlights include interviews with writer/producer Tony Jordan, writer/producer Chris Chibnall and agent Jean Kitson.

But it was this month's podcast that struck a chord with me, as Danny and Tim talked about writers' mental health and the importance of not isolating yourself. It was odd as I've been in a bit of rut lately and couldn't for the life of me figure out what was up. It wasn't until I listened to their podcast that I realised I had accidentally isolated myself and hadn't even noticed.

I've been so busy over the last few months, some weeks running around so much I was feeling a little like a headless chicken, that I had slowly cut myself off from my support network and real life , living breathing people. My communication up until yesterday pretty much entirely consisted of electronic communication and I had to really power up the little grey cells to figure out the last time I actually went out with my fellow writers or even my friends.

That's the problem you see, it's easy to get so involved in what you do, thinking you're time is at a premium and you need to spend as much of it in front of the computer as you can, that you can easily let human contact slip down your list of priorities, without even knowing you are doing it. It's a dangerous thing. Writing is a bloody difficult enough job as it is without making things more difficult by cutting yourself off from the world. I think a good proportion of writers are by nature introverts and even at the best of times it's difficult to get out there and mingle with like minded people. It's something that has to be done, not only for the progression of your career but also for the stability of your mental health.
Mmmm coffee

So Tim and Danny's podcast came as a timely reminder that I need to get out more, which is why I'm going to organise a Bournemouth Writers' drinking session for as soon as possible and when I've finished posting this blog I'm going to ring a writing friend who's just moved back to Bournemouth and arrange to meet her for a coffee next week.

Go and download Danny and Tim's podcast, phone a friend, arrange to meet for a coffee and don't let yourself become isolated. It's not good for the soul.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

LSWF 2016 PART 4

SUNDAY 4TH

The morning after the night before. I don't recall what time I went to bed... it was late and I had pickled myself in networking juice. Still, I was up at the crack of dawn and raring to go after a large, strong coffee and something to eat.

Sunday was all about making the most of any potential networking and going to that session I'm not allowed to talk about.

Script Editors
First up - A Day In The Life Of A script Editor. Great session. I really enjoyed listening to each of the speakers and how they dealt with notes and giving them to writers. Always good to get opinions from other points of view. I've had plenty of notes in my time. Some good, some bad, some utterly bonkers, but I've always sat down with the producers/directors/script editors, worked through the notes, come up with alternative suggestions where I can, agreed on changes everyone is happy with and then implemented them in an orderly and stress free manner... which was basically what the above session was about. Remember kiddies, a good script editor is for life, not just for (insert seasonal holiday here).

Second - Subtext; Writing For Depth and Impact. I'm hoping the video for this session is up on LSWF Connect soon, as I'm embarrassed to say the weekend's overload of information took its toll five minutes into this session and I fell asleep. Oops... sorry, Mr Pope, hope I didn't snore too loudly. However, I'm reliably informed it was an excellent session.
My Heroes

FIGHT CLUB!

Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! I want to watch the  film again! I'm planning on doing so with my dear lady wife ASAP. Jim Uhls' commentary was a lot different to Peter Iliff's Point Break approach. Jim kept the majority of his comments focused on the screenplay, the difficulty of adapting a novel (honestly never knew it was an adaptation... I know... book on order), the changes he made and the reasons behind them. Obviously, I can't go into more detail about these, as I'm not allowed to talk about it... shhhhhhhh!

Peter Iliff having a quiet pint or two.
The rest of the day was spent in a blur of networking, swapping cards, promising to email out more screenplays and trying not to drink the right amount of beer to make me an incoherent mess. I can't stress the importance of networking at LSWF enough. It's vital if you want to find work as a writer. Yes, I skipped a few session that day, but you can't beat quality networking.

And so ended this year's festival. I vaguely remember an overly excited guy shouting at me from a stage, telling me I was fucking awesome and to go out into the world and make it a better place... or something. I also vaguely remember standing outside The Globe on Baker Street, drinking beer, promising more people to send them my screenplays and marvelling at the fact Peter Iliff was getting pissed with us. Everything else is a little blurry. Maybe all that lovely information over the weekend was way too much for my grey matter and a bit of it dribbled out of my ears when I wasn't looking?

Happy writing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

LSWF 2016 PART 3

SATURDAY 3RD SEPTEMBER

The brilliant Hayley McKenzie
I woke up early and made my way to the Ackland Lounge for Hayley McKenzie's Crime/Mystery/Thriller Script Lab. I learned a great deal in those three hours from 9am to midday, not just from discussing my own project, but also from listening to what Hayley had to say about all the others' projects too.

Specific points I learned in this session:
  • Set the genre expectation.
  • If it's a thriller, is it exciting on the page?
  • If it's a mystery, will we want to spend six hours to find out the answer?
  • A 60-page thriller - turning points every ten minutes, five in all.
  • For a six hour TV serial, you need enough story to last. Most writers try to instinctively stretch their plot rather than put more in.
  • Give your characters more problems, more obstacles to overcome and send them to more places to find more clues.
  • A thriller has to have a threat to life.
  • Thriller - the protagonist is always firefighting the antagonist's plans. What is the antagonist's goal and plan?
  • Don't be afraid to force your antagonist into a corner. Let it happen and then worry about how to get them out afterwards.
  • You must make the tone of the show obvious and consistent. It can't change from episode to episode.
I came out of the session absolutely buzzing (and not because of the coffee), full of ideas and motivated to the maximum. I really wanted to jump on a train, get home and start writing... but I still had part of the weekend left. For me, this was definitely the best session EVER!

Ashley Pharoah - one of my writing heroes.
Next up came Showrunners: Staffing Up The Room and How You Can Get A Seat At The Table.

Again a brilliant session and very informative. It was great to get two differing points of view of what exactly a showrunners' job is and how Kim Revill and the legend that is Ashley Pharoah approached the job.

Then came the script to screen session of Point Break. I bloody love that film so I had been looking forward to its screening all weekend. It didn't disappoint!

Peter Iliff not only kept us entertained with details of how the screenplay evolved from his original idea, but also with his anecdotes of the people he worked with; James Cameron, Partick Swayze, Lori Petty and Tom Sizemore. He was insightful, funny and honest about his work on the film.

