#SSF2011 – the nitty gritty (Sunday)
These are the sessions I attended with a brief run down of the key points I took from them (please consider I was pretty much a scriptwriting novice so apologies if these seem like really obvious points to you):
I should also say that these are my interpretations of what was said based on my almost unintelligible scrawling notes made on the day so my apologies if I have misquoted anyone (and I have used liberties/artistic licence in my write up of Lucy’s session in particular).
The Making of a Short – Jan Weddup
I was late to this session, having been early, because I was sat on my own in the wrong room – doh and sorry. Jan talked us through and showed us the short film he had been involved in making. Never work with boats was one of his messages.
He told us about the importance of research and discussed how it can be challenging and worth working with professional actors. You can get them on board but you need to set out the terms quite carefully.
Go for original music – it’s too expensive to use existing songs.
Your producer probably needs a full time helper.
10 mins is a better length than 25. You definitely need a subplot in anything over 10 minutes.
Your treatment (another new term to me) should be original, credible. Researched, have drama and conflict, should escalate, climax, have a satisfying ending.
You should plant the solution to any problems at the end early in the script – go back and add them in if needs be.
Script Reading and Spec Scripts – Lucy V Hay
Lucy’s session was fantastic (she is a lively and enthusiastic presenter) and covered so much that I will really just summarise a few points – I could go on forever but you might be better off taking up her services. She runs the Bang2Writers Page on Facebook and is on Twitter at Bang2Write and at her blog.
Lucy’s advice came with a proviso – that we should take everything with a pinch of salt and that everything can work if it is written well and with a unique slant but that she sees some common problems and pitfalls with the scripts she reads. Thankfully I only ticked a couple of things on her list (and I may choose to ignore them anyway). They were opening on an alarm clock/someone getting ready – in the novel I am working on I think the way I do this gives insight into character so at the moment want to keep this (plus this may be different in novels vs screenplays or not). Vampires are so overdone. I agree they are but I love vampires and think that they will stay fairly popular for a long time (someone asked if it was because less people believe in an afterlife now – interesting point). I have a novel idea featuring a vampire that I have had for at least 15 years which I will write one day – for me. I might end up self publishing it (if it’s not completely hideous) because you probably will get sniffed at approaching an agent or publisher with this topic with the market so currently saturated.
One thing that was said a couple of times and not just in Lucy’s session is that writing scripts are used to demonstrate your writing ability rather than always to put forward for actual production…so write what you want to write and don’t be limited (although this was a little sad for me to hear – I guess that’s where I’m still more a ‘Novelist in training’ rather than a screenwriter. I want to see my work out there and I would prefer to work on original features rather than for an existing TV show – I also get bored easily so creating new worlds and stories appeals to be more – and there’s always the desire to get a screenwriting Oscar (nomination – must not be too greedy). Anyway I digress…
There are no original stories only original takes on stories. Sometimes Lucy gets what she calls ‘Zeitgeist’ scripts which are all, seemingly randomly on the same subject matter (e.g. Witch hunts) but that there was no event to really inspire this. The Hive Mind was blamed for this!
Often other similar stories are related to specific news stories or natural events or to the success of similar stories or genres.
Some key randomly selected tips:
Lucy hardly sees any female serial killers or creature features and it can affect your writing if you are obviously too worried about money and feasibility of shooting (horror genre)
Men are not responsible for everything that is bad in the world!
Please make your comedy funny – often strong comedy is not dialogue led.
You need to understand the conventions of a genre (especially before you break them), e.g. Rom coms (p.s. there are hardly any gay rom coms)
Don’t put too much backstory in thrillers – we don’t always need to or want to know about why the psycho is a psycho – this makes in more of a drama than a thriller.
Where are the British superheroes and female psychic detectives?
Can you come up with a more human side to war films? To work well these should be less about the battles and bombs and more about the impact on people. Writing about current conflicts is very tricky and usually best avoided. The audience (and you) may not really understand what is going on – this insight usually comes with time.
If you have the theme of rape, don’t focus gratuitously on the act (suggestion rather than an actual rape scene is more effective) – what you should be focussing on is the impact of this on the people.
Don’t make it all a dream
Council estates aren’t hell
Vampires aren’t best used as a metaphor for aids or addiction.
