London Screenwriters' Festival

Archive for October, 2013

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
@momentsoffilm