Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Along time ago in a galaxy far, far away....

First there was the speculation. Then the dissection of the trailers. Then the the film itself. And now the analysis and debate of every single frame. All obsessively shared on social media whether we want it or not.

Sometimes I forget I'm in the entertainment business. It's easy to do so when I go through my latest screenplay with a fine tooth comb, checking each scene, every character arc, every line of dialogue over and over and over and over and over until it's perfect... and then once more for luck. This over critical eye does not just apply to writers, but directors, producers, actors and pretty much everyone involved in making film, TV and other mediums. When did we lose our innocence, that ability to just sit, watch and enjoy a film without pulling it apart afterwards?

Over the last few days I've seen web articles discussing such topics as '20 plot holes in The Force Awakens' and why Rey is a 'Mary Sue'. I skipped over them and will continue to do so when I see others. I enjoyed The Force Awakens, not from a writer's perspective, but from a fan's. For me watching the new film recaptured the excitement I felt when I saw the original back in 1977. It reminded me of why I became a writer, of the love I have for film, story telling and good old fashioned entertainment.

I don't care whether it's perfect or not. I don't care if there are plot holes, or if characters fall short of people's expectations, or what the critics might think. Why can't we just sit back and enjoy the hard work of others and take it at face value, for what it is... entertainment?

I'm determined I'm going to take a regular step back from my writing next year, appreciate it for what for it is, for what I'm trying to do and not analyse the fuck out of it. If I enjoy it then others should too.



Step back!


Merry Christmas one and all.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, December 02, 2015


Subtext (noun) - a hidden or less obvious meaning.

To use subtext correctly takes a great deal of skill and plenty of practise. It took me several months to learn not only how to use it wisely but also what a valuable tool it is if used correctly. Make it too obvious and you lose its effectiveness. Don't make it obvious enough and your audience will be wondering what the hell your characters have just been talking about.

Here's a scene from one of my commissioned screenplays - COWBOYS CAN FLY. Toby is 14 and lives in an isolated cottage with his mother, Nurse Betty, in the New Forest during the 1960s. They have been discussing Cy, a sickly boy from London, who is staying with them while he recuperates. Nurse Betty has just spotted Dodger, the garden gnome, sat atop a molehill.

Nurse Betty nods at Dodger. 
I see Dodger’s keeping those moles away. 
Toby stops mowing. 
I think he might be planning on escapin’ again. 
Why, doesn’t he like it here? 
Of course he does, just... well he’s got to thinkin’ there are more gnomes out there. 
I’m sure he’s got plenty of friends around here. 
None of them are gnomes though, are they?  Dodger sometimes thinks he should be with his own kind. 
Toby picks Dodger up, looks him square in the eye. 
Don’t you, mate?
(to Nurse Betty)
Besides, what’s he got to do now all the moles are gone. 
Oh, I’m sure they’ll come back at some point. 
Dodger knows this, but he’s not sure it’s enough to stay around.  There’s a ton of other gnomes out there he’s never met, a whole world of adventure to be explored. 
I could bring him home a new companion?  They were selling ladybirds in town the other day. 
And he would thank you for it, but it wouldn’t be the same. 
Toby puts Dodger down on top of the molehill, back on watch. 
Aren’t you going to stamp that one down? 
No, that’s Dodger’s hill now.  He loves the view. 
Nurse Betty stands and kisses Toby on the top of his head. 
I hope Dodger stays, it wouldn’t be the same without him.  And when Cy gets home take it easy on him for a while.  Don’t go pestering him to go on walks with you. 
Toby nods.  Nurse Betty kisses Toby on the top of the head again, enters the cottage.  Toby goes back to the mowing, going over what he’s done already.

Did you get all of the subtext? Here's what I'm conveying with this scene. 1 - Toby is a very lonely boy and his mother is obviously concerned about this. 2 - Toby is gay and in a time when practising homosexuality was illegal and punishable by a prison sentence, he is unsure exactly how to tell his mother. 3 - Toby thinks he has to move away to be with like minded people. 4 - His mother knows he's gay, is telling him it's OK and that he doesn't have to move away to be who he wants to be, even if he doesn't quite get the message.

The best way to practise subtext is to write a scene as you really mean it to play out and then rewrite it so your meaning is hidden in something else entirely, still keeping the essence of your original scene within the new one. You won't get it first time, or the second, probably not even the third, but you will eventually. It's just down to how much work you put in to it.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Last week I rewrote a feature screenplay (92 pages) in four days. It was an epic 2nd draft and by the end of it I was exhausted. On Monday Gary Thomas asked me, "Can you do a blog on how you did it? (If you haven't done so already?) Did you not sleep at all?" Yes, Gary, I can and no, not much. But let's start at the beginning.

Ninja fingers of fury.
...lived a lovely Belgian lady called Anne-Marie Caluwaert. She came up with a brilliant idea for a feature, worked on the characters, plotted an outline, and even wrote the initial fifteen pages, but ultimately put the idea in a drawer and went off to work on other things. Then one day she received an email offering her free entry into a screenwriting competition. She didn't have any feature screenplays available at the time so had a quick scan through the drawer and found that old unfinished idea she had been working on.
Anne-Marie refreshed the character backgrounds and reworked the outline, before spending six mad days writing the first draft. Six days..! That really is madness..! My best has been twenty-one days from concept to finished draft, but six days (OK, so she had the characters and outline, but still...), six days is a major achievement. That left seven days to get the screenplay rewritten and entered into the competition.

