Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year's End

I can't be bothered with all that report card stuff, although other people's can be fun to read! What did I do this year? I worked as hard as I could. I studied as hard as I could. I tried to be as good a person as I could. What do I want to achieve next year? To do better in all of the above. As for the rest, it isn't up to me. 

I know this blog has tailed off a bit and it's possible that it/I have run out of steam with it. I'm not sure. 2013 is already shaping up to be an interesting year - full of changes - and it might just be that some of those mean I head in a different direction and when that happens sometimes other stuff has to give. One of those things might be this blog.

But in the meantime I want to thank everyone who has kept reading this year. To the 44 followers listed here for, er, following. And also everyone who has been kind enough to let me read their scripts and have appreciated the notes I've given. I hope I've helped.

Best wishes for the New Year. And I speak to myself when I say this: Focus on the things you can control, and don't worry too much about the things you can't.





Thursday, 22 November 2012

Screenwriting and Storytelling

Always nice to give a shout out to a new blog on the block - so please check out Alan Denman's Screenwriting and Storytelling.

I've known Alan for many years. He taught one of the very first screenwriting courses I ever attended, and he's spent much of his time since then at the coal face of the industry in LA.

You can also check out my write up of his course about Breaking into Hollywood




Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The NBC Drama Challenge

The New York Television Festival and NBC have teamed up to offer aspiring TV writers and producers the opportunity to win $25,000 and a development deal with NBC.

Go here for all the information

http://nytvf.com/2013_nbc.html

Please note:


•The initiative is open to U.S. residents age 18 and over who do not have any contractual commitments preventing them from entering into an exclusive development deal with NBC.





Friday, 26 October 2012

The Writers' Couch

If you don't know about this then, well, you should definitely know about this.

All the details can be found in the link below but in short, this sounds like an exciting new opportunityy for writers, based purely on meritocracy, purely on the project, and not about who you know, what agent you've got, if you've even got an agent, and all the other rubbish that gets in the way of the thing that matters. The script.

http://www.cascade-pictures.com/couch.html

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/uk-film-start-up-creates-379953

Thursday, 18 October 2012

CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2013

This has been running for a few years now - and all the details can be found at the usual place, over at Philip Shelley's gaff.

http://www.script-consultant.co.uk/channel-4-script-submit/




Sunday, 2 September 2012

Shortlist's Sitcom Search

I have surfaced to tell you about this competition - one that I personally haven't heard about before, and just happened to come across as I picked up the Shortlist magazine as I stepped off the plane at Heathrow. 


The British sitcom is a strangely indestructible beast. No matter how many times it’s pronounced dead in fretful blogs and newspaper columns, it always comes back to life. Rising from the grave, zombie-like and marauding onwards into newly hilarious territory.

Alan Partridge’s latest bounce-back in Mid Morning Matters, successful new comedy-drama Fresh Meat, a clutch of critically acclaimed digital commissions; belaboured analogies involving the undead aside, you only need to glance at the TV schedules to see that there’s a comedy gold rush afoot. And, ludicrous as it sounds, you could be a part of it.

We’ve teamed up with Comedy Central UK, home of the funniest comedies on TV, and Big Talk (the powerhouse behind shows including Spaced, Friday Night Dinner, Threesome and Rev) to offer a cash prize and development deal to one triumphant reader-penned script. Interested? Read on – and check out the sample script and details of how to enter over the page.

THE PRIZE

The winning writer, or team of writers, in ShortList’s Sitcom Search will receive a truly monumental prize. As well as publishing an excerpt of your script in ShortList, we’re offering a £5,000 development deal with Big Talk and Comedy Central UK. This means that, together with the experts, you’ll work on your sitcom idea with a view to preparing it for production, and ultimately, broadcast.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean your gag-filled clump of A4 will languish at the back of a filing cabinet somewhere. Comedy Central UK has made it known: if it’s funny enough, it wants it on its channel. What’s more, each reader who makes it to the final four will receive a mentoring session with established comedy writers, and there’ll be an opportunity to blog about these sessions and talk about your script at Shortlist.com.

HOW TO ENTER

To be part of ShortList’s Sitcom Search, simply go here and submit your entry. This should include a brief one-page description selling your sitcom idea, your contact details, plus a correctly formatted original, unbroadcasted script of 3-10 pages (A4, sensible font, 12pt) that’s solely the work of you or your writing team. Entries from reasonably experienced screenwriters are welcomed, but we will not accept scripts from agents – they must come direct from the writer. You must be a UK resident over 18 years of age, as of 24 September 2012. The competition is open to both men and women.

