Sunday, 31 August 2008

Things we noticed watching tv this week 3 (spoilers)

I'm on a superhero kick at the moment, as it relates to something I am working on, so I checked out My Super Ex Girlfriend. I've heard it said great ideas are ten a penny, but whilst that may be the case, not many of them filter through. That's why we get sequel after prequel after remake. So this was not a bad concept and a new take on the superhero movie. The film describes itself as a "romantic comedy with a superhero twist." The trouble is, they forgot to write a proper romantic comedy. The film should've functioned as a pure example of that genre, the twist being that one of the protagonists was a superhero. But all rules of that genre were ignored. Luke Wilson is the average Joe leading man, and Uma Thurman his superhero girlfriend. But we know from early on that he is actually secretly in love with Ana Faris, whilst the villain of the piece, Eddie Izzard, used to be best friends with Thurman before she got her powers and still loves her. The point of this is that you have the traditional two couples, with 'right' and 'wrong' options for our protagonists. The trouble is, Wilson and Thurman are the leads, but don't end up together and share very little screen time with their actual true loves. It's just not set up properly, and therefore no high concept take was going to save it. It's a baffling creative choice and was a timely reminder of just how important genre rules can be.

Another superhero with a difference movie I saw is Hancock. And I really enjoyed it. It's a breath of fresh, original air. Conceived by Vincent Ngo in 1996, a drunk, depressed, all round rubbish superhero is something we haven't seen before. What's interesting is that the movie is completely and utterly different from the original script, to the extent that only the name and characterisation of the protagonist remains intact. The Internet movie buff buzz seems to generally agree that Ngo's script is better than the movie. But, whilst the script is brilliantly written, with some of the best description I've ever read, it's so dark and relentlessly downbeat, that you wonder who would've wanted to see it? The central premise seems to be that the sole motivation for Hancock's character is that he cannot ejaculate during sex, due to its er, explosive nature. (I'm not making this up.) And it culminates in him almost raping the female lead. You can't exactly sell action figures of someone like that, can you!? But in all seriousness, dark and edgy are not necessarily synonymous with cool, and what was delivered on screen was a far more entertaining movie. My one main problem with it was the twist, about half way through, that Charlize Theron's character turns out to be hiding the fact that she has exactly the same powers as Hancock, and is his long lost wife. The idea behind this is that these immortal, angel like creatures were put on earth to protect mankind, but when they are together they lose their powers, thus meaning that all the others have been killed, save these two. If you glazed over for a second there, I don't blame you.

Some people struggle to suspend disbelief in almost anything they watch, (the poor souls, where's the fun in that?). But it's not something I've ever had a problem with. Maybe I am just a gullible person but when I am watching something, I buy into it totally... unless it slaps me in the face. When you have a superhero, or even action hero for that matter, they need to be vulnerable, because otherwise where's the conflict and jeopardy? Hancock has none, except for a completely mismatched bunch of bankrobbers, (certainly not in Lex Luther's class). So this twist was designed to make Hancock killable. As he gets closer to his one time wife, suddenly bullets penetrate him and they both nearly die. But it doesn't make sense in the context of the movie world. They were put on earth by the gods (I am quoting here) to protect it and they were deliberately paired up. But the closer they are to their pair, the weaker their powers become. Surely it would be the other way around?? It's a big, fat hole. Compounded by the fact that of course Smith and Theron end the movie apart, because you can't exactly have the hero destroy her family unit with a cute kid and nice guy husband. So if the movie is about a lonely guy finding his place in the world, all he discovers is his past, and ends alone. They couldn't make it fit, came up with some nonsense, and betrayed the world they had set up. Shame.

So in the tradition of this blog, is there anything practical we can take away, back into our own work? For me I think it was a timely reminder of the importance of staying true to the rules of the genre you are working in, and, make sure that the world you create makes sense. Writers, especially newer ones, can often scoff at genre, believing it to be the path to unoriginal, trite, screenplays. But the fact is, of the many scripts I read, the ones who are confident within their genre conventions are simply better than those that try to eschew them. As I said back in my very first post, stories can often feel familiar, but what makes yours different are your original characters, the plot you use to tell that story, and the world you create. Just make sure you stay true to that construction!

