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
@momentsoffilm

 

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

Up and at ‘Em!

Posted on: October 28th, 2011 by Leilani No Comments

So it’s Friday morning and my first blog of the festival. I’ve got my business cards at the ready, a stash of chocolatey snacks to keep my blood sugar up, the obligatory bottle of water that we actors always carry, iPhone, itinerary, a massive handbag to put it all in.. sunglasses for that festival fabulous look (a must have for any festival dahlink) and I’m ready to rock!

The festival actually started over an hour ago with the opening keynote. It’s an important part of the festival that I think helps energise the day and just allows people to acclimatise to the building and each other. It’s a very large festival with a lot going on and a lot of people, the days are long and it’s pretty non stop all weekend. So to have a grounding positive introduction and just settle in helps things not to become overwhelming. It’s bustling here and I’m thrilled to be milling about in the milieu!

And it’s also a chance to spot some familiar names and faces. Fellow screenwriter Neal Romanek is alongside me also blogging and tweeting from the festival so hopefully between us we can offer different perspectives and cover a bit more of the festival flavour. Both of us and numerous others who are part of the festival familiars will be live tweeting and there will be blogs aplenty on the London Screenwriters Festival Blog Page. A few other twitterati of my aquaintance are here and I’ve already been greeted by friendly faces and faces of friends. It’s feeling good to be here and to be focussed on screenwriting again. The highlight I’m looking forward to this afternoon is the In Conversation with Duncan Kenworthy not only because I hugely respect and love his work and am really looking forward to hearing his views, but also because my friend is his assistant and a pretty darn good writer too, so hopefully will be along to the festival too and I’m very much looking forward to catching up with him and hearing his take on it.

Then after that I’ll hopefully make In Conversation with Joe Cornish, Writing Games 2.0: the sequel and The hero’s Journey Continues.. so quite a full day indeed.. where did I put that chocolate stash?!

Right now I’m off into my first seminars and I think I’m going to opt for Kate Leys Produced or Rejected? Is Your Script The Best It Could Be, which will take me up to lunchtime.. and then a bit of networking is in store. Like I said… I’ve got my business cards handy! ;)

 

Leilani Holmes

www.leilaniholmes.co.uk
www.twitter.com/momentsoffilm
www.momentsoffilm.blogspot.com

 

Networking by Steven Russell of Love Me Not Films

Posted on: October 27th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay No Comments

An event such as the London Screenwriters Festival is, really, tailormade for networking. A lot of networking events I have been to are really thinly disguised mass back-claps in the pub, or a chance to put a face to the name of someone you already know. In the most traditional sense, networking is a case of getting to know people you don’t know yet. Where the best networking events succeed is in putting two peer groups together. The London Screenwriters Festival will attract writers (lots of you!) but also producers, agents and execs.

And here’s the rub; it’s not about what they can offer you. It’s what you can offer them.

I’ve seen it many times, sadly. The networker who is desperate to get in front of the most “important” person in the room. To monopolise the time of the most “successful” producer they can see present. To interrogate the person who they think can do the “most” for their career in the shortest possible time. They seem to define their interaction in terms of what the other person can promise them and their career… but this goes against the spirit of networking.

The London Screenwriters Festival is the opportunity to let the people you meet know exactly why you should earn your crust as a writer, and why they should be the ones to employ you. There is a community of people gathered who really respect the craft of the screenwriting (and I’ve met many who don’t). They are aware of the value of what you do, on a daily basis, to create something from nothing, to create event, character and plot on a previously blank page. What they aren’t aware of yet is your value. And your job is to let them know…

To me, the notions of “important”, “successful” and “most” in the above context are terms you define for yourself. And this is where networking will succeed for you. The real trick is to remember that you and your work are both unique beasts. You’re the only one who can do exactly what you do. It might be the voice you can bring to the employees of Holby City or to the aged vampire clans of “Being Human”. It could be the spec script that only you can write, centring on a unique personal experience or a little-known, well-researched historical event. It may be the fact that you worked for twenty years as an (INSERT INSANE JOB HERE). Working a night job, with night people, will effect the stories you tell. If you’re in a long distance relationship, writing on long train journeys, will effect the stories you tell. Your age will affect the stories you tell. You know all these things, but you need to perfect the skill and make the time to communicate these things to the people you meet at the festival. And that’s a great way to extend your network, in a meaningful and professional way.