Chris Jones introduces the legend that is Peter Iliff.
Peter was actually a revelation over the weekend. Unlike most speakers who quickly return to the green room after their session, Peter hung about all weekend. He could often be seen mixing with fellow writers in the Final Draft Marquee and even came for networking drinks with us at the Globe on Sunday evening. Best of all he was very approachable and was more than happy to chat and answer questions. Peter, as far as I'm concerned, is an absolute legend.

By the time the evening came around I was brain dead from all the information that had been thrown at me. I had earned my bed by the time I finally crawled into it at 11pm.

Happy writing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

LSWF 2016 PART 2

FRIDAY 2ND SEPTEMBER

As usual with the festival opening, Chris Jones delivered his high octane, positivity reinforcing, highly motivating speech that had everyone on their feet whooping and hollering, whipping them up into a frenzy without the aid of caffeine or mainlining hard drugs. It was just the wake up I needed after a very long and busy day the day before.

I was totally ready for Pitchfest. Normally I would have prepared the hell out of this day, but because I had been working on a new commissioned feature, had a weeks holiday in Cornwall and spent the Bank Holiday weekend up at my parents, I didn't have any time to prepare. I found it strangely liberating.

I did research the pitch exes who were going to be there and I did decide which projects I was going to pitch to which pitch exes before hand, but I didn't practice my pitches one bit... not even the loglines. In fact, the only real preparation I did for the session was a few quick stretches to warm up and wake up before I entered the room.

Last year I learned all my of loglines off by heart but found when I pitched them they sounded flat and rehearsed. I even got badly tongue tied on one of them and fluffed the pitch magnificently. This year I was calm, relaxed and when I delivered my pitches I delivered them with passion. And I didn't do too bad. Out of the six execs I pitched, I had two positives and one possible and more importantly I had way more fun than last year.


The standout session of the day for me was Getting Commissioned in 2016: What the Broadcasters Want. It's always great to here what broadcasters are looking for and as soon as I got back home after the festival I made sure I followed up on every juicy morsel of information from this session.

And I even got to meet Karl Iglesias, who's book Writing For Emotional Impact I reviewed on my blog back in January 2015. He even signed my copy for me. You can read the blog post here.

Networking drinks. Always fun and a great way to meet many new and exciting people. Cards were swapped, friends made and beers sank. I was hyped at such a good day and could wait for day three.

Happy writing!






Wednesday, September 07, 2016

LSWF 2016 PART 1

WOW!

JUST WOW!

What a weekend. I'm still buzzing. The adrenaline is still pumping. And I'm still striking that superhero pose.
Strike the pose.

Four days of awesomeness that's like mainlining a barrel of caffeine while taking a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.

I fucking love my tribe.

THURSDAY 1st SEPTEMBER

Up at 5am. On the train at 6.11am. Arrived at Waterloo at 8.16am.

That gave me 44 minutes to navigate London to Regents University for the inaugural Drama Writersroom session with the amazing Danny Brocklehurst. Sweaty, out of breath and lugging two heavy bags I staggered up to reception and found myself arriving at the same time as Danny. I said hello, told him how much I was looking forward to the day and quietly snuck off for a quick caffeine fix.

The Drama Writersroom was amazing, even if the room we were allocated was like an oven and we were wilting within minutes. Being the first ever writersroom we were all, even Danny, a little unsure as to how things should work, but we soon got into our stride. We had been asked to watch Danny's BBC drama Ordinary Lies and come up with a character, a lie, or a true life story we could turn into an episode idea. We all pitched our idea and one was chosen.

What's my name?
The team then set about plotting the episode together. I found this a fascinating exercise. Immediately it was clear who the outspoken characters were in the room and which ones were quieter. I fell somewhere closer to the quieter end of the spectrum, mainly because a 5am start doesn't agree with me. But it didn't matter who was loudest, or who was quietest, everyone's opinion and ideas were listened to and slowly, after much debate, we began to piece together an episode.

There were times when I thought we would never agree. There were times when I thought we had nailed it, only for someone to highlight a gaping hole in our plot. But by the end of the day and with Danny's expert guidance we created a believable and coherent episode outline two of the team pitched to a panel of experts.

I was really proud of what we achieved.

I learnt a lot about myself, my ability as a writer and my place in the world I've chosen to inhabit. All valuable insights.

I hope they do the writersrooms again next year. I'll certainly be applying again. I'd also be happy to sign a waiver so whoever the showrunner is can use the idea created in the session as an episode of their show, while we the creators receive a thank you in the credits. I would get quite a kick out of that.


Other things I learned on Thursday:

  • Danny is an awesome chap and very approachable.
  • Danny drinks a lot of coffee.
  • Everyone loves nacho Pringles.
  • Protein bars are yummy.
  • The halls of residence at the university are actually not that bad and are very handy for staggering exhausted into bed at 10.30pm after consuming several bottles of networking lubricant.
  • I missed my friends.
  • I need to get involved more.
  • I fucking love my job.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

THE ELEVEN FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS

It's always great to receive positive feedback about the blog and it's especially humbling to be asked to read screenwriting books and review them here. And I've read a lot of books. My bookshelf is full of them.
For me, The 11 Fundamental Questions: A Guide to a Better Screenplay eBook would best suit those new to writing, but can also act as a refresher for the more experienced writer. Presented in a handy, easy to read sections, it makes a great reference tool to checklist your idea before you begin writing and to check you've covered everything when you have finished. Anyway, I'll let it's author Aaron Mendelsohn tell you more about it.
My name is Aaron Mendelsohn. I’m a working, produced screenwriter, a professor of screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University, and an elected officer and lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America West. 
I know there are a lot of screenwriting how-to books out there – I’ve read many of them – but I think I bring a unique perspective and angle to the table.  The perspective is that of a produced, employed writer who has worked consistently in all formats and genres for over 20 years. Currently, I have a feature film, a drama series and an MOW – a rare trifecta – in development at major studios and networks around town. 
As for the unique angle, The 11 Fundamental Questions: A Guide to a Better Screenplay is based on a story-breaking method I came up with a decade ago to help me craft and “stress test” my outlines, pitches and scripts. A couple years ago I started teaching my method in classes and seminars around the world, and the response I got – from professional and emerging writers alike – was “you gotta turn this into a book!” 
So I did.  
Hot off the presses is my first eBook, The 11 Fundamental Questions: A Guide to a Better Screenplay.  Breezy, intuitive and grounded in classic storytelling principles, the book lays out my method in eleven simple steps and offers loads of helpful tips and examples (and at 41 illustrated pages it’s a quick read).  Here’s another nice testimonial – 
"Just when I thought I'd learned everything about writing and running a show, Aaron's Fundamentals method super-charged the way I approach a story. Clear, concise, and practical, this is a must for screenwriters everywhere."
– Chris Brancato, Co-creator, writer and executive producer of the Netflix series "Narcos" 
You can find the eBook at www.11questionsbook.com 
Enjoy the read.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

WORKING AROUND THE KIDS AND SCHOOL HOLIDAYS

At a recent writers' event, I was chatting with a lead writer on a continuing drama who was telling me he and his wife had just had a baby. "How the hell do you get any writing done when you have kids?" he asked as he yawned so hard his jaw nearly dislocated.

