Wednesday, June 20, 2018

BLOG REWIND: REWRITES

I'm neck deep in a rewrite at the moment, so this post, first published on the 21st May 2008, is very appropriate. I've tweaked and updated it a little. Enjoy!

Rewriting is a pain but also a necessity. It's when the majority of the work is done and where your screenplay is made or broken. There is always a danger of doing too much, losing your focus and turning your script into a mindless pile of wank, if it wasn't one already. What is needed is a little structure to those rewrites. Split them down, concentrating on different aspects of the script one at a time. By doing this, you won't get bogged down and confused as to what you're trying to do. Focusing on smaller tasks makes the entire job a lot easier. Here's how to break it down.

Draft One: The 'get it done' draft, AKA the 'vomit draft'.

You've done your outline, your treatment, polished your characters, so now it's time to write. So write. Resist the temptation to go back and edit as you go. If you need to make notes, then make them, but what is more important at this stage is getting that screenplay on the page. It doesn't have to be brilliant; it just needs to be done. When you've finished the first draft, put the screenplay in a drawer and leave it for a couple of weeks. Don't be tempted to go back to it sooner.

Draft Two: Structure.

When you come back to your rough first draft and reread what you've written, it's going to look pretty bad. Don't worry, draft two is designed to iron out any inconsistencies, any gaping holes in the plot, and to make sure that all your setups and payoffs are all there. Don't be tempted to work on anything else at this stage that'll come later.

Draft Three: Characters.

Do you know your characters? Are they believable? Do they have flaws the audience can identify with? Do they act true to their nature, or do they do things just because the plot requires them to do so? Characters need to be believable and to engage the audience. If they don't then you need to take a closer, more analytical look at them. Don't forget, even the most celebrated hero has motivations driven by his selfish desires. No one is all good, nor all bad. People are a mixture, with their individual likes, hates, fears, and desires.

Draft Four: Dialogue.

Could you identify your characters by their speech alone? Everyone speaks differently. Go to a public place and listen to people having conversations, what they say, how they interact with others. This exercise will help you individualise each characters' speech. Avoid writing regional accents phonetically, it makes them hard to read and will put readers off. And don't forget people are not always kind to each other, including friends and family.

Draft Five: Imagery.

Look for repeated words in your action description and find new ones to replace them. Look at your action description. Could it be shorter, more direct? Is it flat and dull? Could it be punchier? This is the draft that could make a lot of difference to your script, so take your time with this one, even if you have to spend several days searching for just the right word to describe something. Remember screenwriting is all about imagery; TV and film are a visual medium. Make your scenes stand out in the mind of the reader.

Draft Six: Restructure.

Would your script benefit from telling it in a different way or order? Take Memento for instance, an excellent film told backwards. The film could work both forwards and backwards but it adds an extra level of poignancy to it by being shown in reverse. Look at your script and decide if a liner plot is the best for your story. To be honest, I'm always sure about the way I want to write a script when I start, but it never hurts to take a second look.

Draft Seven: Conflict.

Conflict is the essential part of a story. If you have no conflict, then all you have is a script to go to sleep by. Look at each scene, is there conflict, even if it's between friends. Don't forget there are different levels of conflict, you don't need two people beating the crap out of each other in every scene. Conflict comes from different goals, from different points of view clashing. You should already know what each of your characters wants in each scene; this is the moment to make the most of it.

Draft Eight: The Opening Pages.

The first five to ten pages are critical. These are the pages a reader will look at and decide if it's worth investing further in. If they don't like what they see they won't read any further. So make sure your opening pages contain a great hook and are the best they can be. It's worth spending a bit of time on these pages to get them right.

Draft Nine: Back To Your Characters.

Yep, more character work. Make sure each of your characters' arcs are believable and satisfying to the reader. They can have either an upbeat, or a downbeat arc, or a bittersweet one. Remember, they have to be satisfying to the reader.

Draft Ten: Proof Read.

As I always say to my wife, "I'm a writer, I never professed to be able to spell. That's why they invented spell checkers." I'm a crap speller, so I give all my work to my wife to check over. If you're spelling and grammar is as awful as mine hand your work over to someone you trust and give them a big red pen. Red is such a lovely colour.

That's it... or is it? Well no, now's the time to send your screenplay out to others for their opinions. Once you've got that feedback you can start the rewrite process again. Remember, writing is all about rewriting.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

FREE IS NOT AN OPTION

I was going to write a report about the BBC TV Writers' Festival this week but have instead decided to explore a profoundly important subject raised during the Meet The Drama Commissioners session.

When it came to questions at the end of the session a writer broached the topic of working for free. The Drama Commissioners - Piers Wenger (BBC), Victoria Fea (ITV) and Anna Hargreaves (Sky) - appeared entirely oblivious that it was even a problem and were insistent that all writers that came to them received payment for their work. That writer then went on to ask the audience who is now or has ever been asked to work for free. Every writer in the room, including myself, put their hand up. It was a watershed moment.

The Commissioners seemed genuinely shocked to discover that writers were being asked to work for free by Indies. Piers suggested that when Indies are set up, they have several hundred thousand pounds available for this very purpose and writers should never feel pressured into working for free. The Commissioners really couldn't believe that (a) it was happening and (b) it was so rife. It was a very sobering moment for them and us.

