London Screenwriters' Festival

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Hollywood Comes to London ~ How To Play The Players #LondonSWF

Posted on: October 28th, 2013 by Leilani No Comments

Producer Iain Smith, Producer Ned Dowd, Executive Producer Luke Ryan and Agent Brandy Rivers came together on this panel to give some insight into the Hollywood dream, and it’s realities. Answering questions and putting forth their own take on the best way to approach entry to the system in LA, there session was both fun and informative.

Here are a few of my favourite snippets.

  • The most fertile relationship is by far the one between a writer and producer
  • Time and money are the studio questions about scripts above artistic merit or other factors. Just okay movies can still make money. The investment risk is a real factor and it’s concept and spectacle therefore that are being pushed forward.
  • Think beyond single scripts. It’s how you write that matters. You can get more from the work you get off the back of the quality of your script than you do from selling the script itself.
  • Don’t be resistant to development. If the fixes they offer don’t seem right to you, work on fixes that give a studio what they want out of the project.
  • Think of who your audience is, always.
  • Make sure when submitting that YOU are the one who’s written your synopsis.
  • Scripted TV in Hollywood is higher than ever. One hundred and ninety shows are on TV right now and lately two mainly reality based networks have started including drama. Cable content platforms such as Netflix are happening too.
  • The good news is that Hollywood, though full of writers, has a fairly thin talent pool to feed demand and the fresh voice is more necessary right now.
  • Movie companies are just a small part of large corporate entities. Companies coming up who can market without huge P&A budgets will bring back mid level film, which is currently being ignored as too risky for the level of investment.

So there you go! Positive news in a crowded market. The message seemed to be that if you can know your craft and rise above the flotsam and jetsame ever floating around the Street of Dreams then there’s work to be had and careers to be made. So if Hollywood is what you want, what’s stopping you eh? Go play with the players.

Leilani Holmes at the London Screenwriters’ Festival

Tweet me @momentsoffilm

Making ‘The Fall’ #LondonSWF

Posted on: October 28th, 2013 by Leilani No Comments

Moderated by crimewriting Goddess Barbara Machin of ‘Waking the Dead’ fame, writer/creator of ‘The Fall’ Allan Cubitt and his award winning producer Gub Neal came along to speak to us about the cutting edge of crime drama, and how to keep fresh a genre which can become over familiar.

Firstly came the idea that genre can be a friend to screenwriters and not something they need to fight. In fact, Gub says that TV that exists outside genre now, really struggles. With the chance to do a hunted and hunter drama within a writer led company the guys long working relationship rose to the fore to join them in creating something fresh with The Fall. The premise from the start, is more of a ‘why done it’ than a ‘who done it’ and from the very opening scene the subjects of the drama are juxtaposed and we see that they will conflict. The simplicity, says Allan, is what makes it good. Not a huge fan of the drama of revelation he chose to show the killer from the outset. Very often we can spend so much effort and story time concealing the killer, that we don’t have time to spend getting to know the victims, or to understand the reasons people give themselves to do things. He thought it would be interesting to, from the beginning, let the audience see things that the police didn’t know and see if that could maintain the same tension. In fact, The Fall does well on this score as we see the two lines of action side by side as they cross and cross again. All the way through the action reveals small signs of the character’s personalities. Profiling was used to create the characters. Police officers are all about control, male violence toward women is likewise about control, the hunter/hunted duo paralleled in ways as well as being in conflict.

Asked if worried about the level of disturbing crime in the drama the guys said that going into audacious storytelling, with a detached, sexually adventurous police woman and a fetishistic murderer, you have to commit. With the killing Allan says you have to be sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons and not just to ramp up the story. Murder without consideration of the death is not connective to the audience. In addition to characters, crime drama often has a strong sense of place, Belfast in particular had a very interesting and violent history of it’s own, a vibrant place with a dark shadow, so to speak. It proved to be a good setting for this story.

Al works hard on his first drafts to make them close to complete and then from what was shot for ‘The Fall’ the drama was honed in the cutting room rather than on the page. He has a police adviser and suggests that writers hang in there through their redrafts and stick to the integrity of the story they tell. Police handbooks, he says, are great reading for crime research. Other materials he reads to pick up stuff include other crime writings and especially academic books. If you get only one moment or idea that improves your story then it’s worth doing all the reading and research.

