London Screenwriters' Festival

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Three Tricks of the Trade for Getting Ideas by Linda Aronson

Posted on: September 18th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay 1 Comment

There were 115 entries for last year's Short Script Challenge.

I’m not on the panel of judges for the LSF one-page script competition, so I have no idea what they’ll be after, but I’ve been writing scripts since the late Iron Age and have judged many script competitions, so here are a few tricks of the trade that just might help.

I can’t think of short film competitions without remembering a colleague some years ago telling me that she’d just judged a short film competition with over 400 entries and to her amazement a staggeringly high percentage had the same story. This was, a person emerges from home/work/shopping centre/pub to see someone trying to steal their car. Said person wrestles the thief to the ground only to discover (boom, tish) it wasn’t their car. I heard a similar story from the writer Carl Sautter, who when he was head writer on a US TV detective series was amazed to find writer after writer turning up to pitch the identical idea for an episode.

Were all of these people terrible writers? No. They were stressed writers, more precisely, they were writers who’d jumped at the first idea that came to them. Let’s look at this business of getting ideas because it’s something you’ll be dealing with for your whole writing career. The first idea that comes to you is usually a cliché because it’s coming from logic and memory banks rather than imagination. Since we all share essentially the same memory banks, the first idea that comes to you is likely to be the first idea that comes to other writers. Hey presto, you, a good writer, have produced a cliché.

The thing here is to realise that all writers think of clichés (because clichés are only overused good answers), but good writers expect to hit clichés, hence look out for them, then either dump them or put a new spin on them
So, how are you going to get a brilliant idea for this competition? The first thing you’re going to do is NOT dash off the script. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that speed necesarily means brilliance. Plan. Find five minutes here and there at work to brainstorm. It’s amazing what you can do in five minute slots.

Trick number 1

Start by listing for yourself the restrictions and aims of the job. Every writing job comes with restrictions, but it’s surprising how many writers won’t think about restrictions. I suspect it’s because they’re terrified that thinking of the negatives will put them off. Ironically, avoiding the negative actually places you permanently on the edge of being disheartened, permanently watching your back. Listing restrictions empowers you. You know the nature of the task so you can get on with it – and, to be cold-blooded, you have already given yourself a distinct advantage over the people who are ignoring the restrictions rather than, as you will be doing using them as a springboard to originality. So, list the restrictions and any solutions or workarounds that you can think of (and don’t worry if you can’t think of any yet), then start to think of ideas using trick number 2.

Trick number 2

Don’t try to think of just one idea. You need to think of at least twenty then choose the best. Don’t panic. There’s is a knack to this. Start by telling yourself that your idea must be ‘real but unusual’ and (for this competition’s purposes) add the instruction ‘ and runs for only a page’ . Next, write down every ‘real but unusual and runs for only a page’ idea you can think of – good or bad. It’s most important not to limit yourself here. Give yourself permission to have bad ideas among the good (or you’ll paralyse yourself) and think ‘quantity not quality’. The reason for working this way is that to get vividly original ideas you need to access your lateral imagination, which necessitates you suppressing your logical intellectual hypercritical self – which will fight to take over and make you choose a cliché, particularly in any situation where you’re under stress (which for writers of course is most of the time). So, shut down your hypercritical self and let your imagination go wild with your topic ‘real but unusual and runs only for a page’. When you’ve got your long list of ideas then you can be hypercritical, and yes, you’ll have some junk in that list, but you’ll be surprised how little.Use this ‘real but unusual’ trick every time you need to make a plotting decision of any kind in creating this (and any other) script – and double check for clichés because stress will permit them to sneak in.

Trick Number 3

Now you’ve got the hang of getting story ideas by accessing your lateral imagination and thinking ‘real but unusual’, turn your attention back to the list of restrictions. Use the same method for getting as many original clever solutions to the restrictions as you can, not worrying at first about quality. Try to see advantages in the restrictions. Try to get excited by the challenge, fired up. Think ‘what can these restrictions give me?’ ‘What will nobody else have thought of?’. It’s hard, of course, but focus, and keep brainstorming.
When you’ve done all of that, choose the best idea and the cleverest answers to the restrictions. You may find you can combine ideas.
Good luck! And see you at the LSF!

By Linda Aronson, 21st Century Screenwriter

Laugh A Minute – We Have A Winner!

Posted on: March 23rd, 2011 by Lucy V Hay 4 Comments

First off, many thanks for all your entries – all NINETY SEVEN of them! There were entries from all over the UK and as far afield as Canada and the USA. Most followed standard spec format, as specified by the contest rules. There were still some curious variations: centered, underlined and/or bold dialogue seemed the biggest issue of those entries using the correct font (Courier) and otherwise OK format.  Stories included  supermarkets, family life, children, office life, baby sea lions, germs, fatherhood and God and Jesus even put in MULTIPLE appearances!

So without further ado, here is Team LSF’s Top 25 (in alphabetical order):

Allison Parker – DOMINOS
Amy Butterworth – JESUS AT THE DVLA
Andy Wooding & Mark Steele – THE KING’S SPEECH 2
Bernadette Groves – CLIFF
Charlie Boddington – JIM’LL FIX IT
Christiana Brockbank – ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS
Dylan Spicer – HAPPY BIRTHDAY
Elinor Perry Smith – GLORY HOLE
Graham Inman – SCENARIO
James Armstrong – AQUAPHOBIA
James Dwyer – PRAYERS ANSWERED
James Hickey – BAD DAD
Jared Kelly – BANANAS ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT
Jilly Gardiner – YELLOW ROSE
Joe Slack-Smith – MUSIC SELECTION
Keith Storrier – FATHERLY DATING TIPS # 1
Kulvinder Gill – THE DANGERS OF TWEETING
Pamela Jane Geddes – WHERE’S YOUR TEETH?
Paul McIntyre – FIRING A PIG OUT OF A CANON
Paul Nash – WHITECHAPEL
Paul Schofield – MAN’S BEST FRIEND
Robert Gately – GET THE HELL OFF
Rosie Mathieson – FUCKACIA
Sandy Nicholson – PRIVACY SETTINGS
Stephen Brown – SWAT

From this impressive list, the team had the VERY difficult task of selecting a top 6, which ended up being (in no particular order):

Rosie Mathieson – FUCKACIA
Amy Butterworth – JESUS AT THE DVLA
Christiana Brocklebank – ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS
Jilly Gardiner – YELLOW ROSE
Keith Storrier – FATHERLY DATING TIPS # 1
Paul McIntyre – FIRING A PIG OUT OF A CANNON

As you know, there are TWO winners of the Laugh A Minute Comp, so here they are:

Keith Storrier wins first prize for FATHERLY DATING TIPS # 1, so receives £50 and a free ticket to The London Comedy Festival in April. Keith’s one pager tells the story of a father who makes a CRINGE-MAKING faux pas when advising his daughter about meeting with a potential boyfriend. Team LSF described it as “laugh out loud funny” and “entirely plausible”.

and

“Highly Commended” is Jilly Gardiner for YELLOW ROSE, who receives a free ticket for the festival. Jilly’s script is about two hard-of hearing pensioners who go on a blind date together. Team LSF called it “amusing” and “sweet, yet sharp.”

Well done to both our winners – but also to the rest of our Top 25 and ALL WHO ENTERED. The contest totally went beyond our expectations in terms of entry volume and quality and that’s ALL down to you guys. We’re sorry we can’t provide feedback on the rest of the entries this year, but the festival is right around the corner – do you have your ticket yet?? Check out the blogs, Twitter and Facebook for the various discounts available.