Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Danny Stack - sharing his knowledge with keen screenwriters.
So today I will mostly be pimping the legend that is Danny Stack, or more precisely his writing workshop held on Sunday 15th December at Lighthouse Poole.

If you're at university studying scriptwriting, or you've recently graduated and are wondering what to do next, or you simply want to learn more about what it takes to be a writer, then this workshop is a must for you. It's essential in fact, as your writing career, or the lack of it, depends on whether you go and listen to what Danny has to say. Yes, his information 'IS' that important.

I personally owe Danny a lot for the advice he has given me over the years, it really helped me to grow my career. His advice comes from years as a working writer and I've always found it to be spot on.

Here's a little about the course...

The Working Writer Workshop led by Danny Stack
Sunday 15 December 10am - 5pm
Tickets £85 - Students or Seniors £72
If you’re interested in screenwriting, then this new one-day workshop will cover how to get started and how to get ahead. 
Join local screenwriter Danny Stack (whose credits include EastEnders, various children's series and the new Thunderbirds reboot for CiTV) where he’ll reveal his tips and insights on how ‘the system’ works and how you can make it work for you, from getting an agent, your first commission, and everything in between… and beyond! 
You won’t find this information in books or seminars anywhere else. This is a proactive, honest and practical look at how to survive as a working screenwriter. 
The course will be particularly useful for those who already have some screenwriting experience but beginner screenwriters will also benefit from the shared insights and practicalities, all of which will help towards getting that first writing payslip.

Think you can't afford it? If you're serious about wanting a career then you simply cannot afford 'NOT' to go.

Why even attempt to try and learn this stuff yourself, spend months, years struggling to find writing work when Danny can show you the way in a seven hour workshop. Believe me I wish there had been a course like this when I left university back in 2001, it would have saved me 6 years of heartache and got my career off to a much quicker start.

Don't delay, book your tickets now. You're a noodle if you miss out!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


So somewhere in one of my recent blogs I seem to remember mentioning the words 'emotionally honest', but what does that actually mean?

I read a lot of new writers' screenplays through my reading service and the one major thing I notice is the lack of 'emotional honesty' in their work. Too many characters simply spit out lines that sound cool, usually with a flippant or jokey tone or attitude, which rarely do anything to enhance character. When I use the word emotion I don't mean characters simply getting angry, shouting, hitting out, or that so over used cliche of the single tear running down a character's cheek. As a writer you have to dig deeper.

In every scene you have to ask yourself...

  • What are the characters' goals?
  • How will they go about achieving these goals?
  • Who wins out at the end of the scene?
And most importantly...
  • How do the characters feel and react to other characters' actions in their attempt to achieve their goals?
It wasn't until I learnt how to do this, how to keep the characters' actions and responses 'emotionally honest', that I started to receive a great deal more interest in my work. I finally understood there are many different emotions and many layers of each, which emotions and their strength and how they show themselves, all depends on who the character is. The key is knowing your characters well.

Here's a scene taken from my optioned screenplay FAITH. Michael has just suffered an epileptic fit and his sister, Faith, is cleaning him up.

Faith and Michael sit in the bath. 
Faith stitches the wound above Michael’s eye with a needle and thread.  Michael winces but doesn’t move. 
Scars cover Michael’s back, arms and chest, evidence of an old horrific beating. 
With the final stitch in, Faith tenderly washes away the blood. 
A gentle kiss and she wraps Michael into the comfort of her arms.

The scene illustrates just how close these two are. Despite the pain Michael lets his sister stitch up his wound... he trusts her to look after him. Equally Faith, once finished, kisses him gently and holds him tight in her arms to comfort him. That simple gesture alone speaks volumes about much she cares for him and the type of character she is. No words were needed. She didn't need to blurt out her concerns. She just had to hold him. And the old scars on his body hint at Michael being hurt in the past, adding another layer to a very powerful and emotionally honest scene.

Think more about each line of dialogue, each action and importantly the reaction of your characters. How can they help build emotion while keeping it real?

If someone's relative is killed most people wouldn't head off on a killing rampage, or try to extract revenge. Some would fall apart, stray, become lost, others would busy themselves so they didn't have time to think about things. A little extra care and thought could really make the difference to your characters and screenplay.

One book I recently discovered has been a great help in assisting this process is; The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi. Although written with novelists in mind I have also found it translates well to screenwriting. Hunt a copy down and get working, and soon you'll be writing characters and scenes that readers won't be able to put down.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Back again and I still haven't caught up with all my LSWF emails, so if I spoke to you at the festival and you haven't heard from me yet, I will be in touch soon...I promise.

And straight to the second session from Pilar Alessandra - Dynamic Dialogue.