Now I have in the past advocated working for free to help further your career.  I want to clarify what I've said because I believe the two situations are entirely separate. When you are starting out as a writer to help get your name out there, you can offer to help producers by reading screenplays for free. If there's a young, upcoming director who is looking to make a short film it is perfectly acceptable to offer them your screenplay in exchange for a credit and copy of the finished film. These examples cost very little of your time but go a long way toward showing your willingness to collaborate, your skills and your reliability.

What isn't acceptable is the practice of Indies telling a writer they like their work and then asking them to write either a treatment or a pilot episode before they will consider it. Writers, especially new writers, then feel obliged to do so because they want their work to be picked up and their career to progress. They feel under pressure and are worried that if they refuse, they will appear awkward and that the interest in their project will be dropped.

This work is not to be confused with writing spec screenplays where a writer writes a pilot episode of their own making and then sends it out to directors, producers and Indies in the hope someone will be interested in it enough to at the very least option it. What we are talking about here is taking a pitch to an Indie and then being asked to complete extra work unpaid to get the project ready for shopping around. This is wrong! Writers have bills to pay like everyone else and should be paid for everything they do, including any prep work to get a project ready to pitch to broadcasters.

The problem with agreeing to do this work is that if the Indie then sends the treatment or script the writer has written for free out to broadcasters and gets a resounding no from them, the project is dead and the writer doesn't get paid for their time and effort. They've done all of that work for nothing, and now they can't even take that project elsewhere. The Indie might have saved a few quid, but the writer is now out of pocket.

I've been guilty of working for free or a deferred payment in the past, and I'm currently writing a treatment and series bible for two separate Indies and not being paid for either. I know I shouldn't, but like other working writers I feel under pressure to do so, and I'm worried that if I say no there's the threat I'll be kicked off one project and be told 'no thank you' form the other. The possibility I might lose either or both of these opportunities is genuine and is an obvious concern to any freelancer who is between projects.

These are producers I have known for a while, get on well with, am very keen to work with and I haven't agreed to do the work for free on a whim. I decided to polish the feature treatment because one of the producers wrote the initial version and I knew the other producer has been actively pitching the project to investors and has already had a lot of interest. I'm developing the series bible with another Indie on the understanding if they don't option it, I have their permission to take it elsewhere. It was an idea I was going to develop anyway so am happy to have someone else's input while creating it. I've made a calculated risk with both. They may or may not pay off, but I genuinely believe that they will, or I wouldn't have agreed to work for free. 

However, by doing this and not insisting on payment, I am acutely aware I am adding to the problem. While writers (especially new writers) continue to work for free, the practice will still exist, and some Indies will continue to exploit writers. So as a writer I have decided, once I have completed these projects, to make a stand and in future, I will not write for free regardless of any promises or who asks. 

In an ideal world, if every broadcaster and commissioner insisted on positive proof writers had received payment for their work before they agreed to read it, it would stop the practice in its tracks. It would halt the exploitation of writers and aid talented new writers to launch their careers.

What are your thoughts?

Happy (and profitable) writing!

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

BBC CALLING

Today I'm off up to London for the annual BBC TV WRITERS' FESTIVAL organised by the BBC Writersroom. The line up this year is as always breathtaking and includes festival regular and multi-award winning Jed Mercurio and the legend that is Steven Moffat. I can't wait!

The BBC Writersroom is a great resource one often overlooked by writers. They have offered some great opportunities of late including chances of paid training with the Doctor Who script department, the Holby City, Casualty, Eastenders and Doctors shadow schemes, their drama and comedy windows and all the fantastic opportunities they offer on their webpage. I can never understand it when writers moan that the BBC ignore new writers and it's just the same old names that pop up on the credits week in week out. This isn't true.

Let's face facts when you start out as a writer you hope your work will be snatched up or you get work on existing TV shows and it can often be frustrating when it doesn't. The bottom line is, shows are looking for great writers whose work is not only at a certain level but who are also willing to collaborate and learn. Because of the tight production deadlines, producers don't have time to hand-hold inexperienced writers the work needs to be completed quickly and reliably. The reason most new writers don't get their work picked up or get work on existing shows is that their work isn't up to scratch and producers aren't confident that the writer won't struggle.

The best advice I can give is to get your head down, work hard at your writing, always seek to improve it and your screenwriting knowledge and make use of all the opportunities available to you. This way you stand the best possible chance of being picked up for a show or if you're fortunate, get a show greenlit.

So keep the BBC Writersroom open on your desktop and remember to check in every day. You don't want to miss out after all.

I'll report back on the festival next week.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK

Notes can be daunting. They don't become any less so the more experienced you become as a writer.

Your notes will either come directly from the producer or via a script editor assigned to work with you. I've worked as both a writer and a script editor and have seen the process from both sides, so I know the importance of clear communication. It taught me a lot in a very short space of time, the biggest lesson of all was knowing not to be afraid of asking questions if I was unsure about something.

 'Why the f&%k have they said that?' There will always be notes you don't quite understand or aren't able to get to grips with. Most writers don't want to appear stupid by asking what they think might be obvious and the temptation is to plod on, work your way through the notes and hope you've covered everything you've been asked to. But the simple fact is if you do get it wrong because you haven't asked for clarification then you are definitely going to look stupid and all most certainly unprofessional.

A writer I worked with as a script editor had an issue with a lack of confidence. It was her first writing gig and she was clearly nervous. The draft she had written before I come on board lacked clarity and punch. It was my job to guide, encourage and make sure she knew exactly what was expected of her. We initially had a long Skype conversation where I went through all of my notes, asked her if she understood and told her if she had any questions, no matter how absurd they might appear to her, to just ask and I would happily explain them to her until she was confident she fully understood what I was driving at. She assured me she was OK with everything and if she did have any questions she would ask.