THE JUDGES

The scripts will be judged by an expert panel including Kenton Allen, chief executive of Big Talk, Jill Offman, MD at Comedy Central UK, Friday Night Dinner creator Robert Popper and Martin Robinson, editor of ShortList.

THE DEADLINE

All entries must be uploaded to shortlist.com/sitcom by 11.59pm on 24 September. No entries by post or email. Any scripts arriving after this date, or not featuring the proper criteria, will not be accepted.

HOW IT WORKS

The competition will run over the next 12 weeks and consist of various stages as we sift through the entries before crowning our favourite script. The dates to look out for are below:
• After the initial script-reading process, the judges will reduce the list of scripts down to 40. These will be revealed in early October, so you can see if you’ve made it.
• The final 40 scripts will then be cut down to four. The writers behind these will be revealed in late October.
• For two weeks after that, our finalists will spend time workshopping their sitcom idea with an established comedy writer.
• After much deliberation, and perhaps the opening of a shiny gold envelope, we’ll announce the winner on a soon-to-be-revealed date in November.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Not worth the thin air it's written on

Did you read this blog entry from Piers, about the possessory (and frankly downright disrespectful) film credit 'A Film By' - and then enter the director's name. The post is spot on so I'm not going to repeat it, just read it there instead. The prevading disrespect in the industry to the work the screenwriter does is endemic. As Piers points out, it mainly arises out of self-interest. Namely from the director, but not always, for various reasons. That's not really an excuse, but at least we can understand where it's coming from. 

But what about when it's from people with no real self interest? For example award ceremonies like BAFTA not televising the screenwriting awards. Or movie magazines marginalising the role screenwriters play. Or film critics and reviews ignoring the screenwriter when something is great and then blaming the script when it's not?

Every Thursday my wife reads the new movie reviews from Roger Ebert. (She's American so we can forgive her for this.) And a few weeks ago she read about Bernie, the new Richard Linklater movie (see what I did there?) Here's a quote from the opening paragraph:

"Jack Black plays an east Texas funeral director named Bernie Tiede, and it is surely one of the performances of the year. I had to forget what I knew about Black. He creates this character out of thin air, it's like nothing he's done before, and it proves that an actor can be a miraculous thing in the right role."

I haven't seen the film. I haven't read the script. Jack Black is indeed a fine actor, it may well be like nothing he's done before and one of the performances of the year. Good actors can and definitely do bring an enormous amount to the role from what is written on the page.

But creating the character out of thin air? Really Roger? You don't think that maybe Jack was good enough to read the screenplay, co-written by Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth? 

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the script is bloody awful and Black literally had to make everything up as he went along. Didn't do that recent BBC One drama any harm did it? Oh wait.

Maybe we should stick to what we've always done then and have a really good script before we start, and just for a change acknowledge the people who came up with it and the ones who probably spent more time than anyone else working on the movie.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The biggest screenwriting prize in the UK?

You've probably already heard about this but just in case you haven't, check out:

Wellcome Trust Screenwriting Prize

It's an annual prize, and obviously quite niche. But in this climate (or maybe any climate) a 20k development deal cannot be ignored.

Good luck

Friday, 8 June 2012

Free Agent

The more eagle eyed readers may have noticed that recently I have added a tab on the right informing people that I now have agency representation. Actually this was done and dusted a few months ago but I only just got around to updating the blog. And I thought, that because the question of agents (how to get one, do I need one, which one, etc) comes up a lot, especially, understandably, with new writers, I would talk about my own experience and how this evolved.

The main problem writers find is that you can't get an agent without work, and you can't get work without an agent. I think whilst both of these can be untrue, there is still generally speaking a lot of truth to it - especially now when things seem to be more competitive than ever.

