Wednesday, January 21, 2015


At last a screenwriting book that doesn't dedicate itself to the act of writing, but to the art of career building and survival instead, a rarely touched upon but much needed subject in my opinion.

It's the simplicity of this book is what makes it a winner for me.

How many other screenwriting books have you read where you get the author's knowledge and experience thrust upon you as if their unique way of doing things is the right way and the only way? Farah avoids this route, instead relying on advice from a multitude of industry professionals - including my awesome agent Christina - allowing for an easy read that is comfortable, informative and never preachy.

Farah poses relevant questions about all aspects of a screenwriting, or writing-directing career, briefly expanding on those questions with a quick paragraph, before posting the answers the industry professionals she interviewed gave. All the answers are precise, insightful and are mostly kept to a short paragraph. Farah then follows this up with helpful bullet pointed notes summing up the subject discussed in each section.

What this gives you is less the feel of an educational tomb, but more of a friendly chat in the pub over a few beers, making the information a great deal easier to digest.

It'll also give you an insight into what some production companies and producers are looking for currently. I've already highlighted the most interesting sections in my copy.

However, this is also a downside I can see with this book. Some of the information from producers and development execs, especially about what they're looking for, will soon be out of date, especially as development executives move on to different companies, as they often do, and their genre focuses change. But for me, that's a minor niggle. There's still plenty of information in between those pages to make a new writer weak at the knees and they will always be interested in great writing.

Subjects covered include; the job of a writer, what directors do, what producers do, other decision makers, the writing process, ideas, the many ways in to the industry, new talent, where new talent is hunted for, genres of writing, rejection, finding a producer, procrastinating, networking and a million other vital questions that need answers, far too many for me to list in this already very long blog post.

I was fortunate to be able to interview Farah and pick her brains. So in the style of the book, here's what she had to say...

DOM - Can you tell us a little about your background, how you got into writing and producing?

FARAH - Well I’ve written stories for years but I came late to writing, I grew up in Libya and the schooling system was different there. I spoke Arabic and English fluently but, arriving in Dublin at 7 years of age, I was basically illiterate. My grandmother, a school teacher, taught me to read and write to the level of my peers over two months. As I was separated from my parents, I used to write them letters and tell them stories. Both my father and my Irish uncle are poets and writers so it was in my blood on both sides, I recall going to many poetry readings and book launches. At my friends’ birthday parties I would make up plays and put on a show for when it came to be picked up and go home. Throughout senior school I would direct plays. When I moved to Paris, my friend Antonio and I made short films. Then responsibility set in and I realised a roof doesn’t stay over your head from ideas alone and I had to get a day job. I temped in the city and learned a little about business. I set up the Rocliffe New Writing Forums and that then led to producing my first movie No Deposit, No Return. It was about a desperate woman who broke into a sperm bank - so my two producing colleagues and I went to Cannes and asked everyone we met to donate their sperm and give us the proceeds. We raised £60,000 in sponsorship… first of the crowd funders! We were fools not to make a feature there and then. I guess I thought there was a right of passage — that we had to get in line and apply for permission to make ‘grown-up’ movies after we’d made a short. Believe me, looking back I’d be saying don’t hold yourself back.

DOM - Tell us about the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum and how and why you founded it?

FARAH - I came out of drama school, I found it so hard to get roles for women in their mid-20s. I had this great training across different types of scripts and was gagging to work. I had an agent but I was one of many queuing for those roles and everyone felt much prettier, more talented, thinner, crazier, more of everything I wasn’t. I wanted more than what was on offer. So a friend suggested getting writers together. I advertised on Shooting People which had exploded on the scene and united filmmakers, actors and writers left right and centre.  It was new and fresh. I advertised for writers to send in their work, printed them off, courtesy of the day job, and eight people turned up to do read-throughs.  I advertised again two weeks later - 30 people turned up to a small room above a pub. The idea was play reading, discussion and networking.  Pubs are great for networking. Then it kept growing and growing - we featured the early work of writers like James Dormer, Claire Wilson, Jack Thorne. It’s been amazing really. It started as a way to get my hands on material, support writers and create a network - I didn’t know any directors or writers back then. It was great. The real turning point was when we partnered up with BAFTA, who had a learning and events strand that it fit into.  It’s a mutually collaborative partnership, where we work together in the best interests of the writers, each bringing our skills to the table. What I love about it is that it is very personal, hands on; people get treated as individuals.