We're already two weeks into the school holidays and I'm surviving... it can be done. Working from home with the kids on holiday, getting under your feet, asking for snacks every five minutes, begging you to take them up the park, screaming at the top of their eardrum shattering little voices a millimetre from your face demanding attention, moaning that they're bored and constantly trying to kill or maim each other, can be very frustrating for a working writer.

The ideal solution would be that you're earning enough money you're able to hire a childminder to keep them out of your way while you write your masterpiece. However, if you're like me and you don't quite have the money for that and you don't like palming your little terrors off on other people, then the school holidays can be a very daunting time. You're not allowed to tie your children up and stick them in a dark cupboard until school starts again, sell them to gypsies or even use chloroform to keep them quiet... I know, I've checked... apparently, the police and social services get a little cross with you if you try. So with those options restricted I've had to adapt my writing style over the years to ensure I can get my work done, keep the kids occupied and happy and retain my sanity. Here's how I do it.

Goals! What, sticking one in the back of the net for your team? No... just as your characters have goals in your screenplays, you have to have goals in order to survive the holidays without running the risk of a mental breakdown. That's goals for you as well as for your spawn. And there's one rule... we'll come to that in a second.

First things first. As a responsible parent, I will constantly monitor my children, check what they're up to and that they're safe. Dumping them in front of the TV with a bag of sugar is not good parenting. It's the school holidays. The kids are meant to be having fun. They're meant to be having that fun with you. And yes, you're meant to be enjoying it too. They've worked hard all year and now it's time to spend quality time with their parents, doing the crazy shit kids love to do. They're not really interested if you have a deadline. They are not an inconvenience. They are a privilege. They are your responsibility and you have to ensure they are safe and entertained at all times. So... to the rule!

The Rule: My boys know if I'm in my office working, or I'm on my laptop, I am not to be disturbed... under any circumstances... unless it's an emergency, or they've accidently set fire to the dog. Of course, the one rule is not really a rule as it's going to be broken a billion times a day anyway, but as long as the children KNOW and UNDERSTAND the rule, they are aware they run the risk of encountering Shouty Daddy if they interrupt me. You also have to be aware and accept that even with this rule you are going to be disturbed, but hopefully, it will only be for important things and less often. The rule is there to help make things a little easier.

Goals For You:

  • Set yourself writing targets, smaller ones than you would normally, so they are easier to achieve. When my boys were younger I aimed to write in five-minute sprints when they suddenly went quiet. Now they're older I can write for longer periods.
  • Set times for lunch and dinner and stick to them. Routine is a great help.
  • Aim to spend quality time with them for at least two hours a day, either taking them out somewhere special as a treat or enjoying a quick kickabout in the back garden. Whatever you decide to do, make it an adventure... kids love adventure.
  • Stay off your phone and actively enjoy this time with your kids. They'll enjoy it too and then they'll be more likely to leave you alone while you writing.
  • Prepare to be flexible and try and change your routine. Work in your office one day, in the back garden/down the park on your laptop the next.
  • Get your kids to help you prepare lunch, engage them and then sit down and eat with them. Talk to them while you do. Ask them what they would like to do in the afternoon, or the next day and what they enjoyed doing that morning.

Goals For Them:

  • Set up a points system. Give them a point for good behaviour and take away a point for bad behaviour. I start every day by giving them ten points each and then taking off points for bad behaviour during the day. At the end of the week if they've had more positive days than negative ones they get to spend a day or half a day, depending on how busy I am, with me uninterrupted doing exactly what they want to do.
  • Give them tasks to do during the day. At the moment I'm giving my boys one task a day they have to complete between 9am and 10am, which gives me an hour of solid writing every morning. Yesterday's task was to draw an invention. Alex (8) drew a factory that made rainbows. Today's task was to build a rocket out of lego. Dylan (5) built a sports trophy instead.
  • Ration their TV and games devices to two hours a day. I find one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon sufficient. If they know how long they have it avoids arguments. Make a big issue of how you're such a great parent when you give them an extra half an hour because they've been really good that day.

The holidays are survivable and you can get writing done with children around. Remember, children are for life, not just for Easter

and happy children will mean you'll get a surprising amount of work done.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

BBC TV DRAMA WRITERS' FESTIVAL

On Monday I battled train cancellations, hydrated myself against the heat and dodged many over excited Pokemon Go players to make my way to London and the BBC TV Drama Writers' Festival. And what a brilliant day it was.

As it was my first invite to the festival I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I was delighted to find it was a much more relaxed environment than other festivals I've been to. The speakers weren't hidden away in a green room and were very approachable. It was just a bunch of writer friends getting together to talk about what they love.

I even got to meet and chat with one of my writing heroes Jed Mercurio, without making a complete gibbering tit of myself... I think.

But the best bit, besides meeting Jed and the free food and wine, was the great advice from the speakers. Because everyone there was an established writer with at least one credit, the speakers didn't need to cover the basics and were much more informative. It was exactly what I needed.

As someone who meticulously plans what he writes, I found it very refreshing, and also a little scary to hear Jed Mercurio talk about how he never knows the ending of the series when he begins the writing process. On series three of LINE OF DUTY, Jed even went back and rewrote the first episode to kill off the planned series villain, played by the brilliant Daniel Mays. When I heard that my writer OCDs screamed at me not to listen anymore and run out of the room. I ignored them and I'm actually going to try and write a pilot episode of something new (without planning it... eek!) and just see where it goes... I may, however, end up dribbling in the corner of the room staring blankly at the wall, mumbling over and over to myself, "there must be a plan, there must be a plan, there must be a plan." We'll see how it goes.

Here are some of the other many valuable bits of advice I took from the day.

