Thursday, September 02, 2021

GARY W. GOLDSTEIN INTERVIEW PART 2

Here’s part two of my interview with legendary Hollywood producer Gary W Goldstein, where we’ve been discussing how it’s imperative to be bold as a writer…

What was it about the writers you've championed that attracted you to them?

I'm looking for people who have personality and aren't afraid of telling their story and that they know how to tell a story. Not because they write a perfect script, there is no such thing. At the heart, I want to see there’s a very meaningful and worthwhile artist at work, who’s got a fresh perspective and is not trying to mimic others and be commercial in the marketplace… true storytellers.

What kind of script are you looking for? That's just such a terrible question. What am I looking for? I'm looking to be lit up like a human Roman candle. I want to be surprised. I want to be moved. I want to see brilliance. I want great dialogue and characters that relate. Take me on a journey that I wouldn't have expected, to a place I've never been.”

One of the most frequent questions I read in writers’ forums from new writers is, ‘How do I get an agent?’ 

“My answer is always, ‘are you earning money?’ You need to prove to them that you're worth taking on and it's not just a matter of having a good script, you need to be out there actively looking for work, making those contacts so that you're attractive prospect. You're not going to get signed at CA if you don't have some business on the table and it better be good business because they got too much going on. I believe that absolutely. I believe that people need to earn their way into success.

What can writers do to earn their successes?

That involves a lot of failure. The best way to succeed is to fail fiercely and quickly, ten times more than you are right now. If you're not failing a lot, then you're not going to succeed. So to get over this fear of scraping your toe or whatever that is, earn it and earning it is being busy on your own behalf. You need to bring activity and conversation and meetings and new people into the circle.

I was always happily surprised, like, holy shit, this is amazing, right? I've got a client who's in the game. They're not in the stands, watching the game. They're on the court, tennis shoes, laced up, ready to go. They're playing the game. And it's like, that's what I need. I need someone that I can send into a room. Who's going to be happy to be in the room. Not afraid. I need someone who has earned it and is humble enough to go in as an artist and really tell the truth with no bragging, and connect deeply with people.

I had an actor friend who was in a big funk. I asked him why? And he said, well, I just went into an audition. It’s such a great role. It was a beautiful opportunity. And I just, I didn't get the gig. And I said, I'm sorry to hear that. Tell me about it. So he tells me about it, what the role is, the project, blah, blah, blah. I said, who was in the room?

Was there a casting director? Was there a casting associate in the room? Yeah! Was the producer there? Yeah! There was like this cabal of serious people in the room. And I said, okay, so you went in and you gave your best performance? Yeah! So I'm sorry, I'm hearing like this incredibly successful story and you're all blue and down on yourself and in a funk. So why are we seeing this so differently?

I'm going to guess that you think the purpose of an audition is to book a gig? And he said, of course. Let me be honest with you, you just told me that you went into a room and you got to be a living, breathing personality in this room with these people who are in the center ring of Hollywood. You had a chance to meet all these people and give them a sense of who you really are, not in character, but as a human. And then you got to perform for them. Do you know how many people on the planet would like to trade places with you? Your job in an audition is to put out the welcome mat, hug people, let them see who you are. Smile. I mean, literally just smile, have fun. Be the one who's pleasant to be around and then give the best damn performance you can give and then leave. Not without another hug. Make them want to invite you back.

Then when you audition for them again it's like, ah, it's Dominic. He's always pleasant. He's always smiling. I mean, it's not always on a conscious level, but now I know you in the business sense, now I can hire you. You need to let people know you, you need to let them be your goodwill ambassador. Maybe make referrals, maybe open doors, maybe talk about you behind your back.

I say similar things to writers who have suffered rejection and they get really upset about it. My philosophy is it doesn't mean your screenplay's bad. They're not rejecting you. They're just that screenplay just wasn't for them at that time.

When you find the people that you admire, that you would want to know you and know your body of work, then go after them intentionality, meet their assistant, meet their creative executive, you know, like find your way into that conversation with patience, knowing that this would be worthwhile and they would be someone that you would really want to have an enduring career with.

So it's worth investing a little bit of skin in the game. It's one script, it's not who you are. Their opinion may or may not be well-grounded, there's so many variables. Did they have a bad day that day? Did they not like science fiction?

Would you say it's better to aim to make connections with the big hitters? Or do you think it's also valuable too to try and make relationships with interns or script readers and people like that?

It's not about big hitters because that’s a recipe for frustration. Number one, if you do have big hitters on your list they're not your target. Someone on their staff is your target.

If I'm relatively new and I knock on Steven Spielberg's door, should I expect him to really have the time for me or even answer the door? No, it's unrealistic. He's surrounded by people because he's the CEO of a fortune 100, he's got a bunch of people that firewall him from just that sort of thing. Not because he's not generous, but it needs to be filtered. So I want a warm entry. I wanna befriend and invest in someone who is, you know, maybe one of his creative executives, or an assistant, anyone that has been vetted and trusted and is on the inside, is in my view, equal.

I just went through this exercise with some people the other day. I randomly put in a keyword into LinkedIn and it wasn't even unique to Hollywood, but it was all Hollywood, you know, like I knew what was going to happen.