The next draft she handed in wasn't much of an improvement on the first. She was very close to being kicked off the project all because she hadn't asked me a single question about my notes. So we had another long Skype conversation. This time I wouldn't let her go until she had asked every single question she had bouncing around in her head. I had to push her to ask at first but the more she did the better she got at it. At the end of the conversation, I was very confident she now understood what was expected of her. She even emailed me additional questions over the course of her next rewrite.

The thing is, whoever the person is giving you notes, they are on your side. Writing is just the first step in the collaborative process. Everyone is working together to produce a piece of media they can be proud of and others can enjoy. No one is working against you, even if at times you might think that's the case. A script editor is there specifically to answer your questions and help you produce your best work. Any script editor who complains when you ask a question or a hundred of them isn't doing their job properly. Never, ever be afraid to ask and if you're still not sure ask again.

And the writer? She learned to put aside her nervousness and ask as many questions as she needed to. She eventually turned in an epic final draft and it was a delight to see her confidence skyrocket during the process.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

BLOG REWIND - PERSEVERANCE

As my fellow writers have suffered quite a bit of rejection over the last week, with the BBC Writersroom Drama and Red Planet, I thought I would repost a past blog about perseverance, first published on the 19th November 2014. Enjoy... and remember, you are not alone.

Some days it's hard to keep going when all you want to do is curl up into a ball and hide under the bed covers... but those are exactly the days you should keep going! Perseverance is the key to a successful career, without it you're writing solely for yourself.

I read a question on the interwebs the other day, from a new writer asking if he should send his script out to more than one production company at a time. Let's put it this way, you send your script out to one producer, the producer takes three months to read it and get back to you. The news isn't good, it's not for him. Then you leave things another month as you recover from the rejection, before sending your script out to another producer. That means the maximum copies of your screenplay you send out is three... in a year... that's not good, is it?

After you've done your research into which production companies best suit your screenplay, send copies out to as many as you can, then go write another script. If you receive a rejection then have two other producers in mind to send your script to the very next day. Don't keep bombarding the same producers either, send them a screenplay and if it's a no wait a month or two before sending any new work.

In essence, your work should be produced and sent out in a constant stream, stalling on this leaves you with no opportunities to create, and it's those opportunities that will keep you going. Persevere and you will be rewarded.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

BOOK REVIEW - EVERYBODY WORKS IN SALES by NIRAJ KAPUR

You're probably thinking, 'Why is Dom reviewing a sales book on his screenwriting blog?' You may even be thinking I've gone slightly mad in doing so. I can assure you I haven't. The reason I'm reviewing this book is that as a writer you HAVE to sell yourself and your work and there's some great advice in these pages that all writers should be implementing on a daily basis.

Truth be told, Niraj's book is actually less about sales than it is more about personal development. All of its lessons, if rigorously applied, can help anyone succeed regardless of the industry they work in. These are life rules everyone should know of and live by.

Niraj breaks his teachings down into twenty-seven handy little lessons, such as; Learn your craft and keep on learning every day - Don't let money rule your life - Caring - Dealing with difficult people - Adapt to change - Taking a break - Dealing with failure - Dealing with bad luck. Even with these few examples, you should already be seeing why this book could be so valuable to you.

Dealing with failure is a big part of being a writer. You'll be rejected again and again, even when you've 'made it'. Dealing with bad luck is also something you should know about and be prepared for. Bad luck happens to everyone and it can be extremely frustrating when things fail especially when they are beyond your control. Adapting to change and learning more about your craft every day is as important as being a good writer. It's all there in this book just waiting for you to pick it up and start learning how to sell yourself to others and gain an advantage over your fellow writers.

Personally, I think the most valuable lesson in Niraj's book is - Do more than what you get paid for. This links back to what I was talking about last week, about going that extra mile, proving you're better than all those other writers out there and why you should be the first choice in every producer's mind.

I did spot a few spelling mistakes in this book and the layout did cause me to become a page-blind after a while, especially when I tried to read several chapters in one sitting. It's an easier read broken down into small chunks without losing your place and it can be used as a handy reference guide you can easily dip in an out of.

Niraj kindly gives examples from his own life to back up every lesson, showing not only how these lessons can be applied but also how they work in the real world. There are even interviews in the back of the book with people who don't directly work in sales but who do use sales techniques in their daily lives. Overall, it's a solid book with a lot of valuable lessons within its pages and one definitely worth investing in.

Happy writing!


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

GOING THE EXTRA MILE

When you're a new writer it's easy to concentrate on what others can do for you, how they can help move your career forward, help to get you your first commission or get your work made. But if you really want to be noticed it's well worth reversing that thinking and asking yourself, 'What can I do for others to help them?'

Make yourself available for others. Offer your services without conditions. Give of your time freely. This is the quickest way to build strong relationships and have people remember you for all the right reasons. Go the extras mile so they will never forget you.

How can you do this? There are several ways. You can contact production companies and offer to give feedback on screenplays for them for free. Yes, it will cost you time but it's time well spent and by doing so you'll have a foot in the door. Start with the smaller companies or the newly established ones. The larger companies will most likely already have a reader or a team of them in place.