  • Unheard Voices: Kay Mellor - Drama is writing about people in society who don't have a voice.
  • Authentic plotting is very sought after. Research is key to this.
  • Pitching: Don't over prepare or you'll lose the punch to your pitch and it will be in danger of sounding flat.
  • Pitching: They want to hear what has driven you to write this story. What is it about the project that makes you passionate?
  • Children's TV: Good drama. International. Push everything further.
  • Returning series: Think the unthinkable and see how that changes things. Be bold.
If you have a TV credit, make sure you apply for next year. It's a brilliant and extremely informative day out.

Happy writing.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

AM I TOO OLD?

When I hit middle age I got a tattoo, started working out, took up karate, lost a stone and a half and worried far too much about my future and how little of it there was left. My biggest concern was career progression... would I drop dead before I managed to break into TV?
Oscar winner Julian Fellowes -
Photo copyright of AP

My first thought - Was I too old to have a writing career in TV? My second thought - TV producers are mainly looking for young writers eager to learn and easy to mould, right? My third thought - Why do I have hairs growing out of my ears?

Then I read this quote on one of Bangers's (Lucy Hay - Bang2Write) many informative pages:

It’s never too late!

"Bang2writers tell me all the time they fear they’re “running out of time”. But Julian (Fellowes) has a brilliant SECOND career as a screenwriter and only started in his middle age. As he says of GOSFORD PARK, “I was this fat, bald actor nearly fifty, suddenly writing a Hollywood film!” This could be any one of us, IF we keep going and keep ourselves open. 
Lucy Hay, 2016
He'll be sixty-eight this year and he's still writing. Blimey! Suddenly I didn't feel so old. There was hope for my creaking bones and failing memory. Maybe, just maybe my life experience, maturity (ha!) and wisdom were a valuable commodity in the world of TV production.

Then from the depths of my dodgy memory, I recalled a moment last year when a writer came to me asking me to give him feedback on his TV pilot. He had a couple of TV people interested in reading it and wanted to polish it before he sent it off. He showed a great enthusiasm for his work, a willingness to listen to alternative ideas and was open to constructive criticism... and he was seventy-three years old.

So I guess the lesson I learnt here is not to categorise myself. It doesn't matter who you are. It only matters what you write and how you approach your work. Age, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc, are labels. Great writing is great writing and eagerly sought by producers, directors, script editors and development executives alike.

Here's another great link from Bangers... enjoy! - Why It's Never Too Late To Start Writing Your Masterpiece.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

PLANNING YOUR STORY

I've always found story planning a pain, something akin to swimming up river wearing a suit made of concrete. That tricky second act is a bugger and often comes back to haunt me like last night's curry.

The way I approach structuring my writing has changed many times over the years and at the moment I'm using a combination of Blake Snyder's Save The Cat beat sheet and blank index cards.

I would always encourage new writers to follow beats and screenplay templates when they first start out, but once you've used them a few times and learned the rules of formatting and structure, it's then possible to be more flexible in your approach. You have to know the rules in order to mess around with them, to break them and create a unique way of telling your story. Even then templates are still helpful.

A few weeks ago I was approached by a new story planning website and asked if I would promote it. Those of you that know me know I don't just pimp any old thing. I don't have ads on my blog or my website for that very reason, so if I do decide to promote a service, site or book it's because I've checked them out thoroughly and I'm satisfied I would happily use them myself.

So it was with pleasure and a great deal of excitement that I dove right into the wonderful (www.storyplanner.com) and gave it a damn good testing. This new site not only gives you access to structure templates like Save the Cat, Syd Field, The Hero's Journey, the Moral Premise and more, but it also gives you more free form ‘Index Card’ style planning tools so you CAN break those rules. There are even templates for those novelists of you out there. How very handy! In fact, there are more tools to help improve your writing than you can shake a stick at, all on one handy website. Even better than that it's a free resource. Here's the official press release below. 
Story Planner offers the largest collection of writing plans online 
Story Planner aims to be the home for story planning online. The new website offers online tools for every aspect of screenplay preparation, from recording new ideas to crafting story structure, developing character outlines, creating log lines and synopsis, or planning scenes. Story Planner gives writers the opportunity to save their notes in project files, and prepare the groundwork for writing a novel, short story or screenplay.
Writers can choose from a range of popular planning methods including Save the Cat, The Hero's Journey, the Moral Premise, Syd Field’s Paradigm and many more. The site also offers a forum, with a facility to share a writing plan for feedback from other writers. Regular free to enter competitions give writers the chance to practise their story structure skills.
 
Joanne Bartley who founded Story Planner said, “I trained as a screenwriter and went from being a writer who wrote entirely instinctively to someone who loved the structure of a writing plan. I think structure plans can guide any writer’s creativity.” 
“I created Story Planner because so many writers use plans from books, character worksheets, or download or create spreadsheet templates, but there was nowhere that offered all of these in one place. So I made the Story Planner site to offer all my favourite plans and give writers the ability to save and edit the plans online.” 
Story Planner has collaborated with many authors and screenwriters to offer their plans online, including Karen Weisner, Graeme Shimmin, Stanley D. Williams (the Moral Premise), Libbie Hawker (Outline your books, for faster, better writing ), Randy Ingermanson (the Snowflake Method), and Save the Cat. 
Joanne said, “I wanted the site to offer a wide range of plans because I know writing methods are personal, so we designed the site so writers can ‘favourite’ their preferred plans ready to use for every project. I intend the site to grow over time, and welcome writers getting in touch with suggestions of new plans to add.”  
Story Planner is free to use, with premium membership offering additional features. 
For full details visit StoryPlanner.com 
Having said that, nothing quite beats the satisfaction of good old fashioned pen and paper.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

TURNING REJECTION INTO OPPORTUNITY

The first rough scene.
Last week I wrote about being rejected and how to shrug it off.

WONDERLAND was written a few years ago. The pilot episode has got me through quite a few doors and given me the possibility to pitch face to face with TV development execs. It's still my favourite TV script. So when the BBC Writersroom opened for drama submissions last year, there was only one screenplay I wanted to enter.

It was fantastic to get into the top 3% and equally disappointing to learn I hadn't made it further. I didn't let the rejection get me down. I could have done, but as someone who makes a living from their writing, I couldn't afford to. Besides, the BBC's feedback was heartening as they clearly liked it. It just wasn't for them. Maybe the next one will be. But it was the following line of their email that really caught my eye, "there are moments where the story feels like it could be a surreal graphic novel."