And I didn't even get past the first two pages. It was just all the exact right people. So I didn't bother going on. I just clicked profile after profile. And after about six or seven they had all done A, B, C, D and E. They've been interning here and an assistant there and a creative executive. I mean, it was like astonishing what they'd done, agency, production, like they were clearly learning the business from the inside out.

They were probably three years into their career and they'd already had a couple of great gigs. They do 18 months. They move on. These people are in the business of building their currency, their knowledge base and their relationships. That's the person that I want. That's the person I know who is going to succeed. They're going to make it. I don't know how, I don't know where, but that's part of my conversation.

Part three coming soon...

Happy Writing

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

BLOG REWIND - WHAT IS A SECOND DRAFT?

This blog was first posted back in 2012 and although my work methods have changed slightly, the below is still relevant...

Somebody asked me how much work I put into a second draft, which is a very good question as I may have over simplified the second draft process in my last blog.

For me the first draft is literally just one pass on the story. I may go back a couple of times to make a few quick, minor changes, but mostly I just write from the start until the finish, with very little editing (I now edit as I go aiming to write five pages a day and edit what I've written the following day). My second drafts actually consist of several mini drafts, usually ten, so that when I'm finished my second draft it will actually be draft eleven. This is how I do it...

  1. The first pass of the second draft is where I see if my story actually works. If it doesn't I need to rethink and come at it from a different angle. This is where I plug all those nasty plot holes to make sure the screenplay works as a whole.
  2. The second pass is all about structure. Does it work? Is it too fast, too slow, too confusing? Is it end heavy, or does it waffle on in act two? For the fist two passes I'm not worried about anything but plot and structure, because I don't want to complicate things and get myself into a mess. I find it best to concentrate on one aspect at a time. This is also where the first draft will probably change by anything from 25% to 75%.
  3. Pass three is all about my characters, are they believable, do they act like they should and more importantly are they necessary? There have been occasions where I have found characters to be superfluous, so I've had to get rid of them.
  4. Dialogue. Are my characters speaking with their own voice, is there too much exposition in the dialogue, does it sound clunky, do I get a sense of character, is there too much? Remember less is more! Obviously a feature will have a lot less dialogue than a TV drama.
  5. Language and imagery. This is where I lose superfluous words, delete repeating ones and look closely at all of my action description. I want to take out everything that can't actually be shown on the screen.
  6. Restructuring. This is really another pass at structure, but this time I look to see if I can tell my story a different way by changing the order I tell it in. This is also where I see if I am telling the story through the right characters' eyes. On several occasions I have found it more advantageous to tell the story through the eyes of a different character making it more powerful in the process.
  7. Conflict. This is where I check every scene has conflict in it and where I add more layers to ensure it does. Remember conflict is the essential part of any story.
  8. The opening pages. I always check to make sure the opening pages are going to grab the audience. If they're not then I need to change them so they do so.
  9. My second pass on characters, dialogue and action. If what my characters say and do doesn't match their character, then I have to change it so it does.
  10. My last pass is where I proof read for any glaring errors like calling a character by a different name halfway through the screenplay. You would be surprised how often this happens.

It's when those ten passes are done that I consider my second draft to be completed. I do it all over again for the third draft, but then it'll be easier because most of the hard work will have already been done.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

BLOG REWIND - ONE PAGE PITCH

One Page Pitches are an art form, difficult to write and get right and probably the most important and powerful selling tool at a writer's disposal. So how exactly do you write a great One Page Pitch? Here's how I do them.

FONT:

The font you use is just as important as everything else. Get it wrong and your pitch will be a difficult read, or at the very least not inspire much enthusiasm in the reader.

I used to use FINAL DRAFT COURIER for everything I wrote until I came to the realisation readers spend their entire lives staring at that font. Your font doesn't need to be fancy, just clear enough to read. I wanted to give readers something different to look at, easier to read, which is why these days I use ARIEL in all my pitch documents and treatments.

LAYOUT:

At the top of the page, centred, in bold, in capitals and font size 14, you need to put your TITLE - ALIEN.  Below this (non-capitals) you need to state the format and genre of your pitch - a sci-fi/horror feature proposal. Then below this 'by (your name)'.

The next line should be your Tagline, written in ITALICS, in font size 12 and captured in quotation marks - "In space, no one can hear you scream!"

Then below that is your Logline (written in a plain font size 12).

And finally, below that is your pitch (written in a plain font size 12 as above), containing a brief outline of the conflicts, characters and plot.

GENRE:

Your pitch will be selling your genre, so if your script is a comedy then your pitch should also be funny, a horror then your pitch should be tense and full of scares, etc. If your script is a comedy and your pitch isn't funny then it's not doing its job.

CONFLICT:

The most important aspect of the One Page Pitch is to show conflict. Your protagonist must be in peril and you have to show this, especially the conflict with other characters. If you don't your pitch will be dull and flat. Show your protagonist bumping up against problems and obstacles, and make the reader really feel for his plight.

THE ENDING:

I've been guilty of this myself on many an occasion, but you should never end a pitch with a question - Will Ripley be able to defeat the Alien and escape home? You want your audience to ask this question, but not your reader. The reader needs the full picture, what happens and how the film or TV series plays out. If you don't tell them they'll think you don't know yourself and it'll go against you.