Asking for twelve episodes for telling the story, they were commissioned for five, but that was five with the likelihood of a second season. This second season was then confirmed shortly after broadcast began. This meant that though the ending wasn’t to everyone’s full satisfaction (Lord Sugar tweeted ‘only ten minutes till the end and the loony bloke still hasn’t been caught!’) it was because of not getting 12 consecutive episodes that a conclusion needed to be reached that would end the story well enough, without fully ending it.

The Fall being one of my all time favourite TV shows this year, I felt really privileged to be in the room hearing about it’s creation and I got straight away the brave decision it was to step outside the norm and create a very subtle but emotionally brutal show that won audience and critical approval, including my own fervent following of the show. After today’s session at the festival, I felt fervent about this great writer/producer team too, and the exceedingly brave decisions they made to give me this show that I loved.

Leilani Holmes at the London Screenwriters’ Festival

Tweet me @momentsoffilm

Luke Ryan: How a Script Gets To The Screen ~ #LondonSWF

Posted on: October 27th, 2013 by Leilani No Comments

Luke Ryan is Executive Vice President of Disruption Entertainment, which has a first look deal at Paramount Pictures. He’s also worked as a screenwriter and came to share with us the detailed process of how a Hollywood script gets to the screen and why it does, using the project of Hot Tub Time Machine as an example.

He begins by telling us that Hollywood is a silly place, but it’s a place where things get made and Execs need to keep material flowing in the pipeline. This begins with the script submissions. One thing I didn’t know on screenplays is that on the title page of a script, an ampersand means the writers work together and an ‘and’ means they wrote as well. Good to know and tells the execs whether they’re dealing with individuals or writing teams. The logline must express what the story is about, succinctly and include the story hook. As a rule the shorter the logline the higher concept the story is likely to be, in that it needs fewer words to explain. What story to write and pitch is a case of concept and character change, and you need to consider whether an audience will really want to see it. Not only are audience returns important to the studios but for your own writing life, if you’re committing part of your life to this story, can you really ‘write the hell out of it’ before you commit part of your life to writing this particular screenplay. When an exec finds a story they can make, they need to justify the spend to the studio to get it approved and financed. Often they are going into a room with an extremely busy person who may be also on the phone while listening to them convey your forty minute pitch in just a couple of minutes to get an okay. The clearer you can make your pitch the easier it is for them to go in and get that okay.

Writing deals in the Hollywood system guarantee WGA minimum, if they buy your screenplay the deal will likely include one re-write before they can bring other writers in. Optional revisions and polishes can form part of the contract too, if they continue to like what you’re doing with the notes and changes. Bonuses come at the end and are greater for sole credits, much less for shared credits. The process starts with a draft and then either you or another writer/writers will redraft until the exec things it’s ready to move on, or it gets ‘Turnaround’. Turnaround rights are where a story has been going through this process a while and you and your representation can ask to buy the rights back so that you can shop the story elsewhere if the studio is not going to make it. After turnaround the process of pitching begins again and you’re back to square one. But if the project moves on the process of attaching talent like actors and director begins. Luke warns that if attaching talent to sell a screenplay make sure that those people bring genuine value to the project. They may be a big name, but there are names who bring less value and their attachment can be more of a hindrance to a project than a help.

There’s a green lighting committee who decides if the project is green lit for production, if it doesn’t there may be delay or turnaround. They wear much nicer clothes than anyone else and don’t care about the creativity of a project, but are predicting the worth of the investment. Movies have traditionally been green lit based on a document called a profit and loss statment which is a low, mid and high case projection of the real production costs against the predicted (imaginary) income cost figures that the project is likely to bring in. It’s not merely a process of will the film make a profit, but will it make enough of a profit for the amount invested. For instance an $8M profit on a $50M investment is a bad investment, not only because the $8M is only a prediction but because there are better investment returns out there for anyone wanting to make money on a $50M investment. Changes over the years have meant that marketing budgets have increased and as technology changes revenue fluctuates so this process is affected quite a lot by what can be marketed now. Global decline has meant that the industry shrank in recent years by about 40% and there are less execs buying less work. Piracy, complex markets like China etc. come into play. Understanding this gives you an insight into what you will really want to spend your life writing.