Certainly when I finished my MA in 2006, with a small portfolio of work, I wanted an agent but didn't think I was in a strong enough position to get one yet. Also, I decided pretty early on that I wasn't going to take the blanket approach and contact anyone and everyone that had a business card saying literary agent. I had a few in mind that were well established, reputable, had writers on their books I admired, that I had met and/or been recommended to me. Funnily enough, after a networking event I found myself getting a lift to the nearest tube station from an agent I was particularly interested in. But I didn't even realise it was him until we started talking in the car. Once I did, I of course told him I would like to send him a script and why. Meaning, not that I was a desperate new writer (which I was) and not because I suddenly found myself sitting in car with him, but because this was my plan all along and it was just serendipity that he was giving me a lift now. To be fair to him, he's a nice guy, read the script, gave nice feedback, but passed - because he kept his client list small and wasn't really looking to add to it unless someone left. (But I liked him and he seemed nice so I approached him again after I won the Peter Ustinov Award, and he read the new script, liked it, but passed again for the same reason. I'm not kidding myself because presumably the fact that he even agreed to read material at all meant that had he thought it was the best thing since sliced bread he would've made room on his roster. But he didn't, so obviously thought it wasn't worth it. But people will read stuff because everyone is terrified of missing out on the next big thing.)

After I won the Ustinov I went out with that script big style. I made a list of agents I wanted to approach (I was still not going to take the scatter gun approach) and hit them all in turn. And every single one passed. Everyone was nice, positive about the work, but either it wasn't for them (which is code for they didn't think they'd be able to sell it) or their books were full (and again, keep in mind they took the time to read it so if it had blown them away...)

But around this time I got talking to an agent who represented a friend of mine. She read two of my scripts, invited me in for a meeting, and everything seemed good to go. We were talking for quite some time, a few months probably in all. The problem was, her own career was taking a different turn with a bigger role, and she didn't feel she would have the time to 'launch' a new writer. When these talks came to end I was pretty disappointed and completely fed up with the whole agent thing.

And just after this I got my biggest break so far with the Dough option. I thought about leveraging that to get an agent (because now there was a deal on the table) but all the ones I was interested in had just passed on taking me on. And I thought sod it, the deal is on the table, I called in a couple of favours to get the contract checked, and thought okay, I'm keeping the extra 10% thank you very much. My feeling now was to give this script my all and if it got made and was well received, I'd be able to take my pick of agents knocking at my door.

That was the theory at least. It takes time to get movies made. That's just a fact. But I wasn't in a hurry any more. I was just getting my head down, working on Dough, writing new stuff, and script reading too. But time went on and two things happened that made me change my mind. The first was that I knew for a fact (because he told me) that my employer, John Goldschmidt, had recommended me to a couple of top, top agents based on the work I was doing for him, my attitude, and commitment, etc. Basically everything an agent should be looking for. And for the first time, despite this weighty recommendation, they both declined to even read my work because their client list was full and they weren't taking on anyone new. That was an interesting change in the status quo for me because I felt if that was (truly) the case, there might be nowhere really to go now.

Soon after this - incredibly - I was approached to sign with SMART. To be fair, this new agency was being set up by people I knew, and they knew me, and they wanted me to join them. It was as simple as that. I hesitated only because I was concerned about mixing business with friendship, and sought advice of experienced writers I knew and whose opinions I valued. They all told me the most important thing is the trust between agent and writer and the working relationship that evolves through that. One thing I knew for sure was that I could trust these guys, because I'd already known them for nearly a decade. I also decided it was time for me to have another pair of eyes and ears out there hustling on my behalf, to chase people for me, to send my work out for me, etc. And also, because of who it was, to get feedback on my work from - once again - people I trusted and whose opinion I valued. I also like being involved with things at their inception, so a new agency appealed, and I already new the team had good industry contacts.At the end of the day, I decided there was nothing to lose, only to gain. I liked the project, so I signed on the dotted line.

Day to day nothing has changed. As a writer you've still got to do (virtually) everything you did when you didn't have an agent, even now that you do. But it's nice to know there are people out there, keeping their ear to the ground for me, watching my back, and providing a sounding board when I need it.

And I should point out, that if you're thinking 'oh bloody hell, I'm not going to get an agent unless I'm mates with one,' another friend of mine (with no screen credits or any deal on the table) signed with a really good agency only a couple of months ago.   

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Last minute ticket for James Moran/Dan Turner Workshop tomorrow!‏

Hi everyone.
Shoulder is slowly getting better and normal service on this blog will hopefully be resumed soon.

In the meantime, my friend Hannah Duncan has a place on Dan Turner and James Moran’s workshop at Elstree Studios tomorrow (8th June) but can no longer go. She can't get her money back but they've said if she can find someone to take her place, that’s OK.

