Wednesday, October 17, 2018

(UN)SOCIAL MEDIA

I've been feeling like a fool since last week's blog disaster. I should have checked the wording before publishing. I thought I had but clearly, the revised version hadn't saved. No idea why. So I can understand how I might have offended some. But I'm a grown-up and when I make a mistake I'm happy to put my hand up, admit it and apologise.

On the plus side, the fallout served as a perfect example of the message I was trying to get across; how to present yourself on social media without making yourself look like an idiot. Unfortunately, I wasn't the only one who failed to achieve this.

Several people who were upset with me politely pointed out my mistake and brought me to task on it. Good. A few even contacted me directly to chat about it. This was good also. Most could see the point I was trying to make even if they didn't agree with it. It's OK to disagree with others. I have enjoyed the debates I've had with a few people since.

However, there were about four or five people on Twitter who let their anger get the better of them and their common sense to evaporate, including two usual suspects. If there's an online disagreement you can guarantee one or both of them will be there, right at the forefront. They don't seem to be able to help themselves. They'll viciously attack anyone who dares to disagree with them, rounding up and inciting their friends to gang up against their victims in greater numbers. Even when you point out they're wrong for doing so they'll continue to argue that they're justified, regardless. It appears to be a lot worse on Twitter. I don't know what it is about only having 280 characters to get your message across that makes people so aggressive at times. You would think as writers we could communicate in a better way other than simply freeing our animal instincts to attack what we fear or don't understand.

Constructive criticism is fine. Viciously attacking someone because their views differ from yours isn't. It's bullying plain and simple. And it's especially cowardly to do so from behind a keyboard. I don't care what reasoning you use to vindicate yourself for hurling abuse at a person, there is no excuse for it. Nothing can justify a personal attack on anyone. Nothing! It's called 'trolling'! The irony is these two are using the very thing to attack others they claim to be against. Hate is hate in whatever form it might rear its ugly head and if you peddle it you're just as bad as the others you accuse of doing the same.

Be kind! Play safe! And if you can't do so then get off social media for good.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

HAVE AN OPINION - DOCTOR WHO

One of the pieces of advice I hear most relating to TV writing is to have an opinion. But how exactly do you express that opinion of your favourite or most hated TV shows without people hating you for it?

First of all show respect. Whatever you think of the show, whether you love or hate it, a lot of people have shed blood, sweat and tears to get it made. Don't shit all over their hard work. Would you be happy if someone slated the stuff you write?

Equally, don't hide your opinion away. Don't be afraid of giving it. No matter what you say there will always be someone who will disagree with your opinion and slate you for it. That's social media for you. Don't let that put you off. Be polite, constructive and respectful and never be tempted to get into arguments with idiots. Never rise to their bait. State your opinion and if things get heated, walk away.

So let's get to Doctor Who series eleven, episode one. Here's my opinion... brace yourselves.

The introductory episode of every new Doctor is always difficult. There's a new Doctor to discover, new companions to introduce and a new title sequence and T.A.R.D.I.S. to reveal. My first disappointment with the episode was that it felt a little thin, that something was missing. And I'm not talking about the absence of the title sequence and the T.A.R.D.I.S.

It was a very simple plot. A one-sentence concept. Personally, I would have preferred to see less of the new Doctor discovering who she was and more of a substantial plot. Having said that, it did work. They obviously decided to keep the plot simple to keep things moving along while concentrating on introducing the new set up. They clearly didn't want to get bogged down in all that exposition and I'm sure that as the season progresses we'll see more complex plotting and greater character exploration. I just prefer my drama to have more drama, Killing Eve or Bodyguard style.