At the end of the redrafting stage roundtabling may be used by the exec to improve as much as possible before shooting the script. For the cost of a re-write a number of highly talented writers are brought together in a room to go over and discuss the script and brainstorm it. It’s a good way to get a lot of brilliant minds contributing ideas to a project. Actors drafts may come in and their ideas may also be included. A lot of Hot Tub Time Machine ideas from John Cusack’s draft were included in the final film. Finally the production phase gets underway which is prepping and shooting the film. A timetable is put in place which also includes post, studio viewings, and tests. Writing can sometimes go on during production but ideally one wants to start with a completed screenplay where possible. There were 27 official studio drafts of Hot Tub Time Machine through development and production with stars, studio heads etc. input throughout. Everyone cares about things and wants the best movie and the changes they care about can affect the entire draft. For Hot Tub Time Machine with the time travel aspect this made changes more difficult.

Release schedules are then looked out to find the best available window to maximise profit and interest during release. All kinds of facts, figures dates and timelines are noted and weekend projections made on various release schedules then there is a testing phase, they like to do several tests on full theatres (about 300 people). On Hot Tub, money was pulled from marketing to create word of mouth and social network buzz when tests showed that recommendation may be the way to get people to see the film. Testing also highlighted a dead comedy zone within the film, and reshoots were done to improve that. Testing also happened for the trailers and though a number tested well, they went with the trailer that tested best with their preferred demographic. Looking at the variants, the chosen trailer was actually the one I preferred, it was clear, fun and simple.

Roundtabling happened again after the re-shoots to decide what was or wasn’t to be included in the final release cut of the film. Then tracking data is used to predict how the marketing is going, who is or isn’t aware that the film exists, if they know when it’s released and if they plan to see it as a first choice or dependant on the other films they might see in that release slot. Then the positive/negative reviews are tracked on release. The release and income data will predict whether a sequel will happen.

All in all this was an incredibly useful amount of information to hear, and gave me a huge insight into the very difficult jobs of studio execs and what happens in the industry. The writers’ strike had a huge impact on the market with less specs being bought now and that pause forced people to implement those changes ahead of when they’d have done so if the machinery had kept ticking forward without disruption. Execs may get writers in to write to specifications that fit their studio requirements, that are more likely to be green lit and that don’t get into spec script bidding wars which can be more expensive. In the next few years there could be more changes with money coming from companies like google and those who own screens like cellphone companies. Those companies can reach an audience without a massive marketing budget. Executives will try to achieve and maintain relationships with as many good writers as possible, and that’s something to remember when pitching. You can in a round of pitching only sell your script to one person but you can use those pitches to forge relationships with twenty people who can remember you and your writing talent. Share your mastery of the craft as a writer and they could come to you as well as you to them.

I’m supremely grateful for what I learned here and very respectful of the very complex process of getting a Hollywood script made. There are pitfalls and opportunities but knowledge is power they say and we were definitely given some incredible knowledge here today!

Leilani Homes at the London Screenwriters Festival

Tweet me @momentsoffilm 


And so it begins… #LondonSWF

Posted on: October 25th, 2013 by Leilani No Comments

This morning, Chris kicked off an even bigger than ever 2013 London Screenwriters’ Festival with the usual welcome introduction to the festival workings, what to expect and a bit of stuff we’d need to know. It’s great to have this intro, as not only are there new faces and many new people attending each year but it’s a great way for people to begin the festival feeling revved up and ready for the absolutely huge amount of activity coming at them. The festival is busy with bustle and lots and lots of faces, information, meetings, networking, pitching, script evaluating, socialising, catching up with friends and contacts and a tidal wave of amazing advice, information and insight into the screenwriting industry and how it works here and abroad.

I for one relish the opportunity to spend time immersed in writers for three days. As Chris was keen to point out, we have our own community and understand each other much better than non-creatives and I’m proud to say I’ve made some lovely friends from meeting people at the fest in past years. It’s great to see the numbers growing, the spaces filled with promise and inspiration and the business of getting scripts on their way to screen getting underway.