Mad Frank Hattman.
I've always fancied writing a comic or graphic novel and the more I thought about it the more I liked the idea. WONDERLAND would make the perfect graphic novel.

And that's where rejection turned into opportunity. I just happen to know a very talent artist. I sent him the screenplay. He loved it! He drew up some rough samples. He sent them to me. I loved them! And a new project was born.

Obviously, there's a long way to go. We're both very busy so this project will have to be worked on in our spare time. The pilot screenplay will have to be rewritten for a new medium. That means I'll have to research how it's done first. Then the other seven episodes will also have to be written. At the moment they're just brief one paragraph outlines. A webpage will have to be created, set up and promoted the hell out of. This is all long before the glorious day the first ten pages are actually released online.

The point is I could have easily deleted the email and forgotten about it. I could have moved on and continued work on my other projects. I didn't! That's how successful writers survive and thrive, they turn disappointment into something positive.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

REJECTION IMPACT

I didn't make the LSWF IMPACT 50... I also wasn't one of the ScreenCraft Fellowship Winners... and my wife won't let me buy a 4K 3D HD TV! You're probably thinking I'm close to taking my own life right about now, eh? WRONG!

Yes, I was disappointed - especially about the TV - but I'm not going to dwell on things. It would be too easy to rage against those who were successful and say, "I hate those smug bastards! I'm gonna hunt them down, find out where they live, wait until they go out, break in their home and do a poop in their cornflakes!" That's one way to deal with things I suppose, but it really is wrong to hate people who achieve what we all work towards. Why?

You have to remember they were us on Monday, fingers crossed in fervent hope, praying the writing gods would be kind, so we shouldn't deny them their success and happiness. After all, they have worked hard, struggled over several years, written and rewritten to get to where they are today... just like us. It was their turn. Think of them as a beacon, proof it is possible, a bloody great big flashing light of hope for all of us. If they can do it, why can't we?

Remember your rejection isn't personal, even if it does feel like it now. They didn't reject you, they just didn't pick your work, and that could have been for any number of practical reasons... it doesn't mean your work is shit. The question you have to ask yourself is, "Was I happy enough with my screenplay to submit it?" If the answer is yes then why are you now questioning its quality?

You might be entering the 'analyzing' stage at this point, asking yourself, "What the hell did I do wrong! What the fuck didn't they like?" Don't go there. The worst thing you can do as a writer is to go through your screenplay and ask yourself what the judges didn't like; what aspect of your screenplay lost you your place? If you start questioning what people don't like about your work, why they rejected it, you can start to loose your creativity. Yes, you need feedback, but blindly trying to guess why you didn't win a competition is only going to screw you up into a tiny little ball of frustration. I've been there. It's not good for you. Or those around you.

Shrug your shoulders, say 'oh well' and move on. There are other competitions, other characters to be created, other screenplays to sweat over. Your life is not over just because you didn't make it this time! There will be other opportunities.

When I learned of my two rejections yesterday I reminded myself I have a new feature commission to get on with. I am not doomed! My writing isn't drivel! I have faced rejection and stared it down. I've pinched the nose of despair, tweaked the nipples of destiny and grabbed my career by the balls. I am 'WRITER', hear me roar! Huzzah!

So if you were disappointed yesterday, shrug it off, dust yourself down and get on with something new. Be fucking awesome!

Oh, and as for that TV... my finger might accidently slip while browsing the Currys website. Just saying..!

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

THE CHARACTER JIGSAW

One of the obvious writing mistakes I made when starting out was trying to cram as much of my main character's back story into the first act as I could. Schoolboy error.

Like the vast majority of new writers I wanted to get everything in early, to set it all up as quickly as possible so I could get on with my plot. Consequently my first acts were nearly as long as my second acts.

Over the years I've read many books on how to write screenplays, how to structure, plot and where to put what, but the most fascinating books for me were always the ones that concentrated on character. Here are a few things I learnt reading about and developing my own characters.
  • Your main character doesn't need to be good, just interesting.
  • Everyone is flawed no matter how perfect they might seem. Even Jesus had a temper.
  • Everyone has their own wants and desires that drive them. How far is your character willing to go to achieve them and who are they willing to climb over in the process?
  • Look at your plot from every character's point of view. How do they see it? 
  • Not every character learns and grows, some will stay the same.
  • Occasionally your characters will do something completely out of character, something that will add depth to who they are.
But the most important thing I've learnt is that even though you need to know everything you can about your character before you start writing, you don't have to reveal all of that information to make them work, or do them justice. Take the character of Anton in No Country For Old Men. What do we know about him? Not very much. We don't know why he's a killer, or what childhood trauma drove him to become one. His mysteriousness is part of who he is. Ultimately he's a far more interesting character because we don't know.

Character, unlike plot, doesn't need to be tied up or resolved at the end. Characters don't need to be laid bare, their motivations explained, who they are examined under a microscope. The richest characters for me are the ones who are not fully explained, the ones that have an air of mystery.

It's human nature to seek answers to what we don't know or understand. What caused the teenager with a stable family to sacrifice himself as a suicide bomber? What childhood incident caused a successful businessman to attack a taxi driver when he accidently took him to the wrong address? The media delve into the backgrounds of these people in an attempt to find answers, to justify why these people might do such things, to explain away what would otherwise be just too terrifying to contemplate. If there's an answer, an explanation, it's easier to deal with and accept.

For a writer this can be dangerous. We already know to get into scenes late and get out early, so why do we try and explain every facet of our characters and why they do what they do? Whether you love or hate Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight the Joker Heath Ledger portrayed was exactly the kind of character we all fear. He had no backstory, no motivation for who he was and he was a more terrifying character because of it; "Some men just want to watch the world burn."

So treat your character like a jigsaw. Don't try and complete him/her in the first act. Take your time. Feed the audience a piece here and there. Those little reveals of character throughout the screenplay add new, interesting layers to the characters you create and can add another dimension to the story you are telling.

And remember, with every jigsaw puzzle there's always at least one piece that goes missing, the one that drops down the side of the sofa, gets chewed by the kids or the dog, or the one sucked up in the vacuum cleaner.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

ENCOURAGING CHILDREN TO WRITE

On our last visit to my parents', my mother gave my eldest son Alex a leaflet for a short story competition. The challenge; between 750 and 1000 words on any subject he chose.

My son is very competitive. He loves football, karate and pretty much any sport. He excels at school and is in the top group for everything. However, he isn't very creative and it's a constant battle to tear him away from the games on his tablet. "This will be a challenge," I thought.