Of course, most of all, it’s a screenwriter’s festival. The clue is in the title. You’re Harry Lime, Rocky Balboa, Iron Man. You’re Erin Brockovich, Bridget Jones, Coraline. You’re the titular character of the London Screenwriters Festival. People are there to see you. So reward their attention in you as part of their network. Keep it focused and professional, keep them interested and interesting, and you’ll do well.

Steven Russell runs Loves Me Not Scripts, a script development service that works directly with writers on their projects, and connects screenwriters with agents and producers. Find more information on their services at Facebook HERE  and their production work HERE. Follow of them on Twitter and find their blog, HERE. Steven is part of the panel for “Your Script and the 20 Common Pitfalls” on Sunday at 5pm.

I Hate Pitching By Neal Romanek

Posted on: October 26th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay 1 Comment

Around the UK, screenwriters are practicing their pitches for this weekend’s London Screenwriters’ Festival. Speed-pitching to producers is just one of the Olympic-scale events offered by the Festival (which is the biggest, baddest film writing festival in Europe, I think you’ll find).

Pitching to producers is terrifying for anyone, but particularly terrifying if you’re a writer. We’re just not very good at it. In fact, just about anyone in the world is better at pitching to producers than writers are. Pitching requires an ability to “boil it all down” – to reduce a breathtaking vision of depth and weight to a manageable glue that money will stick to.

Problem is that writers – real writers, like us – by their nature, want to tell the whole story. Actually, no, it’s worse than that. We don’t want to tell the whole story – we want to write the whole story, then give it to you and let your inner voice tell it to you as you read it. Having to boil it down is the opposite of what we got into this ridiculous racket for in the first place and it’s especially galling because one of the real reasons your pitching is so that the pitchee will not have to actually read your script and can simply repeat the pitch to her higher-ups who will in turn pass the pitch further up the chain until finally – perhaps in some Chinese whispered iteration that bears nothing to your original idea – it is jumped on as a Vehicle for someone else.

I hate pitching. Have I made this clear? And it’s not just because I have given some of the Worst Pitches In Christendom – well, maybe that’s part of it.

But however uncomfortable we are with it, pitching is in the natural order of things. Creatives have had to pitch to money men since before Michelangelo went before Pope Julius with nothing more than a set of storyboards and an option on a popular book. I always liken screenwriting to architecture more than any other creative endeavour. We’re in the blueprint-making business really. And blueprints have little meaning to non-architects. They have to be translated, truncated, spiced up – they have to be pitched – if they’re going to be realized as living projects that are going to employ hundreds of people.

So if you are pitching at the LondonSWF don’t be terrified. Or at least be comforted by the fact that, if you are terrified, it’s probably because you’re a real writer and not just some salesmen who thought he’d get into the movie business. Not that real writers can’t be good at pitching too, but it’s a separate skill, one that, in my case, has required a lot of practice. I’m pretty good at it now, but there were many embarrassing moments – incoherent rambling, forty minute beat-by-beat-by-beat exercises in tedium, hysterical enthusiasm in search of a logline. I have given some lousy pitches. But doing a lousy job is the only way you get good. So don’t worry about the quality of the pitches this weekend, but get in as many as you can. I’ll be there beside you, sweating from my upper lip, clearing my throat convulsively, stammering “Did I – Did I say that already?”. I hate pitching.

MORE ON PITCHES

5 Pitching Tips (includes a model pitch if you’re worried/stuck)

REMEMBER – A Logline Is Not A Tagline! Make sure you know the difference for your pitch.

More in The Required Reading List under “Pitches & Prep”, an e-library of resources

Neal Romanek will be live blogging from the festival, so make sure you check back here from Friday onwards – and follow him on Twitter HERE. You will also be able to see live tweets from delegates, speakers, volunteers and other participants by using the #LondonSWF hashtag on Twitter, so DON’T MISS OUT! 

Positive & Negative Deadlines by Michelle Goode

Posted on: October 23rd, 2011 by Lucy V Hay No Comments

Deadlines: “The latest time or date by which something should be completed.”

Deadlines. We have all come up against them at some point or other, be it a school assignment or a bill payment. But when it comes to writing it can take on two forms: professional and personal.

Professional deadlines will inevitably be important. If you’re contracted to complete a draft by a certain date, you’d be wise to do so. If you work as a script reader or editor, you’ll also have deadlines you will need to stick to lest you upset your clients.
However, as writers we also set ourselves personal goals and these can take on two forms: positive and negative.

