Sunday, 27 September 2009

Antonement

Tonight sees the onset of Yom Kippur - The Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. It finishes Monday night, the completion of 25 hours spent mostly in Synagogue, fasting and praying. We ask forgiveness for the sins committed in the last year and pray for a better year to come.

The thing that most people don't get about religion is that it's just all about making choices. Making choices about how we spend our time, making choices about how we behave, and how we treat other people, making moral choices everyday. Can you be a moral person, however that is defined, without being religious? Of course. Can you be a religious person without being moral? No. You can pretend. Many people sadly do. But they usually get found out in the end.

As screenwriters, we also constantly face choices. What stories we tell, how we tell them, what a character does when, where and how? The more successful we are, the more important these choices become. When you know what you write will end up on the big or small screen, hopefully watched by millions, the words and stories can have an incredible influence we may not consider when we first scribble FADE IN.

However, I have never supported the idea that a film is the 'reason' people do what they do. Off the top of my head there have been criminal court cases which have led to accusations being made against films like Child's Play (I've never seen it) Reservoir Dogs (loved it) & Severance (never seen it.) How many people saw these movies, and yet only one, or two, thankfully, decided to act out something they saw on screen. These people were sick, and if it hadn't come from a movie, the 'inspiration' would've come from elsewhere.

But nevertheless, it's always worth thinking about what we choose to put on screen. Like I've said many times on this blog, I am all for freedom of expression. But just because we have the legal right to do something, doesn't mean we should ignore the moral obligation not to. Take for example Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. Let me say up front that I haven't seen it. And I don't normally like to comment on something I haven't seen myself (and if I do, I make sure that I state that I haven't) But goodness me. I know what it's about, I know what's in it, and when the director himself describes the movie’s ending as full of “violence and stupidity”, and apologised for some of the clumsy Biblical references, saying “normally I would have taken out all that shit. I was relatively uncritical of the script,” you really do wonder who thought the estimated 11 million dollar budget was going to be money well spent?

But if anything, I was even more dismayed by the recent Nick Love film, The Firm. Again, I haven’t seen it, even though the official website screams it’s 'this year's must see film,’ (courtesy of Zoo, apparently) But maybe a better epithet would be the most unnecessary film of the year. Did we need another film about football violence? We already have the original The Firm, ID (which I had a rather unhealthy obsession with when I was younger and dumber) Green Street, and The Football Factory (from er, Nick Love, again.) Yes I’ve read all the protestation that The Firm not actually about football violence (do they protest too much?) but, well, sorry, it is. Because that’s the setting you’ve chosen to tell your story about male behaviour, boys growing up and whatever else you want to chuck in there. (Not to mention the obvious glee in the interviews on the website with the creators about the violence.) Nick Love and co couldn’t have known that not long before the film’s release, Millwall and West Ham fans would conduct their own remake of 80s football violence. And he is of course entitled to make the film he wants to make. (I’ve never met him and have nothing against him!) But why the hell would you? And perhaps more importantly for the industry at large, why the hell would you finance it?

This goes to the core of an article by Phil Parker recently in Screen International, reprinted over on Julian’s blog. Phil was in charge of my MA when I started there and was a huge inspiration for me. Anyone who has heard his passion for screenwriting and film knows that when he speaks, the industry really should take note.

But coming back to what we ourselves do on a personal level. And I speak as much to myself as to anyone kind enough to read my blog. Let’s think about what stories we want to tell this year and how we want to tell them. I’m not talking about censorship or being a prude. For a start, when I read scripts, I never pass judgement. One of the best spec scripts I’ve read was a horror film that I’d never go and see in a million years – but its quality was undeniable and scary even just on the page! Previous screenplays of mine contain violence, alcohol and drug abuse, swearing and er, in the last one, some pretty low brow Judd Apatow style comedy! And as the tagline for Dough is now in the public domain, the savvier amongst you will no doubt recognise a drug reference that is very relevant to the movie. But I hope and like to think that the overall message of the stories I tell is a positive one, never justifying things that a moral society should find abhorrent. And that the content is never included just to shock, to cause controversy or because I couldn’t be bothered to “take out all that shit.”