FOOTER:

Add your NAME - EMAIL - PHONE NUMBER (or your agent's details) in the footer at the bottom of the page. It's OK to do this in Courier font as it's not part of the main document.

Here's an example of one of my pitches (copyright me of course) for reference only.


“SIDEKICK”
a 6 x 60-minute comedy-drama TV series proposal
by
Dominic Carver


‘Second best.’

A middle-aged man, disillusioned with being the sidekick of superhero Captain Cosmos, struggles to find himself as he juggles his family life and his secret identity while looking to get the credit he thinks he deserves.

DAVID TUCKER has just turned 45 and he’s already smashed headfirst into his midlife crisis. By day he works as a traffic control officer and by night he becomes The Gnat, sidekick to the superhero Captain Cosmos. His landmark birthday prompts him to reevaluate his life, his job, his friends and his family. It’s only then he realises he's completely lost.

David hates his job... both of them. He constantly struggles to keep his secret identity from his wife LUCY (42), who’s obsessed with aerobics, fad diets and is desperately trying to reclaim the body she had when she was twenty, and his son ALFIE (17) , who is uncommunicative and embarrassed by his parents on a daily basis. David’s trying to find himself again and thinks coming out from under the shadow of Captain Cosmos to become his own superhero is a much better idea than buying a powerful motorbike, falling off it at high speed only to watch it be totalled by a passing manure truck. But even branching out on your own can have its mishaps - like not being recognised by the police and being arrested for exposure when you’re trying to suit up in a phone box.

Millionaire IAN BAINES (44), aka Captain Cosmos, doesn’t understand and is too ignorant and self-absorbed to notice his crime-fighting partner isn’t happy with his life. Lucy doesn’t have time for her husband to give him the love and support he needs, and Alfie is too wrapped up in his raging hormones and his own burgeoning superpowers to spend any time with his father.

The only one who claims he understands David is PROFESSOR DOOMSDAY (56), aka estate agent MARCUS WAINWRIGHT, turning him against Captain Cosmos, his wife and his son, taking him out drinking and generally leading him astray. But Professor Doomsday’s motives are far more sinister than simply turning David evil - he wants to destroy him, to bring him down so that he’s in no place to rescue his son Alfie. It is Doomsday’s dastardly plan to have Alfie become one of his minions and to join him in the crime of the century - stealing the Royal Family and replacing them with robots.

This is David’s journey to find himself once more, make it as a superhero in his own right, rekindle the romance with his wife, reconnect with his son and save him from the evil clutches of Professor Doomsday.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

THE WATCH: THE DIFFICULTIES OF ADAPTATION - REVISITED PART 2

I have now viewed all episodes of the first series of THE WATCH and below is my revised review and conclusions...

As a whole, if you don't go in with expectations of THE WATCH being anything like the books, the show's okay, a solid bit of entertainment without being particularly memorable.

After completing the series, I watched an interview on YouTube with creator and lead writer Simon Allen and one of the producers, where they kept going on about how great Sir Terry's novels were and what great characters he had created. This is of course true, but they failed to mention their adaptation is so far removed from GUARDS GUARDS as to be almost unrecognisable and that is where and why the show fails.

Alarm bells started to ring for me when Simon suggested the novel GUARDS GUARDS didn't lend itself to an eight episode series adaptation, even though he delivered exactly that, albeit a pale, greatly diluted imitation that wasn't a patch on the original source novel. Missing was the strength of character of Lady Sybil, the leadership of career copper Captain Vimes, the hapless and delightfully comic duo of Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs, the tongue-in-cheek references, the often darkly sarcastic and self-deprecating humour and the colourfully rich world Sir Terry created for his characters to inhabit. What we actually ended up with was a sanitised view, wiped (almost) clean of everything that made Sir Terry's GUARDS GUARDS so brilliant in the first place.

It felt out of character for Captain Vimes to stumble accidentally and apologetically through the story, with Corporal Cheery instead positioned as the one with all the answers, leading, explaining and handholding the rest of THE WATCH through to the conclusion of the case. This is in contrast to Sir Terry's Watch novels, where although Vimes may have his faults he uses his copper's instincts to lead the Watch to get their man/woman/dragon ... eventually! THE WATCH's Vimes was a little more pitiful and pathetic, often muddled and barely able to make a decision without help or prompt from Corporal Cheery.

It was puzzling as to why when Simon and the producer went to great efforts to constantly praise and refer to Sir Terry's genius, they then decided to disregard the vast majority of GUARDS GUARDS. It seemed odd to me, that they were in one breath trying to sell it as one of Sir Terry's greatest works and in the next telling us they were only 'inspired' by it to deliver something so radically different, completely missing or deliberately ignoring the importance of the audience's expectation.

And 'expectation' is the keyword here. There was already a built-in audience of millions of fans for Vimes and the Night's Watch, all of whom had expectations of what a TV adaptation of the novels would deliver. If the show had delivered on that expectation then the series would have been a runaway hit. But it didn't and the adaptation lost its audience before the show was even aired, which is why I suspect it has appeared on iPlayer rather than episodically on primetime BBC One.