Details:
http://www.studio-five.org/#!WORKSHOPS/cm1a

... ... One Day Workshop: "The Big Idea"
June 08, 10 - 6pm at Elstree Studios (Lunch included)

This workshop is suitable for those with some experience in writing, such as self-taught writers with a portfolio of work (unproduced or otherwise), or screenwriting/film/media students. The workshop is not really suitable for those that have never written before.
A hands-on experience that takes you through how to generate an idea, how to pitch it, and then gives you essential information on how to take you and your ideas to the next level.
-----
It's just £40 (ono as it's such short notice) for the day which includes lunch and sounds like it should be really interesting.

If anyone is interested please contact Hannah directly on hlsduncan"at"gmail.com

Thursday, 3 May 2012

COMING UP 2013

Shoulder exercises suck. But as you can probably tell from the title, the competitions keep coming thick and fast.

Click here for all the relevant details.

Deadline is Monday 2nd July

Good luck

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Sir Peter Ustinov Television Scriptwriting Award 2012

Had my first physio session on my shoulder today (ouch). It's gonna be a long road to recovery but no pain, no gain.

But just wanted to tell you about this years competition.

All the details and application form can be found here.

The deadline for submissions is July 1st.

Good luck!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

It was not me, it was the one armed man

This blog will be temporarily suspended due to a dislocated shoulder.

Apologies.

Go read some scripts instead :)

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Selling ice to the eskimos

I think part of the journey of being a screenwriter is getting out of your room where you and your laptop live, and meeting and speaking to people who work in the industry, but have never written a word of a screenplay in their life. As writers we can become quite insular. We bust a gut to make sure everything on the page is perfect... but then what? And I'm not just talking about generating the contacts to send scripts to. I'm talking about learning the process of what it takes to get the words on the page onto the screen - and then into cinemas so people actually see it. Take this for example, number 16 on the Another 50 ways into the industry session at the last LSWF:

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

Chris Hill had done just that and pointed out 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.

Vadim Jean added that 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.

I recently had my first meeting with a Sales Agent. I was involved in the meeting, and didn't feel like the third wheel. But in situations like this my strategy is usually to say as little as possible. There can be an awful lot of pressure to just say something, anything, for the sake of it, because the concern is if you don't, you might look dumb, or bored, or out of your depth - or all three. What makes it even harder is that guys like this talk a different language. Writers are used to talking about plot structure and character arcs, maybe dialogue, sometimes genre. That doesn't go out the window, it's all expected to be there, but it's now being approached from a subtly different angle.

It's almost accepted that what you have already works on the page. You probably wouldn't be in the meeting if it didn't. But now it's about how the thing on the page is going to work on screen - and how it's going to be 'sold' (marketed in other words) so people actually want to come a watch it. And the two are not necessarily the same thing. Because people who are looking at your script from a different perspective, will spot things and suggest things that you may never have thought of. And it's important to remember that you're in the room because they already really like what you've done. Ultimately, everyone involved wants the same thing.

I'm still relatively new at this. But I know enough to know that this process isn't always hunky dory. Things can go wrong. People seeing things in a different way can sometimes lead to others trying to impose their vision on your script. That might be very bad news indeed because you can bet your bottom dollar you'll end up with, at the very least, not the film you intended, or at worst, a complete mess.

But it's also worth keeping in mind to treat the horror stories with a pinch of salt. The key with film is always to surround yourself with good people. That can be hard and a learning process in and of itself. Film is so collaborative that a handful of people are never going to be enough to take it from script to screen. And whilst you may have written it, and spent more time on it than anyone else ever will, it's really important not to close yourself to the ideas of others. They just want to help. If they are good people, they will say themselves that not everything they suggest should find its way into the script. It's just brainstorming. The same thing you might do at script stage if you're lucky enough to have a writers group. But there difference is these other people are not writers. And from the point of view of the overall project, the input is all the better for it.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A penny for your thoughts

Number 26 in the LSF session: Another 50 ways to break into the Business was - No money, no work, no £1 options, no deferred fees.

Bernie Corbett, perhaps unsurprisingly given his position at the Writers Guild, was pretty dogmatic about it, stating don't do any work unless you're getting paid. However there was the caveat that there are some grey areas especially when you're starting out. But in general he believes we are talking about a multi million pound industry where people get paid for what they do. He suggests a £1 option shows no serious commitment to the project. Producers will be taking taxis to meet financiers and buying dinners so why can't they pay you? 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. A lot of producers live a fantasy life, hoovering up projects, when they don't have the skills, contacts, or experience to do anything with it. 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.