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away...

Worried that she'd rushed the screenplay and her English might be lacking Anne-Marie asked me to have a look. I read it and instantly fell in love with it. It was a brilliant story of hope from the ashes of loss and I complimented her on a great job. It needed work, the structure was out, a couple of character arcs needed sorting and the antagonist needed to be stronger, but otherwise she had done an excellent job.

Anne-Marie asked if there was too much work to be done to get it rewritten and enter it into the competition by the end of the week. There was. So Anne-Marie made me an offer; rewrite the screenplay, correct her English and I could have a co-credit. I loved the idea so much I said 'HELL YEAH' without thinking.

It wasn't until I realised exactly how much work it would involve, with only five days to do it in, that I knew I might have bitten off more than I could chew. But not being one to let people down I decided I was going to give it a damn good go, or have mental breakdown trying. But to make an already tough task even harder I decided I was going to finish it in three days, not the five I had, as I wanted to spend the weekend with my lovely wife and kids. 

For those of you who don't know I have a little part-time job working at my local arts centre on stage door. I love that job, not only because I get to meet so many wonderful actors and performers, but also because it affords me the occasional bit of time to work on my own stuff while the shows are on stage and things are quiet. During the time I would be working on the 2nd draft not only would I be out for two of the writing days during the day, but I would also be working every evening at the arts centre. What was looking like an impossible task was now looking insane.

So I did what any professional writer would do and got my head down and got on with it. It wasn't easy. There were a lot of interruptions - both at work and from the kids while I was at home - and every time I reached a landmark (say five pages) there was the temptation to say, 'five pages is a good amount, you can relax now.' But I couldn't relax, it had to be done and I had to push past my normal daily page targets, the interruptions, the fatigue and plod on, even when my eyes felt like they were full of grit and all I really wanted to do was put the damn thing down and get some sleep.

On the Thursday night at work we had a company award ceremony. I didn't get into bed until 2.16am the next morning. I was behind drastically on my page count as the first act of the screenplay needed the most work and by the time I got towards the end of the three days I was only on page 48. I knew I would have to work the Saturday as well.

Saturday night was even busier than the Thursday, as we had a charity event in. I knew it was all or bust because I had promised my wife I wasn't going to work Sunday. That left me with 44 pages to do in one day. I managed to get 16 done at home, leaving 28 in the evening. It was really difficult as I had to stop the rewrite numerous times to deal with queries and sort out problems at work, all part of my job. But at just before 2am I reached FADE OUT on the screenplay and gave a great sigh of relief. It was done! Finally! I had made it! I still don't quite know how.

Once I had locked up at work, driven home, I finally dropped into bed at 3.20am. Over the previous three nights I had slept a total of 16 hours. Thankfully my wife let me sleep in until 10am on Sunday morning, but still I was dog tired when I got up. I was really proud I had managed to get the rewrite done, when to be honest I actually doubted I was going to.

So the moral of this story is 'GET IT DONE'. There are no, 'I don't have time to write,' excuses. If you want to write you'll find the time. That's the difference between a professional writer and someone who only wants to be; the professional writer gets it done! If you don't, there are thousands of other writers out there who will get their work done. It's those writers you're competing against. Don't let them beat you.

Happy writing! 

Wednesday, November 04, 2015


LUCY: "I haven’t seen one (a thriller screenplay) I’ve liked as much as this since JK sent me UNTITLED HITMAN THRILLER (aka REDEMPTION aka ASSASSIN) back in 2008. That’s a loooooong time and I’ve read a loooooot of these scripts in-between!!!"

Once I had regained consciousness and picked myself up off the floor I congratulated myself on a job well done and got on with the second draft. It's not easy to please Lucy so I was pretty ecstatic that she liked my spec thriller ELEVEN. But it wasn't by luck I got this response, or by accident, but by design.

You see in 2013 Lucy wrote a book called WRITING AND SELLING THRILLER SCREENPLAYS, published by Creative Essentials and I reviewed it for my blog just before Christmas (find the review here). So when I sat down to write my first spec screenplay in four years I decided to use the brilliant advice in Lucy's book and write a kick-ass thriller.

OK, so now you might be thinking if I followed her advice in the book of course she's going to like the resulting screenplay. The thing is everyone else who has read it, in its various drafts, has loved it too. This is because Lucy knows her stuff and her knowledge is not only born of watching thousands of hours of film and TV, but from her work as a reader over many years for both established and new writers. She knows what works and what doesn't.

To celebrate the completion of the final draft of ELEVEN, I've managed to get hold of a free ticket to Lucy's two day WRITING AND SELLING THRILLER SCREENPLAYS workshop at Ealing Studios on the 28th and 29th of November, which I'm going to give away to one lucky writer. All you have to do is Tweet me with your thriller longline as illustrated below:

@DomCarver 'Enter Longline Here' #comp

You have until 9 AM on Tuesday 10th November to get them in and the winner will be announced by midday. Any entries received after this time won't be counted, nor will entries not following the template above. My decision is final. So there!!!

Good luck everyone.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Earlier in the year I was asked to read THE UK SCRIPTWRITER'S SURVIVAL HANDBOOK and review it. Actually I lie, I asked to read it... OK, OK, I begged Danny and Tim to let me... and let me read it, they did.

Do you know something... you new writers are very blinkin' lucky. When I started out on my career
there was never anything like this to guide a writer through the perilous waters of the media industry. I had to make it up as I went along and it took several years to perfect my approach. All you lucky people have to do is buy this book, read it and then you'll be armed with all the information you need to create and sustain a successful career. I'm just a tiny weeny bit jealous.

