Tuesday, October 21, 2014


I've been reading a few discussions online recently about One Sheets, or as I call them One Shits, as people prepare for this year's LSWF. You can probably tell by my pet name for them I'm not a fan. In fact I think they're a giant waste of time and effort. Here's two very good reasons why...

Reason One -  What are producers and directors actually looking for from a one page pitch? Are they looking to see how talented you are as a graphic designer? Are they looking to be cheered up by a nice visual? Or do they want to know if the person sending them the one sheet can write?

That's looking at it simply, they really want to know three things; can you write, is the idea any good and can they work with you? And that's all they want to know. That's all you should be concentrating on. Forget designing one sheets, the only thing your reader is interested in is the pitch, not how prettily you can draw. The picture isn't going to sell your idea, your pitch is. If the pitch isn't up to standard, or more importantly of interest, then the picture isn't going to sway things. So why include it?

Reason Two - What does adding a picture to your pitch actually say to the producer or director? It says you're probably trying to hide a poorly written pitch, or a terrible idea, with an illustration intended to distract. It's saying to them that even YOU don't believe your writing is strong enough to stand out on its own without a picture to accompany it. If they think you don't believe in your writing then why should they? After all if your pitch is to do its job it'll put pictures of your idea in the readers mind anyway, they don't need a visual prompt to help them out.

It also says you have specific visual ideas of how you want your project to eventually look. And that's not your job. That's what directors, set builders/designers, etc, are employed for. Illustrating your pitch only tells the producer/director that you have very strong ideas about how you want your work look and it may put them off working with you. After all they are looking for someone who will be easy to work with, who will happily take on board their ideas and be OK with the fact their original idea will eventually change and evolve as others add their input. A picture can easily say you know exactly what you want and you're not willing to change.

From my experience a one page pitch, with your idea written on one side and blank on the other, is the best way to go. I've been offered feature commissions, been invited in to chat to TV people, who are now earmarking me for episodes of their shows, all because my one page pitches did their job. And there wasn't an illustration in sight. A good one page pitch doesn't distract from your idea, shows the reader if you can write or not and tells them you are serious about your writing and ideas.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Here's a quick blog rewind looking back at networking, especially helpful for those of you going to LSWF this year... and I might have edited it a little to update it ;-)

Pimp Yourself


I have found by years of trial and error that the best way to get work is to put yourself out there and by that I mean you need to network like a fanatic, getting to know everyone and showing genuine interest in what they are doing. When I say everyone do I mean just producers and directors? No...I mean everyone, everyone even remotely connected to the entertainment industry, actors, casting directors, script editors and fellow writers at all levels. And you have to show a genuine interest in their work, because if you don't they will know and think you're sucking up to them just to further your career. I don't have that problem because I have a passionate love of film and TV and a general curiosity about people, so I find it a pleasure to talk to others (even if it does terrify me sometimes) and find out what they are working on. Remember it's about them, not you, so never, ever go begging for work. Remain helpful, polite and never pushy. If like me this comes naturally to you, then it's a great advantage, otherwise you'll have to work very hard at it.

I find it helps to keep a spreadsheet of the people I meet detailing when we last talked and what about, as it can get quite confusing when you have met literally hundreds of people, especially if you are as rubbish at remembering names as I am. Some days I even need help remembering my own name.

Signing up to social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn help with the process, but you must remember everyone will read what you write so keep a separate account for personal use and gobbing off, and one for professional. You are what you write after all. Personally I chose to only have one account on each site, as it would take too much time to keep up with separate accounts. Therefore I have to be very careful not to Twitter or Facebook when I come home from the pub and think it's funny to post a picture of my bum. General personal stuff is fine, it makes you appear human, just as long as it's not offensive.

Writing ten or fifteen short scripts and offering them free to up and coming directors is a great idea to get your name and work out there. Plus if any are made it will give you something to be proud of and a credit on your CV. A good place to find directors is on Shooting People. Always remember to check out the directors previous work first to see if it's of the quality you want your short to be and if they are intending to place the finished film in festivals. That last bit is important as this will increase your exposure. Remember collaboration is always good.

If you've done your job properly people will also be genuinely interested in knowing what you are up to and might ask to read a script or one page pitch. If they like your writing they might even offer you some work.

It's really all about building relationships and an awareness of your work. Do this and eventually people will come to you when they need a writer and one day you might even get paid for it.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014


I've read a lot of great books on screenwriting over the years, all with their own unique take on format, structure, characters and dialogue, but I've honestly never read a book quite as good as Pilar Alessandra's THE COFFEE BREAK SCREENWRITER. Why is it so good?

First of all, and most importantly, it's because Pilar breaks down the art of writing into smaller, more manageable chunks, ten-minute sections you can work on in your coffee break, hence the book's title. Pilar does this by asking questions and prompting the writer to write down their answer, which does initially give the impression of being formulaic, but really isn't, as you'll discover when you get further into the book. Pilar is very conscience of the fact her approach could be formulaic and ensures the writer is as flexible as possible as they build their characters and plot, actively encouraging them to play around with structure to discover for themselves if there is a better way of telling their story. The questions are also designed to work and rework the writer's idea, refining it and adding layers, pointing out the common pitfalls of structure and story and helping the writer to avoid them.

Unusually though Pilar doesn't begin with developing characters, as I prefer to do. Instead she starts with story, structure and outline before getting to character. I was a bit dubious at first but after reading those three sections I understood why Pilar did this. One of the first things discussed is character flaw and emotion, something quite often missing from new writers' screenplays. Character flaw drives the conflict and emotion is what draws an audience in. Without these important elements a screenplay would be dull, flat and uninteresting.

Once the story, structure and outline are done then Pilar investigates character, importantly including the antagonist and secondary characters - who are quite often under developed - so they're all fully realised and very real to the reader.

Then comes the first draft, or the speed draft as Pilar calls it - rougher than what most writers would call a vomit draft - building up the initial rough draft outline, adding new scenes and layers to existing ones, until the full first draft is finally complete. Again, unusually, dialogue is explored after the first draft section, not during, which is great because dialogue is deserving of its own chapter and a separate focus on it really helps a screenplay to stand out.

The section I found most helpful was the approach to the rewrite process. I have trouble with rewrites as I always try and do too much in one go, but Pilar splits things up into different passes - concept, structure, story, scene, character, dialogue, format, element and holistic - stressing that most writers won't have to work their way through every pass. It certainly cuts down on the amount of work and concentration needed for rewrites and is also extremely helpful if like me, you are constantly being interrupted as you work.

Pilar also talks about craft, again not up front but after the initial rewrites, so the writer can look at action lines, fight scenes, emotional action, scene transitions, character and setting descriptions and tonal writing amongst other areas, before getting to work on the final edit.

Finally Pilar discusses screenplay presentation and opportunity, exploring networking, marketing materials and pitching, with her own unique and valuable insight. There are no long, plodding chapters to read either, only short sections, lessons and insight, so the book can be read in ten-minute bursts, making it easy to handle, especially if you can't devote the time to read the book from cover to cover in one sitting. This is the best screenwriting 'how to' book available for new writers at the moment and also has practical sessions for the more experienced writer. It's a book you'll want to refer to again and again. All in all Pilar's fantastic, incredible, useful advice makes THE COFFEE BREAK SCREENWRITER the only book that should be a 'must have' in your collection.

Pilar Alessandra will be at the LONDON SCREENWRITERS' FESTIVAL (LSWF) later this month from the 24th to the 26th of October, so if you're going make sure you attend all of her sessions. And if you don't have a ticket... why the bloody hell not???? Get one today, don't delay!