Friday, 29 August 2008

Script Feedback

Last night I met up with friends I made at college during my MA. I'm still in touch with various people but nine of us in particular have made a point of forming a writers group, where we workshop each others' projects every six weeks or so. And I can't stress how invaluable this is. It's so important to get honest, constructive feedback on your work. In an interview with Richard Curtis he describes his partner as his biggest critic, scribbling things like CDB (could do better) and NBG (no bloody good) all over his scripts, whilst Tim Bevan would just say "not funny enough" after reading an early draft of Notting Hill. My wife, bless her, falls under the other category, lovingly believing that everything I write is the best thing since a young Will Shakespeare dreamt of star crossed lovers. And whilst I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr Bevan, he certainly hasn't read any of my scripts... yet!

So I workshop with my group, and they are a decent bunch! During the MA we workshopped all the time, and through Phil Parker's guidance, developed a common screenwriting language and method, so we would all know what we were talking about, when discussing things like, plot, story, genre and tone etc. And when you think how loosely these terms can be used, and how many different definitions they can elicit, it's very useful when you have a group of people all on the same page.

And since graduating two years ago, we have, between us, two agented writers, two Red Planet Prize finalists, an experienced children's tv writer and now BBC Comedy College participant, a Taps participant, a Doctors episode, a big budget Rom Com commission, and various other bits and pieces. The important point is that my work has benefited enormously from surrounding myself with good people who provide excellent notes.

Having been thrown together by the MA, we were colleagues before becoming friends, and I think this has helped in being able to give honest, but hard criticism, when necessary. It's never rude, or spiteful. There's never any jealousy involved, but it would also be no good if it was just a screenwriting love-in where we all told each other how great we were when there are clearly script problems. But you need to be gracious and accepting when receiving feedback. An intractable, precious writer will simply not improve their work. Having said that, you don't need to agree with everything, all the time. My very general rule of thumb is that if three or more people are saying the same thing, you may have a problem. But a member of the group also told me that BBC Head of Comedy, Michael Jacob, said that even if one other person 'gets' what you are writing, you're okay. So sometimes you're caught between a rock and a hard place! For example last night, I workshopped my comedy script for the upcoming Rise Summer Challenge. And there is something in that script, which I and my friend Toby, who I have known forever and whose opinion I really value, find very funny. But NO ONE in the group thinks works. So I would be foolish not to take that on board, but I still haven't decided what to do about it.

And of course all this feedback and constructive criticism is gained free of charge. But I realise many writers, especially newer ones, don't have this support network, and before I did, I searched out the usual script reading services. I don't want to get into a generalised debate about the quality of these services, because I think the standard varies between different organisations, companies and individuals. But what is fairly common are the exorbitant prices. With the honourable exception of Lucy Vee's Bang2Write service, you often find yourself paying three figure sums, or close enough, for a script report/development notes. And this is just completely ridiculous and impossibly expensive for the vast majority of writers to afford, certainly with any regularity!

Let me just say that anyone has the right to charge whatever they like, that's their prerogative... but it doesn't mean people should have to pay it! I regularly script read for companies like CinemaNX, Marchmont Films, Shoestring Productions and Tiger Aspect etc. And the going rate is around £50 per script. And when you think about it, when done properly, it's about 4 hours work; two to read, two to write the report. What's wrong with that? That's what big companies pay their readers. So why should individual writers have to pay two, three, four times that!

With this in mind, I plan on launching my own script reading service very soon. I have no desire to step on Lucy's Bang2Write toes so my service will be slightly different, cheap and cheerful, but of a high quality. To be perfectly frank, I would still recommend it preferable to find yourself a writers group (as long as that is also made up of good quality people) as this is the ideal situation. But if you can't do that, for whatever reason, feedback is crucial. So stay tuned, there are more details to come...