So I sat him down and tried to explain about good characterisation, the three act structure, and many other helpful writing tips. Five minutes in he crinkled his nose and looked up at me.

"Daaaaaad!"

"What's up," I said?

"I just want to get on and write it."

So I shut up and let him.

It took him nearly four weeks to write his story, writing and rewriting, asking me what I thought, erasing bits he didn't like and not once did he moan he couldn't do it. His enthusiasm was inspiring. It reminded me of how I feel when I'm in the zone. It was joyous to watch him as he beavered away in the corner of our living room, head down typing away at the laptop, occasionally staring into space while his little grey cells searched for the perfect word to compliment his story. I was so proud.

Alex finally finished his story last night, just before bed. He asked me to read it. I have to admit it was pretty good for an eight-year-old. Of course, now his entry is in I'll probably be asked about forty times a day if he's won it yet, at least until the results are finally published... but that's just Alex.

What's important here is he loved the process, had fun with it and worked hard to get those pesky elusive words down on the page. I hope his story will be the first of many... but that's just me.

Maybe one day he'll be writing his own screenplays.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

DECONSTRUCTING

On rare occasions, despite weeks of preparation, I find a screenplay isn't quite working.

It would be easy to sit there and fiddle with it, changing bits here and there in the hope that it all suddenly came together, but the reality is sometimes you have to take it apart, deconstruct and then rebuild, to discover what's wrong and to move it forward. I have a second draft at the moment which I reread the other day and have since come to the conclusion it would really benefit with being deconstructed. I could have tried to rewrite it like normal, but as it's such a great story I felt the extra effort of deconstructing it is a worthwhile effort.

By deconstruction I don't mean you should completely rewrite a screenplay from scratch, that would be terribly time-consuming and unnecessary. What I suggest is you separate each act, look closely at how it's constructed and rejig it if necessary. Yes, it is a little more work than simply going over and over your screenplay, again and again, rewriting the hell out of it, but it's worth it. So how do you go about it?

As I said above split your screenplay into acts, further splitting Act Two in half. It's far easier looking at a screenplay in smaller sections than it is as a whole.

Start with Act One and take a close look at where the beats occur. Are they in the right place? Are they strong enough? Then look at your characters. Are they appealing? Have you set them up sufficiently? Then look at your scenes. Are you getting in late and getting out early? Is there enough conflict?

The most common mistake I find in the first act, something I'm guilty of too with every single one of my first drafts, is that by spending so much time setting things up the act overruns by five to ten pages. Are there character bits you can use later in the script? Is there too much dialogue and exposition? Once you've looked at these things, rebuilt and rewritten, your first act will be in a much better place.

Then all you have to do is repeat this for the remaining three sections of your screenplay and you'll be laughing.

Sometimes it's necessary to revisit your original thinking, as your view on things will most likely have changed after you've written a few drafts. Deconstructing you screenplay is the best and most effective way to do this.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

THE ETERNAL PLOD

I've been quite lucky as a writer over the last six years.

The first year I went full-time freelance it was website work that kept me going financially, as it wasn't until the beginning of the second year I landed my first feature commission. From then on for the next four years, I was pretty much writing nonstop, going from one commission to the next until May last year. It was scary not to have another commission lined up for when I finished the project I was working on, but at least I had the time to write two of my own spec scripts and I had plenty of reading work to get on with. Still it was a worrying time and it began to play on my mind.

When would my next commission come? Would I ever work again? Was my career over just as it started? These thoughts and many other whizzed around my head, mocking, teasing, gradually eroding away my confidence in my writing ability and my career. Some of my commissioned projects stalled, others morphed, some transferred to different mediums and one almost went into production. But I kept going through all of it. I didn't have a choice.

I spent so many years chasing the Holy Grail of that first commission, I automatically assumed I had made it when I finally landed it and kept going. I was wrong. There's no such thing as 'making it'. During the quiet period last year I realised as a writer I'm only as good as my last successful project. It's not just a matter of being a good writer. My work has to get made and do well. Even then there's no guarantee I'll be working continuously when that happens.

There will be periods when everyone wants a piece of me, when everyone wants me to come in for a chat, when they offer me TV episodes, when they want to work with me. But like all things in life, there will be quiet times when there's not much going on. It's those times I have to work my hardest, keep plodding away even when some days I want to do anything but.

I think of myself as a shark. I have to keep swimming to survive. I can't stop... ever! If I do I'll die. Even when there's nothing around to feed me I have to keep going and going and going and going and going until there is. I can't sit back and wait for things to come to me. There's only one way to go and that's forward. There is no other direction.

I've slowly learned to make the most of the opportunities I'm given and not worry too much when things are quiet. It's not a matter of 'if' something else comes along, it's only a matter of 'when', but if I'm not working towards that it's never going to come.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

WHY FEEDBACK IS IMPORTANT - BLOG REWIND

This blog was originally posted 13/06/2012 and has been edited.

My agent read my treatment and then emailed me yesterday to say it was nearly ready, but could I add a couple more bits to clarify a relationship. I've spent just over two months working hard on the treatment, going through several drafts. I could have easily said, "I'm done, it's ready, send it out," but my agent's feedback, like any good feedback, is vital. Working on anything for that length of time and that closely, can blind you to its faults. You need a fresh pair of experienced eyes.

Feedback on your script/treatment/one page pitch is important, it helps you identify faults and give you the tools to correct them. It helps you to rewrite and rewriting is the life blood of all writers. Feedback is something every successful writer craves and actively seeks. Without it they die.


It's all very easy as new writer to spend weeks, maybe even months writing a screenplay and then think it's the bee's balls and as soon as you send it out it's going to be snapped up for bag full of money. I've made that mistake and so have many other writers I know. The truth is the first draft of anything is crap, no matter if you think otherwise. What makes us different is that we recognised our naivety and have worked hard since to make everything we write the best we can possibly make it. It's not been an easy journey, I can promise you that.

There are even new writers who actively avoid feedback, because they can't take criticism even when it's constructive. I've had nasty emails sent to me in the past after giving feedback, telling me I don't know what I'm on about and why can't I recognise the writer's obvious genius. All readers at some point get emails like that, it's unavoidable and very counterproductive for the writer. If the reader thinks your work isn't up to standard it's a sure bet a producer is going to think that too and will just send it back, or bin it. To improve at anything in life it's vitally important that you can take criticism, otherwise you won't advance, learn, or better yourself.

