Wednesday, January 12, 2022

2022 - LOOKING FORWARD

I don't want to make any New Year writing resolutions this year. Not because I've lost my ambition along with my writing mojo but because I don't want to end 2022 with any unfulfilled goals. Unfulfilled goals lead to anger... anger leads to hate... hate leads to standing in a dark, damp cave with father issues and only a lightsaber as company... ahem... well, you get the drift.

Basically, I don't want to make all these resolutions and/or goals and then end the year disappointed having not achieved some or all of them. Because, at the moment, the danger with failing to acheive the writing goals I set myself at the beginning of the year is that it might leave me feeling disollusioned, depressed, angry and resentful and after already spending a year feeling shit about myself and my writing, that is the last thing I want to happen. I still want to be ambitious. I still want to achieve things. I still want to work on exciting projects and read amazing, intreaguing and entertaining screenplays from many wonderful writers. Just because I refuse to set goals for myself, doesn't mean I refuse to look forward with regards to my career.

So instead, inspired by my wife and her hypnotherepy teachings, I have decided to choose a single word which will have a bearing and influence on my life as I travel through the next tweleve months. The word I choose is 'OPEN'.

I choose 'OPEN' because even though I don't want the pressure of failed goals I do want to be ready for work and opportunities that may come my way this year. I want to be 'OPEN' for business. I want to be 'OPEN' for work. I want to be 'OPEN' for opportunity. There's no pressure on me with 'OPEN'. There's no expectation with 'OPEN'. There's just endless possibilities and a willingness to welcome them should they present themselves. I'm free to be adaptable and choose my opportunities when and if they come along, and not be tied to something I commit myself to in January. I have the freedom to make choices and the freedom to be happy with what ever comes my way, without the anxiety of missed opportunities that don't.

In the past I've advocated setting goals as a way of challanging yourself and to keep your career moving forward. Now I'm revising that to say if you sometimes react badly to that pressure or simply don't want it, just commit to being 'OPEN' to possibilities while still working hard at doing all the right things to advance your career.

Happy New Year and happy writing!


Wednesday, December 29, 2021

2021 - THE YEAR THAT WAS

2020 was a reasonable year. While I did battle depression for the most part I also landed a feature commission and had plenty of screenplay clients to distract me from the explosion of Covid. However, 2021 was a completely different monster altogether.

2021 sucked the life out of me. There were no commissions, very few screenplay clients and my mental health went terminal. By the end of the summer, I was done. I could barely string a sentence together in person or on the page and I was so broke I contemplated ending it all. It got that bad! But it's only when you reach rock bottom you realise what's important and what you need to hold onto to come through the dark times. Rock bottom is where all the layers and barriers you've built up over the years to protect yourself from hurt and disappointment have been stripped away and all you are left with is the honest truth of who you are.

I discovered a middle-aged, white male dissatisfied with his career and life, a person who had put so much pressure on himself to succeed it had tied him up into tiny little knots, to the point he could barely function without continually second-guessing his every move. Those pent up frustrations had caused him to take it out on the ones he loved the most, sometimes blaming them for what he considered his rotten luck, skewing his priorities so badly his need to be successful at writing had overridden everything else in his life. He needed to retune his priorities and reset his expectations.

The first thing I did was get assessed for autism. I've long suspected I might have Asperger's and with the crippling levels of anxiety I was experiencing due to Covid, it was something I needed to get sorted quickly. It was a tremendous relief to finally receive confirmation that I indeed have an Autism Spectrum Condition. Knowing how my brain translates the world and how different situations affect me has helped ground me, giving me an understanding of what I and others can do to help avoid high levels of anxiety and future meltdowns. I didn't need to be normal - what's normal anyway? - I just needed to accept myself and work 'with' rather than 'against' the unique individual running around inside my head.

The second thing I needed to do was to strip back everything and concentrate on what was really important to me... my family. So I swallowed my pride and ditched my crappy part-time job, which I had hung onto in the desperate belief I needed time available to write for when the inevitable TV commissions came my way and found myself a full-time job doing something I love... selling.

Writing has taken second place to my family and their happiness, and if some days the words don't come or I don't get a certain number of spec pages done in a week, it doesn't matter. And it's a great feeling to not have the pressure, the doubt, the desperation that has haunted me over the last few years. It's early days and the small, sometimes insignificant things still wind me up now and then, but I'm a lot happier without the weight of expectation I buried myself under.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, don't judge yourself or your progress against the success of others because you'll only ever be disappointed. Just be the best you can be and leave time for the important things in life.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

STATIC SCENES

The static scene is one of the most common mistakes a new writer can make. Characters sitting around eating/drinking/talking isn't visually appealing and can be incredibly dull to watch, especially in feature films. 'But..,' I hear you cry, 'Tarantino did exactly that in his opening scene of RESERVOIR DOGS???' He did, but then he 'is' Tarantino... sadly, the rest of us are just mere mortals.