In real life getting fired from your life doesn’t mean you meet the man/woman of your dreams.
Receiving a magic locket at a funeral should be rare.
She wants the stranger on the hill to fall over, not be Sherlock Holmes!
Lucy challenged us to recall if we had ever seen someone actually spit out a drink in surprise.
Lucy is more likely to throw “a steaming mug of tea” at you than to allow you to leave someone nursing one in your screenplay – she is “hard as nails” after all ;o)
Montages of changing seasons are a wee bit boring
More realist upbeat kitchen sink dramas (with some comedy) might be the next best thing.
So basically if you can come up with a gay rom com creature feature with a female serial killer who’s a psychic detective battling a British superhero set in a happy go lucky council estate where the action takes place during one season of the year you might be on to a winner!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Common Mistakes are with structure or character
60 pages are easier than 100
Don’t write an extended introduction to your character showing them bumbling about their daily lives for ever and a day (people will nod off) – instead get them in action, bring in the conflict, let us see what they are like, drip feed back story
If you start really well don’t let the story unravel to an empty toilet roll (my analogy)
Don’t have too many – 1 – 7/8 max. Protagonist/Antagonist and up to 5 secondary that can help or hinder (each character needs to have a function to deserve a name and a little more than a job, unless the taxi driver becomes a main character we don’t necessarily need to know his names is Fred and he has three kids and a cocker spaniel.
Make the first page Grab the reader rather than baffle them.
If the first page states the intention so that the reader can come up with a fair guess about what is coming next this is a good thing.
Originality is overrated people want the same but different (crikey sex education flashback, girls and boys are the same but different!)
Lucy hope you don’t mind the artistic licence I used in the above – think you’d make a good comedy character actually. Plus good luck with your writing and the pregnancy.
Writing and Producing the Short – Phil Peel
Phil was sharing with us his experience of actually getting your scripts made, having a film produced, even on You Tube can help give you credits for your writing CV.
He warned us to write what we wanted to, not to restrict vision but warned that if you actually want to get it made (especially by yourself) then you do need to write what will be affordable to shoot.
Early in the session he got us to brainstorm 3 distinctive locations that we may be able to get access to and to consider distinctive or unusual props that we could also access. Also do you know any professional actors? (My screenplay is therefore going to be set at ‘The Blue Lake’ near Barmouth, North Wales and the main character will be a punk fairy vampire played by me because that’s the Halloween costume I have available ;o)
Location, Location, Location
Where’s easy to film?
Hotel rooms – you just pay for the room (and you don’t need breakfast so it’s cheaper)
Clubs – as generally they are empty during the day
Public Places – anywhere that the public have right of way providing you aren’t causing an obstruction you should be able to film
Airport – actually OK – contact their PR/Marketing
Very big houses
Old Hospitals – spooky and empty – perfect
Where will you have to get permission?
Parks and Car parks – generally belong to the local council
Beach – also belongs to the council
Where’s really difficult?
Shopping Centres – were described as awkward to get permission to
Train stations were difficult (though funnily enough he’d seen students filming there very recently) (Steam Train stations easier)
Ordinary homes – just generally not big enough – you need someone with lots of space for all the crew
Schools – though you could speak to Drama teachers – you will need parental consent
Big Country Houses – because they are worried about damage
Try to limit locations because even taking away actual travelling time we were told it takes at least an hour to pack up/set up again. Try to use location near to you and near to each other and use local cast and crew.
Locate night scenes where you can get an electric supply rather than running off generators (I’m guessing you have to invest in some very long extension leads).
Don’t write in weather because you will need actors and crew etc available at short notice. English weather can be pretty unreliable so hopefully your screenplay will be nice and flexible so a scene will work if it’s raining or lovely and sunny.
We saw a car crash scene that they filmed on a quiet road and did most of through suggestion – having been involved in nasty car accident this scene actually had me feeling very sick and we didn’t see an impact.
A couple of final points. Dogs are expensive, Guns – you need to get permission because the public will panic and children were seen as potentially tricky because of permission but we did debate that when they film for news stories they don’t get permission for people (including children) passing by. A lot depended on how you were portraying the bystanders.
The first clip Phil showed us was for a film that I really hope I get to see the rest of because the short clip had me hooked. ‘Buon Giorno Sayonara’ is about two tourists (Italian and Japanese I think) that meet on Bournemouth Beach and enjoy a romance despite not speaking the same language and having partners.