There are thousands of screenwriting books out there which claim to help writers sell their work, but despite an intensive search I have never actually find a book solely dedicated to building and sustaining a writing career. I came across a couple of barely passable US based books, but there was never one focused entirely on the UK industry... until now!

Most new writers think it's only a matter of writing a script and sending it out. I wish it was that easy. In truth you have to spend at least the same amount of time building a reputation, marketing, networking and forming relationships as you do writing, if not more. There is no way of avoiding it if you want to succeed. No one is going to buy your work if they don't buy you. The more work you put in, the more likely it is your career will take off. And this book has all the tools needed to help you do exactly that.

Over the years I've learnt the hard way what works and what doesn't, making mistakes more than once, sometimes so many times it became embarrassing, but always learning and improving. And that's why I'm recommending this book to you, because while reading it I recognised many of the tactics I employ myself. Danny and Tim's advice does work. It really does. And that's the beauty of this book, it's all there for you within those covers; all those insider industry secrets, the hints, tips and routines all successful writers employ on a daily basis. This book is literally priceless to any aspiring writers out there. It will save you years of unnecessary work. This book is the one you CAN'T do without!

And as if that wasn't enough Danny and Tim are launching their handy survival handbook at this year's London Screenwriters' Festival. You would be a fool to miss out. Don't be that fool!

Happy writing!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


When starting out in the industry it's tempting to exaggerate your skills and experience to help get you ahead, especially if you've been turned down for a job because you lack the experience they are looking for. I was once turned down for a sci-fi feature because although the production company loved my writing they were worried I didn't have any experience in writing sci-fi. They were right. It's incredibly frustrating when this happens, but by lying about your previous work you risk stalling your career before it's barely got off the ground. And what did I do? I accepted their decision and moved on, concentrating on what I do best and quickly landed myself another feature.

Over the past few years I've seen various examples of new writers, first time directors and producers beefing up their CV in the false belief industry people won't work with them because they lack experience. This is a bad idea for two very good reasons...
Don't lie, you'll be found out!

1 - You will be caught out. Have you ever watched The Apprentice? Ever seen the grilling candidates get over their CVs, where one of Lord Sugar's trusted people rips holes in the candidate's exaggerations? Your claims will be checked and lies exposed. Don't be foolish to think no one will ever know. They will!

2 - When you are found out your lie will do more damage to your career than if you had been honest about your lack of experience from the start. It will take far more hard work, effort and time to erase your dishonesty than it would have taken to get a career going if you had been honest from the start.

There's no shame in admitting you lack experience. Everyone has to start from somewhere. It's better to admit you lack in experience and show an enthusiasm to learn and progress, as others will not only admire your honesty but also your commitment to improve. Who do you think is more likely to be offered work; the inexperienced writer open about wanting to learn and grow, or the inexperienced writer who hides behind false claims they will never be able to back up?

About ten years ago when I was a member of Trigger Street there was a man who claimed to be a producer who kept popping up on all the forums, dishing out dodgy advice to writers and forcing his view of the industry on them. He kept using the fact he had won an Oscar as a club to beat his ideas into them and to knock down anyone who dared question what he was saying. So one of those writers decided to do a little research. Five minutes later he discovered the producer hadn't won an Oscar at all and had only been mentioned as a thank you in the speech alongside dozens of others. Once confronted with this fact the man disappeared from Trigger Street and was never heard from again. How foolish do you think he felt after being exposed? To all those writers who witnessed it he would forever be known as a liar. And how would the real winners feel about him claiming their Oscar as his, especially after they thanked him in their speech? If I was them I would never have worked with that guy again.

A producer I once worked with lied about my experience on an investors pack and I had to get my agent to respectfully ask him to correct it and stick to the facts. If the investors pack had gone out with a false claim about my experience it could have potentially damaged my career and would have put the film in jeopardy if investors had found out.

If you're tempted to make false claims about your skills and experience just to boost your standing in the industry, my advice is not to do it. It's only going to make you look like an idiot when you're found out and people won't want to work with someone they can't trust. It's better to be honest about your lack of experience and show a genuine enthusiasm to learn and grow as a writer.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, September 09, 2015


Just under forty-four days to go and I'm already very excited.

I didn't go to the screenwriters festival last year and I've regretted it every day since. Not only is it a brilliant place to learn, meet like minded people and network with producers and directors, it's also a fantastic way to recharge those writing batteries. I missed it terribly.

I already have my ticket, my hotel is booked and I'm already preparing my pitches. I'm determined not to miss a second or waste a single opportunity. I've even highlighted a few potential sessions I already want to attend. I am that organised. You have to be if you want to make the most out of the festival.

Here's my annual handy guide of making the most out of your three days at LSWF 2015.