Both TV and feature films are visual mediums and as such, the visuals take the lead, showing us character and moving the plot forward. If they're not interesting enough to hold the attention of the audience we risk losing them... 'entertainment' is the key word here.

Unfortunately, new writers tend to rely far too much on dialogue heavy scenes to tell their story, trying to entertain the audience's ears without thinking about entertaining them visually. If this is you, and you want to improve your writing quickly and easily, thinking about how your scenes look and what you show rather than tell, will help you achieve this.

I can't remember the screenwriting book I read it in ( I think it may be SAVE THE CAT) or which programme or film the scene is referenced from, but the explanation of the 'Pope in the pool' scene and how to elevate large chunks of expositional dialogue without boring the audience, is a game changer.

The scene described went like this: One of the Pope's advisors has a lot of expositional dialogue to get through to inform the audience of what was going on. This could be a very dull and uninteresting moment but the way the writer approaches the scene makes it interesting, feeding the audience the exposition in such a way they doesn't realise.

The way the writer did this was to have have the Pope, in Speedos, do lengths in the Vatican pool while his aid walked up and down ploughing through the exposition. A boring scene instantly became visually appealing, attractive, giving its audience something unusual, and entertaining enough to ensure they would forgive all of that normally brain numbing tedious exposition.

That's one thing thing you have to do to improve your writing, review those static scenes with people sitting around and talking and figure out how you can set this scene differently to make it visually interesting and not typical, cliché or boring.

Screenwriting isn't just about story and character, it's also about what is on the screen and how you can use your visuals to entertain, inform and move your story forward in an interesting way. Remember the adage, 'SHOW, DON'T TELL!'

Happy writing!

Thursday, September 02, 2021

GARY W. GOLDSTEIN INTERVIEW PART 2

Here’s part two of my interview with legendary Hollywood producer Gary W Goldstein, where we’ve been discussing how it’s imperative to be bold as a writer…

What was it about the writers you've championed that attracted you to them?

I'm looking for people who have personality and aren't afraid of telling their story and that they know how to tell a story. Not because they write a perfect script, there is no such thing. At the heart, I want to see there’s a very meaningful and worthwhile artist at work, who’s got a fresh perspective and is not trying to mimic others and be commercial in the marketplace… true storytellers.

What kind of script are you looking for? That's just such a terrible question. What am I looking for? I'm looking to be lit up like a human Roman candle. I want to be surprised. I want to be moved. I want to see brilliance. I want great dialogue and characters that relate. Take me on a journey that I wouldn't have expected, to a place I've never been.”

One of the most frequent questions I read in writers’ forums from new writers is, ‘How do I get an agent?’ 

“My answer is always, ‘are you earning money?’ You need to prove to them that you're worth taking on and it's not just a matter of having a good script, you need to be out there actively looking for work, making those contacts so that you're attractive prospect. You're not going to get signed at CA if you don't have some business on the table and it better be good business because they got too much going on. I believe that absolutely. I believe that people need to earn their way into success.

What can writers do to earn their successes?

That involves a lot of failure. The best way to succeed is to fail fiercely and quickly, ten times more than you are right now. If you're not failing a lot, then you're not going to succeed. So to get over this fear of scraping your toe or whatever that is, earn it and earning it is being busy on your own behalf. You need to bring activity and conversation and meetings and new people into the circle.

I was always happily surprised, like, holy shit, this is amazing, right? I've got a client who's in the game. They're not in the stands, watching the game. They're on the court, tennis shoes, laced up, ready to go. They're playing the game. And it's like, that's what I need. I need someone that I can send into a room. Who's going to be happy to be in the room. Not afraid. I need someone who has earned it and is humble enough to go in as an artist and really tell the truth with no bragging, and connect deeply with people.

I had an actor friend who was in a big funk. I asked him why? And he said, well, I just went into an audition. It’s such a great role. It was a beautiful opportunity. And I just, I didn't get the gig. And I said, I'm sorry to hear that. Tell me about it. So he tells me about it, what the role is, the project, blah, blah, blah. I said, who was in the room?

Was there a casting director? Was there a casting associate in the room? Yeah! Was the producer there? Yeah! There was like this cabal of serious people in the room. And I said, okay, so you went in and you gave your best performance? Yeah! So I'm sorry, I'm hearing like this incredibly successful story and you're all blue and down on yourself and in a funk. So why are we seeing this so differently?