Good luck with everyone’s writing this year. Let’s tell stories that force the British film industry to acquiesce to Phil’s wishes, and end the endless monotony of remakes and sequels etc. And more importantly, choose stories so that when we look in a mirror in our old age, we can still think, I’m proud I did that.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Happy New Year

Tonight sees the beginning of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. It's a time for introspection, prayer, and eating apples dipped in honey.

So I would like to wish all my Jewish readers a happy new year - the rest of you just go about your business and have a good weekend!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Dough

With thanks to Hashem, I can finally tell you all that my latest project, the one I have been busting myself over for the last couple of months, has been optioned by Viva Films. I'm incredibly excited by it and look forward to working closely with my co-writer, Jonathan Benson, and producer/director John Goldschmidt. It's called Dough, and whilst I obviously can't disclose any confidential information, I will try and keep everyone informed of the process, which hopefully other writers will find useful.

This all started many years ago in fact. Jonathan knew I was a screenwriter and told me he had this idea for a movie. Now I don't know about you, but this happens fairly often when people hear about what I do. And a lot of the time you just want to extract yourself from the conversation as quickly and as politely as possible. Sometimes, the idea might even be really cool, but you still feel like saying okay then, go and write it. But I knew straight away Jonathan's idea was a bit special. We both went off to do other things, always promising to work on it together, but never getting round to it. Mentally I always kept returning to the idea though.

At the end of June I was in contact with John Goldschmidt about reading for him. He asked me to do a trial script report and I was bit put out! I was far too experienced for trials!! But I remained professional and calm and did the report. John really liked it and we met up for a chat. We got on well and during the meeting spent more time talking about his projects and mine, instead of script reading. He said he was actively looking for a new project and told me a bit about the sort of thing he was after. I couldn't believe it. It sounded exactly like Dough. So I pitched it to him then and there, and John liked what he heard.

He asked to see an outline, which of course we didn't have. So I rushed home, phoned Jonathan, and said we have to work on this right, now. We spent about a week or so writing a 4 page outline, which I then got notes on from my workshop group. We rewrote it and then sent it to John. For him it confirmed the potential he already felt the story had.

Next all 3 of us met up to discuss it in more detail, the upshot being that John asked for a treatment. My heart sank a little. Like most writers, I hate treatments. But both John and Jonathan agreed we needed one and I reluctantly admitted it was probably a good idea. John said to keep it to about 10 pages, with 1 page representing 10 minutes of screen time. I don't know about anyone else but I've heard so many things about how to write treatments, the optimum length and style etc, but had not actually heard this one. It's so simple but for some reason it just clicked. This was far more manageable and made sense both in my head and on the page. It seems to work and I will be doing all my treatments like this from now on.

Anyway, a few weeks later we handed in the treatment and John liked that as well. A lot of the ideas had evolved and fleshed out and where we were really lucky was that all three of us were in close contact throughout this time. Quick emails and text messages were exchanged with alarming regularity and it meant ideas could be banded about and got feedback on straight away. This is clearly not a usual situation. Projects don't often evolve like this and I personally really like the collaborative nature it took. John was convinced that this was the project he was looking for. And he wanted to option it.

I don't have an agent. And neither does Jonathan. And when the contract arrived, some of the jargon is mind boggling. We were all getting on extremely well but you have to remain professional. John is fantastic to work with but you cannot just sign anything that is put in front of you. So I asked an agent I know if they would do me a favour and look at it. They kindly agreed and certain things were highlighted that we wanted to review. I won't name the agent because I don't want them to be inundated with people asking for favours! But they know who they are and I am really grateful for their time.

So there was still some thrashing out to be done. It was a bit stressful but the important thing was that everyone ultimately wanted the same thing and remained on good terms, resolute in the desire to develop this project. Finally everything was agreed and we met up for dinner last night to sign the contract.