If you adapt such a renowned and well-loved work, or any work for that matter, you have to make sure you deliver on what the audience is expecting, with maybe a few twists and turns along the way to freshen things up and play with that expectation. THE WATCH fell woefully short of this, alienating its audience from the outset, making it almost impossible to recover from the negative word of mouth it generated. As I said above, the show is okay and reasonably entertaining, but when you ignore and alienate your target audience you will always be doomed to failure.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

THE WATCH: THE DIFFICULTIES OF ADAPTATION - REVISITED

The BBC's long-anticipated THE WATCH finally hit iPlayer this week but is it, as fans of Sir Terry's books feared, a complete betrayal of a much-loved series or is it actually quite good?

I've watched the pilot episode twice over the last twenty-four hours and while there is a lot to like, the cyberpunkesque version of the City Watch, the ultraviolet/neon/graffiti covered interiors and exteriors and Richard Dormer's brilliant take on Captain Vimes, it doesn't quite have the depth of colour and uniqueness of the original.

The show's opening title disclaimer 'inspired by the characters created by' is unusual, almost as if the creators wanted to apologise in advance for having made a conscious decision to make radical changes to the source material. The most important consideration of any adaptation is to make sure you don't alienate the fans of the work you are adapting. They're the foundation of your audience, the ones you shouldn't have to convince, so why take such a dramatic change in direction and risk losing them?

There are the noticeable absences of Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs and Cut-My-Own-Throat Dibbler has gone from a loveable street vendor who would sell his own grandmother for a profit to an almost unrecognisable wheelchair bound thug called simply Throat Dibbler, with more menace and a lot less charm than the much loved original.

It's easy then, to see why the fans of Sir Terry's GUARDS GUARDS might be disappointed and even hostile towards the adaptation. These changes dilute the richness of the world Sir Terry created, weakening the story, and the reason why GUARDS GUARDS worked so well in the first place was because of the warmness and camaraderie of the dysfunctional family of the Watch and the beautifully created world they inhabited. Take from that and it doesn't quite work.

The biggest disappointment for me is the lack of Sir Terry's humour. I'm not saying the show isn't funny, it is, it just doesn't have the humour of the novels and the adaptation loses something because of this. The novel had me laughing out loud but I barely cracked a smile during the opening episode.

The show is a little disappointing, but then the expectation was set very high to begin with. It's not awful by any means and there are some lovely moments between characters that made me believe there was better to come. For me, it's definitely worth the watch, just leave your expectations behind and watch it with an open mind. 

Happy writing!



Wednesday, June 16, 2021

GARY W. GOLDSTEIN - INTERVIEW PART 1

“If Hollywood were a meritocracy, you’d simply need to be the best at your craft to win! But the best talent doesn’t always get the gig; the best story isn’t necessarily the one funded, produced and celebrated. It often boils down to who has the best relationships. But the dirty secret most don’t know is how easy it is to form valuable, targeted relationships. Like most, they’re looking in the wrong direction. The name on the door. The ones who seem unattainable. But no one is unreachable. Nobody! You just need to know what most don’t. Where to look and how to make yourself welcomed.”

Rewind to the beginning of May and an email drops into my Inbox with an invitation… ‘let’s get together for a chat.’ The unexpected but very welcome email was from legendary Hollywood producer Gary W. Goldstein - Pretty Woman (1990), Under Siege (1992) and a couple of weeks later we managed to arrange a get together via Zoom for a wonderful and informative chat about the business of a successful writing career. 


I’ve always felt that as writers we fall short in how we conduct ourselves with regards to our careers. The business of a successful writing career is usually something that isn’t taught by screenwriting courses and a thing new writers very rarely give much thought to. I cringe every time I see a new writer declaring they’ve just finished their first screenplay in a screenwriting group and then asking their peers for contact details of producers to send it to. They expect it to be that easy to get their screenplay produced and then wonder why no one replies to their query letters.

As writers, we’re often too busy focusing on every minute detail of our screenplays that we forget or are ignorant of the need to work just as hard in other areas to create our successes. So the first thing I wanted to know from Gary was what he thought helped writers succeed and what they did that was different to writers that don’t?

“Well, to begin, successful writers don't hide themselves from the very people who are best positioned to help champion their future. It’s not that they're unafraid. It’s that their mission, commitment, mindset and self-promise to do whatever it takes to live their dream is bigger and stronger than the fears or stories that might otherwise stop them from taking action. The choice to take action in the face of modest or momentary discomfort not only quiets the fear, but delivers experiences and results that quickly replace fear with enthusiasm, surprise, and self-pride.”

What common mistakes did he think writers continually make that prevent them from succeeding?

The fundamental yet deeply flawed tool most every writer is taught and relies on is the blind query letter. By emailing loglines and project descriptions with a request to submit, the writer can check the box, feel good when they go to sleep that night, thinking ‘I've done my bit. I've handled the business side of my business.’ Yet the reality is the vast majority of queries go unanswered. Almost all. The constant refrain is, ‘I'm so frustrated! I've sent out hundreds of queries, only to be met with silence or, once in a while, a pass.’ Doing the same thing over and over without reward is deflating, exhausting and, over time, begins to create an unnecessary, unwanted, negative story.”