I'm going to guess that you think the purpose of an audition is to book a gig? And he said, of course. Let me be honest with you, you just told me that you went into a room and you got to be a living, breathing personality in this room with these people who are in the center ring of Hollywood. You had a chance to meet all these people and give them a sense of who you really are, not in character, but as a human. And then you got to perform for them. Do you know how many people on the planet would like to trade places with you? Your job in an audition is to put out the welcome mat, hug people, let them see who you are. Smile. I mean, literally just smile, have fun. Be the one who's pleasant to be around and then give the best damn performance you can give and then leave. Not without another hug. Make them want to invite you back.

Then when you audition for them again it's like, ah, it's Dominic. He's always pleasant. He's always smiling. I mean, it's not always on a conscious level, but now I know you in the business sense, now I can hire you. You need to let people know you, you need to let them be your goodwill ambassador. Maybe make referrals, maybe open doors, maybe talk about you behind your back.

I say similar things to writers who have suffered rejection and they get really upset about it. My philosophy is it doesn't mean your screenplay's bad. They're not rejecting you. They're just that screenplay just wasn't for them at that time.

When you find the people that you admire, that you would want to know you and know your body of work, then go after them intentionality, meet their assistant, meet their creative executive, you know, like find your way into that conversation with patience, knowing that this would be worthwhile and they would be someone that you would really want to have an enduring career with.

So it's worth investing a little bit of skin in the game. It's one script, it's not who you are. Their opinion may or may not be well-grounded, there's so many variables. Did they have a bad day that day? Did they not like science fiction?

Would you say it's better to aim to make connections with the big hitters? Or do you think it's also valuable too to try and make relationships with interns or script readers and people like that?

It's not about big hitters because that’s a recipe for frustration. Number one, if you do have big hitters on your list they're not your target. Someone on their staff is your target.

If I'm relatively new and I knock on Steven Spielberg's door, should I expect him to really have the time for me or even answer the door? No, it's unrealistic. He's surrounded by people because he's the CEO of a fortune 100, he's got a bunch of people that firewall him from just that sort of thing. Not because he's not generous, but it needs to be filtered. So I want a warm entry. I wanna befriend and invest in someone who is, you know, maybe one of his creative executives, or an assistant, anyone that has been vetted and trusted and is on the inside, is in my view, equal.

I just went through this exercise with some people the other day. I randomly put in a keyword into LinkedIn and it wasn't even unique to Hollywood, but it was all Hollywood, you know, like I knew what was going to happen.

And I didn't even get past the first two pages. It was just all the exact right people. So I didn't bother going on. I just clicked profile after profile. And after about six or seven they had all done A, B, C, D and E. They've been interning here and an assistant there and a creative executive. I mean, it was like astonishing what they'd done, agency, production, like they were clearly learning the business from the inside out.

They were probably three years into their career and they'd already had a couple of great gigs. They do 18 months. They move on. These people are in the business of building their currency, their knowledge base and their relationships. That's the person that I want. That's the person I know who is going to succeed. They're going to make it. I don't know how, I don't know where, but that's part of my conversation.

Part three coming soon...

Happy Writing

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

BLOG REWIND - WHAT IS A SECOND DRAFT?

This blog was first posted back in 2012 and although my work methods have changed slightly, the below is still relevant...

Somebody asked me how much work I put into a second draft, which is a very good question as I may have over simplified the second draft process in my last blog.

For me the first draft is literally just one pass on the story. I may go back a couple of times to make a few quick, minor changes, but mostly I just write from the start until the finish, with very little editing (I now edit as I go aiming to write five pages a day and edit what I've written the following day). My second drafts actually consist of several mini drafts, usually ten, so that when I'm finished my second draft it will actually be draft eleven. This is how I do it...