It was a great feeling, but none of us are under any illusions. The real work starts now as we write the first draft, which will inevitably be rubbish, but then commit to rewriting and rewriting until it's exactly what we want. The fact of the matter is that most films don't get made. But we are determined not to become just another statistic in the quagmire of the UK film industry and no matter how long it takes, to write and make a film we are all proud of.

I will keep you up to date on our progress as much as I can.

One final post script. My original meeting with John was the same week I got rejected from the Writers Academy. I was pretty glum and this opportunity came along at just the right time. Had I got in would I have had time to concentrate on Dough? Probably not. Having said that if John Yorke phones up tomorrow and says Jez, there's been a terrible mistake and there couldn't possibly be an Academy without you... would I turn it down? Of course not. But once again it just goes to show you've got to roll with the punches, keep plugging away, and be in contact with the industry as much as possible and in anyway you can. Because you never know when or where the next opportunity might come from.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Things we noticed watching tv this week 31 (spoilers)

Once upon time I wrote a period piece. It's set in London in the forties. I wrote it as my MA script and it's a cracking story inspired by real events. (Well, :-) I would say that wouldn't I.) It's also frighteningly relevant to a modern day audience, and it's been well received by people in the industry. But the overriding response has always been the same. Period is the taboo word, they are too expensive, and they never find an audience.

And yet I like them, they pop up every now and then, both on the big and small screen, generally seem to do well, and depending on how you make them, don't actually cost as much as you might think. So when one does come along, I tend to check it out with interest.

5:15pm everyday seemed like a good time to take a break from writing. And wouldn't you know it, that was same time Land Girls was on BBC1 all last week. Set during WWII, it focused on the girls who had been left behind by the men who went off to war, and kept the country in food by working the land. The time slot was indicative of who this drama was going to be aimed at, and it was not me. But I was really interested to see what had been done with it to entice the age group coming home from school that once upon a time would've tuned into Grange Hill or Biker Grove. And initially, I was pleasantly surprised. The first episode seemed quite daring. There was that traditional, genteel country feel to it. But at the same time, the episode addressed racist segregation (African American soldiers were not allowed into certain places) and by the end of it, young Bea (Jo Woodcock) had been seduced by an American GI under declarations of love, when of course all he wanted was a quickie in the woods. I personally feel that period pieces should, by and large, have something contemporary to say. These two issues did that. So I was interested to see how this would continue.

Unfortunately, the black GI’s bizarrely did not appear again in the entire series and Bea, of course, fell pregnant. So here was a drama, aimed squarely at a young audience, dealing with teen pregnancy. Oh Lord. Even teens must be fed up with this. That’s not to say that teen pregnancy is not a contemporary issue. Of course it is. A massive one. And one of my favourite films of recent years, Juno, focuses on exactly this. But there was very little new on offer here. To make matters worse, and to make the most out of this storyline, the series had weird time jumps that I could just about keep up with. But overall what this meant was that the narrative didn’t make much sense. Because the rest of it felt like it happened within a small time frame. When you then learnt that three months had gone by, for example, you were just left wondering how and why things had not changed at all since we last saw them! I could go on, but frankly it was all a bit dull, and I was left with the feeling that the pilot promised far more than was eventually delivered. Then again, I accept I’m not a teenager anymore. So if anyone out there has one or is one, and feels different, I'd love to hear your comments.

It did get me in the period mood though, and a few weeks ago I recorded Breaking the Mould: The Story of Penicillin (BBC4). Now, this wasn’t exactly high concept stuff. It didn’t smack as obvious screen work material. And for about an hour, this was perfectly reflected in the drama. Because at the end of the day, there really wasn’t any. Alexander Fleming had already discovered penicillin. But this was the story of the far less familiar, Howard Florey (Dominic West) and his team’s efforts to develop it into a functioning drug to save lives. But this development process, with all its scientific jargon, and even explanatory voice over’s from Florey, sailed comfortably over my head. I neither understood it, nor cared about it. I was waiting for some human drama. And waiting and waiting and waiting. Throwing in the odd scene of Florey’s troubled marriage just didn’t cut it.

