Monday, June 20, 2011

A Helping Hand

I get a lot of emails asking for help and I answer them all, as I do with all my emails. If someone has taken the time to write to me it's only right I take the time to write back...even if I'm busy. If I can't help them myself I'll point them in the direction of someone who might be able to.

Most of these requests for help I get come from media students; I was one once, so I'm only too happy to do what I can for them. A good example of this is when I was contacted by a tutor from Bangor who asked if I had any old scripts the students could film for their course. I was very happy to help them out, sending them two very old scripts. They had fun making them and I got a buzz seeing scripts I thought long dead get made. A win/win situation for all concerned. But there's always someone who has to go and spoil it for others.

I was contacted at the beginning of the month and literally begged by a MA student in London for a short script, as he needed something by the 10 June at the latest, as he had to film four short films as part of his course and was quickly running out of time. I explained to him I was very busy with several paid projects and consequently was only taking on paid work, but I offered to squeeze him into my busy schedule for a small fee. He was still eager for my help and happily agreed to pay.

I kept the student up-to-date with how I was getting on, sending him copies of the script as it progressed, and at all points he said he was very happy with what I was producing for him. When I presented him with the finished first draft ready for him to come back to me with any notes he told me he really liked it. I then didn't hear from him and the 10th June came and went. I sent him two chase emails and finally got a short, abrasive email back from him on the 15th saying he wasn't sure about my script and would get in contact if, and when, he had any notes for me. The alarm bells started ringing in my head.

I wrote back to him asking what was wrong and why he had changed his mind about the script? I got a very rude reply stating he wasn't going to pay me and that he considered the matter closed. So I Googled his name only to find out he'd put a ton of adverts online over the last couple of months asking for scripts, two even posted after his deadline of the 10th June, none of which stated he needed them urgently. It was then quite obvious to me I had been conned and this student was getting writers to write him scripts, making each one think they were the only one working for him, claiming he needed them urgently so that he had several scripts from which to choose from when he was ready to film his MA project.

Now it's not the money I'm concerned about, the money isn't important at all, what gets me is this student got me to write him a script using lies and deceit, knowing I was busy and couldn't really spare the time, and then when the project was done he simply wanted to cut all ties. I suspect, although this is only supposition, he intends to claim credit for the screenplay himself. He'll find it an impossible task now though, as I hunted down his course tutor and told him categorically that this MA student wasn't allowed to use my work in any form and I even sent the tutor a copy of the script to use as reference. I also asked him if he could have a talk with the student about professionalism...he was only too happy to do so.

The moral of this story is be honest and don't deceive those you are working with. It takes years to build up a good reputation and only moments to lose it. This business is built on reputation and word of mouth, and if the word about you is bad then you'll find it hard, or even impossible, to get work.

If anyone out there thinks they've replied to this student's ad, or is working for him now, then please email me and I'll answer whatever questions you have in private.

The unfortunate down side of this is I will now probably say 'NO' to the next student who writes to me asking for help. This doesn't mean I'll stop helping people who ask for it, I'll just be more cautious when people approach me, at least for a while.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Forty Key Scenes - Revisted

The most common problem I see in scripts from new writers is lack of structure. I've been there too many a time myself, but I now get praised by producers for my structure, as many of the scripts they receive aren't. I discovered a little trick that helped solve that problem years ago.

When I start plotting a new script I always use the forty key scenes rule to help me, or a variation thereof if I'm writing a TV pilot episode. I don't know where I first picked up this idea, or which book I read it in, but it's been an invaluable tool over the years and really helps to focus the story telling. How do these forty key scenes work? It's really easy, let me show you.

Take forty blank index cards and stick them to a wall, or pin them to a cork board, in four rows of ten. Your first row is your fist act with the last card being your act one turning point. The next ten are the first half of act two up to the midway point. The next ten are the second half of act two with the last card being the turning point into act three. Your final ten cards are act three.

Use these cards to write down a brief outline of each scene, paying close attention to the important places as the first and second act turning points and the midpoint. You'll see if your plot has a problem, or doesn't have legs, as there will be blank spaces. It's your job to solve those plot holes and fill those blank cards. You don't have to follow this idea ridgedly, this is only a guide to help you think about your plot and work through any problems it has. You can make it as flexible or as ridged as you want. Whatever works for you.

I've adapted the forty key scenes rule a little bit since I first used it years ago and I've now incorperated a very good idea I came across in Blake Snyder's - Save The Cat! At the bottom of the cards he adds a +/-, or a -/+, used to indicate the emotional change in the scene. Take the scene from Star Wars where Ben Kenobi is teaching Luke how to use the Force while on the Millennium Falcon. Luke starts off disbelieving when he can't see to deflect the training orbs bolts, a - in this case, but when he finally 'sees' the training orb even with his eyes covered this changes to a +.

The other idea he talks about is adding >< at the bottom of the index cards to represent conflict. Drama comes from conflict so if your scene doesn't have any it's going to fall flat. Find the conflict in the scene and write it down here.

The advantage of writing your scenes down on cards is that you can move them around at will. A scene might not work in the place you intended it to go, but it might work elsewhere. It's just a simple matter of moving that card to its new place.

Only when your forty key scenes are completed can you then start to write your script confident you've worked through all of your story's problems. The forty cards will provide you with a blue print for your finished script, and trust me your script will be much better for all that preparation.

Give it a try.