Wednesday, 16 November 2011

LSF 1: Another 50 ways to break into the business

Apologies for the lateness of my LSF write ups - but the story begins... with a sequel. The follow up to last years 50 ways into the Industry. That session was extremely well attended, a great all round chat about the business, but only covered about, erm, 9 ways in. This year, chairman Danny Stack had other ideas. He had a list. A list dammit. Of all 50. And he was determined to guide Martin Gooch, Vadim Jean, Chris Hill and Bernie Corbett through it.

#1 Get a job as a runner or as an assistant to a producer or agent, etc

MG started off as a runner. He had no connections to the film industry but that's all he wanted to do. He went to America, couldn't get any work, came back here, did a degree, still couldn't get any work, so went to Soho, became a runner, and it all started from there. "I could've saved 4 years of my life." As soon as he did that he started to meet people. And he still works today with people he met then, 17 or so years ago.

VJ first job on a movie was as a runner - or actually a driver, going up and down the motorway ferrying people or equipment around. Most useful skill as a runner - reading an A-Z. (Although to be fair to Vadim runner technology, i.e. satnav, has come along way since his day.) You have to work for free to start with. Most of the people who come and work for him are rubbish because they have no common sense. But if you can make yourself invaluable, be the best runner ever, most of those have gone on to get paid work from him.

MG noted a lot of people in the audience looked a bit, erm, old, perhaps for a runner position. So forget about it, just go out and make a film!

#2 Join a writers group

CH - writing is a solitary endeavour and when you're starting out you might not have any contacts in the industry. And it's a way to meet other people etc.

#3 & 4 Online media, social networks, blogs, etc

DS You have to be careful how you present yourself, because it's a public forum and you don't want to end up looking like an idiot.

# 5 Write a script

VJ Because if you haven't actually got a screenplay to show, you're not a writer, you're a fantasist. Just write. If it's rubbish then throw it away. But you've got to do it.

MG Get into the habit of writing regularly, even if you don't feel like it. Write another script and another one and another one. Just one isn't going to be enough. And you have to rewrite and refine all the time.

DS Online distractions are just that. It's not working. Writing is working.

MG Turn the internet off. Martin isn't a morning person (and neither am I) His shoots start at 8am whereas most start at 7:30am (which still seems pretty early to me!) But when he's writing he starts at 9pm and goes onto 2am.

#6 Do as much as you can.

MG The only way you can get on in the film or TV industry and learn the skills you need is to do stuff. Be proactive.

#7 Join the Writers Guild

#8 Network. Things like the festival, obviously, but also Q&A screenings.

#9 Most networking things are rubbish. (Apart from LSWF obviously!)

It was suggested most of the time the people in the room are not the people you want to talk to. But I'm not sure I agree with this one. And to be fair the conversation then went onto a tangent that everyone can help everyone. Danny has got jobs through other writers he knows and Martin, if he isn't available for a job, will pass it onto other directors he knows.

#10 Read lots of scripts

#11 Get feedback on your own scripts

Not from friends and family. Everyone needs feedback but be careful who you get it from. Feedback from someone who doesn't know what they are talking about can be really damaging.

#12 Have a portfolio of scripts

Doesn't have to be features. Shorts too. MG's best short is 3 pages long. A really, really good short film is worth more then a bad feature.

#13 Screenwriting degrees and MA's

Access to filmmaking equipment is more available these days but in terms of meeting peers, learning the craft of writing, etc, these courses can be really useful. My own opinion is that there are some wonderful courses out there, that teach you a great deal, you'll meet really good people, and they also get you access to the industry. But there are also a lot of rip off courses out there too that are both a waste of time and money - so be careful and do your research.

#14 Don't give up the day job - or just yet anyway.

BC Save up and maybe take 6 months off to write. He knows a lot of people who have left their jobs to devote their time to writing and hoping a career will follow. But real life isn't always as straightforward as that.