To make your screenplay the best it can be and of a standard that will make production companies sit up and take notice you have to have feedback and the right kind of feedback is important. Friends and writers at the same level as you are helpful for identifying the obvious faults, but for more in depth analysis of your screenplay you need a professional reader and will have to pay for their services.

Why should I use a professional reader?

Most professional readers have been trained to identify what's wrong with a screenplay and offer suggestions on how to fix it. They are not just going by gut instinct. The better ones will have worked as readers for production companies so are well aware of the common faults in scripts submitted to producers and the reasons 99% of them are rejected.

Why should I pay for feedback when I can get my friends to give me feedback for free?

As above. If your friends are at the same level in their career as you their advice, although helpful, won't be at the level you need to help you take a step up. If you want experience and professional insight then a reader is a must, they are the ones to help you really get to the heart of your screenplay's problems and fix them. Even professional writers with long careers in TV and film use the services of readers, just to get another set of eyes to look at their work. You don't have to keep shelling out pound notes for several sets of notes on just one screenplay. Get your friends and fellow writers to feedback on it first, then when you think it might be ready pay a reader to take a look. That way you won't bankrupt yourself and will get the help you need. The benefits far out weigh any cost.
Happy writing!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

SACRIFICE

To be a writer requires sacrifice... a lot of sacrifice... and I don't mean chickens, virgins or your fellow writers. What I mean is hard work, dedication, going without the little luxuries in life and generally whatever it takes to build and sustain a successful writing career.

I read this article on Facebook yesterday - WORK ETHIC

It is a brilliant response from a writer to a young woman who complained on social media about how little she was paid by her employer, was then consequently sacked because of the post and later went back on to social media to beg people for money so her standard of living wouldn't drop while she looked for a better paid job. The writer went on to explain all the hard, horrible, humiliating jobs she had worked over the years to feed, clothe and house herself so she could achieve her dream of writing as a career and questioned the young woman's work ethic.

Nothing good comes easy. A career needs to be worked at. No one is going to come to you and offer you employment as a writer if you haven't put the hard graft in before hand, or are willing to continue to do so. You don't get anything for free and no one owes you anything. If you're thinking of someone who's an exception and you're about to counter my argument with their example... then you deserve to fail in your career aspirations. Yes there are exceptions, but you honestly would have better odds of winning the National Lottery than walking into a fully fledged writing career on the back of your first completed screenplay. If you become the exception then good luck to you, but if you're waiting around for it to happen then I want to thank you, as there's now one less writer in the world I have to compete with.
It took me ten years to get my writing career off the ground. Ten years working evenings and nights in an awful job, sometimes coming home in the early hours in tears because I hated it so much, so stressed out I barely slept for weeks in a row. Ten years of sacrifice so I could support my wife and children, which meant no holidays abroad and only the one week away a year somewhere in the UK thanks to the kindness of relatives, turning down friends' invitations and staying in at weekends and at one point selling pretty much all of my belongings - my extensive DVD collection, books, games and anything else that would bring in money - so my family could eat and live in a safe, warm home.

Despite the fact my career took off five years ago I still work several part-time jobs during the evenings and weekends to ensure a steady supply of income, as writing for feature films can pay so sporadically, regular income isn't guaranteed. At one point I was writing full-time during the day and working three part-time jobs during evenings and weekends, which obviously took me away from my family and left me feeling exhausted on the rare occasions I was at home. With five features behind me and work on the sixth about to start soon I have been able to drop one of those part-time jobs and spend a little more time with my family, mostly at weekends which I try to keep clear, but my career progression still requires a huge amount of sacrifice and I'm sure this will never change.

That's why writing is so difficult, so daunting and why so many talented people unfortunately give up and pursue other careers. If you understand what is required of you and you are prepared to put the hours in, then writing can be very rewarding, but it takes a great deal of stubbornness and resilience to get there and stay there. If that's you, then...

Happy writing.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

SOMETHING FOR NOTHING


I came across this advert last week.


"Apply to: XXXXXXXXXXXXX 
Type: Screenwriters/Scripts 
Location: London Duration: 
Starts shooting in September, starts ASAP 
Salary: Expenses Paid: This is a unpaid job 
I would like you to write and edit the 500 page teleplay, treatment and synopsis of the limited feel good young adult friendly ensemble drama series 'In Between the Lines' It's a very special project and it's expected to shoot on location in London. The plot goes like this: A group of eight friends – Charlie, Stuart, Derek, Raymond, Frances, Jane, Amanda and Lesley are trying to navigate through life while maintaining their friendships in their young adult lives. 
Title will appear in the beginning and credits will appear in the end of each episode. The film's overall target budget will be medium. 9.00 pm would be suitable for this programme. You have got 8 weeks to write the 500 page television script, treatment and synopsis and this will be done. 
I still need to secure financing for this programme. I'm a writer of story ideas. I didn't produce anything in the past so I'm not a producer. When the script is done you'll send the script to me so that I can read it. Then I'll send it to the producers once I read the script. I haven't got a plot to follow just stay as it is. 
What do you think? 
The expenses will be covered for screenwriter. This is a unpaid job. The expenses cover credits, travel expenses and food. The shooting will take place on 10th September-20th November 2016 in London in the UK. 
Contact me if you are interested."

When you're a new writer without a credit it's very tempting to snatch up the first writing gig offered to you. I'm not saying you should never work for free when you're starting out as a writer, but there's a difference between progressing your career and being taken advantage of. The above is a very clear example of the type of project you should avoid. The reasons..? The clues are in the ad - the publisher admits he has no experience as a producer, there's a large amount of work required by the writer, the time frame for the work is unrealistic, he hasn't raised a single penny towards the production and there's a distinct lack of any offer of deferred remuneration. In other words... AVOID AT ALL COSTS! Sometimes however, things may not be so black and white.

WHEN TO WORK FOR FREE.

Finding directors willing to make short films is easy, identifying the ones that will actually get them made and to a professional enough standard is a little harder. Here are two examples of times I was asked to work for free.

My first short film AGN was written specifically for a group of young filmmakers, who I knew all worked for their local television station. They had access to the equipment they needed and they also informed me the film would be broadcast on TV once it was made. It was the exposure I was looking for and after the film was aired, I was able to use it as proof of a broadcast credit when I came across competitions, courses or schemes that required one to participate in. The film makers benefited too, ending up with a project professional enough to showcase their talents to their bosses and any future employer.