Chris Hill suggested that £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.

Martin Gooch asserted that he works for free for himself and his mates - and anyone else has got to pay. Or at least get them to buy you are really nice lunch.

Danny Stack added that 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 a huge topic and it's important for writers to know their options, know what their strategy is, and how to react in certain situations. I've been on both sides of this coin and there are so many factors to take into consideration. First of all, who are you dealing with? If companies like the BBC, Film4, Working Title, Big Talk, Ruby Films etc, etc, etc were offering £1 options or even a few hundred quid, I would be shocked. For organisations like this, who I'm not saying are awash with money because no one is these days, but nevertheless have a certain size and stature about them, to offer something like this, I'd be amazed and insulted.

So let's leave them aside. I'm talking now about indie producers. Not even necessarily small companies. But just independent producers. Keep in mind that at the first LSWF Tim Bevan said this:
Script development was quite incidental. They just had to get the next film made and were never allowing the development process to take as long as it needs to. An Indie is in the terrible position of having all their money in development, but your income is dependent on getting a film made, because that is where you get your fees from. And because getting the thing on becomes the be all and end all, you forget a little bit about the quality of the thing. Bevan came to the conclusion that you need capital. Because you have to spend money on developing a script and at the end of that process, be able to take a long hard look at it, and if it's not good enough, to chuck it in the bin. And an Indie doesn't have the luxury.

I noted at the time that the vast majority of producers and companies in this country don't either, and I think that I heard from Phil Parker the belief that this was the single biggest reasons most British movies fail. Bevan also said that as a consequence of this, it's vital to have a slate. Because having all your eggs in one basket is dangerous and financially crippling, and you never know which project might be greenlit first. But it can cost thousands and thousands of pounds to develop and package a project, so what indie producers have the luxury of doing that for a slate of films without any going into production yet?

Like I say I've been on both sides. I've been paid a few hundred pounds for work and I also admit I've taken a quid (plus other luxuries like a few meals etc!) And do you know what, in terms of career investment and long term, the quid has been far more fruitful and indeed enjoyable than the short term benefit of the few hundred quid. The difference was one producer had no track record and the other one did. And I think for me this is the defining factor. I'm not belying the significance of a few hundred quid (and if you've seen my bank balance you'll know why.) But it's also not a huge, life changing amount of money. And if you tie yourself and project to a producer, that's it, for whatever the length of time the contract states.

So consider this. No one has any money. The world is broke. Many indie producers are as broke as screenwriters. We bring the script to the table. What do they bring? Do your research on who they are, what they've done, what their reputation is within the industry if you can, and whether you get on with them. If this all looks positive, think about where the - for example - £500 is best spent. If there is a finite amount of money in their account, they could stump it up to pay you, or they could use it, as Bernie says, to take key people out for dinner, or maybe fly to the Berlinale, or to Cannes, etc. (Okay to be fair they can certainly get the train or the bus rather than cabs!) But where is the money best being spent? If it's between a short term payment to you, or an investment into meetings and appointments that could help get your film financed, what's more valuable to your career?

I think a screenwriting career is always about the long game. Don't be exploited. Know your worth. Above all know who you are dealing with. But at the same time, getting on the ladder can be an important first step. And it might be that the quid you take now, can turn into something far greater later on.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

If 3 is the new 10, is 90 the new 120?

In the LSWF session Another 50 ways into the Industry, number 21 was listed as make the first 3 pages of your script amazing. The first three! Three?? What happened to the first 10!? Here are the notes I made at the time.

Vadim Jean said it used to be ten. But the slate is big and the spec pile is massive. And 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. 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.

Martin Gooch added there isn't enough time to read everything. He picks up a script and flips to the back to see how long it is, which is something everyone reading a script does. If it's over 90 pages it's bloody hell. Chris Hill commented that he used to be a script reader and could tell within the first page whether it was going to be good or not.

Many of you would've found out this week whether you'd made it through to the 2nd round of the Red Planet Prize, based on the first 10 pages of your script. The BBC Writersroom still states, "Our readers sift all eligible scripts by reading the first ten pages. If the script shows potential, it will be given a full read. If not, it will be returned to the writer without any comments - this tends to be the case with the majority of unsolicited scripts."