Creating and Writing for Multi-platform Properties – Resh Somauroo
I had to leave Resh’s session early to pitch so this is a little brief.
Resh was talking mainly about working for Lego but also mentioned examples such as Sponge Bob Squarepants and Ben 10.
Basically the gist was that kids (or I think sci-fi/fantasy – think HP, Star Wars, Star Trek – anything with a comic) are big business and that writers are hired to explode a concept wider than a TV series (not even including a series sometimes) across toys, computer games, websites, adverts, theme park rides, mobile phone apps, the little comics that come with toys. Writers can be used as a developmental tool to inspire concept designers, marketing etc. (Here we have mentioned a concept bible and style guide!)
Resh spoke about The Power of the Brand and praised George Lucas for retaining licensing rights and taking a lower fee for the original Star Wars.
August is the month to release toys etc for Christmas and Jan for spending Christmas money.
He talked about a writer immersing themselves in the world they were creating, e.g. For the Lego Knights redevelopment his team got to stay in a castle and sleep in four poster beds.
Mum’s are the gatekeepers, they are the ones who will or won’t buy the toys, dvds etc.
Can you think of concept that will work cross culturally, e.g. Animals are universal.
Create an expandable property or world (think TV spin offs)
Make your pitch something that will work in the playground that kids will want to play or talk about.
I think the conclusion was that it can all be very successful and you can earn lots of money!
Just to add another few pitching tips – if you are talking about a modern day retelling – don’t confuse things by talking about the old version, after mentioning it just stick to telling them the plot of your version.
Don’t read from notes.
I suggested the poster (as Sandy had mentioned) – be careful about this, they may not like it and that’s not truly the writer’s job.
So I learnt a lot at this weekend and I am sure I will break far too many of the non breakable rules – but hey in a first draft that’s OK, right?
#SSF2011 – the nitty gritty (Saturday)
I promised a further post on the Southern Script Writing Festival and here they are – I’ve gone from single to plural because this was becoming a long post so I am splitting it down by day.
These are the sessions I attended on the Saturday with a brief run down of the key points I took from them (please consider I was pretty much a scriptwriting novice so apologies if these seem like really obvious points to you):
I should also say that these are my interpretations of what was said based on my almost unintelligible scrawling notes made on the day so my apologies if I have misquoted anyone.
Writing for Young Audiences – Chris Hill and Danny Stack
With kids scripts (and I presume this applies to books too) the protagonist is often set a few years older than its target audience – to give them something to aspire to.
The panel were asked about what was allowed (or not) at different ages:
For pre-schoolers they suggested that we look at ‘constructive emotive behaviour’ (if I noted that correctly) and that you tend to have psychologists/psychiatrists giving you notes on your script.
Now I’m not entirely sure what CEB is and a Google Search takes you to articles on Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. This seems to be similar to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy in which one is taught to rationalise responses and thoughts to direct behaviour and responses to situations. The link I share above, talks about an A,B,C approach where A is the Activating Event, B is the Evaluation (Cognitive-Affective-Behavioural) and the C is the Consequence (emotional). It is the evaluation (and its rational or irrational nature that causes the consequence rather than the actual event (The website probably explains it much better than me). And how it applies will take much more thought than I have in me at the moment (hoping my copy of Psychology for Screenwriters arrives soon). I’m guessing those in basic terms it means modelling rational responses and thought processes to events so as not to engender extreme negative reactions, phobias, challenging behaviours etc.
For 6-12 year olds the key was imitable behaviour – this basically means that you avoid putting in any behaviours that would be dangerous or unsafe for them to copy (because they will). The examples given were no pouring cereals over siblings heads or sticking knives in plug sockets, etc. I guess this means putting in behaviours you want them to imitate.
For older children – it was the commissioning editors and execs that guided content.
Meet the Agent – Nick Turner (of Linda Seifert Management Agency)
Nick, who was a past BA Screenwriting student at BU gave lots of tips and hints – here is a summary. Nick mainly deals with TV Writers though his colleague deals with features.
Agents as we know take a 10% commission on all types of rights for your work.
Nick’s agency do some script development with their writers, not all do.