I'm also not a fan of change. I'll happily admit it. That's just me. Change makes me anxious. Why fiddle with something that works? Why change things for change's sake? Don't get me wrong I love Jodie and welcome a female Doctor. I just wanted there to be a plot reason for her introduction and I was satisfied when Steven Moffat delivered one. What I mean by change is... I hated the fact that in the first episode the title sequence was missing. It's an event. Something every fan looks forward to in every episode, especially with the introduction of a new theme tune and titles with each new Doctor. I love 'woo wooing' along to the theme tune. It's absence was disconcerting. The missing T.A.R.D.I.S. was a little less so but still distracting. They even moved the show's time slot to a Sunday. I can understand that one. Sunday is the evening families are most likely to sit together and watch the show. Both my sons sat and watched it with me. I think that's the first time ever. They absolutely loved it.

Having said all of that, I did enjoy the show. I'll certainly be watching next week with my family and I'm looking forward to all the surprises Mr Chiball and gang have in store for us.

So remember, you can have an opinion, it's important to have one, you just need to be considerate when expressing it. And more importantly be respectful of other people's opinions especially if you don't agree with them.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

THE BEGINNING OF A JOURNEY

Wednesday, March 13th 2013. That was the day I first wrote about a new project called COWBOYS CAN FLY, an adaptation of Ken Smith's novel of the same name. Five years down the line, and despite the love from everyone who's read it, it has never gone into production. That's why producer Sean Langton and I are now looking to make the film ourselves.
You never really know where a project will go when you start it and each journey is different, but I absolutely love the optimism a great idea can ignite. Here's what I had to say about the novel five years ago. 

YOU NEVER KNOW

A few weeks ago a friend phoned me up and asked me to read a short novel he had bought the rights to, with the aim of me writing the screenplay later in the year.

I was told it was an erotic gay novel about a 14-year-old boy and his first love and I knew it wasn't something that really appealed to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not homophobic, far from it in fact, it's just not a subject matter I have an interest in writing. I've never even attempted a rom-com for goodness sake. Anyone who is familiar with my writing knows I like to write dark character-based drama, the dark side of human nature and what we do to others because of our own selfish needs and desires. A romantic story of love and friendship couldn't be further from my comfort zone. But as I'm as good as my word I read the novel so I could at least give my friend my thoughts on it.

The book surprised me! In fact, it knocked me for six. So when I'd read about halfway I phoned my friend up and told him I was writing the screenplay. That was all it took, just half the novel, to get me hooked.

What appealed to me was the growth of the relationship and how both boys learnt from each other and grew into men. It wasn't pornographic, it wasn't overly erotic, it was just a wonderful love story of two friends. It reminded me a lot of growing up in the Leicestershire countryside, staying out all day during the summer, exploring, adventuring and climbing trees, days that my parents didn't have to worry about where I was or what I was up to. Those were the days of true freedom modern children, in our overprotective society, will never know. And reading that novel took me back to a time I long thought I had lost.

I finished the novel yesterday and I still know I've made the right choice to write the screenplay. You might be offered something that isn't your cup of tea at some point in your career. Don't turn it down. Explore the story and see if there is something in it that surprises you, something that grabs your attention and resonates with you so strongly you have no choice but to follow it through. You just never know.

If you are wondering what the book was that grabbed my imagination so, then you should hunt it down and read it. The book is called Cowboys Can Fly by Ken Smith.

Happy writing!


Tuesday, September 04, 2018

FADE IN:

Judging by the number of phone calls, emails and messages of support I received, last week's blog seemed to resonate with a lot of writers. It made me realise that thinking of quitting writing is more common than I first thought. It's something most writers tussle with at some point in their career. It also made me think about how much pressure us writers (new and professional alike) put on ourselves to earn a living from our words.

Taking a step backwards felt like a failure, the last resort only to be taken when the desperation to succeed becomes unmanageable and all your options are finally exhausted. I was convinced that all the work I had put in over the years had been for nothing, that my dream job was over and I'd never work again. That's why I was determined to walk away for good, to end the torment once and for all, because I didn't think I could go through such a huge disappointment like that again. I now know this was an extreme reaction to what was nothing more than a stumble in the rollercoaster ride that is being a professional writer. I needed to take a step back, reassess where I was, where I wanted to be and how I was going to get there. Most of all I knew I had to take the pressure off myself to give myself breathing space and find my mojo again. A full-time job is going to do that.

