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!