  1. The first pass of the second draft is where I see if my story actually works. If it doesn't I need to rethink and come at it from a different angle. This is where I plug all those nasty plot holes to make sure the screenplay works as a whole.
  2. The second pass is all about structure. Does it work? Is it too fast, too slow, too confusing? Is it end heavy, or does it waffle on in act two? For the fist two passes I'm not worried about anything but plot and structure, because I don't want to complicate things and get myself into a mess. I find it best to concentrate on one aspect at a time. This is also where the first draft will probably change by anything from 25% to 75%.
  3. Pass three is all about my characters, are they believable, do they act like they should and more importantly are they necessary? There have been occasions where I have found characters to be superfluous, so I've had to get rid of them.
  4. Dialogue. Are my characters speaking with their own voice, is there too much exposition in the dialogue, does it sound clunky, do I get a sense of character, is there too much? Remember less is more! Obviously a feature will have a lot less dialogue than a TV drama.
  5. Language and imagery. This is where I lose superfluous words, delete repeating ones and look closely at all of my action description. I want to take out everything that can't actually be shown on the screen.
  6. Restructuring. This is really another pass at structure, but this time I look to see if I can tell my story a different way by changing the order I tell it in. This is also where I see if I am telling the story through the right characters' eyes. On several occasions I have found it more advantageous to tell the story through the eyes of a different character making it more powerful in the process.
  7. Conflict. This is where I check every scene has conflict in it and where I add more layers to ensure it does. Remember conflict is the essential part of any story.
  8. The opening pages. I always check to make sure the opening pages are going to grab the audience. If they're not then I need to change them so they do so.
  9. My second pass on characters, dialogue and action. If what my characters say and do doesn't match their character, then I have to change it so it does.
  10. My last pass is where I proof read for any glaring errors like calling a character by a different name halfway through the screenplay. You would be surprised how often this happens.

It's when those ten passes are done that I consider my second draft to be completed. I do it all over again for the third draft, but then it'll be easier because most of the hard work will have already been done.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

BLOG REWIND - ONE PAGE PITCH

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 documents 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 is your Logline (written in a plain font size 12).

And finally, below that is 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 your pitch isn't funny then it's not doing its 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 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 headfirst 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 his 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 superpowers 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 superhero in his own right, rekindle the romance with his wife, reconnect with his son and save him from the evil clutches of Professor Doomsday.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

THE WATCH: THE DIFFICULTIES OF ADAPTATION - REVISITED PART 2

I have now viewed all episodes of the first series of THE WATCH and below is my revised review and conclusions...

As a whole, if you don't go in with expectations of THE WATCH being anything like the books, the show's okay, a solid bit of entertainment without being particularly memorable.

After completing the series, I watched an interview on YouTube with creator and lead writer Simon Allen and one of the producers, where they kept going on about how great Sir Terry's novels were and what great characters he had created. This is of course true, but they failed to mention their adaptation is so far removed from GUARDS GUARDS as to be almost unrecognisable and that is where and why the show fails.

Alarm bells started to ring for me when Simon suggested the novel GUARDS GUARDS didn't lend itself to an eight episode series adaptation, even though he delivered exactly that, albeit a pale, greatly diluted imitation that wasn't a patch on the original source novel. Missing was the strength of character of Lady Sybil, the leadership of career copper Captain Vimes, the hapless and delightfully comic duo of Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs, the tongue-in-cheek references, the often darkly sarcastic and self-deprecating humour and the colourfully rich world Sir Terry created for his characters to inhabit. What we actually ended up with was a sanitised view, wiped (almost) clean of everything that made Sir Terry's GUARDS GUARDS so brilliant in the first place.

It felt out of character for Captain Vimes to stumble accidentally and apologetically through the story, with Corporal Cheery instead positioned as the one with all the answers, leading, explaining and handholding the rest of THE WATCH through to the conclusion of the case. This is in contrast to Sir Terry's Watch novels, where although Vimes may have his faults he uses his copper's instincts to lead the Watch to get their man/woman/dragon ... eventually! THE WATCH's Vimes was a little more pitiful and pathetic, often muddled and barely able to make a decision without help or prompt from Corporal Cheery.

It was puzzling as to why when Simon and the producer went to great efforts to constantly praise and refer to Sir Terry's genius, they then decided to disregard the vast majority of GUARDS GUARDS. It seemed odd to me, that they were in one breath trying to sell it as one of Sir Terry's greatest works and in the next telling us they were only 'inspired' by it to deliver something so radically different, completely missing or deliberately ignoring the importance of the audience's expectation.

And 'expectation' is the keyword here. There was already a built-in audience of millions of fans for Vimes and the Night's Watch, all of whom had expectations of what a TV adaptation of the novels would deliver. If the show had delivered on that expectation then the series would have been a runaway hit. But it didn't and the adaptation lost its audience before the show was even aired, which is why I suspect it has appeared on iPlayer rather than episodically on primetime BBC One.

If you adapt such a renowned and well-loved work, or any work for that matter, you have to make sure you deliver on what the audience is expecting, with maybe a few twists and turns along the way to freshen things up and play with that expectation. THE WATCH fell woefully short of this, alienating its audience from the outset, making it almost impossible to recover from the negative word of mouth it generated. As I said above, the show is okay and reasonably entertaining, but when you ignore and alienate your target audience you will always be doomed to failure.

Happy writing!