#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?