Why do you think you see the same names pop up on the credits of TV shows time after time? It's because those writers have made a reputation for themselves as reliable people who are great to work with. They are sought after and get regular work. Producers know when they go to them they will deliver. So if that production company you have been reading for for free are suddenly in the market for a new writer, who do you think is going to be high on their list? Don't you think that's worth unselfishly giving up a few hours a week to help someone else?

The same goes for more established writers. I'm not saying they should work for free, far from it. Established writers have paid their dues and should always be paid correctly and fully for their work. However, there may be the occasional time when doing a favour for a friend is a good idea. Making the time to write up a six to eight-page treatment for a producer you know well and have worked with before when you're very busy with other projects will be appreciated. They will remember you made time for them and will think of you in the future.

There are the usual things you can do to get yourself noticed as above but to go the extra mile you need to think outside the box, find or create new avenues to get yourself noticed and to show how helpful and valuable you are and can be. For example; this morning I went on to a producers' network page on Facebook and offered to give feedback on a screenplay for anyone who was interested. I plan to only do this for the first person to get back to me, and yes for free, as I'm not overly busy this week. It's two to three hours out of my week. It's nothing really, but the producer who takes me up on that offer will be grateful and remember that I put myself out to help them.

So think more about what you can do for others, not what they can do for you. Don't promise what you can't deliver. If you can spare two, three or even four hours a week then give it without reservation. And if you promise something, make sure you deliver.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

ASK & LISTEN

Write what you know is a saying I hear often. While this is true, it is also important to ask and listen, especially if you're pitching to a specific production company.

Most writers will send their screenplays in blind. They won't even bother to check to see what the company has made, is currently making or actively looking for. If you're happy with your work being quickly and easily rejected then this is fine. If however, you want to give your work the best chance of being considered you'll need to do some research. That research is will come in two forms.

1 - Look at the company's back catalogue. This will help to identify the type of films they favour and also help to avoid sending in screenplays that are too similar to something they've made before. They may prefer crime thrillers so sending a rom-com isn't doing you any favours. If they have made a film with a plot that's very similar to your screenplay's it's a good bet they probably won't be interested in making yours. You must bear in mind that companies receive several screenplays a month similar to other stuff they've made, especially if their film or TV show was very successful. Thinking about what you're going to send already puts you way ahead of the majority of writers.

2 - To give yourself the best chance of your screenplay hitting the mark it's worth asking the company what they are looking for. Email is great, phoning is better. It's easy to ignore an email and let's be honest everyone responds well to a nice friendly voice on the other end of the line. Once you know for certain what they are interested in you won't be wasting your time, or more importantly, theirs.

To give you an example. I recently researched a production company, going through their back catalogue to try and decern the type of feature they might be interested in. After feeling pretty confident I knew what that was I emailed them a pitch for a feature idea.

I received a 'no thank you' email from them yesterday (03.04.2018). Despite this, I was delighted to discover they really enjoyed my idea and work. I'm also very grateful to them for going a step further and not only telling me what they are actually looking for but for also giving me examples I can go away and watch. Now I have a better idea of what to send them in the future and I can tailor my pitches to their current needs. What could be easier?

Don't waste your time and just settle for sending out any old script, make sure you know exactly what the production company is looking for and it will really make you stand out.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

PLOTTING SOFTWARE

In screenwriting forums and Facebook pages there are usually three big debates with regards to screenwriting. 1 - Should I protect my work with Copyright or an NDA? 2 - Which writing software should I use? 3 - Should you use plotting software? It's on the latter I wish to concentrate today.

There are several plotting software packages out there to choose from. The two I've used in the past and the ones that seem to be the most popular amongst writers are DRAMATICA PRO and SAVE THE CAT. I know there are probably plenty more to choose from but I've only used these two and don't feel qualified enough to comment on any of the others. If you use a different bit of software then please feel free to tell us all about it in the comments below.

Dramatica Pro is more involved than other methods I've used and to get the most out of it you not only have to read the entire manual, but you also have to understand it. Their system is somewhat complicated. Once mastered, however, it can be very helpful in forcing you to think about your plot and characters in new and unexpected ways. Used well, it is something I believe can be a great benefit to your writing. I did find it restrictive at times but I learned to work around the systems' confines and create some cracking screenplays with it.

These days I use Save The Cat and find it a great deal easier. It's very instinctive and matches more closely the way I like to write. It's only as rigid as you allow it to be and can be used as a beat by beat guide or simply as a rough template. It's basically a more expensive, electronic version of index cards, that allows you to make as many notes as you wish, add setups and payoffs, work on your characters and keep track of their story arc. I use Save The Cat to work out my basic plotline and then go from there. The majority of the time things will change as I write and beats I've written will be lost, grow, or end up being moved.

The way I look at plotting software is that it is as flexible as you make it. If you're a newer writer you might like to stick as closely as you can to the beats, whereas the more experienced writer you are the more likely you are to only use it as a rough template, diving into your writing and changing things as and when you need it.

Isn't plotting software too rigid, only creating flat, formulaic, dull screenplays? It's up to you how much you use this kind of software, if at all. As long as you know you don't have to stick exactly to the outlines you create using this method and that you can change and adapt anything you want, then you will be fine. It is just an aid.

Think of it as a learning to ride a bicycle. You wouldn't jump on one and expect to be able to ride the first time. That's why stabilisers are there, to aid you until you are confident enough to take them off and ride without them. With plotting, you need to know the rules. When they become second nature to you, you can then learn to break them. If you feel you need the help, use whatever helps you get to where you want to be. If you don't, brilliant. Do whatever you need to make things easier for yourself. Don't be worried about what other writers think. Every writer has their own way of doing things. Find yours.