We’ve all been guilty of this, me included, sending out mass query letters/emails in the hope that someone will read our screenplay, see our obvious genius and sign us up. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Why then, do we as writers place so much optimism and hope in those blind query letters/emails?

Writers can often be somewhat introverted and/or socially isolated and, like so many people, they're not innately entrepreneurial, nor have they been taught effective tactics or given the right toolkit. So they’re left to mimic what their teachers teach and peers practice. It’s a perfect storm of circumstances that prevents a writer from seeing over the hedgerow, seeing the bigger picture or opportunity right in front of them. And, truth be told, it feels safe. Sending out emails keeps them at arms length from the rejection they fear. Ironically, it’s that very distance - the length of your arm - that invites or causes that very rejection. It’s deceptively risky to insist on comfort; to quash your desires in an effort to avoid risk, awkwardness or growth. But since a writer’s only doing what everyone else does or advocates, it’s reasonable. Or is it?  What’s persistently proven itself a failed strategy is the very thing that can waste years and bury countless amazing stories and projects.

For most of my life, when I haven’t been writing, I’ve worked in various sales and service industry roles. You would think then, I’d be used to selling myself, to phoning up people and making connections as I did when I worked in telesales? But no, I’m still scared of picking up the phone and talking to a real, live person.


I can’t speak to why other writers are scared of putting themselves out there, but the reason I find it so hard is I’m terrified of rejection. To me, it always feels personal even though logically I know it isn’t. The funny thing is though, if I don’t make that call I will have already failed anyway, so what do I have to lose by taking a chance? Fear is a stupid thing and it’s ridiculous how much of a hold over me it has at times.

If this is you too, the best advice I can give is to accept the fear and do it anyway. It’s only by doing something repeatedly that we become used to it. If you hide from it you are going nowhere fast and your fear will prevent you from moving forward.

Your significant investment of soul equity and years of honing your craft - a formidable and admirable commitment - deserves to be supported with effort designed to make you stand out, be known, welcomed, acknowledged, appreciated… and read! A reluctance to engage with the world, to announce yourself as artist, writer, creator, in favor of avoiding the very people who desire and need to know you (not just your latest script) is not a recipe for success. What most writers fail to recognize is their essential value, which is a perfect blend of their personal story (aka personality and history) and their stories (scripts). The writer and his or her fresh stories - the stuff everyone’s in search of, the very job definition of most who work in film or tv. What a writer has to offer is a unique perspective and projects that are desperately needed. The artist matters. Their stories matter. The irony is that, most often, the one who doesn’t recognize this reality is the writer.”

And Gary’s right. It’s not enough to have a great screenplay, you also have to put yourself out there, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you feel. The groundwork you lay will determine the level of success you reach and getting to know others, and more importantly, letting them get to know you, is how you’re going to succeed.


I understand and empathise because sending a quick email is the far easier option, less terrifying but ultimately also the laziest way of connecting with people there is. And it isn’t an effective tool as I’ve only had minimal success from this tactic. My greater successes have been from direct contact with people, building relationships with them and letting them come to me rather than me begging them to read/make my work. It’s worth noting that all but one of my commissions are a direct result of my networking. And if I’m really honest, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.


So how do you put yourself out there? How do you get yourself noticed in a scrum of competing writers from around the world?

“Taking small actions on a consistent basis, intentionally targeting the very people you most want to know you and your body of work, building bridges and creating rapport, being curious and other-focused - these are the anchors of success. It’s about you, the writer. And despite stories to the contrary, most are extremely welcoming. Especially when not asked in a first exchange by a total stranger to spend a couple of hours reading a script. But rather being genuinely greeted. It’s the simple math of our humanity. And after a handful or two of initial awkward introductions, you discover it’s shockingly easy. It’s ok to be vulnerable and truthful (even if that means admitting to another that you’re nervous). This is an entirely different level of play than an agent submitting your projects on your behalf. One is about a short-term result that is decidedly unpredictable; the other is building rapport-turned-friendship that endures for the whole of your career - where results inevitably follow. This is an order of magnitude more personal and thus powerful than, say, being active on social media."

So get out there and don’t be afraid to be yourself. Be nice! Be kind! Be generous! Don’t push! Don’t pester! Show genuine enthusiasm for your contact’s work and only get in touch with them if you have something to say, an update on how you are progressing as a writer for example.


The Zoom chat with Gary zoomed by (excuse the pun) and he had plenty more insightful things to say about making your writing career successful, so stay tuned for further blogs as, for now, we’ve only just scratched the surface.


Happy writing!


Gary W. Goldstein has produced some of Hollywood’s biggest box-office hits, generating well over a billion dollars in worldwide revenue, receiving multiple Academy Award nominations, People’s Choice Awards, a Golden Globe and various other awards.


Gary’s novel, Conquering Hollywood; The Screenwriter’s Blueprint For Career Success, is available from all good booksellers.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

MARE OF EASTTOWN - THE FIRST EPISODE

NOTE - this blog is about the 1st episode only of MARE OF EASTTOWN and not the series as a whole.

While most were raving about how good the series was I couldn't dredge up even a tiny amount of enthusiasm to watch the second episode, let alone the entire series.