MG Spent most of my life being skint. Whilst as a runner, a camera loader, a DP, whatever. And most of the time he'd be doing other jobs alongside that. (And he wouldn't tell anyone what they were!)

VJ runs a company that's a full time job. Producing and directing is his day job. But he writes, the passion projects, on trains and planes.

CH has a maths degree! He did some work as a tutor so figured he might as well use it. He saves up and then lives on bake beans for a couple of months.

DS It's tough but you can't use the fatigue from the day job, only to come home and put the kids to bed etc, to not write. It's really, really hard but that's what we've got to do.

MG A lot of people don't schedule in thinking time. Writing notes, going to see stuff, research. It's almost as important as the actual writing.

#15 Read the industry papers like Screendaily and Broadcast.

DS You can get a few people together and get a joint subscription and then read the content online.

#16 Get a job in a Distribution or Sales Agency to see the cutthroat decisions on which films get made and why.

CH It's generally not about the script, more about casting. But it's interesting to see which scripts cut the mustard and informs, to some extent, what he writes now.

VJ is 50/50 on this. On the one hand it's great to know this stuff and you have to write for the market. But so often the best stuff he reads does not come from this mindset.

#17 Get your autobiography out of the way.

BC When people are starting off in writing they often draw on their own experiences, which isn't necessarily a bad thing to do. But you need to get it out of your system. As a writer you're going to work on lots of projects. And that one may not be as interesting to others and you think it might be.

VJ Having said that, he's seen scripts based on someones life where it does have an emotional truth and does happen to be universal and it was the best thing that particularly writer had ever done. A lot of scripts he sees don't ring true because the writer isn't bringing any of their own life experience to the story.

MG Research is fun. He's spent a day on a London ambulance and in the London sewers.

DS Write what you know is an incomplete sentence - it should be write what you know about the human condition.

#18 Just ask and just do it

MG Because we're all obsessed with emails, the letter is coming back. He's had much more success with a letter. A poorly written email or letter is a very bad sign. As is getting an email with the body of the text in one font and the name in another - so obviously cut and pasted!

#19 Write and make a short film.

MG It's easier than ever. People approach him all the time to make their film and he just thinks well why don't you do it.

VJ The first time he took a script and shot it was a massive revelation. In the cutting room there was that horrible 'but that script was brilliant on the page' moment. And he got rid of it all except one line. Write a two page script, get a camera and shoot it. Because you'll learn so much and it will improve your writing more than anyone else. Unfortunately, not enough film execs have had experience actually making a film.

#20 Learn about contracts, copyright and industry practice.

BC Gets a lot of calls from people who have people interested in their script, but they have no understanding at all of the nuts and bolts of how contracts work and what rights they have, etc. There are books you can read. It's not particularly simple or interesting but it will repay itself. And if you are going to be a professional, you need to know this stuff. People seem to be overly worried about plagiarism, which is very rare, as opposed to Producers coming along with rip off contracts, buying up rights for no money, etc.

DS Producers will exploit you basically if you don't know what you're doing and you don't have an agent.

VJ - doesn't do that.

#21 Make the first 3 pages of your script amazing.

VJ It used to be ten. He doesn't use readers because he wants to read it himself. And the slate is big and the spec pile is massive. It comes down to a very basic do I want to know what happens next? Robert McKee and all that is useful to know the basic rules and especially when you get stuck. But what it basically comes down to is do you want to know what happens next and that has to be captured within the first 3 pages.

MG There isn't enough time to read everything. He picks up a script and flips to the back to see how long it is. If it's over 90 pages it's bloody hell. (And by the way ALL people reading scripts do this.) And if it's in the wrong font and spelling is awful, then forget about it.

CH Used to be a script reader and could tell within the first page whether it was going to be good or not.

VJ You're competing against everyone else, people who have far more of a track record than you and with scripts and a writer that he knows he can take to a broadcaster and get a commission. So you have to force him to read the whole of your script by having a brilliant opening 3 pages. This is even more the case in TV. In film it's easier to make a feature from a new writer. But the principle about the script remains true.