Having said that index cards and a pencil are just as effective... and cheaper.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

MOCKUMENTARIES - REALITY BITES

This week a guest blog from Lexy Anderson on her experience writing, shooting and editing a short mockumentary.

“Reality Bites” - 1 Day. 1 Shoot. 1 Film

Filmmakers starting out seem to all have the same problems: What equipment do I use? How do I gather crew? What’s a worthy script look like? But for us, these limitations aren’t problems. In fact, if you accept them, the answers become pretty clear, pretty quickly.

What camera do we use? The one that we’ve got I guess. 

How do we gather crew? We’ve got each other, how many favours can you call in? 

What’s a worthy script look like? Well, does this make us laugh?

We (Lexy Anderson and Ben Murray) are a filmmaking duo based in London, currently freelancing across the UK film scene. We’ve started regularly collaborating a number of short projects, all written, produced, directed and edited by ourselves. 

(Left to Right; Filmmaking team, Lexy Anderson and Ben Murray)
Our most recent film has just launched online, “Reality Bites” - a short mockumentary following the marriage of a young woman and a zombie, and the challenges they face in that relationship - so we want to share how we managed to use one day, to get through one shoot, and come out with one complete film, that we’re both very proud of. 

The Script 

On a dark, cold night before graduation from UCA Farnham (a small arts-campus in the depth of Surrey), we found ourselves panicking about Post-Uni life. As you do.

To distract from our impending future, we decided to plan some scripts. Writing with another person can be difficult, but at this stage, we were just riffing ideas and after a night of basically talking nonsense, we conjured up a collection of concepts, one of which was “Reality Bites”. 

TIP: The story for “RB” came from us asking “What if” about various scenarios - for example, what would life be like if you married a tame zombie? The fly-on-the-wall documentary style seemed like the right way to explore comedic elements. Once we got more specific with “what if” questions, we managed to write it overnight. Turns out, it’s a pretty efficient way of writing.

Pre-Production 

The preparation for “RB” was all done about twenty-four hours before shooting. We’d initially planned to shoot another script, but some last minute cancellations threw the handbrake on that production.

But we had booked the day off work. We had crew on standby and cast ready to shoot. Giving up wasn’t an option. We decided to pull one of those dark-cold-night scripts from our archive, and make that instead! Thankfully, our incredible actors, Bridgette Wellbelove and Jorge Andrade, were game for a last-minute-switch-a-roo. 

“How the hell do you make someone a Zombie?” After an immense amount of searching and spamming posts on filmmaking Facebook groups, we found an MUA (makeup artist) at the last minute who agreed to Zombify Jorge in “Michael”.  

TIP: We can’t recommend Facebook groups enough - if you can manage to advertise a position as “Paid”, no matter how low that is, you’ll usually attract a higher level of candidates to your radar. 

With some quick sourcing of props and minor adjustments to the script, we were ready to shoot.

(Actress, Bridgette Wellbelove, slating a scene)
The Shoot 

The shoot itself was very relaxed. We shot in one of our own flats, so no location restrictions there - the schedule was spread out nicely through the day. We were also right at the heart of Central London, so everyone could easily travel in and out. 

We brought both actors in at the same time to give make-up an hour to prepare “Michael’s” zombie-look, while we cracked on with shooting “Jane’s” talking head shots. Part of that was scripted, part - a lot actually! - was improvised.

TIP: Usually actors arrive staggered, so they’ve time to get makeup and costume on, but if one’s preparation will take significantly longer, you can overlap their arrival and begin shooting one character while the other is readied in the green room. 
(Ben’s incredibly “fierce” collection of batteries)
A lot of the scenes we originally wanted were adapted or improvised during the shooting, due to logistical reasons. 

TIP: Everything shot in the apartment was either tripod or handheld, and all of our lights were small battery powered LEDs (I’m fiercely proud of my LED collection!) A really simple and lightweight shooting kit makes it easy to do more flexible, improvised work without worrying about clunky or difficult setups - especially as you don’t need mains power or cables. 

For example, a scripted scene had Michael accidentally throw his hand down a bowling alley. This later became a quick scene of skipping pebbles by the Thames, with a lighter, less on-the-nose joke. Being ready to adapt and discover alternative moments with actors was really useful, and a lot of fun too. For us, it was good practice as aspiring directors, to be flexible. Out on the streets, we shot with a very straightforward setup - using ambient light we could find, a single handheld camera, and a small, discreet sound system.  
(Top to Bottom: Street gear set up using ambient street light on actor Jorge Andrade, screenshot from film)
TIP: If you are a small crew, five people or fewer, and you’re shooting handheld, there is little to no restriction to filming on London’s public highway (tripods are considered an obstruction to pedestrians or roads, so that’s a little tricker, as far as finding permission goes). However, from experience, it’s still best to choose quiet and rural estates for general safety.

The Edit 

The challenge of the edit was, much like in an actual documentary, dealing with those unscripted and improvised moments, so structuring the material to the original script became almost impossible. Instead, we sifted through the footage as though we’d never seen it before, to identify the shots and moments we could use to building a story with a similar structure. This was actually the slowest part of production, as we had to balance post-production with our working lives. It took around six months to cut, grade, and sound design the short. 

What next? 

You can see the film, “Reality Bites” and make up your own mind here: https://vimeo.com/255810185

Ben’s in the middle of post-production on a new fantasy short, “Taboodisobis” to be released later in the year, and Lexy’s in pre-production for a new comedy “Kill Norwood” about a gamer-obsessed kid. 