Deep down I knew I could never really give up, that in one form or other I would continue writing. But what I discovered from those that reached out to me, is that even the most successful writers have had to take a step back at least once in their career. There's no shame in it, it's just a blip, an experience that will help you move forward again when you're ready. A lot of writers have second jobs, whether they're related to what they want to do or not, so they can continue to do what they love unpressured. Working a job that isn't in the industry has an advantage as it gives you a break from the intensity of writing and thinking about writing, allowing you to relax and your creativity the freedom it needs to flourish.

Equally, as you're trying to forge a career it's easy to think you haven't made it while you're still working a full-time day job. The truth is that if you're working you're earning, which in turn will allow you to write without the pressure of where your next mortgage payment is coming from. Believe me, you don't know what a relief that is.

At the end of the day, you have to do what you need to do to keep writing and also bring the money in to pay the bills. If that means going back to a full-time job temporarily to find your feet again, then that's what you have to do. It's what I'm going to do.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

FADE OUT...

Being a screenwriter is difficult, lonely and sometimes soul destroying work. You are often sat isolated at a desk for days/weeks/months on end, continuously delivering blood, sweat and tears on the page in the hope someone likes your work enough to pay you for it. Even when that glorious day arrives it's not the end of your toil and pain. It's an infinite search for the next job, delivering the impossible on a daily basis and shrugging off the continual rejection and disappointment. When things are going well writing is hands down the best job in the world. When they aren't every single word you type is an unspeakable torture. This is what it is to be a writer.

The last two years have been extremely difficult. Even though I have had regular meetings with producers, development executives and production companies I haven't had a single commission in nearly 18 months. Money is impossibly tight and yet I still have to find enough to pay the mortgage and feed and clothe the kids. I've lost my motivation and enthusiasm for what I do. I've started to over analyse everything I write agonising over every single word and I'm beginning to resent the fact my love for writing is consuming so much of my life. It's difficult out there. Bloody difficult. Pretty much all of the current writing initiatives I've been putting myself forward for state they are searching for 'diverse voices' and I'm guessing that a 49-year-old white Englishman isn't going to be at the top of their search criteria.

But I enter anyway. I sit at my desk and force myself to type a few words most days, trying to fight the temptation of YouTube and Facebook or to go back and rework the last ten pages of my screenplay, which have been reworked a thousand times already that week. And I still press send on emails electronically posting my latest work off to producers with a faint feeling of equal amounts hope and terror, with the thought that maybe, just maybe I don't actually suck at this. I've even tried diversifying, recently taking a script editing course and applying for script editing and lecturing jobs in an attempt to restart my career.

As I've said before, writing isn't for the faint-hearted. I've always been an advocate of pushing on even in the face of adversity, never giving up and giving everything you have to your writing and your career. However, I've finally decided that I'm coming to the end of my twenty-year journey. I've set a date. A few months from now. If nothing significant happens with my career between now and then, I'll walk away and find something else to do with my life. This will give me just enough time to finish those projects close to completion and tie up loose ends.

My wife suggested I get a full-time job and continue to write in my spare time. The trouble with that is writing isn't a hobby and that's what it would become if I was to do it only when I had a few minutes here and there. You have to give your all to writing, your life, your friends and family and even your immortal soul. There are no half measures being a screenwriter.

I think what I'm trying to say here is that you instinctively know when you need to put in a little extra work to get where you want to be and when it's actually time to walk away. My time is close. I'm sad but also surprisingly calm about it.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

PAYING YOUR WAY

The London Screenwriters Festival. Screenwriting books. One-off writing courses. Script consultancy services. They all cost money and for a new writer not making any, those costs can quickly add up. So how do you balance the need to learn and progress as a writer against the cost of doing so and paying the rent?

The simple answer is to only pay for what you can afford. But how do you decide what is worth spending your precious money on?

THE LONDON SCREENWRITERS FESTIVAL - For new writers, LSWF is a must! Everything you need is there, all packaged up in one convenient weekend with access to fellow writers, directors, producers, the many inspirational speakers and more industry knowledge than you can shake a stick at. However, it can top several hundred pounds when you also take into account travel, accommodation and food. Like last year, I have decided not to return this September as my career has developed enough that the cost of the festival now outways the benefit I get from it. But for new writers, there's nowhere better to submerge yourself in information on all aspects of a writing career.

SCREENWRITING BOOKS - These books hold a wealth of information. Read as many as you can. Absorb all that information. There are some people that argue against such books as SAVE THE CAT as being too formulaic, but I would argue that you should read them all and decide for yourself what you take from each book. The great thing is you don't need to buy first-hand books. You can loan screenwriting books from your local library for free and if they don't have something in, you can always ask if they would order it for you. There are also second-hand booksellers and car boot sales. Hunt down your local ones and see what they have.

PROFESSIONAL SCREENPLAYS - There are loads of websites that allow you to download a screenplay for free. Check them out and read as many as you can. You can't get better than free produced screenplays to improve yourself as a writer.

SCRIPT CONSULTANCY - If you want to improve as a writer then like LSWF these are a must. You could save yourself some money and get your friends or family to read your work but will they be able to give you the valuable feedback you need to improve your work? I doubt it. What about peer review? This is another free option but don't forget their feedback is only going to be as good as where they are as a writer. Pick and choose who you send your work to, you'll soon discover who gives the best notes and who doesn't. I would also aim to pay for at least one professional feedback on each of your screenplays. Research consultants first though. Do they have a good reputation? Do they have good reviews? What exactly are they offering you for your money?

ONE-OFF WRITING COURSES - Always fun and informative, but as above make sure you research them beforehand. Some course will be better than others and the best ones will be taught by people who have actually worked in the industry and don't just talk about it. What is their background? Where have they worked? Again, what are they offering?

Do an internet search for courses available over the next year and script consultancy prices, decide which ones you are interested in, add up how much they will cost you over the year and start saving. Put the money into a separate account and don't touch it until you need it. When you do the money will be there and you won't be scrambling around trying to find the money to go. Here's a tip - you can pay for LSWF in handy monthly instalments. How easy is that?

If you're serious about your career you are going to have to spend some money to get it going and maintain it, whether you like it or not. As long as you plan in advance what training you want to do over the year there shouldn't be any surprises.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

SCRIPT EDITING FOR TELEVISION JULY 2018

Yes, I know it's been a while since I last wrote a blog post, I apologise. I've been quite busy with writing script reports for clients, taking meetings in the big smoke and finishing a treatment and a spec drama pilot. And if that wasn't enough, over the last couple of weekends I've also been in London for Yvonne Grace's SCRIPT EDITING FOR TELEVISION course.

And what fantastic weekends they were. I can't speak highly enough of Yvonne, she knows her onions and then some. I'm already having withdrawal symptoms. I and my fellow attendees had such a brilliant, informative and momentous time that we didn't want it to end, so we've asked Yvonne if she would consider carrying on the course one day a month over the next few months just so we can continue to get our fix of script editing goodness. For those of you who don't know who Yvonne is she honed her skills at the sharp end of TV drama working as a script editor for Eastenders and as a producer for Holby City amongst others.

I obviously can't go into great detail about the course content otherwise I'd give away all of Yvonne's secrets, but I can give you a brief summary of our shenanigans and the plentiful information that was shoved into our lugholes over those four days.

Saturday 21st - We learned about the Macro vs the Micro, how narrative works in TV, text and subtext, storylining, the peaks and troughs in stories, the job script editors do, how important they are and how to be a great one. We also learned about the A, B and C storylines and how they're used in TV drama, how to structure treatments, series bibles and writers' reports, series development and we closely examined character arcs over single episodes and the series as a whole... and that was just on the first day. Blimey!

Sunday 22nd - We looked at how each characters' story intertwines with others over the series, how to get into script editing, how to get experience, how to approach producers and execs, what to expect as a script editor, how story conferences work, the skills a script editor needs and what the story producer and script producer do - yes, they are two different people. Then we were visited by Holby City and Casualty exec producer Simon Harper, who gave up a couple of hours of his Sunday to chat to us about the importance of script editors and how script editing works on Holby City and Casualty.

Saturday 28th - We script edited a Pete Lawson episode of Eastenders, breaking down the A, B and C storylines, assessing what scenes worked or didn't and pointing out what bits of the script that halted the flow. Then we got to live script edit the man himself when Pete Lawson kindly dropped in for two hours and allowed us to talk over with him where we thought his script could have been improved. It was a brilliant opportunity to learn how to structure a positive meeting with a writer and get direct feedback from our notes. Thankfully we didn't reduce him to tears and he even came out for a drink with us afterwards. Thanks, Pete!

Sunday 29th - Sunday was Holby City day. We script edited an episode, all contributing to where we thought it succeeded or failed and then watched the transmitted episode, noting the changes that were made between the draft we had read and filming. It was great to see that we picked up on all the changes. Then in the afternoon, we were visited by freelance development script editor Lucy Hackney, who has worked for such companies as Red Planet. It was a wonderfully informative chat and she too came to the pub with us afterwards.

I had an absolute blast, learned so much that I'm still dizzy from all the information that was crammed into my head over the course of those four days. I can't recommend Yvonne's course highly enough, you should all make sure you book yourself on her next and buy a copy of her book too.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

DON'T BE A DICK PART 2

We're barely into the second half of the year, and yet again I find myself writing about other writers' behaviour for the second time this year. Why do some people never learn? It's like they actively want their careers to crash and burn. Sigh!

Let me make this clear... if you want a long and successful writing career, don't treat people like they're something stinky you picked up on your shoe. It's that simple. The media industry is small and very well connected. Everyone talks. Everyone knows someone. And if that someone only has a bad word to say about you, then you can be sure others will hear about it. Maybe even high profile others in influential positions. It's incredibly easy to get a bad reputation and very difficult to maintain a great one.

Let me try and explain it another way. There have been plenty of times when I've approached producers at events, where they've asked me who my agent is, I've told them, and they've gone, "Oh Christina, we love her. She's brilliant!" Where they might have been initially frosty to my approach as soon as they knew Christina is my agent, they were more than happy to chat to me and agree to read my work. Christina's reputation is an instant icebreaker. Now imagine that's you. If you're open, friendly, approachable and helpful, people are only going to say lovely things about you. That's the majority of your networking already done for you right there.

How many times have you avoided watching a movie or TV show because someone you know told you it was rubbish? How many times have you told others to avoid a film you've watched and hated? It's frightening how quickly and easily a lousy reputation can spread.

One of the TV shows I want to write for is CASUALTY. So I've been chatting with a couple of legends who work on the show, and their advice has been a massive help. I've been careful not to bombard them with emails and questions, I haven't been pushy, and I've been respectful and polite in all my communications with them. I asked Jeff Povey what advice he would give to someone who wanted to write for the show and he replied the same day with a page of fantastic insights. I met Jon Sen a few years ago and have kept in touch with him, occasionally emailing him and asking what he's up to. Last month I wanted to ask him about CASUALTY and a few other things, and he kindly arranged a Skype session with me to answer my questions. Now I know they're both extremely busy (especially Jeff who must have easily written more than ten episodes of drama this year already), and they didn't have to answer my questions, but they did because I didn't make a nuisance of myself and that's the kind of people they are. They are both shining examples of how every writer should act.

Making sure you follow up on emails is a big deal for me. There's nothing worse than emailing someone and not receiving a reply. I don't care how busy you are; if you don't reply to a polite email, even in the briefest of terms, it's just rude. I can't speak for everyone, but when I don't get replies to my emails it automatically clouds my perception of those people from then on. That's why I'll always try and email people back and answer their queries, even if it's with a short and polite, "No thank you."

Remember, don't be a dick.

Happy writing!

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