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Rise Summer Challenge

It's one month to go to the Rise Summer Challenge deadline. Here are the ground rules:

1. There is no submission fee for the Summer Challenge.
2. Script submissions must be of feature length (70 pages or more).
3. Your script and application form must be accompanied by a Project Summary, to include the following:
- Log line (one sentence describing your film)
- Synopsis (50 words max)
- Plot Breakdown (a more detailed description of the events taking place in your film - 250
words max)
- Personal Statement explaining why your script is important to you, why it should be
made into a film and what your mission for the project is as its writer (250 words max)
4. Entrants must not already have literary representation. All rights in the submitted script must be available, controlled by the entrant and not by any third party. Terms for the option and further development of the successful screenplay will be agreed between RISE films and Casarotto Ramsay & Associates on behalf of the successful entrant.

The last one is quite significant. Whereas Red Planet Prize and Kaos is open to those with and without an agent, and offers representation to the winner if they don't have, Rise specifically state those with an agent cannot apply. Those with might see this, with some justification, as unfair. Obviously Casarotto want to protect their interests, but what this means is that writers without agents won't have to compete against those with! Therefore this really is a fantastic opportunity for new writers. With a month to go, writers should be well beyond the idea stage, unless you subscribe to Viki King's theory on How to write a movie in 21 days! But here is something to think about, a crucial, back to basics idea, as we enter the home straight. It comes from an extract of an article by Alice Charles, who started my MA the same time as me, but jumped ship when she got accepted to the screenwriting programme at UCLA, so I guess we can forgive her for that! She now lives and works in LA.

Getting Your Screenplay Past the Studio Reader 1-3-5: Story Structure Made Simple by Donna Michelle Anderson

"Former studio story analyst Donna Michelle Anderson (or DMA as she is more commonly known) focuses on developing character arcs in a story. Her premise is this: in order to get your screenplay past the studio reader, your screenplay must hit certain marks. It must take the reader on a journey that sees the protagonist or hero learn a valuable lesson. DMA breaks this journey down into three stages: I reject; I embrace; I sacrifice. And surprise, surprise, this takes you through the three-act structure of a screenplay. To explain further, we first meet the protagonist in their ordinary world before they encounter an unexpected change. Think of Star Wars when Luke Skywalker comes across R2D2 and Princess Leia's hologram SOS. At first, Skywalker rejects this intergalactic cry for help before being forced to change his mind when his guardians are murdered. Skywalker is a reluctant hero until he learns to embrace his true identity. DMA gives Big as an example where Tom Hank's character starts to enjoy being an adult and all the freedom it entails. Finally, the main character makes a sacrifice. In Big, writes DMA, this is when "Tom Hanks gives up adulthood and its privileges for the love and lessons still to come in the rest of his childhood - for the sanity of his mother and best friend."

It's a really simple idea, but very effective. I regard all these theories and gurus as helpful but not gospel. Take what helps, leave the rest. But if your script has run out of steam or you're struggling with structure, maybe this basic formula can help you get back on track.

My Rise entry is a comedy, so I've been reading and watching lots of movies in that genre. And although I consider myself a funny guy, something that I think my friends would back me up on, you really find out just how hard comedy is to write when you attempt one! Everything has to be funny. The characters, the plot, and don't forget, even the description in the screenplay. It all has to sing comedy. This applies of course to any genre. If you are writing a horror, make sure the script reads scary - no easy task - but it can be done, trust me, I've read them. If you're writing a thriller, make sure the script is exciting, in all its facets. It sounds obvious, but these are common pitfalls.

Now get back to rewriting the script...!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Things we noticed watching tv this week 2 (spoilers)

Just as a reminder, this regular post is not a weekly review, critic esque. I'm not overly bothered about what critics think. It's more a case of looking at some of the things I've watched over the past week and seeing what can be learnt and taken back into our own writing.

Two markedly different series came to a close this week, the 4 part House of Saddam (BBC2) and the 6 part Harley Street (ITV). One was an ambitious look at a well known but highly secretive history of a tyrant spanning almost three decades, the other was Harley Street. What I particularly liked about House of Saddam was the depiction of Saddam Hussein. Writers Alex Holmes and Stephen Butchard obviously worked hard not to pander to pantomime cliches of what we'd expect from this dictator. And that's no easy task. Igal Naor, the actor who played him (an Israeli no less, bet that had Saddam turning in his grave) is on record as saying that he wouldn't be surprised if people felt a tinge of sadness for the former president of Iraq at the end of the series. To be honest I didn't, but only because everyone involved in making the series had done their job so well. I understood that this was a man, who probably genuinely believed he was doing what was best for his country, but was wrong, evil and guilty of crimes that deserved the punishment he got. But we certainly got to see the human side of him. This always causes controversy, and has been an issue with recent depictions of Adolf Hitler in Max and Downfall. I don't think there is anything wrong with this as such, as long as you are not suggesting that these figures were right all along. It's important that it is acknowledged and recognised that these people are just that, people, human beings, albeit capable of atrocities beyond belief. But they are not alien creatures from a different planet. Maybe it would be easier if they were, because it's harder to understand when confronted by a human side of these monsters. But drama is built on shades of grey, not black and white. And I would imagine it is the same for most people. When I was writing a script with a BNP-like fascist as the main antagonist, it took a long time, much feedback and many rewrites to get the characterisation right, simply because I was thinking in terms of black and white. To me this guy was evil, and so that's all there was to it. I had to get under his skin more and reveal that to his wife and son, he was just a husband and father, and that he was motivated by believing he was right. It doesn't make them so, but you need to go there in order not to deliver one dimensional dramatic characters.

Harley Street was an altogether different proposition. From a subjective point of view, medical dramas are not my bag. My own chequered medical history means they often give me the heebie jeebies! But I watched four out of the six episodes, because it's part of the job to watch what is on tv.. fact. And I understand that ITV wanted to get in on the Casualty/Holby City cartel, not to mention House, Grey's Anatomy and ER, still going strong on other channels. But Harley Street has to be one of the most unimaginative commissions of recent memory. Surely they basically played safe, only to have it backfire. The ingredients were there, the episodes constructed out of familiar story of the day plots mixed with personal series elements. But viewing figures tumbled when people realised they had seen this all before. The show was billed as a fresh look at a familiar arena, but characters wearing more expensive suits doesn't make it original. So to be honest, the only thing I took away from this show was that it was created by Marston Bloom (who also wrote two episodes.) Who? Exactly. He's an actor turned writer and someone who had very little writing experience. But his spec for a medical series impressed enough to get an agent, be picked up by Carnival, and then commissioned by ITV. And fair play to him! There can often be a culture of jealously and "I can do better than that" syndrome. Well maybe you can... so go do it then. Maybe Marston's connections as an actor helped him get a writing break, and then again maybe they didn't. Maybe he just wrote a bloody good script, because at the end of the day that's all that's going to matter. If nothing else, Harley Street proved it can happen. A new series created by a relatively new writer. Makes you think doesn't it?

Wednesday, 20 August 2008


There's just over a week to go until the deadline for the 4Talent Awards. The main restriction is that all entrants must be 30 or under on 31/12/2008, and a resident of the UK. So if that's not you, there's probably not much point reading on.

But if you do qualify, click on the link and get involved with this scheme. There are 20 categories ranging from writing, directing and performance.

I can't stress the importance of entering competitions enough. If you haven't got a track record, or an agent, it's hard to get read. And even if you do get someone to accept and read your script, it's still hard to get a break. But in competitions, all entrants are created equal! You will stand or fall by your submission. So make it a good one.

There are three big competitions coming up in September, Kaos Films, Rise Summer Challenge and Red Planet Prize, and I will be talking about them a bit more soon. But click on the links, find out more, and enter them all if you can!

My submission to the 4Talent Dramatic Writing category went off today. Fingers crossed!

Good luck everyone.


So I've talked about thinking long and hard about starting my own blog and then how I'd got to this point, screenwriting career wise. Then Michael Colman asked the following. "I heard blogs are often ego based and a good excuse not to keep on with what we wanted to write in the first place.What is your motivation to have a blog?"

And I thought, bloody good question.

It would be dishonest to suggest a certain amount of ego doesn't come into it. I think it was Egri who wrote that everything we do comes down to self-interest! So I would reiterate that a little self-promotion doesn't hurt. Another aspect is cyber networking. I am disabled and get knackered quicker than average, so schlapping about to every networking event under the sun is not an option. I go to some, but don't bother with many others. And it could be the same for others but for different reasons, family commitments, expense, etc. So I try and make the most of both facebook and now this blog, to make connections and get my name about in the industry.

But when thinking about a reply to Michael's question, the real answer I kept coming up with for doing a blog was the same I came up with for screenwriting. When I tell people what I do the reaction is almost always the same. They start off very excited with the glamorous notion that I mix with the rich and famous. But after each follow up question, about what I've done that they might have seen (er nothing) what are you writing now (loads of things, but all on spec) etc etc, their eyes narrow and very soon I suspect they begin to think that I am mad. And they are right of course. Because screenwriting is a completely ludicrous way to earn a living.

A friend of mine once asked Jeffrey Caine (Goldeneye, The Constant Gardener) how he coped in the early part of his career. And his reply was that he and his wife were basically poor for about 10 years. My friend then kindly related this story to me in front of my own wife, so I just sat there squirming on the sofa.

So why do it? Ask most writers and they will tell you the same thing. Because they have to. And so even though I tried to think up a nice, charming, glib answer to this question, I sadly find I am no different to everyone else.

A lot of writers also suffer from insomniac tendencies. And here too, I am sadly no different. I suffer with chronic pain issues which doesn't help when trying to get comfy in bed, but what keeps me up most of the time is that I can't shut my head up. Don't get me wrong, I am not claiming to be some deep philosophical thinker. The vast majority of the time I am thinking about why the hell haven't Arsenal signed the players I think they should because I quite clearly know better than anyone else in the entire world.

But just occasionally, I am thinking about this story, and that scene, and this character and that movie I saw and this TV series I am loving... and so on and so forth. And so I write them down. Or some of them at least. I have finally accepted that unless I complete my research on how to live forever, I will never write everything I want to. But I try. And if I don't, there is a good chance I will stop sleeping all together and/or my head will explode. When I was a single lad I kept a notebook by my bed. Nowadays, turning the light on at 4am would not go down too well, so the notebook stays in the loo and I totter off there!

And to answer Michael's question, I blog for the same reason. It keeps me working. It keeps me thinking and analysing what I am watching, reading, and writing. The irony of course is that now I am lying awake at night thinking about what to write in the blog! There is no end to the curse.

Everyone needs to earn a living and with my disability a traditional 9-5 job would be out of the question. But surely I could find a part time something. There must be plenty of ways to earn a living easier than screenwriting. But of course I don't do it just to earn a living. I firmly believe that even if I were a millionaire, I would still write screenplays. (Of course if I was rich I could bloody fund them myself so I could write whatever I wanted and stuff everyone else's opinion!)

But the point is that if you don't have that drive, if you don't have that determination, if you don't have a very loving, indulgent other half (!) you are in big trouble. So in the words of Roy Castle... "dedication's what you need...!!"

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Things we noticed watching tv this week 1 (Spoilers)

I'm hoping this will become a regular weekly post of a small round up of some of the things I've watched over the previous week. I'll include tv and film and I should note that I very rarely watch things 'live'. Almost everything gets recorded and watched later so I may not include the latest stuff. But for this I don't think that matters. This is not a weekly critique that appears in newspapers. Most of the time those drive me mad. It got to the stage where they just depressed me. Not because the reviews were bad. Let's be honest, a lot of tv is bad, so naturally dodgy reviews would follow. But I started to feel that the critics hated, absolutely hated, watching tv (and movies.) I love both and I used to think what a cool job it would be to get paid to watch and write about tv and movies. But I think when something you love becomes your job, there is a danger you fall out of love with it. The element of choice is gone and now you not only watch stuff you would otherwise love to catch, you have to watch everything. And these guys have probably watched so much rubbish that I think before long they go into a show with a preconceived idea that it is going to be crap, and the show has to be really quite good just to get even a passable review. A very artistic friend of mine once balked at the idea of using her talent as a job. That was her hobby and if it became a question of earning a living out of it, it would spoil it somehow. This is relevant to screenwriting too of course. Do we not do it because we love it? Do we therefore also come to hate it somehow? I'll pick up on this in a later post but for the meantime, just leave it that maybe there should be a shelf life for tv and film critics?!

But I will look at stuff from a screenwriting point of view. During my Masters we workshopped all the time. You were never allowed to just say something was rubbish or you just didn't like it. You always had to analyse why. And for some weird psychological reason it's a lot easier to spot the weaknesses in someone else's work than your own. But of course ultimately, you have to take the lessons learnt back into your own scripts. And this is what I am going to try and do with this weekly post. But as this is the first one I will focus on one show that came to a close this week.

Bonekickers got a right kicking from virtually everybody. Robin Kelly has mounted a decent defence in a recent blog and he makes some good points. Overall I think the series was poor, primarily because of the dialogue, characterisation and a rather muddled tone of taking itself too seriously and then being jokey at the wrong time. But it's the concept itself that seemed to cause the writers the most problems. It's catch 22 that the macguffin had to be important enough to warrant everyone chasing after it, but at the same time couldn't stay in this world as it would change it fundamentally (and we've all got to come back for a new episode next week. It's hard to do Indiana Jones every week, although having said there was a young Indy tv series - does anyone remember what that was like?) But it's quite significant that Indy is set in the past. The world was bigger, media was less prominent. So you can bury the Ark in a warehouse and the holy grail can fall through a crack in the earth and life can continue. But in Bonekickers, when your discoveries are big news on the tv and Internet, they had to come up with ways for them to get buried or destroyed at the end of each episode. And it got ridiculous. This culminated in the final episode. We've been watching the gang chase this magical sword for six weeks. It turns out to be none other than Excalibur, a sword that reappears over the centuries belonging to different people, including Boudicca and Joan of Arc. And what happens when they find it... it breaks! Because of course the sword is so powerful if it stayed intact it would be the ultimate WMD. But talk about anti-climax! This is something that needs to be seriously looked at if there is a series 2. The artifacts have to be significant enough to tell a story about, but real world enough that they don't have to be destroyed every week! In fact if memory recalls, in Episode 4 the prophetic Babylonian tablet they found wasn't destroyed at the end - and this may be one of the reasons that I think this was the strongest episode.

But going against the grain I actually hope Bonekickers gets a second series. Why? Because it's like nothing we have seen before on British TV. It's not cops and docs, it's not comedy-drama social realism. It's extremely ambitious. And these guys, Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham, know what they are doing. Check out their credits. They have cv's we would all be proud of.

So what can we take away from this into our own work. Well, on Creating Life On Mars (on BBC4) Matthew Graham pointed out that that show was a very American pitch but of course a show totally specific to Britain. Tony Jordan was also on the programme and when I workshopped with him earlier this year, we had a round table discussion about what we were NOT doing on British tv. Some of the suggestions we came up with were ludicrous but the message was clear. When thinking of ideas for a tv series, think big, think ambitious. This doesn't have to involve aliens. It could, as Life on Mars proved, just be a cop show... but a cop show with a difference. Credibility is in the eye of the beholder. There is nothing 'realistic' about Heroes for example, but everything that happens is credible within the world that is created by the show. This is what Pharoah and Graham attempted with Bonekickers, and for that they should be applauded. Give them another go, I'd be willing to bet it will be better second time around.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

In the beginning...

I'm sure we've all gone to lectures by, or read interviews with, our favourite screenwriters. The Tony Jordan's, Paul Abbot's and Jimmy McGovern's of this world. And the all time favourite question appears to be, how did you become a screenwriter? And the answer often seems to be a slight variation on, "I wrote this thing when I was (enter very young age of your choice) and sent it somewhere, it got bought, and then I did something else, that was also bought, and then I started work on (enter soap of your choice) etc." I'm not being flippant. These guys are brilliant at what they do. That's why they give lectures that we go to and do interviews that we read. But I imagine that they are the exceptions to the rule. The rest of us mere mortals plug away over a number of years. So how did I get here...

At university I read English Literature. I was preparing myself for a career in Journalism. But the more stories I read, the greater depth I went into the analysis of these stories, the more I realised I wanted to tell them myself. I'd always excelled at writing stories in school. Thinking back to them, they were like mini scripts really, with very little prose, a good pace and plenty of dialogue. So after uni I applied to do MA Screenwriting at London College of Printing (now Communication) And despite a first class honours degree, I didn't get in. It counted for nothing because I had little screenwriting knowledge and the short I wrote for the application form was truly awful. So I attended a two day course run by the same folk where I harangued the poor tutor for this obvious injustice. To her great credit, she sat down with me, looked at my application and pointed me in the right direction.

So I took a load of short courses, including ones run by the now extinct London Screenwriters Workshop and a Diploma in Media Practice at Birkbeck College, which was basically a whole load of writing modules. (Incidentally there was also one or two journalism modules. And when the tutor asked us all whether we were prepared to knock on the door of a family who had just lost their son in a stabbing, and get a story, I knew I was in the wrong place.)

But with my army of short courses behind me, and a now far better short film script for my new application form, I re-applied two years later for the MA - and this time got in.

The MA, a part-time, one day a week course, was the best two years of my educational life. It was an amazing experience and one I still miss, two years after graduating. The course was devised and run by Phil Parker, surely the most eminent screenwriting guru based in the UK. He has now left the College by if you ever get a chance to hear him talk etc, I would seriously suggest you do. He is an inspirational figure and fervently passionate about screenwriting.

Anyway, I graduated from the MA with a new short script, a half hour adaptation script, a mock episode of Doctors, and a feature film script. Unsurprisingly it's the feature that has got me the most attention. Whilst not being picked up itself, it has been read all over the place and got me a few meetings. More significantly, it nearly won me the Red Planet Prize. Well to be fair that might be an exaggeration. I don't know how close I got, only that I was shortlisted and one of the twenty writers to attend two workshops led by Tony Jordan earlier this year. But hey, top twenty out of over 2000 ain't bad so I'm gonna keep telling everyone that if you don't mind. (Interestingly, a friend from my year also made it and Joanna Leigh, the winner, is an alumni of my MA - so we probably all learnt a thing or two when there.)

Apart from that, there's not much to tell. I've got to two Kaos Short Film Comp semi-finals, a commission from Shoestring Productions to write a low budget film, and an option on a feature from Life Entertainment GMBH. And of course I have written other screenplays on spec. I keep knocking on doors, I keep writing, and I keep the faith. So what's the point of all this? I think what I am trying to say is, reading about the top people in our profession can be inspiring. But when you read how they got their breaks so quickly and seemingly so easily (although this of course can also be misleading) it can become frustrating and make you feel like you have failed. I have been doing this now, if you go back to the beginning of the short courses, for about seven years. I'm not there yet, I'm nowhere near 'there' yet! But I'm still here, I'm still doing it, I'm not giving up, and I can promise you this... the best is yet to come.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

What's it all about...

Hello and welcome to On the Blog. I'm Jez Freedman. Screenwriter and script reader. That's me on the right. That's about as good as it gets for me, visually. Taken at my wedding, some fourteen months ago, you are more likely to find me in jeans and a t-shirt, unshaven, eating pizza and ice cream. Fortunately, as my wife does not seem to mind, it doesn't keep me up at night.

Whilst profile raising and a bit of self promotion are no bad thing in this industry, I actually thought long and hard about starting my own blog. Put simply, what did I have to offer that couldn't be gained from the many blogs I already read? What did I have to say that the excellent Danny Stack, Lucy Vee and Robin Kelly, to name but a few, were not? How was I different.

Well, I am a little younger than most (although am sure not all,) bloggers. At 29, maybe I have something to offer to the under 30 screenwriters a little earlier in their careers. I am an orthodox Jew, there can't be many of us doing this sort of thing, and that presents its own challenges. And thanks to a very rare genetic disorder, I am effectively disabled. And that certainly presents its own challenges that maybe others can relate to as well. But I still wasn't satisfied.

So I asked my friend Toby. (You'll be hearing more about him if you stick around. Firstly, because his antics are a constant source of amusement, and secondly, because he is a constant source of ideas, and always my first sounding board for my own.)

He said something interesting. He said that what you bring new to the blog table is you. Your own unique take on things. And then I felt a bit silly. Because after all isn't that what screenwriting is all about. Anyone who has ever written a rom com, or just read Billy Mernit's brilliant, Writing the Romantic Comedy, will know that there are so many similar elements in this genre (and of course, by definition, any genre.) But what makes your script different is your own take on it. Your own characters, your own situations and scenarios, your own voice.

So here it is, my own blog, and my own take on working in this brilliant, frustrating, excruciating and wonderful industry.

Stick around... there's more to come.