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!