Then, finally, things got interesting. Fleming effectively stole Florey’s thunder and announced the development of penicillin. Politics, economics and morality came to the fore as questions about whether to paten the drug, who should get there first and who should it be available too were all grappled with. And then just as quickly it was all over. Bummer. I was left with the feeling that there was drama to be had here, but that for some reason no one had mentioned to start the film about sixty pages into the script. There was even contemporary relevance to be had, with health care at the forefront of American politics, it’s ramifications resonating over here, and the pervading influence of one of the evils of the modern world, large pharmaceutical companies, all very much hot topics. Unfortunately, this kind of botched the lot.

I remember an old lecturer of mine (I forget who so whoever it was, forgive me for stealing this story,) telling us that when they had written the first draft of their MA script, it had gone off to then head, Phil Parker, for a read through. It came back with the simple note, “you can start three scenes in,” (or something to that effect.) Early on we often write scenes setting up the story that we then don’t need in subsequent drafts. Later drafts want to hit the ground running. Unfortunately, with Breaking the Mould, it felt like it had a great many scenes that could be cut for a much, much, later start.

I still like period pieces though - and just wish a few more companies and broadcasters would be a bit braver!

Monday, 7 September 2009

CBBC Residential (Part One)

Matt Sinclair was one of only 8 writers to gain a coveted place on the CBBC residential later this month. This is his story so far…

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As most of you know, it all started with the competition. From that, 19 writers were chosen to participate in the day long Masterclass, before which we had to complete a 2 page writing exercise. We were then whittled down to 12 writers, and then finally 8 writers were chosen to attend the residential.

I didn’t want to blog about the masterclass at the time because we were still waiting to hear who had got through to the residential – and yes I didn’t want to jinx it! I’m relieved the wait is over now and if anyone is interested, here are a couple of things that may have contributed to me getting this far (although, until I’m actually sitting there, I’ll still think it is a terrible admin error…)

I did a course. An MA Screenwriting, which I’m still paying the career development loan off for. You need people who know what they’re doing to show you how to do it too. When I started out writing, I was short-listed for a Thames TV drama competition. I think I made the final 30 out of 500 entries. Based on that, I thought I could write. I couldn’t. I’d just got lucky with good characters based on real people and a simple structure. Everything I wrote after that was poor, until I did the MA. I think I wasted 3 years doing that. I failed to get onto the MA first time round and they advised me to do some short courses. So I did one a Screenwriters’ Workshop on The Hero’s Journey (where I met Jez for the first time although he says he can’t remember me) and an Arvon Course which was like an epiphany. After that doing the MA was like having a light switched on in my brain, being taught by writers and working with 25+ people who all want to write. It was one day a week for 2 years and I didn’t want the days to end (possibly why we stayed in the pub until closing every week). That MA was the best thing I’ve ever done. I learnt how to analyse scripts, write reports, give and take objective feedback – all of which are just as important as the writing itself. If I could go back in time to that initial competition, I’d tell myself: do a course, you’re really not as good as you think you are.

I gave up my job. I knew redundancy might be on the cards for over a year so I had a while to plan, work out how much I needed each month and how long I could write for without needing to work. Having done the MA and worked so hard, I just wasn’t getting anywhere with my writing. My job was enjoyable but demanding and it was very hard to switch-off and switch-on to writing. Writing full time, meant that I could devote 4 weeks to the CBBC entry – about 20 days full time. I’m positive that if I were still in my job, I wouldn’t have written anything as good, or maybe anything at all…

I went to the CBBC Writersroom Q&A. It was really important to hear from successful children's writer Elly Brewer and Head of CBBC Drama Steven Andrew. I really connected with what they were looking for. But at the same time I know people often cannot make these events, even if they want to. But take heart, a lot of the writers at the masterclass hadn’t been to it either.