Nick’s tips on finding an agency was that they should be 100% passionate about your writing, that you should look at the writers they already manage and that you should always send a full script so that they can see your potential and accompany this with a writers CV (see my notes on Phil’s Writing and Producing the Short that could help you build up your CV). They may often ask to see a second script to know that you can produce more than one idea. They will also want someone who is personable.
When you are actually in an agency the advice was to keep writing and sending scripts that they could use to share to get you writing credits on existing series.
When pitching a script keep in mind your audience, think about what channel you can see it playing on. BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, ITV, Ch4 (Ch5 not really taking at the moment), Sky 1, Sky Atlantic, Sky Living, Sky Arts, E4.
Returnable series was the buzz word throughout the sessions I attended. Generally these have been 6 episodes of 60 mins that could potentially return season after season.
There have been 5 episode week events and 3 parters (prob 90 mins) also were quite popular
As a newer writer it was suggested that single dramas were harder to commission, they have to be relevant to now whether they are contemporary or not.
My Family has just been cancelled (:o() so a comedy that represents the family structure of today might be a good idea).
For the Sky Channels – if you’ve got a strong idea of an English show that could complement their American acquisitions then think about this. Book adaptations, e.g. Terry Pratchett/Martina Cole seem to be popular.
I asked a question about book adaptations, Nick’s advice was if there was a book you really liked and could see adapting the first thing to do would be to approach the writer and see if they still had the rights (they may have sold them or they may have planned to adapt the book themselves).
The topics then got into things that had I been a screenwriting student I may have understood though I managed to pick up some of the lingo. This was to do with spec scripts and series bibles!
This was for if you were pitching a series, you don’t have to have the whole series written. You’d probably have the first episode and then a series bible. This would contain a very detailed outline of a 1st episode and briefer outlines for say ep 2-6. Character biographies and character arcs. An idea of the arena and tone.
Why Are We Teaching Writers to Pitch? – Sandy Lieberson
Sandy suggested that the easiest time to pitch was potentially when it was just an idea (I suppose when you aren’t completely signed up to a written script that you don’t want to change).
He showed a clip of the film The Player (which I must try and get to see), where Richard E Grant is pitching his script to Tim Robbins very passionately. Looks funny.
So, to the question why are writers being taught to pitch? Basically because a script is a technical document and not the best way to convey the actual narrative, character relationships and dynamics.
Some pitching tips:
Know who are pitching to and what other films etc they have been involved with.
Use existing points of reference (what is it like) – A note of caution though, if you use existing titles, e.g. It’s a cross between x and y, make sure their is a unifying concept between them, choose your references carefully.
As you develop the pitch talk more about and buy into the characters.
Show integrity – believe in your script, don’t cave at every suggestion to change it – be prepared for it to be turned down – (obviously you will have received feedback from other sources before you do this).
Can you create an atmosphere of the genre of the piece, romance, tension, etc.
Write out your pitch first but don’t read it as it may come across that you don’t know your idea well enough.
I guess some of the other points are debatable such as suggesting potential actors, who you’d like to direct. I’m guessing some will like that, some don’t (and Sandy did mention ‘see the poster’ but see my note about this on the Sunday post.
You can bring visuals such as a story board, character pics, photos, music, the book (if an adaptation), materials, e.g. Magazine or newspaper that inspired the idea. Photo or illustration of location – to demonstrate atmosphere. Short clips from other films to show style, a website potentially.
Writing for Theatre – The Writer’s Avenue
This was a workshop run by Sandra (the Artistic Director of TWA) and Chrissie.
They stressed how important the first 20 mins of a script are and how you need to find the inciting incident of your play in approx the last 5 pages of your 20. You also need to make it clear who are protagonist is and who we should be following.
You don’t have to cram in action – dialogue can have a subtext.
Your audience will want to know why when thinking about what a character wants. This should come through without exposition.
Don’t try to direct a play from stage directions unless it is essential – make it implicit in the narrative/dialogue.
Sometimes in a scene it is nice for a character not to talk – sometimes they can say volumes by keeping schtum.
Try showing how your protagonist usually acts – so that we know what the implications of later actions are.
The audience builds notion of character through a matrix of impressions. Do we always need the protagonist in the first few scenes, sometimes we can get a sense of them by how other characters describe them or act when they are introduced.