For the next three days, this is YOUR time, writers. Whether you’re in the seminars with us or joining us via the blogs or tweets, seize the opportunity to learn from each other and especially from those speakers who have come to share their own knowledge and experience with us for the betterment of all.

It’s all onwards and upwards from here!

Leilani Holmes


Come to the London Screenwriters’ Festival 2012 for £24 a month (10 months)

Posted on: November 16th, 2011 by Chris Jones No Comments

Due to overwhelming popular demand, we are offering the recurring £24 a month payment plan for the London Screenwriters’ Festival 2012. Spread the payments over 10 instalments between now and October 2012.  Use the button below to sign up.


We will in due course contact you to join the relevant online groups for the 2012 festival. As a bonus, we will be sharing some of the 2011 seminars in the 2012 group, so you will get access to some of the best sessions from this years festival. So be sure to join that group when you get the emailed invite.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Chris Jones
Creative Director, The London Screenwriters’ Festival

Q&A with Ben Williams ~ Producer’s Assistant

Posted on: November 4th, 2011 by Leilani No Comments


Ben Williams is Producer’s Assistant to a leading UK Producer as well as screenwriting and directing his own films, most recently a beautiful tale of fandom and friendship in his short film “The Fan”.

It struck me chatting to him over a cuppa at the London Screenwriters’ Festival, what an important link between Producers and screenwriters (not to mention everyone else on a film) that a Producer’s Assistant is, and yet how little we really pay attention to the people who do this work and what the job itself is. So I asked Ben to answer a few questions for us to tell us a little about his work and he was kind enough to share a few thoughts.


Can you tell us a little bit about your work as a Producer’s Assistant and the sort of things it entails on a day to day basis.

Day to day, my job entails a multitude of tasks, from the complicated to the basic. We’re a small company, so I take on most things, from emptying the bins to preparing important legal documents. For the most part, it’s all office-based, administrative tasks – hardly the glamorous things I think some friends imagine. Film companies spend 99% of their time trying to get projects off the ground, and I’m around to help with all the necessary steps that make that happen.


Does your work change drastically when you are in production?

Yes. It’s sort of the difference between war and peacetime! The core roles as assistant remain the same, but the context changes, and you take on more tasks for other people. On our latest production we were based mostly on location, sometimes in very remote and difficult places. I kept on assistant-ing as normal, but I’d also be helping out elsewhere on the production. There’s no set formula to it, but I found myself meeting actors at the airport, scouting locations for wrap parties, arranging translations of dialogue, keeping in touch with historical advisors, preparing casting materials for the director, keeping abreast of changes to the script and writing change logs for the crew – and lots of other things. Generally, someone was always looking for help, and I was able to offer myself on quite a few occasions. I do regret trying to run a mini-fireworks display on my own, however. And once asking whether any of the camera crew wanted a cup of tea. But you live and learn.


What’s the most fun thing about your job?

There are loads. I’ve worked away from home for four months, living in hotels and meeting the most amazing people. On other occasions, I’ve met Oscar winners and world famous actors in the flesh. On a completely different level, I’ve been made responsible for the running of an office, which I really enjoy. The constant, day-to-day nature of it is enjoyable, too. Some days not much goes on, and in a way I enjoy that too.


What is the least fun?

Petty cash receipts.



How do you deal with contact from those attempting to make unsolicited contact or pitch ideas?

It’s unfortunate, but we really can’t read unsolicited ideas – most film companies can’t. From the outside looking in, this might seem a bit harsh, but it’s for good reason. If someone submits an idea to us that’s similar to one that we’ve been working on, and we read it, we leave ourselves open to lawsuits if that film goes on to be a success. Traditionally we would return paper scripts unread, but in the world of email that’s harder to do – especially as some people presumptuously attach the script anyway! – but the same rule applies. In all communications, though, we are always polite and considerate, and I hope helpful.


You also write and direct in your spare time, is there one thing you’ve learned from working with your boss that you will always take into your own work?

Definitely an eye for detail. Interrogating the minutiae of every part of your project might be tiring, and often rubs some people up the wrong way, but it always pays off. Questioning one arrangement may lead you to discover an even deeper misunderstanding, for example, that could go on to harm your project and cost you money. As long as you stress that you’re not out to get or undermine someone, it’s a very useful habit to get into.