  1. Buy your ticket if you haven't already. If you delay they'll sell out. They do every year.
  2. Sign up for the speed pitching. It's a wonderful chance to get five minutes face-to-face with an agent or producer, and have their undecided attention. It's not an opportunity to be missed.
  3. Make sure you have accommodation close to the festival. If you have to travel a fair distance every day you'll miss out on valuable networking time.
  4. Practice, practice, and practice your pitches so you know them off by heart. You never know when you'll be asked to pitch and if you're not ready then you'll blow your chance (more on this later).
  5. Check the list of speakers every couple of days, research them, choose the ones you want to listen to (or even approach to have a chat) and have a list ready for when the schedules are published. That way you can plan which sessions you want to see in advance.
  6. Go on to the Private Delegate Network Page (only accessible when you've bought a ticket), research everyone on it, highlight people of interest you want to talk to and send them a preliminary email and arrange a meeting if possible. Remember though the delegate list will also have people on it from previous years who may not be going to this year’s festival, so it is well worth asking if they are. LSWF will send you a delegate book nearer to the time with a comprehensive list of all those attending, but don't wait for this, get ahead of the game.
  7. Choose your projects wisely. I would suggest that you choose no more than three and make sure they're finished, proof read and the best you have.
  8. Order at least 250 business cards, you'll need them. Make sure they're blank one side so people you speak to can write notes about you on them.

How To Prepare In More Detail

You've bought your ticket, printed off ten copies of your screenplay and now you're ready for LSWF... right? Wrong!

It's not a matter of just turning up; you really need to plan for the festival to get the most out of it. If you don't then you might as well set fire to your ticket and go down the pub with your mates instead. No producer is going to see the genius of your screenplay, no agent your obvious talent, unless you approach the festival professionally and with at the very least a little forethought. You will only get out of the festival what you put in to it.


Above I talked about how you need to research your fellow delegates and speakers. This is very important. You’ll have an advantage over most of your fellow writers if you know who is going to be at the festival and what they are currently working on. There’s nothing worse than trying to talk to a well-known producer and not knowing what their last film was.

To give you an example I managed to get work from the 2011 festival simply by scouring the delegate list. I discovered one producer who was looking for a writer for his project so I researched him and his company and then sent him an email to set up a meeting at the festival. To cut a long story short the screenplay is now in Hollywood and the buzz around the project is getting everyone excited. If I hadn’t done my research I would have missed the opportunity.


You should have already decided on the three projects you want to take with you to the festival, remembering to print off one page pitches for these to hand out if requested. Don’t take full screenplays. If a producer is handed twenty screenplays and one, one page pitch, which do you think he’s going to read first? One year I saw a delegate hand a very well known and successful TV writer a full screenplay and a pitch in a large folder. He didn’t take it home with him. Would you want to be weighed down with all that paper for your train journey home? Stick to one-page pitches…trust me! 

Your one pager should be written in the style of your project, so if it's a comedy then it needs to be funny, and remember to make it visual - that doesn't mean draw pretty pictures all over it. If you don't know what I mean pop down to your local book store, pick up a few random novels and read their back covers. Their story is summed up there and you need to sum up your project in a similar manner. Like your screenplays; write, rewrite and rewrite again until they're as perfect as they can be.

USB Memory Sticks - These are very popular at the moment. Here you CAN upload your screenplay and hand them to someone who requests to read it. They're easier to carry than several sheets of paper and relitively cheap to acquire. If you have your email and other contact details inscribed on the stick, even better.

What you also need to do is work out a sixty-second pitch for each project. Why sixty seconds? Anything longer and you risk sending the recipient of your pitch to sleep. Keep it short and then if they're interested they'll ask you questions about your project. If you drone on all they'll want to do is to get away from you as fast as they can.

The pitch should be split up like this:

  • Title - relevant to the script.
  • Format - film, TV, etc.
  • Genre - If you don't know what it is how can they?
  • Compare it to something else that has gone before (It's similar to Quantum Leap, but with robot rabbits.)
  • Then..."This is a story about... who...'

Once you've worked out your pitches for all three projects go and practice them. Pitch to friends, family, or to a video camera, so you can play it back and see for yourself how it works. Then practice some more, and more, so they eventually become second nature to you and you could even pitch them in your sleep.


Business Cards: The most important tool you're going to take with you and the one most frequently overlooked. I took 250 with me two years ago - you can never have too many - and handed out a good proportion of them. I couldn't believe there were delegates at the festival that didn't have business cards and were writing their email addresses and phone numbers down on scraps of paper. It shows a total lack of professionalism not taking any with you. There is absolutely no excuse not to have any. Get them now!

Get at least 250, they don't have to cost much, don't have to be fancy - all they need is your name, what you do, your phone number and email address - and should be blank on one side. Why? Good question and the answer is simple.

When you collect cards from other people and you've finished having a conversation with them, write down the highlights of that conversation on the back of the card. Why write this information down on a separate piece of paper and risk losing it? This information is important for following up your new contact after the festival. You'll hopefully be talking to a lot of people and it will be difficult to remember every conversation. I have one card from 2010’s festival that simply says 'fork man' on the back and is still even now more than enough to jog my memory of who he was, what he did and more importantly what we talked about. Remember to keep the cards you collect safe. Hide them away in your bag so you don't risk losing them.

I made a conscious effort in previous years not to hang around with people I know. I wanted to meet new people and forced myself to go out of my way and talk to as many strangers as I could. This is your best option to make new, and possibly valuable, contacts. I did check in with my friends now and again and I'm glad I did, as one of them introduced me to a producer who offered me paid work at the 2010 festival.

I'm not naturally social so I know how difficult it is to walk up to a complete stranger and start talking to them, but I did it and now I really enjoy it. Push yourself to talk to people and try and remember they are probably just as nervous about talking to you as you are to them.