To find out more, get involved or just get in touch, contact us on our respective social media accounts:

Instagram: @lexy__anderson @benthemurray



Wednesday, February 28, 2018

MOVING FORWARD

Way back in the mists of time, well 2013 to be precise, I was commissioned to write my third feature screenplay. Over the last five years, the project has gone through several drafts, has been to Hollywood and back, was shelved, has stalled and been reborn. And today I handed in a treatment of the latest version ready to be sent to potential investors. It's been quite a journey.

There have been many frustrations along the way but we've always known the idea was worth investing our time in. The downs have been worth putting up with to see the project move forward and the version we have now is a great deal better than the original idea. What I have learned from the process is that an idea improves with age, much like a great single malt. A project may falter along the way, it may even be abandoned at some point, but ultimately the opportunity for the project to move forward will eventually come around again. No project is ever truly dead. At some point or another, there will always be an opportunity to resurrect it.

What was originally a thriller has now developed into a dark drama exploring what it is to be a child, the loss of innocence and more importantly examining what it is to be a parent dealing with loss and the responsibility that comes with it.

There's a saying, 'too many chefs spoil the broth'. In my experience, three heads are better than one. You may think that with one writer and two producers there might be some disagreement on direction, but the beauty of our project is that we've all been on the same page from day one. When one person suggests a new change the others have always agreed. Quite often someone has come up with a way to take that new idea to even greater heights. Between the three of us, we have developed a cracking idea that has already got people lined up to read the treatment.

I guess my message here is, don't give up on an idea or a screenplay. Revisit them now and again, see if they fit in the world at that moment. You may even surprise yourself.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE

I was chatting with a friend and fellow graduate of the BA (Hons) Screenwriting for Film and Television at Bournemouth University and was surprised when he mentioned that when he graduated a couple of years ago the university still didn't include an industry training module as part of the course. There wasn't one when I graduated in 2001 either, but I would have expected them to have introduced one since then. After all knowledge of the industry is a vital part of a successful screenwriting career. Without it, you're floundering in deep water with nothing to cling on to but your writing skill.

When I left university with my screenwriting degree I thought I knew it all and it was only a matter of time before my work was recognised and my career took off. I couldn't have been more wrong. It didn't matter how good my writing was, my lack of knowledge of the industry held me back. It took me nearly nine years and a lot of wasted hours to finally discover this. You guys have it much easier though. There's so much more information out there on the internet than when I started out. All you have to do is hunt it down.

Industry knowledge is just as important as your writing. Without it, you'll be sending your work out blind and that will never do you any good. Remember, first impressions count. It was only when I realised this that my career started to go somewhere.

It's not even enough to occasionally check what's going on in the film and TV world, you have to spend at least twenty-five percent, if not half of your time on this. It is equally as important as writing. Writing isn't enough on its own. You might be the world's greatest writer but if you don't know where, when and how to send your work out, you are going to fail.

So what do I mean exactly by 'industry knowledge'? Industry knowledge is:

  1. Networking - meeting and forming relationships with other media professionals.
  2. Approach - how to conduct yourself so you will be remembered for all the right reasons.
  3. Social Media - how to use it to your advantage and what mistakes you should avoid.
  4. Trends - knowing what producers and broadcasters are working on and looking for and how to approach them.
  5. Knowledge - making sure you read industry publications such as Broadcast and Screen International regularly.
Unfortunately, very few people or courses talk about industry knowledge. Maybe that's because as soon as it's written down it's already out of date. There are several posts on this blog that cover all of the points above. Why not have a look and see if any of them can hlep you. I would also be very interested to know from my subscibers which degree and masters courses now do feature an industry knowledge module. Luckily though, there are a few books out there you can buy that cover this subject. The best of the bunch are:

THE UK SCRIPTWRITER'S SURVIVAL GUIDE
by
TIM CLAGUE & DANNY STACK

and

WRITE, WRITE, WRITE
by
DANIEL MARTIN ECKHART

Those who are knowledgeable about the industry have a far better chance of being successful in it. Those who can't be bothered, or think it'll take up too much time... well, that's their problem.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

BLOG REWIND: ONE PAGE PITCH

As I'm currently churning out eleventy billion one page pitches for my agent to pimp, I thought it might be an idea to jump back in time and take a look at a blog I published on the 5th November 2014. So here goes...


One Page Pitches are an art form, difficult to write and get right and probably the most important and powerful selling tool at a writer's disposal. So how exactly do you write a great One Page Pitch? Here's how I do them.

FONT:

The font you use is just as important as everything else. Get it wrong and your pitch will be a difficult read, or at the very least not inspire much enthusiasm in the reader.


I used to use FINAL DRAFT COURIER for everything I wrote until I came to the realisation readers spend their entire lives staring at that font. Your font doesn't need to be fancy, just clear enough to read. I wanted to give readers something different to look at, easier to read, which is why these days I use ARIEL in all my pitch document and treatments.


LAYOUT:


At the top of the page, centred, in bold, in capitals and font size 14, you need to put your TITLE - ALIEN. Below this (non capitals) you need to state the format and genre of your pitch - a sci-fi/horror feature proposal. Then below this 'by (your name)'.


The next line should be your Tagline, written in ITALICS, in font size 12 and captured in quotation marks - "In space no one can hear you scream!"


Then below that your Logline (written in a plain font size 12).