In a second draft move your scenes around to fit and to get rid of clumsy exposition and character introduction.
If you want to write for theatre talk to their literary department and look at their current programming. Have faith in your style and find somewhere to match this.
We then practised describing films and plays in one sentence (can you give ideas about the obstacle, character and theme in fewer than 20 words or preferably less than 15).
Here’s my attempt to describe Inception ‘A team commit corporate espionage through planting ideas in people’s dreams.
When plotting think of the pre event, event and post event for each scene and the play as a whole.
Story is created when your character is under pressure (usually time limited) and forced to make a decision. This will be high risk and it needs pressure for them to make that decision, even not making a decision could be the decision – there will be consequences either way. Characters have to be active, especially if they are women.
Sunday’s sessions will follow in a separate post that I will finish writing tomorrow.
Hope this inspires you to sign up next year.
MWIPCD – Writers Beware this terrifying affliction!
As I posted on Twitter I think I have multiple writer identity personality confusion disorder after this weekend. Novels, poems, short stories, screenplays or all of the above? And what about abstracts, journal articles, powerpoint and poster presentations, essays, PhD theses?
I had an amazing weekend at the inaugural Southern Script Writing Festival at Bournemouth University. As a staff member and graduate of BU (PG Cert Health and Social Care Education) I was able to claim the early bird student rate of £15 a day. This included all of the conference sessions, a buffet lunch and drinks in the break. What the weekend more importantly gave me was a massive confidence boost but also a case of MWIPCD.
On the Saturday they held an informal pitching session where you had 2 1/2 minutes to pitch an idea in front of an audience of delegates. I decided, against my better judgement and shaking hands, to pitch my NaNoWriMo Novel Idea. I didn’t get any boos (yay) and got some claps so I was pretty happy, though my hands were still shaking and my jaw was very uncomfortable for about four hours after (from the nervous tension I suppose).
So when on Sunday they actually had spaces left to pitch to some of the conference presenters I initially said no way, but it played on my mind throughout the first presentation (Be brave and go for it, what have you got to lose, dumbass) and I went back and there were still spaces. I booked myself into the last one of the day so I had time to mentally rehearse and try and remember some of the plot of a novel idea I’d started a few years back. I left the last session early to prepare and stood outside the door feeling an anxious wreck, having to resort to using positive self talk to calm myself “You are an intelligent, articulate woman and your ideas are as good as other people’s”.
The time came to enter. I had my notebook with me full of scribbles that I probably wouldn’t be able to read (and we were told in an earlier session not to read, but to try and recall it more naturally). I wasn’t sure whether to shake hands, I didn’t in the end. In the room was three people, not just the two I was expecting. I mentioned this obvious fact (!) and asked who everyone was; I like to know who I am speaking too (and this gave me time to calm down). The panel consisted of Tim Clague, Mike Garley and Dan Pringle. I was asked if I wanted to stand or sit (ummm sit please, if I stand I will most definitely faint!). Dan asked me not to read from the book and I said this was fine (they so got that it was a comfort blanket).
So I pitched my idea and then came the feedback. Tim put his head in his hands saying he needed to think about it before launching into feedback. The others tried to reassure me this was normal (I wasn’t too concerned, blocking out sensory stimulation like light can help me concentrate too!). I have to say they were very nice, I got some great constructive criticism about what I shouldn’t have said and what I could have said and they started arguing over a couple of aspects and coming up with visuals, which they told me was good. A couple of comments Tim made I’m sure were overgenerous but I’d really like to thank him for them as it was a massive confidence boost at a time when I was having huge writing doubts. Hearing things like, if you pulled this off you could have one of the greatest modern screen villains and in response to my suggestion that I just need to find time to write this alongside the day job and PhD he quipped leave them, write this. I wish…
So why have I got MWIPCD? Most of my experience with creative writing so far has been with writing fiction and poetry, although I did write a couple of scripts on my OU courses. I am halfway through a novel and have started two others but this weekend got me so excited about script writing that I now don’t know what to focus on (I like all of them). Then there’s the day job…if only there were more hours in the day and I had more energy to make the best of using them.
But despite the MWIPCD this weekend I got to feel like a writer and that was fantastic.
I will be writing more about the festival and some of the hints and tips I learnt next week.