Here's what the lady had to say on the subject.

  • There should be no idle chit-chat in a screenplay, no greetings or anything like that, as all dialogue must have a goal, either to show character or move the screenplay along.
  • Think of the many ways for a character to communicate and express themselves through dialogue. Below are some examples.
    • Lying.
    • Euphemisms.
    • Interrogation.
    • Flattery.
    • Sarcasm.
    • Joking.
    • Anecdotes.
    • Truth.
    • Silence.
  • Think about who has the power in the conversation. The one who has the silence 'ALWAYS' has the power.
  • Think about what your characters want in the scene and how are they going to get it using a verbal strategy. This will drive their dialogue.
  • Subtext: This gives cues to the audience about the real subject or truth of the conversation. Visual cues such as physical action can help, like a 'tell' that shows what the character is really thinking.
  • To understand how subtext works in dialogue choose a couple of your characters at random and place them at a funeral. Then write three pages of dialogue without mentioning the name of the person who has died and the words FUNERAL, DEATH, DYING, COFFIN, VICAR and MOURNING. This is good practise and will help you improve.
  • As above keep away from key words in your dialogue, this will help avoid exposition. Talk around a subject not directly of it.
  • Think about how people talk. Here are a few ideas to help stop your characters sounding the same.
    • Where are they from?
    • What is their background?
    • What is their job? They will likely drop words into conversation associated with their profession. The language of profession. Do they speak lawyer, doctor, or road-sweeper?
    • What are their likes?
    • What are their goals?
  • Avoid trying to write accents, use phrases instead, then your dialogue will be truer to character.
  • Think about a characters' verbal rules. Do they...
    • Swear lots?
    • Apologise all the time?
    • Use sarcasm a lot?
    • Talk slowly?
    • Talk loudly?
    • With pauses?
    • Use the wrong words?
    • Rant?
  • What is your characters' rhythm of speech?
  • Casting your characters mentally also helps to find their voice. Clint Eastwood would say the same line differently to Jim Carey. This will also change how the scene plays out.
  • It's sometimes helpful to think which instrument your character might be. Piccolo = fast and high pitched. Double bass = booming and slow.
  • To avoid long speeches in a screenplay, or monologues, write it down in full, then pick the one line from it that sums it all up. It saves on over using dialogue. For example in Rambo our overly muscled hero is listening to an aid worker give her reasons for why she wants to go into a war zone to help people. In the original screenplay Rambo gave a long speech detailing the many reasons the aid worker should not cross the border, including rape, torture and death. In the end the speech was cut with only the last line remaining, "Go home!" Those two words have much more impact than a whole speech effectively saying the same thing.
  • Think about what genre you are writing in. This will also affect your dialogue. Comedy = funny one liners. Thrillers = over talking loses tension.
  • Your characters will play games with their dialogue, games they don't realise they are playing. Take the line, "Tell me you love me." Now without using it write three pages of dialogue where one character is trying to get the other to do exactly that. How do you play it? Who wins and how?
  • There are other ways of getting around exposition. In The King's Speech the voice coach gets the King to talk about a traumatic childhood event by singing it. In another film, I can't remember the name, to get away with a large chunk of exposition the scene was written with the Pope swimming laps in the Vatican pool, while a Cardinal walked up and down talking and keeping pace. Think how wonderfully visual that was.
  • Remember with genres there must be what Pilar called a 'button' at the end of dialogue in a scene. With drama there should be a cliffhanger and with a thriller you must, '"seal the deal."
As ever Pilar's advice is brilliant and spot on. I love this lady! I might even buy her book. There is a lot in this post for even an experienced writer to think on. After all it never hurts to brush up on your skills.

One more small report to come which I will probably upload Friday. Laters!

Friday, November 08, 2013


And so having finally hunted down a few of the delegates I wanted to meet up with I then decided, on a whim, to drop in to Pilar Alessandra's How To Write To Maximise Impact session.

I've never been one for script gurus and have always been a bit suspicious of them, but I was hearing good things about Pilar and her sessions and I'm happy to admit I wasn't disappointed. Most of what she talked about I already knew, I've been writing for 12 years after all, although I did pick up a few nuggets of valuable information, and it's always good to get someone else's view on things.

To illustrate Pilar's advice I'm going to use made up examples, so please excuse me if they're rubbish, they are just to show what I'm trying to say and not intended to win an Oscar.

Pilar's Suggestion 1 - "The action line is the setup, the dialogue is the punchline."

That idea stood out for me because I'm about to do a second rewrite on a comedy script and I realised there is far too much dialogue in the screenplay, so it was a poignant reminder that action can speak louder than words.

Joey flies into a rage, smashes the office to pieces in front of Rich and Dave.