DOM - How did the idea for the book come about?

FARAH - I’d written a version of the book in 2010, then the Libyan Revolution came along and my father and family were there so I became a human rights activist and the book was forgotten. Then in 2013, I had been answering so many questions from writers that I decided to put them all in one place so I started the blog - using elements from the draft of the book. I was getting more than 1000 hits a week. I realised too that I’m not afraid to ask people for advice or their thoughts on the different mediums. So I asked Chris Sussman to write a blog for me about comedy writing. I realised how great it is to get advice and opinions from others. I had, at this point, thought no more of the book. I was speaking at the BFI London Film Festival in 2013 and having a coffee before my talk on line producing at Think-Shoot-Distribution. I bumped into Hannah Patterson and we were talking about the blog and she asked had I thought about making it into a book. She then explained she was a commissioning editor and asked to see the book proposal.  And it came from that.

DOM - What's the biggest mistake you see writers and writer/directors constantly make with regards to the growth of their careers?

FARAH - Overthinking can kill your confidence.  I believe, too, that some people I meet spend too much time being angry about things not happening for them or why other people have got the opportunities rather than making things or making things happen.  A writer needs to write. Many writers I meet don’t read enough or write enough. It’s all at your fingertips, go out and make something even with a phone - some great films out there. You have to commit to a career not a single screenplay. You need something to show for yourself. My biggest mistake was holding myself back; like with learning to read and write, I was a late developer.

DOM - As a producer can you tell us what you look for in writers and writer/directors you wish to work with (besides their projects of course)?

FARAH - What I would say is don’t work with people just because you are flattered by them asking you to work with them - it’s really a personality game and you need to feel you can work with them and really believe in the project or it will be hell or high water. Trust your instincts.

DOM - Should writers consider becoming writer/directors?

FARAH - It’s not a tick box - it’s a craft. Do it if you want to direct? If you want to direct, go do it! Don’t wait for permission.  Know what directing is - go on set, talk to cinematographers, lighting teams and sound recordists. I tried directing - I was so naive - I’d approach it differently today because I’ve been on set - when I did it first, I hadn’t a clue. I hadn’t run the film enough times in my head filmically.  I loved the edit though.  

DOM - As a writer, what's the one thing you can't live without and why?

FARAH - Facebook! Everyone needs to procrastinate. Seriously though, my notebook and pencil case - I’m always making notes.

DOM - Which screenwriting book from your own collection would you recommend and why?

FARAH - Hmmm… I think this is going to sound a little left of centre and not quite screenwriting but I would say the Artists and Writers Yearbook. Writing is writing and rewriting and knowing your craft and there are too many GREAT books out there. What do you do with that talent? You need to know where to send your script/book/work out there and the best start is that book.  It lists everything you need for a career.

DOM - Do you have any plans for future screenwriting books?

FARAH - Not necessarily screenwriting books but there are more in the Rocliffe Notes series. I’ve written an outline for a book about growing up in Libya, another about the relationship my grandmother had with the revolutionary Maud Gonne and a novel. Let’s see what happens next.

I've just thought of another downside to this book... it's too damn good! There's going to be far more, well informed writers out there competing for the same jobs as me from now on. Bum!

Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


This book has been in my 'to read' pile for a while now. Curiosity finally got the better of me.
Do you emotionally connect with your audience?