Another director, a student, approached me via email asking me if I would write him a short film screenplay, which he would pay me for. I wrote the screenplay to the brief he gave and emailed it to him. He was delighted. I then invoiced him for my time only to receive a reply informing me he wasn't going to use my screenplay and therefore wasn't going to pay me. I Googled his name and after five minutes of research I discovered he had placed adverts on several websites in the previous week offering to pay other writers under similar circumstances. It was quite clear he never intended to pay all of the writers that applied, maybe not even the one he whose project he eventually used. He was simply trying to get as many screenplays as possible about the subject he wanted to film, so he could choose the best one for his project. I should have checked him out first and never got involved with. Lesson learnt.

It's a good idea before agreeing to any unpaid work to ask yourself, 'what are they aiming to do with the finished screenplay and what, if anything, will they gain from the finished film?' If it's obvious they are going to gain monetarily from the film, or that's their aim, and they insist you'll get a credit and rave on about how it will be great exposure for you without offering you a penny, then alarm bells should already be ringing.

If you're unsure about whether you should work for free or not, it's always wise to do an Internet search on the person asking (beforehand), or politely email a friendly, more established writer you know on the interwebs, and ask for their opinion on what is being proposed. You will make mistakes, as I have, and you will learn from them, to the point where you will be better at differentiating between the con artists and those who are genuinely offering you an opportunity.

CONTRACTS

Always have a contract... ALWAYS! And if you're not sure about the contract get it checked out. The Writers' Guild of Great Britain offer a contract vetting service

MONEY UP FRONT

Every writer, regardless of experience, should be to be paid for their work. Always ask if there is development money. If there is some available try to get most of it up front when you sign your agreement and the rest when you hand in the finished work. If you're told there isn't any ask them if they would be willing to pay you a small amount up front to cover your cost of living expenses while you're writing the screenplay. This is a reasonable request and one most people won't object to. If they do you have to ask yourself why that is?

DEFERRED PAYMENT

Deferred payment is an acceptable solution, but only if the project has an excellent chance of being made. It's no good having a deferred payment if the film is never going to go into production. In this case ask the following questions of the project - Is this project commercial? Does the producer/director have the connections to get this made? Are they experienced? Do they have a track record? Do they have a distribution deal in place? Are they planning to enter the finished project into festivals and competitions? If the answer to all of these questions is no it's a good bet the offer of deferred payment is not worth the paper it's printed on. Politely turn them down and get on with your next spec.

SHARE OF PRODUCER'S PROFITS

This one is also dependent on how commercial your project is, the distribution deal and how likely the film is to make money, if any. This share will be in addition to your deferred payment, so be wary of people offering you this as your only form of payment. Remember if the film doesn't recoup its costs you won't see a penny. It's better for a writer to agree a deferred payment, the bigger the better, with a share of the producer's profits as an additional payment, especially if the film's budget is low, as your deferred payment will usually be a percentage of this and therefore won't be very much.

DON'T BE AFRAID TO SAY NO

If you're not sure about an offer you've been made don't be afraid to say no. I know you may think if you turn this opportunity down you may never get another, but I can assure you, if your writing is good and you network enough, you will. Don't take on an unpaid job just because you are desperate to kickstart your career and it's the only opportunity that has been offered to you. Only take the offer if you are 100% sure it's the right one for you.

If in doubt... ask. There are plenty of writers out there on the interwebs making a living from their words, who would be more than happy to give advice born of their experiences. But again if you are going to follow their advice make sure you check their credentials first.

The simplest way to check if it's a good project to work on is to politely email an agent from a smaller agency (not a large one, because if you're not being paid mega bucks they won't be interested)  and ask them if they wouldn't mind checking over the contract with a mind to representing you on a one off basis. If they agree to and turn you down after they have read the contract, it's a good bet the project isn't one worth getting involved with. After all if they think you're not going to earn any money then they aren't either.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

PROCRASTINATION

I have to be active on social media to promote my business and I also have to actually sit down and write on occasion, or I won't have anything to promote. But when does being active on social media start to become procrastination? If I spend too much time on social media I feel guilty I'm not writing enough and if I ignore it I feel like I'm not making enough of my networking chances. Sometimes my head hurts thinking about it all.

I try and work to a schedule and my latest one looks a little bit like this:

Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
09.00 - 09.30 - social media.
09.30 - 12.00 - writing.
12.00 - 12.30 - lunch and social media.
12.30 - 15.00 - writing.
15.00 - 15.45 - pick the boys up from school.
15.45 - 16.30 - writing.
The rest of the day - social media.

Wednesdays
09.00 - 09.30 - social media.
09.30 - 10.30 - weekly (or fortnightly) blog.
10.30 - 12.00 - writing.
12.00 - 12.30 - lunch and social media.
12.30 - 14.00 - writing.
14.00 - 15.00 - maintaining relationships with contacts.
15.00 - 15.45 - pick the boys up from school.
15.45 - 16.30 - writing.
The rest of the day - social media.

Saturdays and Sundays
Spend time with my family and friends... unless I'm behind on a deadline, then it's get my head down time. Even at the weekend I can sneak in an hour or two here or there, thanks to a very understanding wife.

The thing is it's easy to get distracted. This morning for example, instead of starting the blog at 09.30 I actually watched film trailers until 10.00 - Suicide Squad is looking pretty blinkin' awesome! That's half an hour of my writing day wasted... and normally I would beat myself up about it later. I know it's all down to motivation and discipline and I also know pretty much every other writer procrastinates just as badly, but I still feel guilty if I waste even a second of writing time. I guess I wouldn't be motivated if I didn't.

To help me procrastinate less I finally downloaded FREEDOM for Mac a few days ago, something I've been threatening to do for months - yes Mr Stack, it is finally on my hard drive. It's brilliant as it shuts off the internet for programmable lengths of time - my favourite is one hour stints - so I can get on with my work with no distractions. I've written shed loads this week because of it.

But... there's always a 'but'... the occasional procrastination isn't actually bad for me. As a writer I need time away from my work to let my creative brain relax, chill and work problems out unconsciously rather than being forced to do so. I find some of my better solutions have presented themselves this way.

So my advice is this. Don't be too hard on yourself if you find you procrastinate a little when you feel you should be writing. Set yourself daily goals. If you don't meet them one day, make sure you do more the next. Don't punish yourself and equally don't become too complacent. Like the Force, balance is key.

Happy writing!