There are a few simple rules that will help you with this:

  • Everyone likes people to show an interest in them. Ask them questions about their work and experience, rather than just barging in and telling them everything about yourself including your last trip to the doctor for that unexpected rash. If you show an interest in them, they'll naturally want to know about you and what you're working on.
  • Listen carefully, make eye contact, smile often and make sure you show an interest. There's nothing ruder than answering someone's question only for them to start playing Angry Birds on their phone while you do. I usually walk away at that point, or stop talking until they start paying attention again.
  • Always check the body language of the person you've met. If that person looks like they may be getting bored, stop talking about yourself and ask them a question about themselves to get the conversation back on track. If you keep yabbering on about you and your work they'll easily forget about you, or at least do their best to do so.
  • Get there early and stay late. Network while you eat. Network at the bar. Network while you're having a quick ciggy. Network in the canteen queue. However, don't try and network in the toilet. Someone who is taking a private moment in a cubicle to empty their bowels might not take too kindly to you popping your head over the cubical wall and saying, 'Alright mate, how's your festival going?' Make the most of your networking time, because if you don't then others will.
  • There will be a bar at the festival, but I suggest you don't drink, or if you do then just make it the one. People don't like being cornered by a slurring drunk waffling on about utter bollocks for several hours, giving them a hug and telling them they're their new best friend. Stay sober.
  • Buy drinks for others, especially producers and directors. It's OK to get them drunk, as you might find them more open to your 197 page factual TV drama about the woman down the road who looks after stray cats, if they have been well lubricated in advance.

When the festival is over leave it a week before you start following up on those conversations. Send polite emails to everyone you met and talked to. There are no bad contacts so don't leave anyone out, as any single one of them could turn out to the one that helps move your career forwards.

Essential Items You Will Need To Take:

  • Your LSWF ticket - DUH!
  • Your 250 business cards - remember these are your most important tool.
  • An empty business card box - to put all those valuable business cards in which you will collect from other people.
  • A copy of the schedule - print one off from the website the day before you go and highlight the sessions you most want to attend. The schedule will most likely change anyway, but at least you'll have a basic one to refer to.
  • A map of Regents Collage - you need to know where you are going for each session.
  • Several pens - in case one runs out, you lose one, or some thieving little git 'borrows' one.
  • A small notebook - for the making of detailed notes about possible collaboration. You should always carry one anyway, to write down any ideas you might have.
  • An A4 pad - for the writing of notes while listening to speakers.
  • Ten copies only of the one-page pitches of the three projects you are going to take with you, or USB memory sticks.
  • Your three sixty-second pitches - do not read these out from your notes, they are only for back up.
  • A fully charged spare battery for your mobile phone - you'll be surprised how quickly it will run out.
  • Your thoroughly researched speaker and delegate list - with pictures so it's easier to spot people while you're there.
  • Mints - no one wants to talk to someone whose breath smells like a camel's bum.
  • Money - for the buying of sustenance and plying producers and directors with liquid 'YES' juice.
  • A can of Red Bull - for the drinking of to keep your mind sharp should you suddenly find yourself flagging.
  • A smile, a cheerful disposition and an eagerness to soak up every ounce of information and milk every networking opportunity.

Summing Up

  • Remember your business cards, you'll need them.
  • Remember your one-page pitches, but only hand them out if asked for one. Same goes for the memory sticks.
  • Don't worry too much about missing a session if networking is going well, as most sessions are filmed and will be available on the delegates network after the festival.
  • Don't hang around people you know, go and mingle, talk to as many new people as possible.
  • Be brave.
  • Ask them about what they do and what they're working on, show an interest in their work and don't rabbit on about yourself.
  • Take every opportunity to network.
  • Stick to one drink in the evenings at the bar, so you can continue to network and don't come across as a dribbling drunk.
  • Buy people drinks; they'll love you for it.
  • Turn up early, go home late.
  • Make as many notes about what you learn as you can - remember to write these out in longer form as soon as you get home from the festival, as they won't make any sense in a months time.
  • Be polite, friendly and professional at all times. You're promoting yourself here.
  • Follow up any chats after the festival with an email.
  • Listen, learn, absorb.
  • There is no such thing as luck, only hard work and persistence pays off.
Start preparing now, you want to be able to be a step ahead of everyone else. Good luck, enjoy your festival and I'll see you there.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


I had a pleasant surprise when I opened up Facebook this morning. Right at the top of the most recent stories was a post from my good friend Arne Reidar Mortensen with the simple words... 'Remember this one?'
And there it was the link to the You Tube video of my very first short film - you can watch it here - shot by Arne and his friends and broadcast on TV Vest in Norway way back in 2008. It also made the local Norwegian papers. It brought back some great memories, specifically the excitement of production and the anticipation of seeing my words translated to the screen for the very first time. A lot has happened with my career since then, but I'll always look back at AGN with a great deal of fondness and pride.

Short films are a great way of showcasing your writing talent and they're easy to make. Have you got a smart phone with a camera? Then you can go and film something. Rope some friends in to help you make it. Upload it to You Tube. Get yourself and your writing out there. Proactive people get noticed. There's simply no excuse for sitting on your backside and doing nothing.

It doesn't matter if the first one you make is rubbish, you'll learn from it. The next will be better. And the one after that will be even better still.

Go make a short film. What do you have to lose?

Happy Writing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


This blog was originally posted on Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Writing subtext in dialogue should come automatically to writers, but I still see a lot of on the nose dialogue in the scripts I'm sent to read. So how can you prevent obvious dialogue creeping in and make sure your screenplay is layered with rich subtext?