I disliked the opening episode, found it to be laborious to watch, the characters ordinary and unappealing and the plot directionless and dull. Where was the crime/mystery drama I was promised? Why did I have to wait until the end of the episode for things to finally begin to look interesting? But I persevered for the full sixty minutes, willing the episode to improve while my wife urged me to change the channel and save us both. I eventually lost her to her mobile about a third of the way through and despite my perseverance, I still felt the same as the episode came to an end. 

Look, I get it... I get that the show is an aching examination of loss. I get that it's written with the murder as a backdrop to the in-focus impact it has on Mare and her community. What I don't get is why I had to sit through 59 minutes of setup and backstory to reach the heart of the idea? I don't believe for one moment that I'm the only person on the planet who gave up on the series after the disappointing first episode. Comments like, "It's worth giving another go," "It's a slow burn" and "It did start a little slow," all tell me others DID feel the same but didn't want to be seen being negative about a show so critically well-received.

After reading articles on the show it's clear to me the creator wanted the theme of loss front and centre and the murder mystery playing quietly in the background. But for me, without the murder mystery in the first episode, you are left with nothing strong enough to compare the theme of loss to. Is the writing in the first episode new and innovative as some people claim..? Not in my opinion, because without the murder mystery running parallel to the theme from the outset, all you are really watching is setup and exposition, regardless of how well it's disguised with clever and often brilliant dialogue.

The show doesn't 'hit the ground running', rather it drags itself across the tarmac for fifty-nine minutes in a stumbling attempt to get to its feet. If a show doesn't capture my attention and make me care about the characters all within the first sixty minutes, then it's lost me.

In the light of others' glowing testimony there's a part of me tempted to go back and rewatch the first episode and continue with the series, but in all honesty, why should I? In the world of downloadable content and on-demand binge-watching, there are other shows more deserving of my time and attention, so why waste more of it when I wasn't enthralled the first time around? Entertain me, don't make me work for it!

I tried to do something similar with the pilot of a recent spec, taking my time to set up the rich universe I had created, where the main character only accepts the call to arms halfway through the episode. Quite rightly my agent informed me the first half of my screenplay was slow, dull and although it set up the world brilliantly, I could have done exactly the same job weaving bits of information in amongst the action.

That's why MARE OF EASTTOWN didn't ignite my imagination because while being massively unmoved by the whole first episode, I was also struggling to decide if the show was a thriller or a drama. A murder/mystery, the chase to catch a killer naturally lends itself to the thriller genre, so being forced to wade through sixty minutes of setup before the show got up off the floor and started to find its momentum, felt like a lifetime.

There will always be exceptions and for some of you MARE OF EASTTOWN is it. However, for me, it failed to entertain or capture my attention. But that's okay, we're allowed to have a difference of opinion, it would be a dull world if we all agreed on everything.

If you think I'm wrong, please... try and convince me otherwise, I would genuinely love to hear your thoughts.

Happy writing!


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

PREWRITE - UPDATED REVIEW

Just over a year ago I reviewed the online plotting software PREWRITE. Since then PREWRITE has evolved and added several new features, so I thought it was time to update the review and let you know what those features are.

PREWRITE.COM allows you to work on one project for free and has a monthly subscription service for those people who want to work on more than one project at a time. Premium membership is a reasonable $9.99 a month and offers you 20% off if you pay annually, so it's very affordable and won't put a dent in your pocket.

The first big change is that PREWRITE is no longer just for screenwriters but for other creatives as well. There are now added templates for branded content, viral videos, web series, podcasts, tutorials and one for novelists due to be introduced soon. So whatever your written project PREWRITE can help you create it. For now though, let's focus on the screenwriting aspect of the software.

Once you've named your screenplay file you can then set your initial structure to help you get started. Here you can choose from a three act structure, a four act structure, half-hour sitcom, one hour drama, Freytag's Pyramid, Turn & Burn - CJ Walley, Save The Cat, Story Maps - Daniel Calvisi, Story Circle - Dan Harman and The Hero's Journey - Joseph Campbell. The great thing about this is that once you have created your file you are not restricted to the initial template you have chosen and are free to swap and change to your heart's content. You even have the option to chose a template of a well known movie from the database, like SKYFALL for example.

Another feature that was introduced quite early on, not long after my initial review, was the ability to import FINAL DRAFT files into PREWRITE enabling you to rework old projects, iron out their flaws and reinvigorate them. I found this a very handy tool with a feature project I wanted to rewrite and it gave me the opportunity to see where the structure needed changing and what story elements were working and which ones weren't.

The export feature has also changed slightly with any  notes you've made now showing in FINAL DRAFT where they didn't before. This means you can open your FINAL DRAFT file and focus on getting the writing done without having to refer back to PREWRITE to check your notes.

All in all the new features enhance an already brilliant piece of software, making it more accessible and flexible than before, allowing you to be at your creative best.

Below, for those that need reminding, is the initial review from April 2020.

When you own a writing blog you get a lot of random people sending you writing based stuff to read or use asking, sometimes begging you to review them in your next blog. I ignore most requests - unless they're of immediate interest - and I've always only reviewed those books/services/resources I have thoroughly tested, enjoyed and found to be informative and helpful so that my readers know if I recommend something then it's worth getting/using.