And finally below that your pitch (written in a plain font size 12 as above), containing a brief outline of the conflicts, characters and plot.


GENRE:


Your pitch will be selling your genre, so if your script is a comedy then your pitch should also be funny, a horror then your pitch should be tense and full of scares, etc. If your script is a comedy and you pitch isn't funny then it's not doing it's job.


CONFLICT:


The most important aspect of the One Page Pitch is to show conflict. Your protagonist must be in peril and you have to show this, especially the conflict with other characters. If you don't your pitch will be dull and flat. Show your protagonist bumping up against problems and obstacles, and make the reader really feel for his/her plight.


THE ENDING:


I've been guilty of this myself on many an occasion, but you should never end a pitch with a question - Will Ripley be able to defeat the Alien and escape home? You want your audience to ask this question, but not your reader. The reader needs the full picture, what happens and how the film or TV series plays out. If you don't tell them they'll think you don't know yourself and it'll go against you.


FOOTER:


Add your NAME - EMAIL - PHONE NUMBER (or your agent's details) in the footer at the bottom of the page. It's OK to do this in Courier font as it's not part of the main document.


Here's an example of one of my pitches (copyright me of course) for reference only.

“SIDEKICK”
a 6 x 60 minute comedy drama TV series proposal
by
Dominic Carver

‘Second best.’


A middle aged man, disillusioned with being the sidekick of superhero Captain Cosmos, struggles to find himself as he juggles his family life and his secret identity, while looking to get the credit he thinks he deserves.


DAVID TUCKER has just turned 45 and he’s already smashed head first into his midlife crisis. By day he works as a traffic control officer and by night he becomes The Gnat, sidekick to the superhero Captain Cosmos. His landmark birthday prompts him to reevaluate his life, his job, his friends and family. It’s only then he realises he's completely lost.


David hates his job... both of them. He constantly struggles to keep his secret identity from his wife LUCY (42), who’s obsessed with aerobics, fad diets and is desperately trying to reclaim the body she had when she was twenty, and his son ALFIE (17) , who is uncommunicative and embarrassed by his parents on a daily basis. David’s trying to find himself again and thinks coming out from under the shadow of Captain Cosmos to become his own superhero is a much better idea than buying a powerful motorbike, falling off it at high speed only to watch it be totalled by a passing manure truck.
 But even branching out on your own can have its mishaps - like not being recognised by the police and being arrested for exposure when you’re trying to suit up in a phone box.

Millionaire IAN BAINES (44), aka Captain Cosmos, doesn’t understand and is too ignorant and self absorbed to notice his crime fighting partner isn’t happy with his life. Lucy doesn’t have time for her husband to give him the love and support he needs, and Alfie is too wrapped up in his raging hormones and his own burgeoning super powers to spend any time with his father.

The only one who claims he understands David is PROFESSOR DOOMSDAY (56), aka estate agent MARCUS WAINWRIGHT, turning him against Captain Cosmos, his wife and his son, taking him out drinking and generally leading him astray. But Professor Doomsday’s motives are far more sinister than simply turning David evil - he wants to destroy him, to bring him down so that he’s in no place to rescue his son Alfie. It is Doomsday’s dastardly plan to have Alfie become one of his minions and to join him in the crime of the century - stealing the Royal Family and replacing them with robots.


This is David’s journey to find himself once more, make it as a super hero in his own right, rekindle the romance with his wife, reconnect with his son and save him from the evil clutches of Professor Doomsday.


Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I'VE GOT SUNSHINE

I've been in a rut for several months now, going through the motions and not really enjoying what I do. This is mainly down to a deep abdominal strain I picked up at the end of August last year, one that stubbornly refuses to heal. It has been causing me a great deal of pain for the past five months. It's very debilitating and has been incredibly draining. It got to the point I simply couldn't contemplate even thinking about sitting down to write when I knew that doing so would cause me more pain. In fact, it got so bad I dreaded firing up my iMac. I decided I had to do something about it.

Drowning in self-pity and doubt yesterday, I sat and thought about what writing is, what it means to me and broke it down to examine the reasons behind why I chose to be a writer in the first place. I asked myself a lot of questions. Can I really class myself as a professional writer? Is it, in reality, nothing more than a hobby that occasionally pays? Am I actually any good at what I do? Is it an obsession, an addiction that is getting out of hand? Can I make a sustainable living from it? Do I have the motivation to get on with my writing when I'd rather be playing Call Of Duty on my Xbox, or any other of the numerous ways I could procrastinate? I was brutally honest with myself. Should I carry on or should I walk away and call it a day?

What I discovered is that yes I do love writing. Yes, I am very good at it. Yes, I have found it difficult recently. I know I'm struggling at the moment. I know it occasionally feels like I'm banging my head against a wall, especially where TV writing is concerned. I know my motivation isn't what it would normally be, mainly because of the struggle with the pain I'm having to live with on a day to day basis. But despite all that and after stripping everything back, I realised I write because it makes me happy. I'd forgotten that.

For me, it's not about seeking adulation. Nor justification. Not even remuneration, although it's absolutely fantastic when my bank account is full. And it's definitely not about making other people happy. I write because it makes me happy. What I write makes me happy. I'm happy because it's what I want to do and not something I have to do. I'm happy because I have the most fantastic job in the world where I can write about the things that appeal to me, the things that get my juices flowing, the stories that I would happily read and enjoy myself. Every one I finish brings me great satisfaction. What happens to it after that really isn't important. That's other people's worry. The journey and how I get there is the only thing that matters. My happiness matters. If I'm miserable then what is the point?