What do you think are the most important things to nail when writing a screenplay?

I’m hardly an authority! Generally, it’s pleasing yourself. I have a minuscule attention span, so if I can read and re-read the same thing a hundred times and still find it entertaining, there’s a very good chance that others will too.

The best scripts I’ve ever read end up being sort of invisible. It’s weird, but in these cases the subject matter is so strong that your imagination gets fired up and you lose yourself. It’s like being trapped in an exciting fog.


If there is one piece of advice you could give screenwriters about working with producers, what would it be?

Let them in, and listen to them. At the point of delivery, you might baulk at their advice, or it might sound ridiculous or totally misguided. But if you take it onboard, and perhaps even draw out the meaning (because, let’s face it, no one really nails what they mean in the first sentence), you’ll find the process incredibly rewarding and your script will so much stronger as a result. Remember: good producers are always on your side. Feedback can feel combative, especially if done verbally, but that’s just how it is. Bad writers will raise their defences and ignore everything. The good ones listen, and take note. This takes guts, and thick skin, but there will always be something useful for you at the end of it.

Cheers Ben, for taking time out to speak to us. Ben’s latest short film “The Fan” can be viewed online.



Leilani Holmes

Writing Comics with Tony Lee & Harry Markos

Posted on: November 1st, 2011 by nromanek 1 Comment

Image from Markosia's "The Young Sherlock Holmes Adventures"

The Sunday afternoon session Writing Comics, hosted by comics obsessive DJ Iyare Igiehon, featured a discussion with writer Tony Lee and head of Markosia Publishing Harry Markos. The session was well-attended, with a big helping of genre writers – a couple game writers too – seeking ways to develop their stories through graphic novels and comics (“sequential art” as Scott McCloud dubbed it).

Tony has been writing for 25 years, and doing comics for 8 of those. He’s been a novelist, a screenwriter, a writer for audio drama, and a comics writer. One of his first points was to note the tendency for screenwriters to think its easy to write comics, assuming that comics are simply the illustration of a screenplay. In fact, comics writing is its own special beast. In comics, you are writing for still images, not moving images. The reader supplies the motion and the pace – the time element – that is taken for granted in movies. Comics exist outside of time (like a sculpture or painting) and in linear time (like a story or music) simultaneously – and it’s the reader who gets to choose which side he or she wants to inhabit. Screenwriters love the potential of graphic novels, both Tony and Harry recognized, because the medium allows them to realize the most outrageous, outlandish spectacles in a way that would be budgetarily impossible outside a movie directed by Jim Cameron.

The business of comics is no less difficult than the movie industry. Harry said that he gets 100 projects a month submitted to him. He might like five of them. And from there might contact the comics creators and pursue things further. Unlike the moving picture industries who rely on “writers for hire”, a business like Markosia relies on writer-artist teams. Writers hoping to see their stories realized, will need to partner up with an artist and create half a dozen sample pages to submit. Sending just a script to a comics publisher is a waste of postage (or bandwidth).

In the comics world too, that word “collaboration” appears, a word which many neophyte writers seem to fear so much. While there is more opportunity for fine-tuning and control in a graphic novel or comic, simply because the scale of the thing is smaller, it is still a collaboration – between the writer, artist, colorist, letterer, and publisher. As Tony said, “The artist is not there to do everything you say. They are not your art bitch.” And in truth, if you knew anything about art, wouldn’t you be doing it yourself anyway? Markosia Comics is also seeking collaborators in its business, people willing to establish a long-term relationship with a company. People thinking they can swoop in with their script, get an easy adaptation, then swoop out with something they can sell right to a studio are considered scoundrels of the worst kind.

The collaborative aspect of comics creation – no different from any other creative industry – thrives on trust. Harry said that Tony is an exceptional writer, but he has also come to be a friend and great deal of trust has built up over time. He knows that Tony will deliver consistently, and to a high standard. And Tony has never missed a deadline. You hear it again and again – and again, in comics – submitting your material on deadline is as important – or more – than its quality.