#22 Have a story

Following on from that, it should really go without saying that a brilliant opening will only get you so far. It may well convince the reader to read the whole script. But if that doesn't stack up, it's going to count for nothing.

VJ A lot of screenplays have no story. They don't have that basic fairytale element, a beginning, middle and an end, something that takes you on a journey. Are people actually going to want to see this thing you've written? Have a story. He writes most of his stuff with other people and he's working more and more with writing teams. Because it's great for bouncing off ideas etc. And it can also be more fun.

#23 Get an agent.

VJ They are a gatekeeper of sorts. And it protects both parties. You might think your idea is really unique but very often it's not. For some bizarre reason every broadcaster at the moment seems to be working on something with a nanny. And it's not that they've stolen it from anyone. But fashions come in cycles.

BC Famous catch 22. Can't get any work until you've got an agent, can't get an agent until you've got work. There's a lot of truth in that. On balance they are helpful to writers. It's a relationship and a good one won't just be about reading your contracts. They'll read your work, talk about what you are working on, what you are working on next, give you feedback, etc. Don't rush into the first agent. Try and establish yourself a bit first so you can control that.

DS You don't need one, until you get one. You should be too busy and too proactive with your own writing. (I'm actually about to sign with an agency so I will speak more about this in a separate blog post soon-ish.)

#24 Go to Cannes

MG has been 11 times, and next year will be his 12th. He sold a screenplay this year at Cannes so it can happen. He sets a budget for £500, finds somewhere cheap to stay and eats everyone else's food.

BC You can't just turn up though. You have to get accreditation. The Writers Guild can do this but only to bona fide candidates.

#25 Maintain contact with your network

DS Every few months keep in contact. Not just hi how are you just checking in. But ask about what they're doing, if there is anything you could work on etc. Obviously be cool and polite about it.

#26 No money, no work, no £1 options, no deferred fees.

BC Very dogmatic about it, don't do any work unless you're getting paid. There are some grey areas especially when you're starting out. But we are talking about a multi million pound industry where people get paid for what they do. And that's the whole basis for a professional career. £1 shows no serious commitment to the project. They'll be taking taxis to meet financiers and buying dinners so why can't they pay you? If your script is under option you can't do anything else with it. Very occasionally, he has known producers to take an option on a film to stop it getting made, because they have something similar in development (This was, perhaps in my own naivete, completely shocking to me!) A lot of producers around live a fantasy life, hoovering up projects, when they don't have the skills, contacts, experience to do anything with it.

CH £500 shows a certain level of commitment. He's been in both positions, and the £1 option is often there at the beginning and can be tempting to get the ball rolling.

MG Works for free for himself and his mates - anyone else has got to pay. If you came in and did the plumbing, you get paid. Or at least get them to buy you are really nice lunch. People are exploiting our love of film.

BC A lot of small budget projects will work on deferments and that means later on, not non existent. Get something in writing what will come back to you if there is a profit. Partnerships are more common. If you trust the producer then fine - but get something on paper. It will save a lot of lawyers fees later on.

DS Producers come to him with no money, but with a one page agreement that if there is to be any development money or other money, you get a slice of it. So there is a bit of a carrot there - they're not just taking advantage.

(This is quite an interesting and far reaching topic and I will try and do a longer blog post on it soon-ish.)

#27 Never give up

BC In any given year there are around ten thousand film scripts floating around the industry - and one hundred get made. Those are your chances. So you have to absolutely love it.

MG The magic, the love and the passion is the most important thing. If you don't have it, stop now. Because it's really, really hard. But when you do see your name on the screen credit it's the best thing ever.

That was the end of the first session I attended. And yes, we only got just over half way. But it was a fine effort and these are my paraphrased notes. So apologies to any of the panel involved if I have misquoted anyone.

Coming next... In Conversation with Edgar Wright, Wright, Wright

No comments: