Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Can't argue with The Man

This has been doing the internet rounds and thanks to Robin Kelly, where I saw it.

To the writers of THE UNIT


As we learn how to write this show, a recurring problem becomes clear. The problem is this: to differentiate between *drama* and non-drama. Let me break-it-down-now. Everyone in creation is screaming at us to make the show clear. We are tasked with, it seems, cramming a shitload of *information* into a little bit of time.

Our friends. The penguins, think that we, therefore, are employed to communicate *information* — and, so, at times, it seems to us.

But note: the audience will not tune in to watch information. You wouldn’t, i wouldn’t. No one would or will. The audience will only tune in and stay tuned to watch drama.

Question: what is drama? Drama, again, is the quest of the hero to overcome those things which prevent him from achieving a specific, *acute* goal.

So: we, the writers, must ask ourselves *of every scene* these three questions.
1) who wants what?
2) what happens if don’t get it?
3) why now?

The answers to these questions are litmus paper. Apply them, and their answer will tell you if the scene is dramatic or not.

If the scene is not dramatically written, it will not be dramatically acted. There is no magic fairy dust which will make a boring, useless, redundant, or merely informative scene after it leaves your typewriter. *You* the writers, are in charge of making sure *every* scene is dramatic.

This means all the “little” expositional scenes of two people talking about a third. This bushwah (and we all tend to write it on the first draft) is less than useless, should it finally, god forbid, get filmed. If the scene bores you when you read it, rest assured it *will* bore the actors, and will, then, bore the audience, and we’re all going to be back in the breadline.

Every scene must be dramatic. That means: the main character must have a simple, straightforward, pressing need which impels him or her to show up in the scene. This need is why they *came*. It is what the scene is about. Their attempt to get this need met *will* lead, at the end of the scene, to *failure* – this is how the scene is *over*. It, this failure, will, then, of necessity, propel us into the *next* scene.

All these attempts, taken together, will, over the course of the episode, constitute the *plot*. Any scene, thus, which does not both advance the plot, and standalone (that is, dramatically, by itself, on its own merits) is either superfluous, or incorrectly written.

Yes but yes but yes but, you say: what about the necessity of writing in all that “information?”And i respond “*figure it out*” any dickhead with a bluesuit can be (and is) taught to say “make it clearer”, and “i want to know more *about* him”. When you’ve made it so clear that even this bluesuited penguin is happy, both you and he or she *will* be out of a job.

The job of the dramatist is to make the audience wonder what happens next. *not* to explain to them what just happened, or to*suggest* to them what happens next. Any dickhead, as above, can write, “but, jim, if we don’t assassinate the prime minister in the next scene, all Europe will be engulfed in flame” we are not getting paid to *realize* that the audience needs this information to understand the next scene, but to figure out how to write the scene before us such that the audience will be interested in what happens next.

Yes but, yes but yes *but* you reiterate. And i respond *figure it out*. *How* does one strike the balance between withholding and vouchsafing information? *That* is the essential task of the dramatist. And the ability to *do* that is what separates you from the lesser species in their blue suits. Figure it out.

Start, every time, with this inviolable rule: the *scene must be dramatic*. It must start because the hero has a problem, and it must culminate with the hero finding him or herself either thwarted or educated that another way exists.

Here are the danger signals. Any time two characters are talking about a third, the scene is a crock of shit. Any time any character is saying to another “as you know”, that is, telling another character what you, the writer, need the audience to know, the scene is a crock of shit.

Do *not* write a crock of shit. Write a ripping three, four, seven minute scene which moves the story along, and you can, very soon, buy a house in bel air *and* hire someone to live there for you.

Remember you are writing for a visual medium. *Most* television writing, ours included, sounds like *radio*. The *camera* can do the explaining for you. *Let* it. What are the characters *doing* -*literally*. What are they handling, what are they reading. What are they watching on television, what are they *seeing*.

