Wednesday, October 31, 2018

COWBOYS CAN FLY - GETTING A MOVIE MADE - PART ONE

Making a film is a strange mix of emotions. I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm so far out of my comfort zone it's like I'm on another planet, stark naked without a spaceship to fly me home or any weapons to defend myself should I need to. But at the same time, it's exciting, not knowing what's going to happen or who's going to sign on the dotted line to join us on our epic quest.

I'm staying away from the stuff I know nothing about and which I'm clearly going to struggle with, like finance, estimated sales and anything that requires a calculator to work out, or a degree in law to read. Instead, I'm concentrating on the sales side, selling our dream of the finished film to others and working hard to help add cast and crew to aid us on our way, in any way I can.

And then there's the act of raising finance, the hard part of persuading people to part with their hard earned money, convincing them our little film has the potential to make it big and return their investment with interest. When this phase starts, that at least will be in my comfort zone.

And we already have some good news for you... we have our director. Welcome, Giles Alderson!

It's a forward step, a big one, and we're now hoping everything else will fall into place. We also have a letter of intent from an exciting young actor earmarked for one of the main roles, but I can't talk about that at the moment. Exciting times are ahead.

I'm sure it won't all go this smoothly, it's still very early days, but as I said, it's a forward step and as long as we keep moving forward we'll get this great movie made. Stick with us, it'll be worth it.

Happy writing!

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!