The way I do it may not work for everyone but at least it will give you an idea of how easy it is to weave subtext in. For me it's like building blocks, you start at the bottom and build up. When I write a first draft I always write the dialogue in plain English so I know exactly what is happening in any particular scene. I don't try and hide what is being thought by the characters, I just write it plain and on the nose.

I was just wondering how are you and Sam getting along, have you patched up your differences yet?

No, I hate him... in fact I wish he was dead.

When I sit down and do another pass on the first draft I will look at the dialogue in every scene and decide how I'm going to get rid of the obvious dialogue and replace it with subtext.

I saw Sam the other day.

I fancy a tea. Want one?

This is why subtext is important. It's not what the characters say, it's what they don't say and what they imply. The first example is too obvious while the second shows how reluctant George is to mention Sam and equally how much Ruth is determined not to talk about him. Ruth's reaction illustrates just how she feels about Sam without stating the obvious.

So if you're stuck on how to write subtext then just write it plain English to start with, then go back and try to hint at what you want to say, without actually saying it in an obvious way. Your screenplays will be richer for it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


A good title is important. Get it right and it helps to sell your screenplay. Get it wrong and you risk losing your audience before they've even turned to page one of your screenplay.

Here are some some examples (including a couple of my own) to help you see what works and what doesn't.


 Short and to the point, you know instantly you're getting an action movie set on a plane full of snakes. It practically sells itself. A marketing dream in fact. Bet they didn't have to spend much money at all on marketing the film. I remember the excitement over the title, the internet buzz and the word of mouth. It had an inbuilt audience even before the film had finished shooting. Snakes on a mother frickin plane!!!


The original title of a football sitcom about six men in their forties, written by Brendan O'Neill and myself. My agent hated the title, said it conjured images of a historical drama either set during or after WWII. She was right. Needless to say the title has now changed to something more suitably footbally.


The brainchild of my friends Danny Stack and Tim Clague. 'Who Killed' instantly lets you know this  is a mystery waiting to be solved and the name 'Nelson Nutmeg' can only mean one thing... comedy! As a low budget film it won't have much of a marketing budget, if at all, so the title is important in hooking the audience in from the get go.


I tend to keep my titles short, one or two words if possible. Although this title tells you exactly what the film is about I do feel it's too long and might have put people off going to see it. Let's put it this way, if you're queueing at the cinema, with loads of people waiting impatiently behind you itching to get their ticket and popcorn, you don't really want to have to spout this mouthful when paying for your seat. What title do you think would have worked better?


Complicated or unusual titles can be confusing. Being a little dyslexic I hate having to ask for a ticket to see a film I have trouble pronouncing. Also you can never really be sure of what you're getting with a cryptic title. For those of you who haven't seen the film, what does this title conjure up for you? Those of you who have seen the film will know it's the name of the board game that sucks the players into a real-life jungle filled with dangers, from which they have to escape. For me it doesn't really say 'children's adventure film', because unless you know the title refers to a board game you might be left scratching your head wondering what the hell it's actually about. If you make your title ambiguous or cryptic you've already lost part of your potential audience. Don't make it difficult for them to choose your film.


This is the title for a thriller feature I was commissioned for, set in the world of African child soldiers. The title suggests innocence and its loss, friendship and bullying, joy and sorrow and all those emotions and challenges evoked when we remember our own childhood in school playgrounds.

So as you can see titles are very important. Some work. Some don't. So don't always go with your first choice, like your first draft of your screenplay play around with it, change it, think on it and make it better.

Happy Writing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


So here are the rewritten opening pages of my thriller feature.
A myriad of coloured lights twinkle across the bustling metropolis.  Always busy.  Never sleeping.  Eight and a half million strangers sardined within its boundaries. 
It appears deceptively peaceful.  It won’t be for long. 
A tall, ugly concrete high-rise that may have once been called luxury, but is now just old, worn and dirty, like its inhabitants. 
From a distance we see a WORKMAN, tool box in hand, stride towards the graffiti scrawled front entrance. 
DEXTER (53), the workman we saw moments ago, stands expressionless in the far corner of the lift. 
He wears a blue workman’s overall, baseball cap, brown hair underneath, glasses and a tool box.  A screwdriver in his breast pocket.  An ID card hangs from a strap around his neck. 
Tinny Muzak plays.  The halogen light exacerbates Dexter’s pasty skin and the dark circles under his eyes. 
A ping as the lift arrives at Dexter’s desired floor.  He exits into... 
Automatic lights flicker on, illuminate the pale green walls in a eerie glow.  The colour reflects off Dexter’s skin, makes him look like one of the living dead. 
Dexter walks to the far end of the corridor, halts in front of apartment one-four-five.  He knocks with a latex gloved hand.  A long moment... 
...then the door opens a crack. 
THOMPSON (33) peaks through, flashes a questioning look.  Dexter shows him his ID. 
‘Bout time. 
Thompson opens the door wide, leads the way into... 
Dexter closes the door behind him. 
Bloody thing’s been playing up all afternoon. 
Dexter pulls the screwdriver from his top pocket to reveal a cleverly disguised syringe... 
Fuckin’ freezin’ in here. 
...and stabs Thompson in the neck, depresses the button. 
Thompson half turns, surprised.  He tries to grab the now empty syringe but his legs give way.  He’s unconscious before he hits the floor. 
Dexter enters, deposits his tool box on the floor, opens it, takes out two empty pill bottles and one half full. 
He lines up all three on the lip of the bath. 
Dexter slips his hands under Thompson’s arms, hoists him upwards, with a gargantuan effort hefts him onto his shoulders in a fireman’s lift. 
A momentary stumble, Dexter steadies himself then carries Thompson carefully towards the bathroom. 
Dexter settles the unconscious Thompson in the bath.  He reaches into his tool box, extracts a bottle of Jim Beam and a funnel, presses Thompson’s fingers to the top, the body of the bottle and to all the pill bottles. 
Dexter discards the Jim Beam bottle top on the bathroom floor.  He opens Thompson’s mouth, uses the funnel to pour the whiskey and a few of pills from the half full bottle down his throat. 
A dying Thompson gags, pure reflex, vomits a little back up. 
Dexter sprinkles a few of the pills on the floor, then places the bottle into Thompson’s hand and steps back to admire his work. 
Satisfied, the funnel goes back in the tool box, the lid closed.  A phone vibrates in Dexter’s pocket.  He checks the screen. 
C.U. ON PHONE: A message from a contact listed as ‘BITCH!!!’ - “Have you REPLIED to the letter yet????????” 
Irritated, Dexter deletes the message, drops the phone into his pocket, picks up the tool box.  Ever the professional Dexter takes one last look around and then exits.
Besides the tidying, condensing and general improvements, there are two major changes in this version. The first is the absence of the YUMMY MUMMY.