DAVE: What an idiot.

RICH: Yeah... he does realise that's his laptop he's jumping on and not yours?

DAVE: Let's just wait until he calms down and then you can tell him.

Gradually Joey's rage subsides and he slumps to the floor.

Dave and Rich survey the damage.

DAVE: No way I'm clearing that up.

Which suddenly Becomes...

Joey flies into a rage, smashes the office to pieces in front of Rich and Dave, who watch impassively.

The chair... smashes through the window.

The desk... becomes kindling.

The filing cabinet... torn papers fly everywhere.

The laptop... he jumps up and down on it, the keys splinter off in every direction.

Gradually Joey's rage subsides and he slumps to the floor in a heap.

Dave and Rich survey the damage.

DAVE: No way I'm cleaning that up.

Pilar's Suggestion 2 - "Don't use BEAT, use action to replace it."

I don't often use 'BEAT' or 'PAUSE' in my screenplays but I have noticed a lot of new writers do. A screenplay looks better and reads better without them.

MARCUS: Do you love me?


JANET: I don't know.

Will then become...

MARCUS: Do you love me?

Janet walks to the window, stares out blankly.

JANET: I don't know.

Pilar's Suggestion 3 - "Stopping to explain something ruins the pace."

Action should be short, efficient and to the point, especially in moments of high tension.

Dave yanks the brown, suede leather steering wheel, slides the car, a battered brown Capri with a smashed wing mirror and front number plate hanging off, around the corner. He barely misses two pedestrians, a man in his early thirties wearing a coffee brown suit, and a woman tottering along in bright red heels.

Then becomes...

Dave yanks the steering wheel, slides the car around the corner, barely misses two pedestrians.

Pilar's Suggestion 4 - "Don't be afraid to use minor sluglines to keep things moving."

Don't reset your scene every time or it will slow things down and really irritate the reader.


Alan opens the door.  Simon barges past him.

SIMON: Where is she?

Simon exits another door.


Simon enters. Sees she's not there, exits quickly.


Simon enters, skids to a halt.  Janet sits at the kitchen table, her head in her hands.

Then becomes...


Alan opens the door.  Simon barges past him.

SIMON: Where is she?

He storms through to...


Sees she's not there, rushes in to...


And skids to a halt.  Janet sits at the kitchen table, her head in her hands.

Pilar's Suggestion 5 - "Remember emotional responses to discovery."

If something happens how does your character react to it?

Nick steps out onto the roof.  Two hundred zombies face him down.  Nick quickly closes the door again.

Then becomes...

Nick steps out onto the roof.  Two hundred zombies face him down.  Nick pales.  He steps back and quickly closes the door.

Pilar's Suggestion 6 - "If you want to draw the eye to something, put it on its own line."


Nick steps out onto the roof.  Two hundred zombies face him down.  Nick pales.  He steps back and quickly closes the door.

Then becomes...

Nick steps out onto the roof.  Two hundred zombies face him down.

Nick pales.

He steps back and quickly closes the door.

Pilar's Suggestion 7 - "Use CAPS sparingly. This is important!"

Remember, caps should only be used the first time a character is introduced, for mini sluglines and very rarely for anything else.


MAX KICKS in the DOOR, SMASHES his fist into the DRUG DEALER's face, CRACKS his nose.


Max kicks in the door, smashes his fist into the Drug Dealer's face, cracks his nose.

Pilar Suggestion 8 - "The fight scene.  Emotion before the fight.  Emotion after the fight.  Who won?  Who has the power?"

1 - Emotion before the fight.
2 - Tone of fight.
3 - Method or weaponry.
4 - Fight move 1.
5 - Fight move 2.
6 - Upper hand.
7 - Winning moment.
8 - Emotion after the fight.

This is just a guide and there can be more fight moves if you need them. This can also be used for fights in dialogue or power games.

Lot's of great advice for new and experienced writers alike. A really great talk.

As much as I loved The Fall and Broadchurch sessions, Pilar's first session was the stand out one of the festival for me. That little lady is AWESOME!!!!!

Wednesday, November 06, 2013


I hunted through the crowds of delegates to try and find those lovely people I had contacted before the festival and arranged to meet with. But with seven hundred people milling around the words needle and haystack came to mind.

Eventually after much exhaustive searching I settled for sitting down and listening to the extremely lovely John Yorke and the very talented Chris Chibnall chat about Broadchurch in the marquee. Unlike The Fall I had actually managed to catch up on all the episodes of Broadchurch before the festival, so I knew there would be no spoilers for me... I hate spoilers!