There’s not much money to be made in comics, that much was clear. Markosia and other indy publishers look to the long term for making profit – towards possible film/tv, digital, and print rights, for example. The revolution in online publishing has been great for comics. Readers who might have had to travel dozens of miles (hundreds in some parts of the world) find a comic store can download comics digitally from anywhere. Whereas a brick & mortar store might decide to keep only the hottest titles on the shelves, and then only for a short time, digital downloads are perpetually available. And, of course, there are no variations in color reproduction in a digital copy – the book you download looks as good as the one the creators uploaded to the publisher (as one obsessed with image quality, I especially like this aspect).

There are no “blockbuster” comics that are going to suddenly pay off everyone’s mortgage. Even writers working full time at DC or Marvel, Tony said, need second jobs. And the current industry is especially brutal. In DC’s restructuring of their entire superhero universe, many titles were ended or combined, and as a result, many writers were let go. Now those comics writers – veterans who have been at it for many years for many publishers – are now competing for jobs and attention – and a lot of them are probably dusting off those  brilliant ideas they’ve had sitting on the shelf for years. So competition is fierce, for a fairly tiny pie.

But nothing is going to keep some of us away. When I relocated to the UK, two of the books I packed in my bags and brought on the plane with me were Burne Hogarth’s adaptation of “Tarzan Of The Apes” (one of the best graphic novels ever made) and “Panel One: Comic Book Scripts by Top Writers”. That Tarzan adaptation was one of my prized possessions as a kid – and it still is. It introduced me to three life-long loves: visual storytelling, illustration, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. And when all’s said and  done, isn’t love why we’re in this in the first place?

 Neal Romanek

Four Nights In August Winners Announced at LSF 2011

Posted on: November 1st, 2011 by Chris Jones No Comments

After fourteen days of film production and 24 entries, we have a winner! Anil Rao, who shot Milethia Thomas’ screenplay, ‘Why?’ won the film challenge at the London Screenwriters’ Festival 2011 (pictured here are Anil and Milethia).

Judges comments included Eddie Hamilton (X-Men editor)…
‘Very cinematic, excellent use of camera, composition, editing and music… a tour de force, and for me the clear winner.’

Producer Jeremy Bolt (Resident Evil Franchise) commented…
‘Subtle and visually bold. It made you think and the boys performance was very believable ­ and understated. I also thought editing, cinematography and music were very strong.’

Congratulations to you both, and also to David Turner who finished joint first with Milethea in the Screenplay contest.

You can watch all 24 entries here…

Chris Jones

Festival Faces..

Posted on: October 31st, 2011 by Leilani No Comments

A few of the faces I met at the festival today…

Daniel Martin Eckhart, Crime Screenwriter working for some of Germany’s best TV networks, and producers. One of the speakers at this year’s festival.

Elena Dapelo, Writer and Actor with some production experience.

Richard Messenger, Screenwriter, Producer and Filmmaker.

Judy Kerlander, writer and artist.

Michelle Good, Screenwriter and Script Reader.

And finally, our festival founder, and Creative Director, Chris Jones. Thank you Chris for another great year of the London Screenwriters Festival! I hope you enjoyed it every bit as much as we did!

Leilani Holmes

It’s a Wrap! London Screenwriters Festival 2011

Posted on: October 31st, 2011 by Leilani No Comments

And so, the hundreds of delegates who attended the festival gathered one last time in the main hall to hear Chris Jones wrap up the 2011 London Screenwriters Festival. In it’s second year the festival has been more focussed and built on the feedback from last year to give a very full and varied experience to everyone attending.

It’s clear that there’s a real need for this festival to happen so that screenwriters can have this forum for meeting, discussion and sharing within the industry and a place to make opportunities happen for oneself. Chris Jones assures us that the festival will be back in 2012 so if you didn’t make it this year, then make your plans now to attend next time and put them into place, and maybe bring a friend too. The festival happens because of the people who attend and the people who give their time to making it happen. Everything everyone gets out of the festival is down to those others in the room with us, and on that note it was time to give a roaring applause and standing ovation to the most excellent festival staff and volunteers who gave us so much care and consideration all weekend. Each and every person has worked very hard so that the delegates could get the best out of their time here and always with a friendly smile and a willingness to assist. A big thanks to all of them and to the festival organisers.

Leilani Holmes