So there is certainly still an industry standard connected to the assessment of the first 10 pages. But equally certain is that if you ask any script reader, they will tell you they know if a script is going to be well written within anything from the first to the third page. That's not to say there are any hidden guarantees that a script will be good from start to finish contained within these opening pages. Scripts can still go off the rails. The Act Two active question might not be quite right. A character's motivation can become wonky. And so on. But from a technical point of view, from how a script looks on the page, it's fairly easy to tell if a writer knows how to write yet or not. (I say 'yet' deliberately. Writing improves the more you do it. We all start somewhere and those first couple of scripts are bound to be a bit ropy.) But a well written opening few pages makes it far more likely, given the choice, that a reader will continue to the end.

And this generally accepted decrease in the assessment criteria may have had a subconscious knock on effect to the length of scripts overall. Because in truth, the shorter the better. There's a natural flow to stories and to tell them well, they have to be a certain length. But scripts need to be as tight as possible and anything extraneous should be cut. Normally, the scripts that can be downloaded online are very often longer than 120 pages, let alone 90. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the script available may not be the shooting script or even if it is, once the footage has been through the cutting room, it may just run faster. Modern editing is quicker than it used to be and so films tend to run faster than the script page count anyway. A classic example are the long, talky scripts of Sorkin and Tarantino, where the finished film still then tends to come in at a 'normal' length when finally shown. Also, scripts available online are from films that have been made, from writers and directors who get films made. The bigger names they are, the more liberties they can take which don't apply to the spec pile the rest of us are fighting against.

But if you've been following Script Club this year you might have noticed that even these nominated screenplays are shorter than ever this year. So far, Win Win has been the longest and that was only 120 pages. 50/50 is too, but this wasn't the shooting script, which is much closer to 90 pages. Bridesmaids is 109 pages and Young Adult is an incredible 82 pages. (Interestingly the film is just over 90 minutes so this is a rare example where the finished movie runs a bit longer than the shooting script.) Although unavailable online, I happen to know Midnight in Paris is 90 pages and next up in Script Club, The Descendants, is 115 pages. And that's from Alexander Payne, whose Oscar winning screenplay Sideways was certainly a lot longer than this.) Upcoming scripts include Hugo, which clocks in at 120 pages, despite Scorsese not being known for working with brevity of scripts.

What does this all mean for us, apart from the obvious that our scripts need to be as tight as possible? Do shorter scripts mean a lower budget? Not necessarily. But budgets are largely based on the number of shooting days. So leaving aside factors like special effects, or having lots of scenes but in one location (therefore eliminating the need to travel around with the cast and crew,) a lower scene count means fewer set ups which could - only could - mean fewer shooting days. That will save everyone money.

But I don't think this is the main issue. They are too many variables. More likely it comes down to the human factor. To save money, companies are far less likely to employ external readers these days. Or, like Vadim, the people in charge like to read the material themselves. But even in these troubled economic times, the spec pile is not getting any smaller. It often feels like there are more and more screenwriters each year and - at the moment certainly - less and less money and jobs to go around. Because of cuts or out of choice, fewer people are reading an increasing amount of material. It therefore stands to reason that as far as they are concerned, the shorter the better. Obviously, it simply takes less time to read a script that is 90 pages than one that is 120 pages or more. If you've got a pile to get through in a days work, the shorter the scripts the more chance there is to do that. It's human nature therefore to favour shorter screenplays. And this might translate into getting a better, kinder report that goes to the reader's employers. I know that sounds weird, and it might very well be unfair, but what's better - to take a chance betting against human nature, or to leave as little to chance as possible and keep your script as tight as it can be?

You might be asking well, if there is no money around and no jobs available, what's the point anyway? It's true it's tough. I've heard a lot of people say it's tougher than ever. But stuff is still getting made. So the question needs to be what strategy can I be using to best help myself in the current climate? And I'll try and talk a little more about that next time.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

21...

... is not how old I am now, even though I'm writing this in the final few minutes of my birthday. It's how many movies I watched on a recent two week vacation in New York. A combination of planes, cinema trips and dvds accounts for what is probably a personal best.

I also read 5 scripts and one book. It was wonderful.

That's what I do. That's how I like to spend my leisure time. That's why I got into this business in the first place.

I think sometimes that gets forgotten. Maybe not for everyone. Not even for me most of the time. But nevertheless it was just a little reminder.