A couple of months ago I received an email asking me to review an online resource - PREWRITE.COM - for outlining and plotting screenplays, utilising online cloud storage for projects at a reasonable monthly payment, all completely downloadable to FINAL DRAFT once your projects are created. I have to admit I was dubious, after all why pay a monthly subscription for something when the good old faithful index cards and a pen will do?

In the past, I admit I've used the SAVE THE CAT software but found it to be restrictive, formulaic and frustrating to use, which is why I eventually dumped it. What writer wants to follow rigid rules when they're trying to be creative? Not me! I want to be able to write what I want, where I want and when I want and freely explore my ideas without any confinement or restriction. It was for that reason I casually dismissed PREWRITE.

Three weeks later I remembered the email and as I was about to start plotting a new feature film I thought I might as well give it a go. I'm very glad I did. PREWRITE has all of the functionality of SAVE THE CAT and much more besides, with none of the restrictions and frustrating little niggles that plagued the SAVE THE CAT software. PREWRITE is actually better than having index cards and a pen, giving you the unrestricted freedom to be creative while providing valuable extras that actually enhance your creativity rather than stifle it. PREWRITE gives you unlimited freedom of choice.

PROJECT CREATION

No faffing about here - choose a picture that represents your story, give your project a title, jot down your logline, choose your genre and theme and add your name as the author... it's that simple and quick to get started.

CHARACTER CREATION

I had a lot of fun with this section. You can create your characters with complete freedom, exploring their wants and needs in the story and how they're going to find/get to them. You can even search the movie database to find a picture of the perfect actor to play any of your characters and if they won't do you are also given the freedom to upload your own pictures. The only limit here, as with the rest of this online software, is your imagination.

PLOTTING

Again you have the freedom to choose how to view your story as you create it. Timeline, cards or page view... yes, please! Add cards to your Act One, Act Two and Act Three, move them around and delete them if you need to. Add a heading, write out your scene action in the action box, add notes below, add characters to each scene so you can see at a quick glance who appears in each scene, tag how your theme is explored, rate the emotional value of your scene, keep track of plot threads over several scenes and even add an image to sum up each scene... it's so glorious and helpful it made running away with your idea and getting it down on the page fun and as easy as breathing.

STORY STATS

If the above isn't enough for you then you can explore every aspect of your characters and your plot in the story stats section, analysing the heck out of it.

LIBRARY and HELP

There are even examples of well know films to explore and a help menu that will walk you through getting the most out of using this software.


ISSUES

I only have two and they're minor. The first is that this is an online resource only at the moment. I would love to see a software version you can download to a computer or tablet. The second issue is that your projects are stored online and like most writers who are obsessive with backing up their work every few minutes will know, there's a worry that as it's stored online you could lose all your hard work in the blink of an eye. If PREWRITE could find a solution to both of these issues then the program would be perfect.

PREWRITE is so usable you can go into as little or as much detail as you need to match your creativity. It is a blindingly brilliant bit of kit that not only helps you be creative but actively encourages you to be so and I heartily recommend all writers give it a go and see for themselves.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

EXPECTATION

***WARNING, SPOILERS FOR LINE OF DUTY SERIES SIX FINALE***

Like most of the country, I had high expectations for the final episode of series six of LINE OF DUTY. I would like to say it delivered, some would argue that it did, but I suspect most viewers felt the same as I did, that while it entertained, the ending lacked the punch we were expecting.

We had a similar situation with the final season of GAME OF THRONES in 2019. Fans expectation had been high but again, bar one or two moments, it failed to deliver. So why did two of the biggest shows on British TV get it so wrong?

When it was announced the final two seasons of GAME OF THRONES would be seven and six episodes respectively, rather than the usual ten episodes we had had for previous series, fans expressed their concern that they were being cheated. Indeed, the final season felt rushed, lacking the great moments of drama and tension that had made the show so loved by so many. Those final six episodes churned through the plot at a high rate, barely pausing for breath, and what was missing were those quiet, concentrated, intimate moments of character and high drama and tension we enjoyed in those ten-episode series. That is where, I believe, GAME OF THRONES got it wrong.

If there had been ten episodes each for series seven and eight as in the previous six series, the writers would have had more time to focus on those great moments of character and spent time building tension and delivering those heart-wrenching shocks the show was known for. The battle with the Night King's army was far too brief when we were expecting it to be epic and with a ten-episode final series, it would have had more time to play out. As it was, the sense of danger, the sense that any of the main characters could be killed off at any moment wasn't there as it had been previously and the Night King and his army were defeated far too easily in a rush to get to King's Landing and have Daenerys confront Cersei.

The same can be said of Daenerys' conquering of King's Landing and the defeat of Cersei, it was all over in one episode. Daenerys' destruction of King's Landing and its people didn't ring true or have the impact I think the writers wanted. Again this moment suffered as a result of trying to cram too much into too short a time and Daenerys' fall from grace would have been so much more convincing if there had been time to explore it in greater detail.