I'm only going to write what makes me happy from now on. I'm not going to try and please others. I'm just going to please me. And when I do that I'll know what I produce is going to be absolutely awesome. It's when I'm at my best. I'm going to cut out the noise and get on with what I want to focus on, what I need to focus on for me.

So if you're feeling down, or think you're not getting anywhere with your career, take a step back and ask yourself this simple question... What makes me happy? When you know the answer go and do that. Nothing else matters. Everything else is a distraction. Events and states of mind are tempory. Disappointment is tempory! Rejection is tempory! Feeling adrift is tempory! Pain is tempory... even if it's been with you for five months! Find your happy.

Those two words I always signing off with have never been so poignant.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

WRITERS' BLOCK

Writers' block doesn't exist. It's a myth. It's an imaginary hurdle some writers use as an excuse when they've been lazy and haven't done enough preparation before diving into their writing. Here are a few ways to avoid tying yourself up in knots and to keep the words flowing.

1 - First things first, it's important to remember ideas don't fly out of nowhere fully formed. A spark of conversation, an article in the local paper, or even something you've seen on TV might ignite an idea for a story. You might even be lucky enough to have the basic framework of your story idea suddenly present itself to you. However your idea reveals itself, you will still have to put a lot of work and effort into it to get it on the page. As the saying goes, nothing comes for free.

2 - Preparation is key. The more you do the better. I know writers who refuse to write treatments or outlines, who are quite happy to throw themselves headfirst into the chaos of a screenplay without as much as a paragraph of preparation. And then they wonder why they come to a stumbling halt part way in. Mental! I couldn't work like that, but if it works for them then fine. From my experience the more work you do beforehand the easier it is to write your first draft. There won't be those unexpected pauses where you suddenly discover your character doesn't work, or there's a gaping hole in your plot. Or if there are, there will be far fewer of them and they will be easier to deal with.

3 - Even with the best preparation in the world you will occasionally stall when you encounter a problem with your screenplay. If you do come up against an unexpected pause the best way to deal with it is to go off and work on something else. Give your brain time to think about the problem and find the solution without pressuring it. The worst thing you can do is sit there staring at that blinking cursor for hours without the slightest clue on how to proceed, tying yourself up in knots because the answer won't present itself instantly. You could always skip to another section of your screenplay, one you know you don't have a problem with and write that. Eventually, the solution to your problem will present itself and you'll be able to go back and work on it with confidence. I prefer to go for a walk and usually find the problem has resolved itself by the time I get home. Fresh air works wonders for firing the imagination.

4 - Write bollocks! Yup, I did just say that. If you're struggling just write anything, even if it is crap. Having something on the page is better than nothing. Writing utter rubbish is better than staring at that dreaded cursor or procrastinating on Facebook. You're a writer, so write. Crap can be fixed. Rubbish can be refined. Bollocks can be whipped into shape. A blank page will always be a blank page.

5 - Work on more than one project at a time and ensure each one is at a different stage of development. That way you can keep things fresh, switching between the projects when you need space to think on something. I usually have one project at outline stage, another at first draft and a final one that I'm polishing ready to send out.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

DON'T BE A DICK

It's only the second week of 2018 and already I've had reason to be frustrated/angry/utterly fucked off with other writers' attitudes.

I requested to join a screenwriter's Facebook page called SCREENWRITERS WHO CAN ACTUALLY WRITE last week. The arrogant title alone should have set the alarm bells ringing, but like the optimistic and sometimes nieve believer in humanity that I am I went ahead anyway. My request was approved two hours later and I logged in to have a look at the topics they were discussing. One caught my eye straight away.

The Admin had decided to take a screenshot of a member's post giving advice on copyrighting work in the UK and used it to slag her off, laughing at the advice, using the label 'Screenwriting Guru' as an insult and arrogantly announcing to everyone this member knew absolutely nothing about copyright law. He reinforced this by stating he was a lawyer and personally knew of fifteen examples of work being stolen from members of his Facebook page, yet in an article he wrote for ScreenCraft it was clear he couldn't even tell the difference between a WAVER and an NDA. I couldn't believe what I was reading.

As I continued to read the comments the insults increased, not only from the Admin who boasted of his fifty-six competition wins in an attempt to prove his experience, but from many others in the group too. Disbelief turned to anger and anger rapidly evolved into disgust. Not only were they dismissing what was very sound advice, they were happy to go even further and shamelessly assassinate the character of the lady in question, aggressively challenge her experience and achievements, proudly and smugly declaring she had none and should be ignored. They seemed perfectly happy to ignore her two feature credits as a producer, her years as a reader and script editor, her three published writing guidebooks and two internationally successful novels.

What she had to say was in direct contradiction to their limited knowledge of the industry, so instead of debating with her and questioning her on why she believed her advice to be true, they delighted in dismissing her as an inexperienced wannabe, an idiot, ignoring what she had to say and her experience. I was a member of that Facebook page for less than five minutes... I think that might be a record.

It seems I post blogs about this subject at least twice a year and it dismays me that people still can't grasp the basic fact that being nice, polite, encouraging and helpful are the basics of not only a long and successful career but also the basic requirements of humanity. Just because you think you know more than others, even if you actually do, it doesn't make you better than them and excuse you for treating others with contempt.

My message is simple... don't be a fucking dick! Be better! Make the difference!

Happy writing!