I think if you don't love it, go and do something else. There are easier ways just to earn money, even in a recession. Because you're gonna need that love when no one returns your calls or replies to your emails, when they pass on what you thought was your best work yet, and generally don't give you the time of day.

I didn't do a yearly round up thing over the holiday period and even now, on my birthday, I'm not really big on looking back over the past year or ahead to the new one. But I just wanted to wish those kind enough to read my blog and everyone who has let me read their scripts this past year a belated Happy New Year.

I hope we all go from strength to strength, personally and professionally, in 2012.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Screenwriting, Networking and Pitching Workshop

Philip Shelley & Phil Gladwin are once again running their intensive two day screenwriting course in London on Feb 4th & 5th, and in Belfast on March 24th & 25th. They are also running a one day 'Pitching' masterclass in London on Saturday March 10th.

You can find all the information about the courses and how to book here:

http://www.screenwritinggoldmine.com/screenwriting-workshops

http://www.screenwritinggoldmine.com/how-to-pitch

Special guests lined up for London include Ben Stoll, Head of Development at C4, and Matt Bouch, Producer of Being Human and The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Special guests lined up for Belfast include Vanessa Haynes, Development Producer at Kudos NI, and Terry Cafolla, lead writer on Law & Order UK.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Script Club 2012

I don't know Stuart Hazeldine. I've met him twice at LSWF and he seems like a nice guy. As is customary at these things when on a panel, you are always asked how did you get started in screenwriting. So I've heard Stuart tell the story a couple of times that he knew he wanted to be a screenwriter, had never seen a script, was at some sci fi convention and found a copy of the Blade Runner shooting script on sale. He bought it, used it as a template, and he was off and running. That was it. From seeing how that one script worked, he launched a career. What if it had not been on sale that day? No idea. I'm sure he would've found another opportunity to find something similar.

From when Stuart was starting out until now, getting hold of scripts has become staggeringly easy. Sometimes you can even read them before the movie has come out. Reading scripts is the surest and cheapest way for screenwriters to improve their writing. Better than any guru lecture or how to book.

So it amazes me that I still meet and work with writers who have never read one. Never. Not even one. I'm not having a go at anyone, I promise. I always make the case to producers about new writers that there was a time that every single screenwriter had never written anything or didn't have a single credit. Everyone started from that point. Even Aaron Sorkin. Similarly, there was a time when none of us had ever seen a screenplay.

That's fine. But that's got to change quickly if you want your career to progress.

It's with that in mind that Dave Melkevik's Script Club is back. Go over to his blog to find out more information and get involved. One script a week. That's maybe 1-2 hours of your time. And it will be a damn sight more useful to you than watching much of the TV that is on at the moment.

Monday, 2 January 2012

LSF 6: Your script and the 20 common pitfalls

The title of this session, the last I attended, was a bit of a misnomer. So much so that in the Q & A that followed one cheeky beggar asked, "so what are the 20 most common pitfalls?" It was pretty funny actually. But in reality what the session did provide was an overview of how your script, and indeed your actions and etiquette, are perceived by people inside the industry, and from that point of view it was invaluable. Moderated by Industrial Scripts supremo, Evan Leighton-Davis, the panel included Danny Stack, Steven Russell, Daniel Martin Eckhart, and Paul Andrew Williams.

What common mistakes did you make sending scripts out early on?

PAW: Sending them out for one, because they weren't very good. Early scripts were written in pen on A4 paper. Probably best not to do that. Didn't read any book on scriptwriting and still hasn't. Had no real idea of what he was doing, but clung onto the idea of 'what happens next,' to just keep driving the story forward. Then he started to get feedback etc and gradually his work improved.

DME: Wrote 7 or 8 specs before getting anything produced. It was a learning experience and even when looking back at them now still quite likes them. Also had no formal training, but just loved movies ever since being a kid and had an instinct for how scripts should feel and look like. One of the big problems he had was with script length - they were always too long.

DS: Every screenwriter that's ever lived makes the same mistakes when starting out. He was writing specs when working as a reader and you see scripts and the mistakes they make and realise omg I do the same thing. You always think your scripts are better and fresher than what's out there but when you read a lot of scripts Danny realised he needed to work harder to be better, more original, more imaginative, etc. If you download scripts online and just read a few a week, that's some of the best education you're ever going to get. Because you'll see mistakes and think okay I'm not going to do that. But equally, you'll see things like stylistic techniques and think that's a great way to do that, and so on. Readers get maligned for supposedly wanting to find things that they can be critical about - but equally we want to find things we love and our passionate about and can push as much as we can.