Originally she was there to highlight the fact Dexter was trying to remain anonymous, by dipping his head so she couldn't see his face. However, on reflection I decided she really didn't serve a purpose. I feel the scene is significantly better without her and far more menacing than the slightly comical original.

The second was no longer having Dexter collapsing in pain. The original idea was that he was ill and motivated to take one last big job because of this. In the end I decided terminal illness was too cliche and swapped it for a intriguing text message instead. Again there is still the mystery - Who is the text from? What do they want? Why does Dexter ignore it? - this time I feel the answer isn't so clear and hopefully the reader will be further motivated to stick around and learn more.

I hope you've enjoyed this little exercise and it's helped you understand how another writer might construct their scenes.

Happy Writing!

Friday, July 10, 2015


The Manchester International Film Festival UK are running a competition in the run up to the festival  and there's a very helpful and sought after prize up for grabs. Get your entries in quick.


In the run up to the festival JULY 10th – 12TH we have five copies of final draft 9 (or alternatively V.I.P. all access passes for U.K. residents/visitors) as prizes for anyone who can answer our advanced screenwriting question.

We didn’t want a simple generic question so we asked our mystery screenwriter to come up with something special and particularly difficult.

What is the MORAL of the Oscar winning film BABETTE’S FEAST?
Answers to be sent to  (Subject line:  screenwriting question)

Winning answers (or as close to it) will be announced on JULY 12TH.

Good luck!

Happy Writing!

Friday, July 03, 2015


I don't own an iPad so it's been frustrating to have to carry a laptop with me on my travels if I wanted to work on my screenplays. Now thankfully the lovely people at Final Draft have come to my rescue and provided an app for the iPhone. I am with joy!

It has the same functionality of the full version of the software, only simplified for my mobile. I love the fact I can ignore the majority of the functions, allowing me the freedom to just write while I'm out and I don't have to worry about anything else (unless I want to) until I get home and I can upload it to the full program on my computer. I find this an advantage as there's less opportunity for destruction and it really helps to focus my mind.

For those of you who want a little more you can still add general notes, lock pages, add and remove scene numbers, set up your page just how you like it, use character highlighting, smart type, headers & footers, title page and you can even change your page view.

Files can easily be uploaded or downloaded and you can work on files direct from your Dropbox account too, so you can take any of your screenplays, or other documents to work on at your leisure, anywhere you want. It's smooth, easy to use and comes with handy instructions on how to use it, not that'll you'll really need them it's that easy. And the best thing is it doesn't cost much.

However, I do have one niggle... on the iPhone 5/s typing is a little awkward, especially if you have large fingers, but with the larger screens on the iPhone 6 I suspect this won't be much of a problem. As I said it is only one niggle and a little one at that. Otherwise it's a fantastic app and one you should be downloading today.

I really don't know how I've survived without it for so long. Thanks Final Draft!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


It's hot! The sun is out! All your mates are going up the pub, having BBQs, or going down the beach! You want to write, but the call of the summer is too strong.

At the best of times it's hard to motivate yourself to spend a few hours each day sat in a dark room in front of a computer, putting words and punctuation together to form your latest screenwriting masterpiece. You don't need summer getting in the way of your career and equally you don't want to miss out on all that vital vitamin D. So turn this sunny weather to your advantage.

Load up what you're working on onto your laptop, grab your notes, get a nice cold drink with plenty of ice and go and work outside. Don't forget the suncream. Find a nice cool spot in the garden, in the local park or even at a table outside a coffee bar and get ready to write like your life depends on it.

Turn your wi-fi off on your laptop so you can't connect to the internet or email. Even better leave your mobile at home. Give yourself a page/word target for the day. Make sure it's just you and your work. Then get your head down and get on with it.

You'll be surprised at how much you can get done in such a short space of time. Without the internet and your email there to distract you, you should fly through the pages. Then when you hit your daily target you can pack up and bugger off to enjoy the rest of the day.

Don't punish yourself! Don't force yourself to sit in a dark room when you'd rather be outside. Go on, get out there and enjoy the sun while you write... you deserve it after all.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


There are two topics guaranteed to split opinion amongst screenwriters; grammar and formatting.