Research. I started watching CBBC straight away (and still am), I have a few mates who have kids in the 9-12 age group and asked them what their kids watched and why. I also went to the children’s books section of Waterstones and had a look at what fiction was out there. I also asked a few kids what they watched. This was a little bit dodgy, but I made sure their parents were around and made a point of asking their permission and explaining why I was doing it. They ALL watched The Simpsons and liked shows that had funny characters. The 5 kids I asked really informed my work. Unfortunately, the next 2 parents I asked said ‘no’ I couldn’t talk to their kids and one kept giving me dirty looks and making me feel uncomfortable… so I left.

I’m in a writer’s group. We get together roughly 4 times a year and read/report on each other’s work. We also do each other reports on an ad-hoc basis all the time. This meant I got quality feedback on my work really quickly and, because we all did the MA together, we have a shared language of analysis. So when someone comments on ‘tone,’ for example, we all know what they mean. It also meant that when I had to complete the 2 page exercise, I got feedback within 24 hours and was able to complete the exercise in 2 days. I have no idea if the BBC were counting the turn around time as a factor, but I figured it can’t hurt to produce something good, quickly. I owe my writer's group pretty much everything really.

Attitude. OK, this isn’t a contributing factor, but once I’d sent the entry, I filed it away in my brain in the mental cabinet marked ‘done’ and carried on with the project I was previously working on. You have to treat writing as a job, finish it, and get on with the next one. Understandably disappointed writers were putting stuff like they were being treated with contempt on the CBBC blog. You cannot be that precious about either your work or your attitude, because if you are, no one will ever want to work with you.

My Girlfriend. Your partner, husband, wife, best mate, Mum, Dad, whoever. Someone close to you to give you that extra support when you really need it. She supported me over my decision to take redundancy, was happy to accommodate my stress as I drove back from Galstonbury very, very fast so that I could get to the job centre, sign on, get home, make the changes to the script and send it the next day. (This was at 4am with no sleep since Blur.) She also reads my work and gives me a non MA angle which is always insightful and wrote a report on my 2 page exercise after we’d had a massive row about money and mortgages and weren’t speaking. (Although a cynic might say that’s just emotional leverage to make me apologise first!) Don’t take these people for granted, you’d struggle without them.

The Masterclass. There’s been coverage of the day elsewhere but to be honest, it left me a bit deflated. I was hoping for some kind of interview where I could impress them with all the points above but it was group work and discussion and I’m very much an introvert. The cynic in me also thought that it would be a numbers game: there’d be a loony, a big mouth egoist who dominates everything, someone who got lucky and is out of their depth etc… Maybe then I’d have a better chance of making it to the next stage. Unfortunately, the other short listed writers were all really strong! We all had to pitch our ideas and the quality was outstanding. I went to pieces and delivered the worst pitch of the group and started to think that in fact I was the big mouthed, egoist who clearly got lucky…

In the afternoon, we broke into smaller groups and got feedback on our scripts from key BBC people, like Kate Rowland. Being able to discuss your work is a big factor in writing and I got some valuable insight from her. We then had 2 days to re-write if we wished and then send in again, to be considered for the next stage. Some of the writers were unsure about making any changes at this stage. My view is: if the head of new writing tells you your script title doesn’t really work and the inciting incident needs to come forward from page 10 to at least page 5, you go home, switch on the computer and come up with a new title and bring the inciting incident forward to page 3.

After sending the final copy, that was it, lots of waiting, gnashing of teeth and wailing until I found out I’d made the final 8. Like I say, I still won’t believe it until I’m sitting there…

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Cheers Matt! Great stuff.

All being well Matt will do a follow up to this post after he's attended the residential. So come back then to find out whether his participation was indeed a clerical error! :-)

For a list of the other writers who made it, click here. Congrats again to Felicity and also Alice, who started the MA with me and Matt but who jumped ship when LA came calling!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Tony Jordan on Crash

An interesting article by Tony Jordan from Broadcast

Executive producer Tony Jordan wanted a fresh approach to the medical genre, and nurtured local Welsh talent to help him realise his vision.