Any script pet hates?

SR: Intensely dislike camera direction in a script. It's not the writers job. 'Angle on' and the phrase "we see..." pops up a lot and it's a dry way of doing things when what you want is for the script to be emotive. It's a bit lazy and you need to work harder than that.

ELD: All the execs he knows just hate exposition. Telling the story through dialogue or quite transparently telling the story that way. It's the laziest form of screenwriting. That's a very common mistake for new writers.

DME: When you're an experienced writer and have had a few scripts produced, you can take liberties and get away with a lot more. But when you're a newbie starting out you want to do everything you can to avoid everything there is that will stop someone reading your script. Some script you download are from very experienced writers and they will have camera directions and lots of other stuff we're told not to do, all over them. And what's more, it might all work wonderfully. But when you're new - just don't do them.

ELD: Every single reader, the first thing they do is turn to the back page to see how long the script is. And you can make their day a little bit by keeping it as short as possible. Put yourself in their position, they've got a pile of scripts sitting there and they are going to be more disposed to reading the shorter ones first. And script lengths generally are creeping down a little bit. People are aware of that.

DS: Between 90-105 pages is becoming the standard now. It does depend a little bit on genre because horror might be on the shorter side for example. But scripts much longer than this and people will start raising eyebrows. And from a reader point of view, they'll be thinking oh I'm not going to read that one tonight. People talk a lot about the importance of the first 10 pages (or less, like 3 pages, these days) and that's all true. But what can then happen is after that point things start to go off the rails. So much effort has gone into the first 10 pages but then the structure falls away or the characterisation gets a bit wonky. And it should go without saying that as much time, effort and hard work needs to go into the rest of the script as it does with the first ten pages, but sometimes what's on the page doesn't look like it has.

As far as etiquette goes, how important are all the things that go on off page as it were, like making a good impression and getting on with people, etc?

SR: It's hugely important. We spend hours and hours working with writers and the relationship is really important. So if people are being difficult you're going to wonder whether it's worth it. This one writer had sent a script in and then just kept emailing 'have you read my script yet,' over and over again. Until it reached the point where they would just send an email with a question mark. Yeah, don't do that.

PAW: It's always a struggle to get your script read. But when you do pick your battles. Pick what you really care about and choose carefully what you're going to fight for. Is it a deal breaker? But at the same time keep your ego in check.

What are your thoughts on self promotion?

DS: You've got to be yourself but there's no harm in promoting yourself in a positive way that isn't a load of rubbish. Humility and humour go a long way, especially in email. In fact it's surprising how common it is for people who call themselves writers can't actually write a good email or letter. Or you might get what is obviously a generic email, and they've forgotten to put your name on this one so it just reads Dear,. The other thing is constantly asking if you've read the script yet, and then saying if you haven't here's another draft, can you read that one instead. And so begins another cycle of torment.

DME: Producers are human beings too. They want to work with people they get along with. Working on anything from TV to features, it's a long process. You're not talking a couple of months, you're talking a year or two. If you come across as difficult and someone who can't be challenged/argued with (in a constructive way) the producer will think I'll find the next best guy. Maybe it will be someone who is not quite as good a writer as you. But he can get along with him and grab a beer and have a laugh. Don't be a precious artist and think what you've written is just genius and you're doing them a favour even letting them read it. That's really important especially at the beginning. You need to start playing the game.

We're in the social networking age. How important is an online presence and what are the cautionary tales?

DS: The great thing about the internet is that it's ours and we make the content. So you can make yourself out to look really good, but by the same token you can end up looking like a complete idiot. And unfortunately it's very easy to do the latter and not so easy to do the former. So if you're going to have a website maintain it well. If you're going to have a blog have something to say. If you're going to twitter don't slag off people. Facebook is the same. Unless you protect your content it's a public forum. Execs will check out your blog before or after your meeting, so be careful what you say. If you think starting a blog will help you jump the queue in terms of getting work it won't. You can sometimes get work through relationships that have begun through your blog, but it will probably take years. There is still an attitude at the moment that writers don't need any online presence, which is a valid opinion. But that might change. We leave digital footsteps everywhere and the internet is such a part of our lives, that if an exec google you, like we all do, and don't find anything, it can look a bit weird.

DME: Today you can get away with nothing. But in five years time you might not. People need to be able to find you.