The problem with the ending of LINE OF DUTY is a different one. The problem there lies in the difficulty of maintaining the momentum of the successive climaxes/revelations over so many series, of having to ensure you top what has come before again and again. But when you have such jaw-dropping moments of high drama as we've seen in LINE OF DUTY, it's increasingly difficult to find new ways to exceed your audience's expectation and deliver something that shocks or surprises.

After four series of LINE OF DUTY, the audience was beginning to become familiar with how Jed Mercurio played with their expectations and to a certain extent, this made it harder to deliver great moments of drama they weren't expecting. By series six we had been hit by so many jaw-dropping moments that Jed was going to have to deliver something spectacular to top what he had delivered before. It didn't come. Whether that was deliberate or not, I'll discuss later.

We were expecting the fourth man/woman to be someone conniving and wickedly clever, someone who would run rings around AC-12 and push them to their limits and beyond. Buckells wasn't that man! He didn't even come close! He wasn't the arch-nemesis we demanded but a comically inept officer who just happened to pass on information to the OCG. His character lacked impact and so did his interview. Why? Because he was already in custody when they rumbled him and consequently there wasn't that anticipated, tense last-minute dash to hunt him down and bring him to justice. They just went to pick him up from the prison and interviewed him. Even good old Ted mocked him for his ineptitude as a police officer.

However, I'm thinking this might be deliberate, a ploy by Jed to take us into a seventh series where the battle to uncover the real fourth man/woman really takes place as he or she works against the team to tear them apart and shut down their investigation. There, for me, is the tension missing from the final episode of series six, the sense of urgency that the fourth man/woman needs to be found and brought to justice before he or she can disband the heroic AC-12 team and defeat them... only time will tell, but if I were you, I wouldn't be too surprised when series seven is announced.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

UPCYCLING

My new TV drama spec was finally finished and I happily emailed it to my agent. Job done, I thought... but what next?

I had planned to start a feature as my next project when I decided to have a quick flick through my old script files first. I have no idea why I chose to skim through my old screenplays, what prompted me or what the aim was, but I'm glad I took the time to do so.

It wasn't long before I came across a comedy TV pilot I had written several years ago. I found myself laughing out loud at its premise, its boldness and its sheer stupidity. What had I been thinking back then? But something about it struck a chord with me. Something about it cried out for attention. Something about it said, 'this story needs telling and the time is NOW!"

The creative juices started flowing; how I could update it, how I could change it to reflect a post-Covid world, how could I alter the characters to make them more relevant? It was like an explosion went off in my head and after months of little creativity, my brain decided it was time to make up for it. And it did a flipping good job.

I have to be honest, it surprised me. Firstly, I hadn't expected the screenplay to be as good as it was, after all, it's almost a decade old. Secondly, I hadn't expected to have so many new ideas bombarding me from all angles, enabling me to take the project forward in a new direction. Lastly, I can't believe the level of excitement it has generated in me.

So a project I thought dead, not only has new life but is also now a story of hope, something so desperately needed after a difficult year for everyone.

Take a chance and every now and then go back over your old ideas and look at them with distance and fresh eyes, and maybe, just maybe they might spark a new idea that will take you forward as a writer.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

LOCKDOWN & CREATIVITY

It's been an awful year and not just because of Covid-19 and successive lockdowns.

Speaking purely from a writing perspective, it's been the worst twelve-months of my career. Even the commissioning of my seventh feature in July did little to lift me out of an extended creative slump. I barely wrote a word in 2020 and what I did write, I'm still agonising over months later, bogged down in the detail of the first ten pages of a TV drama spec I can't push myself to complete. I'm still rewriting/deleting/rewriting those same ten pages over and over again, never managing to get any closer to something I can conjure any pride in. None of my ideas have clicked, none have added to the original idea and in most cases, they've made the overall tone of the screenplay considerably worse.

I'd like to think the lack of creativity is down to my private writing space being invaded by a work from home wife and two homeschooling kids, all four of us competing for the same workspace and wi-fi bandwidth, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month...

Unfortunately, months of lockdowns have sapped all creativity from my little grey cells. I even hit Netflix, Disney + and Sky Box Sets hard, binge-watching my way through a series or two a week in an attempt to jumpstart my creative drive, and I still find my creativity is a pale, lifeless corpse. I can barely muster the enthusiasm to sit at a keyboard for an hour a day. That blinking cursor taunts me and my impotent creativity as I witness other's achievements posted on social media with a sense of resignation and envy and not the pleasure, pride and camaraderie I used to. This is what I have become, a shadow of who I was before anyone first mentioned lockdown and isolation, a creative and emotional cripple with no drive, limping from one day to the next like a directionless zombie.

I know others are experiencing the same sense of hopelessness and demotivation but it's of little comfort because it still feels as if I'm the only one. I can't help but wonder how honest people are when posting their successes on Facebook and what the real struggles are behind those celebratory headlines. I also know this isn't forever, that it's just a temporary, insignificant blip in a lifetime of dedication and that I shouldn't punish myself during an unprecedented global situation where over a million people haven't been as lucky.

Now and again there are a few hours of frantic focus that may or may not result in a page of something half decent and I try to hold to those moments of encouragement amongst the hopelessness I feel for any future, personal or career-focused.

You are not the only one. Hang in there. Stay safe.

Happy writing!