As a writer/reader I've read a ton of scripts for clients over the years, some good, some bad and some indifferent. It's the indifferent screenplays that have been the biggest disappointment for me, as clearly the writers had talent, their ideas were solid, but their work lacked any emotional depth and therefore lacked appeal. No emotional impact = no connection with the reader. Very frustrating!

A new writer recently sent me the first two screenplays he had written and while they lacked any technical ability, I could clearly see the emotional core in each piece. The fact his writing lacked technicality in structure, plot, character and dialogue didn't matter, as I could tell he was writing from the heart, and his stories drew me in. I know for sure that when he learns the technical side of his craft he's going to be a very powerful writer indeed.

I've always been of the opinion that an emotional connection with an audience is something that comes naturally and can't be taught. I find it easy to write with an emotional eye, creating ideas and characters than move me, most of the time without even thinking about it. Surely it couldn't be taught? Karl's book was to prove me wrong.

Unlike other screenwriting books Karl's focuses entirely on how to emotionally connect with your audience, to involve them in your characters' journeys and have the audience hooked from start to finish, which sets it aside from pretty much every other screenwriting book I've read previously. At the most other screenwriting guides have only briefly touched on the subject.

Karl doesn't just talk about high concept, he delves deeper, investigating what makes an idea appealing in the first place, going beyond the story to discuss genre, ways to improve your idea's appeal and how a screenplay's title can be used to draw an audience in. He doesn't stop there. Theme and uuniversal meaning are also explored, empathy with characters, their situations, the obstacles they face, what they say, what they don't, rising tension, mesmerising moments, engaging the audience and most importantly, how every scene plays a part in building a memorable experience for the audience.

In fact since reading Karl's book I've been trying to remember reading another book that goes into so much detail and examines so microscopically how every written word can have an emotional impact, and I have to admit I came up blank.

The biggest idea (and revelation, if I'm honest - why I never thought of this before I have no idea) in the book for me was Karl's insistence that we, as screenwriters, are only writing for one person and one person only. That person is the READER. And he's right. We're not writing for those movie goers sat munching their popcorn in the cinema, or those couch potatoes sat at home watching TV, we are writing to please the READER - who will be the one deciding whether our screenplay is worthy of progression or not. When you think of it like that it truly helps to focus the mind and helps make the whole process seem that little less daunting.

If you haven't got a copy of this book go and buy one right now, your writing will be a lot richer for it.

Happy writing.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015


2014 was an amazing year for me, one where I finally began to see real gains from all the hard work I've put in over the last twelve months.

I had several meetings with interested producers who expressed a desire to work with me in the near future, including two from well known TV production companies, the head of children's drama for a major broadcaster and a producer from a feature production company specialising in novel adaptations.

It's always a great delight (and huge confidence boost) when producers complement your work. It makes all that blood, sweat and tears worth while. But not only did the people I met up with during 2014 like the samples of work my agent sent them but three of them were so impressed they offered me the possibility of future TV drama episodes; one made by a development producer and the other two by the show runners themselves. Of course this all depends on these series' getting the green light from the various broadcasters, but at least the offers are there and at last it feels like TV is not so far out of my reach now.

I also had a promise from the development producer of the feature film company that if he came across a novel he thought I would like, he would see if I would be interested in adapting it. This is on top of him currently considering two of my other feature projects for production.

Although I didn't go the London Screenwriters' Festival in October (which I have to admit I really missed) I feel I still made significant progress networking. But by December I found I was frazzled, fatigued, my energy and motivation were running low and I do regret missing the festival and not being able to recharge my writer batteries.

I also have a great deal to look forward too in 2015. I not only have the possible TV episodes but I also have two features going into production, one in March and the other in the summer. I know a lot can happen between now and March but I'm over the moon that things are finally moving forward with my feature projects.

My aims this year are as follows; 1 - to be commissioned for a TV drama episode. 2 - to see both proposed feature productions actually happen and go well.

Here's to a successful year for us all.

Happy writing!