A few weeks ago I posted a rough version of the first few scenes of my latest spec thriller and found myself surprised at the backlash on Facebook focusing on the above two topics. I've already explained the reasons for publishing an unproofed selection of my first draft on the web and I won't go over those again, but I do want to discuss formatting rules and why you CAN break them if you so wish.

First of all I must point out that to break the rules you first need to know what they are. For those of you who are now thinking what's the point if you're going to break them anyway, you have to understand that to know how and where the rules can be broken you need to have a good understanding of how they work. Only then can you play and mess around with the reader's, or audience's perceptions and expectations. Not knowing the rules will lead to a very messy and incomprehensible screenplay.

I'm not going to go over the rules here, you can get that information more comprehensively elsewhere, but I am going to use examples of produced screenplays from two films, both of which impressed me, to illustrate what I mean; *LOCKE and *PHONE BOOTH.


This is a biggy, obviously because film is a visual medium. LOCKE (2013) is a brilliant example of how to break that rule and impressively so. The screenplay is about a construction manager Locke who walks out on his job and his family when the woman he had a brief fling with is about to give birth to their child. The majority of the screenplay is set in his car in real time, as he attempts to deal with the fallout of his decision by car phone, as he travels up the motorway to the hospital to be with the woman as she gives birth.

Obviously, with the main character confined to such a small space it meant the screenplay was always going to have to rely more on the dialogue than the action description, the 'SHOW' coming from the main actor's performance. Knowing this the writer used the action description as a guide for the actor to the main character's thought process. Consequently the screenplay reads more like a novel in places.
Ivan will now drive through city streets toward the M6 motorway, a couple of miles away. We will not blink as we study him as he drives...

Ivan is now confronting the crisis in his head. On the site he was in a familiar place but now he is on a journey and must necessarily begin to consider the destination and the place he is leaving.

His first decision is to make a phone call on his hands free car phone. This is an important component of the story so we should take some time establishing the mechanism. He has a long list of speed dial numbers, identified by names or locations.

He speed dials a number labelled ‘Bastard’...


Hello, can I speak to Gareth? 
However, if this had been a spec screenplay the writer would not have been able to do this. By knowing he would also direct, it allowed the writer to break the 'SHOW;DON'T TELL' rule. The action isn't used to 'SHOW' the reader but instead inform the actor's performance. A reader coming across this in a spec script pile would most likely bin it and chalk the writer up as an amateur.

Only because the writer knew the screenplay formatting rules could he break them to make the film he wanted to. The resulting movie is better for it.


As writers we're always warned against using too much dialogue - again, 'SHOW; DON'T TELL'. The PHONE BOOTH (2002) screenplay not only breaks this rule but completely destroys it and becomes a master class of dialogue writing.

PHONE BOOTH is about a slick New York publicist who picks up a ringing receiver in a phone booth is told that if he hangs up, he'll be killed and is forced to participate in the destruction of his life and all that he holds dear, as the hidden marksman stares at him down the sight of his high powered rifle. As with LOCKE the main character's confinement to a small space is key to the story, so how does the writer get around this obvious obstacle and make it more cinematic? The answer is he breaks the 'TOO MUCH DIALOGUE' rule and uses it to convey the main character's predicament, rather than using action description to do so.

What surprised me most about this script is that there is very little action description. It's almost entirely dialogue. Pages and pages of it occasionally broken by a line or two of action. In fact if you added up all the action and scene description I doubt it would total more than five full pages. The scene and action description is sparse and only used when absolutely necessary, flipping the rule on its head and swapping the roles of action description and dialogue.

The screenplay's dialogue is a masterly example (if you know of a better one please let me know) of how words can convey action, emotion and atmosphere. The writer uses every single word of dialogue so carefully and expertly there is little or no need for action description. As a reader you don't need great swathes of action and scene description to describe what's happening and how people react both physically and emotionally to events. By doing this the writer creates an incredible, frenetic pace, under pinning the tension and urgency the publicist experiences trapped in the phone booth by the unknown sniper. The dialogue literally puts the reader in the phone booth with publicist, forces him/her to feel exactly what the character feels. It really is a spell binding screenplay.
 They're all lying.  Nobody saw it because it didn't happen. 
A man is dead but it didn't happen. 
Not on account of me!  This is like some bad dream. 
You're walking through a bad dream and you can't 
wake up.  Do you want to wake up? 
I'm trying. 
And in this dream, you killed that man.  He was 
bothering you so you iced him. 
Then who did? 
Don't tell him, Stu.  Or it'll be the last thing he 
ever hears.  His blood will be on your hands.  
(to Ramey)  
I don't know. 
But you saw it happen? 
You were the closest one to him. You must've seen who did it. 
We're trying to be honest with each other, aren't we?
I particularly love the above scene as you can literally sense the publicist's (Stu) panic as he tries to talk his way out of the murder of a pimp shot by the sniper holding him hostage in the phone booth. The cop (Ramey) believes Stu did it and tries to talk him into surrendering, while the sniper (Voice) puts pressure on Stu and denies him the ability to prove his innocence.

As long as you are familiar with the rules of screenwriting there is no reason why you can't bend or break them to tell your story in a unique way that defies the reader's expectations. Ultimately this will make you stand out and above from all those other writers continually trying to pimp their formulaic screenplays.

Happy writing!

*Excerpts of screenplays used for educational purposes only and copyright remains with the original writer, production company and studio, etc.