Fact File

CRASH
Production company
Red Planet Pictures for BBC Cymru Wales
Commissioned by Clare Hudson, Piers Wenger
Executive producers Tony Jordan, Claire Phillips, Rob Gittins
Executive producer for BBC Cymru Wales Bethan Jones
Directors Ashley Way, Gareth Bryn, Dave Evans, Daf Palfrey
TX Wednesday, 9 September, BBC1 Wales
Programme summary A drama about the lives and pressures faced by a group of young doctors

My first thought when receiving the green light by BBC Cymru Wales to make Crash was that just finding a fresh and vibrant new way to approach the medical genre wasn’t tough enough. We should also do it on a shoestring budget, with a producer, line producer and team of writers all new to their respective roles. Hell, let’s shoot it in HD too.

Yes, of course we could make life easier by finding a studio and building sets, or even using an old hospital building, but where’s the fun in that? So we found ourselves an old abandoned school in Caerphilly and in the best tradition of the old MGM musicals decided to “make the show right here”.

Stage one was to brief the writers about the vision, the characters and the kind of stories we wanted to tell, commissioning all 12 episodes at once. It’s not rocket science - if you have the scripts in good shape long enough before the shoot starts, it allows you to plan properly, to address expensive scenes/set-ups and work out clever ways to adapt them to achieve the same outcome, but cheaper. It also means that your guest cast can be booked early and efficiently, booking them for the days they’re actually needed.

We weren’t the first show to have a recognised showrunner working with new writers, but unlike most of those others, I decided early on that I would not overwrite any of the scripts. Instead, I would do something radical. I would actually sit down with the writers, spend time with them, use my experience to teach them what I could and help them find their own way to a shooting script. The result is that every episode of Crash is actually written by the writer who’s credited.

Harder work in the short term, but it makes fantastic sense in the long term. By investing that time to help them grow as writers and to retain their own voice, we’ve built of team of writers ready to go if the show is recommissioned.

Design decisions

Stage two was design - something that was crucial to making the whole thing work. We had to find a way of making one space look like a dozen different sets. Our art department came up with a genius idea using colours and fl ats to re-dress one space to make it look like 12 different ones within a single episode.

Stage three was our crew and as this was a production for BBC Wales, we concentrated on finding people who lived in South Wales, so that they could go home to their family at the end of a day’s shoot. We found some real stars and managed to recruit 85% of our crew locally. We also made use of trainees where we could with an eye to the long term and building relationships for Red Planet in Wales.

We were honest and upfront with people about the rates and the budgets we had to work to, even making it clear before they came to the interview. That way, we didn’t waste either their time or ours.

Once in production we continued to look at finding creative solutions to budgetary restraints, we combined the locations from Blocks 1 and 2 to shoot across the same week, so recurring locations were only dressed once.

The end result is probably the best atmosphere on a shoot I can remember. Everyone parked their egos at the door and did whatever it took to make Crash as good as we could make it. When our sound assistant was off sick, the gaffer was holding the second boom. We have cast and crew barbecues, drinks on a Friday night and despite the tough schedule, everyone feels part of the Crash family.

Red Planet Pictures is completely independent - we have no ├╝ber masters looking over our shoulder, no higher authority to answer to - but by forging relationships with Caerphilly council to make use of our abandoned school, with BBC Wales to buy into our vision and by allowing the creative people we’ve hired to be creative, we are making a show we’re all incredibly proud of and having a ball in the process.

And if what we do isn’t about exactly that, then what is it about?

My tricks of the trade

■ Look after your writers
■ Allow your creative people to be creative - if you only want things done the way you would do them, leave TV and devise a one-man stage show
■ Choose your caterers carefully, an army marches on its stomach
■ Surround yourself by clever people - in the long run they’ll make you look better than you are
■ Drink Bacardi
■ If your head’s up your arse, it makes it difficult to see what’s going on around you

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This to me sounds like the true beginning of Tony's vision for Red Planet. Dunno why it's only on BBC Wales though just cos it's set in Wales!

And although I'm sure the irony is lost on Broadcast, isn't it interesting how Tony's top tip of the trade is to look after your writers, and Broadcast can't even be bothered to list them in their fact file. The directors get a mention though. And here's me thinking TV was a writers medium. I do know that Joanna Leigh, the inaugural Red Planet Prize winner has written an episode, and I will hunting out ways to watch the show. Good luck to everyone involved.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Script Reading on the Blog - One year on!