If you pretend the characters cant speak, and write a silent movie, you will be writing great drama.If you deprive yourself of the crutch of narration, exposition, indeed, of *speech*. You will be forged to work in a new medium - telling the story in pictures (also known as screenwriting)

This is a new skill. No one does it naturally. You can train yourselves to do it, but you need to *start*.I close with the one thought: look at the *scene* and ask yourself “is it dramatic? Is it *essential*? Does it advance the plot? Answer truthfully. If the answer is “no” write it again or throw it out.

Love, Dave Mamet
Santa Monica 19 Oct 05

What I love about this is that David Mamet is probably more known for his dialogue than anything else. And yet here he is, extolling the virtues and importance of not only visual story telling, but the difference between necessary and great dialogue - with really, really bad dialogue. For me the message is clear. It's not about the anti-dialogue brigade. I like writing dialogue. I'm good at it. And I think many screewriters feel this way. But it has to have meaning, it has to be relevant, and it can't just be exposition. That's what separates those living in Bel Air and those living in Belmont. (No disrespect to them!)

Thursday, 18 March 2010

another one bites the dust

Dear Jez

Thank you so much for applying to take part in THE STORY WORKS. I’m really sorry that it has taken us so long to come back to you but we’ve been inundated with applications, which made it enormously hard to make decisions.

You were longlisted, but I’m afraid that we have now taken the difficult decision not to shortlist you. I hope it goes without saying that this is no reflection on you at all, just a response to the overwhelmingly high level of experience in the writers who came forward.

We’re planning to set up open sessions with some of The Story Works speakers at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June, so please keep an eye on our website if you're interested in coming along. I hope very much to see you at the Festival.

Very best wishes,
Kate Kate Leys
Project Director
The Story Works

Edinburgh International Film Festival16th - 27th June 2010


To be honest I wasn't holding out much hope for this one as I always felt there would be quality applicants with more experience, that this scheme would probably be looking for. Nevertheless, cool to be longlisted (whatever that means!)

Anyone get any better news from this or any other schemes knocking about? Do let us know

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Great Ormond Street Film Project

I don't know much about this apart from what is on the page. But it seems like a fantastic, ambitious project, worth getting involved in if you can.

Go see the Kid in the Front Row for more details.

Please keep me posted if you do.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The Writers Academy - So now we know

Screenwriter and author Janice Day attended the John Yorke Q&A last night - here's what she had to say...

I went to the Writers’ Room talk on the BBC Academy at the Drill Hall last night and everything became clear. There are usually about 600 submissions and only eight places available.

Conclusion: we haven’t got a cat’s chance in hell of getting in.

There was the usual token writer on the panel who was accepted through a series of fortunate events. She apologised for her good fortune. How does that help us wannabes? It’s her lucky break. We haven’t had one.

But all bitterness aside, here’s the gist.

There are three ways of becoming a Beeb writer.

1. The Academy takes on eight applicants a year. It’s gruelling and intense but pays £300 a week for thirteen weeks and if you get in you are guaranteed a shot at writing an episode of each of the four BBC continuing drama programmes: Holby City, Casualty, East Enders and Doctors.

You need to know them and really want to write for them, just like the psychotherapist’s light bulb really wants to change.

Here’s the good news. You don’t need an agent to apply and you can now apply if you have ever had a professional commission, not necessarily a broadcast. They want to know that you’ve collaborated with someone in order to produce something and that you have been paid. Even a play at your local church hall, where you’ve charged admission, would qualify, said John Yorke, who runs the scheme. So quick, book that church hall now. You’ve got until mid-April to put on a show.

2. If you don’t have an agent, send a sparkling script to the Writers Room. They get about 10,000 scripts a year and 5% are passed on to ….

3. …Someone who runs the shadow scheme for East Enders, whose name completely escapes me. My excuse for not writing down her name is that if you don’t have an agent, you can’t submit to her. And if you do have an agent, your agent will know her name and what she does. If your agent doesn’t know it, then you need a new agent.

4. You can also submit – via an agent – directly to the four shows.

I know. That’s four ways, not three. Count yourself lucky.

Conclusion: we need to write a good script with a strong original voice. Oh no! Not that old chestnut!! Why can’t we write bad scripts with a forgettable voice? I’m much better at that.

Janice Day
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