The first thing Chris Chibnall was keen to talk about was how Broadchurch was not a normal who-done-it. He deliberately wanted a strong emotional core and as with The Fall to focus on the emotion of loss rather than have anonymous victims. That was what I loved about both shows, Broadchurch especially; it was emotionally draining, very emotionally honest, as we witnessed how the death of the boy not only affected his family, but the community as a whole. Broadchurch could have been a community anywhere, even the community you or I live in, and that's what makes the show so appealing and unmissable.

I find that with crime drama, or any genre for that matter, the more of an emotional stake you have in the story, the more you emotionally connect with the victims, their family, their friends, as well as individual police officers with their own troubles, the more it has an impact on you. Broadchurch achieved this expertly. I'm not saying shows like A Touch Of Frost or Luther aren't worth watching because they don't explore who the victims were, because they are still very well written and extremely enjoyable and both are favourites of mine. What I'm saying is emotionally driven stories have a far greater impact and stay with the viewer for much longer.

The second thing Chris drew attention to were the red herrings. He pointed out they were actually smaller plot arcs playing out alongside the main one, with separate emotions, all of which were resolved emotionally at their end. During the series each character had two secrets; a personal one and one from the night of the murder, all of which had to be tied up by the end of the series.

The third thing Chris mentioned that stood out for me was that he was pleased with the quality of cast he was able to get, even those who didn't have much screen time, as they helped to make the series. He put this down to writing strong characters, great parts and powerful speeches that actors would want to play. Chris pointed out Pauline Quirke signed on despite her character having very few words of dialogue until later episodes, none in the opening one, simply on the strength of the character.

Another truly enlightening talk and extremely enjoyable. I can't wait to see what Chris Chibnall comes up with for the second series.

Monday, November 04, 2013


I had a first draft commission deadline to complete for the Monday before the festival so I didn't get as much time to prepare as I would have usually. Still, as I travelled up to London on the Thursday morning by train I felt as prepared as I was going to be for the weekend, and as usual my excitement grew.

After four feature commissions in the last two years I had already decided to concentrate on TV at the festival, focusing my pitching and my schedule on British TV drama. The festival didn't disappoint.

First up for me was crime drama with the producer Gub Neal and writer Allan Cubitt of The Fall. If anyone hasn't seen The Fall them my question has to be 'why not'? It is unmissable crime drama, brilliantly written, ingenious even, delivered by producer Gub Neal, the man responsible for some of the most iconic crime series on British TV over the years. You have no excuse not to watch it.

So I sat down in the room eager to hear what they had to say. Allan started off by explaining how thoroughly he researched every aspect of the show before he began to write, going far deeper into the research than he needed to do so. He explained he did this because he wanted the research to bring a real truth to the series, to how the police react at crime scenes and especially how the killer would act not only with his victims, but also at home with his family. He pointed out if a real detective walked into a crime scene and lifted up a piece of evidence with a pen, like you see in so many crime shows both here and in the US, the crime scene would instantly be compromised.

Allan approached the script from an unusual angle quickly deciding he didn't want to create a guess 'who done it' crime show, but instead reveal who the killer was from the start and create the suspense and intrigue by not revealing why he does it. He explained that with a 'who done it' there is a lot of exposition, especially at the end when the crime is solved piece by piece to a room full of potential suspects and the culprit is finally revealed, where they conveniently tell why they did it. Allan wanted to avoid this at all costs, instead allowing the drama to come from showing the killer's home life and his sense of detachment, despite him being married with two kids. The characters start from where you don't want them to be and this is much more interesting, which is why the killer is shown with his family.

He went on to explain that in real life killers spend roughly 3% of their time killing, the rest of their time has to be filled with something, usually normal, daily activities. Showing the killers' family life, and how detached he is from it and them, helps to balance this and allows more of an insight into the mind of the killer. It also helps to keep the killings realistic, so there isn't a massive trail of dead bodies left behind by the killer.

The show concentrates on the moral accountability and not anonymous victims like other crime shows do. The audience learns as much about the victims as they do the killer and the cops, so the deaths have more impact and aren't frivolous. By doing this Allan drew the audience in because they can believe it might happen to them, has indeed happened to others, making the story more relevant to the viewers' lives. Could a killer be living next door to us, leading a perfectly ordinary life? It's possible and  a very scary thought.

Allan went on to say he deliberately didn't show any back story for Gillian Anderson's character, instead revealing who she is through her actions. Sometimes things can be left unsaid and unresolved, as with the ending. Gillian Anderson's character was also created with a sense of detachment, from her fellow officers and relationships, to show her likeness with the killer. Her character and the killer are also all about to control, control from different sides of the fence.

A great talk, very insightful, very informative and fantastic to see Gub Neal doing what he does best.

More on Wednesday.