Has it really been a year? Goodness me. Script Reading on the Blog was set up to redress what I saw as an imbalance in the industry for writers, particularly newer writers, to get much needed feedback on their work. With a few notable exceptions, the only services available were very expensive. Now, as I've said before, people have a right to charge whatever they wish, and will no doubt state they provide value for money. Fair enough. Good luck to them. But whether it's value for money or not is a bit irrelevant if writers can't afford it in the first place.

So the plan was to set up an affordable service, that would mimic the sort of script reports readers write for production company execs, but that writers never usually get to see. This was going to be a way to show writers how these readers (me being one of them) think and assess their work. And then as the scripts started to come in, that all flew out the window. Partly responding to feedback from clients, partly off my own back, the service changed a little bit. But significantly, what was meant to be a 2-3 page basic report, evolved into 3-4 pages of more intensive development notes. No one forced me to do this - I just can't help myself! Because you know what, I actually enjoy doing this. I like connecting with other writers, reading scripts, and seeing if I can help the writer develop their work.

(It has become apparent though that it's a little more time consuming than was initially planned, and as a response to that the two main script reading services have gone up by just a fiver. I still think this is a pretty good price for the report received and everything is always turned around within a week. I don't think anyone does it faster than that.)

But anyway, more importantly, what have I learnt from the first year of Script Reading on the Blog? Well, firstly, the standard is really high. Higher than I expected actually. Most of the scripts that come through the blog are by unproduced, un-agented writers. This is not the case with scripts I read for companies. But I can tell you right now that there is no qualitative difference from the best ones I read privately, to the ones I read for companies. I absolutely love to find a fantastic script that has come to me through the blog from an unknown writer. I would be unbelievably proud to have helped develop a script that goes on to be produced. I'm simply not in a position at the moment to help anyone else in that respect, working as I am to get my own work produced! But if the day ever comes when I am in that position, there are already 2-3 writers and projects that I have 'found' that I would certainly chase up on.

Of the scripts that I get that aren't quite there yet, the standard and enthusiasm is still very high. I know there is this conceit that readers tell people what they want to hear and don't tell people they are just bad writers. Well, I can only speak for myself in that the first statement is false and the second one is absolutely true. Because there is no way to judge from one script whether a writer can cut it or not. And who the hell am I, being just one bloke and one opinion, to tell anyone this is not for them? But more than that, during the course of the year I have had perhaps two scripts that I was at a bit of a loss with! And again, that may just be my take. Of the others, I don't call them bad. Something that is bad suggests to me an intrinsic problem that cannot be resolved. But I have had plenty of flawed scripts. But a flaw can be worked on and corrected. A massive pleasure for me has been to see the same script a few times, improving with every single draft.

Not everyone will make it as a screenwriter. Sorry. There are just too many writers for too few gigs. Especially at the moment. And there are probably people who are just not very good at this thing of ours, something that can only be judged over a number of scripts (and probably a number of drafts - as for example a set of first draft scripts are probably all gonna be rubbish!) But most writers who go to the considerable effort of finishing script after script and draft after draft usually don't fall into this category. You get a feeling, an instinct, and you improve over time as it is.

But it's extremely hard to do that in isolation. Feedback isn't a luxury. It's an absolute necessity. The best way to get this regularly is to form a workshop group with other committed writers. If that is not possible, for whatever reason, use a script reader. If you want to get better, you need at least one other set of eyes looking at your work, asking the tough questions, pointing out the flaws, and even suggesting solutions. (Some readers don't do this. Some writers think readers can't do this. I think that is a nonsense.)

So to conclude, I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has allowed me to read their scripts, something that is often personal and hard to share, over the past year. I hope I have helped every single time. I have certainly learnt a few things too. And I hope that I have become a better reader for it... and a better writer too.

Thanks again and if you keep sending em, I'll keep reading em.