Positive deadlines:

  • I’ll write each evening after dinner for at least half an hour
  • I’ll spend an hour each weekend reading writing-related literature
  • I’ll complete my short script by the end of the week
  • I’ll get this draft sent off to a script reader by the end of the month
  • I’ll get this feature script finished in time to enter the XYZ competition

These sorts of deadlines are fabulous – you’re positively reinforcing the need to be proactive and the art of dedication. You’re not being unrealistic and you’re training yourself to work within limited time-frames. Give yourself a pat on the back!

Negative deadlines

  • If I don’t get short-listed for a competition by the end of the year I’ll give up entering them
  • If [3 x production companies] give this feature script a pass then I will put it in the bin
  • If I don’t get paid work by by next birthday I will give up writing altogether

The “if” deadlines. Dangerous territory… By giving yourself these sorts of deadlines you are setting yourself up for disappointment. It’s like basing your career on chance and superstition.

So, what if those production companies “passed” on your script but gave encouraging feedback? Readers need to be harsh in their judgement when it comes to sifting through the spec/competition pile, but that doesn’t mean they don’t see potential and it doesn’t mean that, with a few revisions, your script wouldn’t have the chance of being given a “consider” or a “recommend”. Anything is possible if you work at it.

We all get frustrated when things don’t go our way, but if you are passionate about becoming a writer it’s essential you keep going and keep positive. Rejection is a big part of being a writer; for amateurs and professionals alike. It’s impossible to give yourself a deadline to succeed, because success comes in many shapes and forms and it takes time.

At the beginning of 2010 I decided I would be really organised and have a cork board with a sheet of paper for each month, onto which I’d write deadlines and enter as many competitions as I could. I wrote a bit but months passed, life got in the way (y’know, houses to be bought and decorated and all that) and guess what? The cork board remained empty. For the whole year. I only entered three initiatives. Rubbish, right? No. Sure, I felt like I’d let myself down given the big plans I’d made, but I realised that I had still achieved a lot throughout the year and that there would be more opportunities ahead. Sometimes you just have to get over your shortcomings and appreciate what you do achieve, however small a step it is on your journey.

If you feel yourself starting to think of those dangerous “if + negative” deadlines, turn them into positives by changing the “if” to “I’ll aim to” and the negative to a positive; “If I don’t manage it I’ll + positive”. So instead of “If [3 x production companies] give this feature script a pass then I will put it in the bin”, you can re-evaluate this as “I’ll aim to get my script to 3 x production companies. If they all pass on it I will get more feedback, re-work it and then try again”.

The London Screenwriter’s Festival will leave you feeling educated, rejuvenated, energised and raring to get going as fast as your writing/typing hands will allow. You will be setting yourself challenges and goals. Setting yourself personal deadlines will help you keep focussed, but you must remember not to set negative deadlines; only positive ones. And if things don’t go entirely to plan, allow yourself to re-evaluate your deadlines and don’t be too hard on yourself.

___________________________________

Michelle Goode is a script reader, editor and writer. Trained in script reading and proofreading/copy-editing, Michelle has read for The London Screenwriter’s Festival and Hollywood-based Screenplayreaders and also offers her services to individual clients via her script reading service Writesofluid at www.writesofluid.co.uk. Read her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.

Writers Helping Other Writers By Neal Romanek

Posted on: October 21st, 2011 by Lucy V Hay 3 Comments

I am happy as a lark on the international space station to say that I’m one of your “live bloggers’ for this year’s London Screenwriters’ Festival. I’m going to be reporting the festival goings in virtually real time (well, the same day, anyway), so that those not able to attend will at least get a sense of the material covered. Think of it as Cliff’s Notes for the Festival.

One thing I should get out of the way first though – and you probably guessed it with that “Cliffs Notes” ref there: I’m an American. Well, technically I’m both American and British – both passports. But most of my life – and certainly most of my screenwriting career – has been lived in the USA, in specifically in L.A. “Why in the world would you want to leave L.A.?” – I have answered that here.

When I moved to the UK, I had to start a writing career from scratch again. Which was a bit of a shock. I don’t know why. I don’t know what else I was expecting. It was terrifying, but it also turned out to be something quite wonderful. I was able to take all that experience I had in US – all those horrible mistakes and wrong turns – and, sort of, build the house properly this time. And the most important thing I had to do as an American Screenwriter Out Of Water was to make new friends, new contacts, establish a new network. And that I’ve done, through all the amazing online resources available to us, and through live, in the flesh events. I’ve attended – and worked for – screenwriting festivals in the US – this will be my first year helping at a UK festival – and the thing I get out of them consistently, the most important thing, is not the information imparted by the speakers and seminars, but the wealth of contacts, colleagues, comrades – friends – that I come home with.

Writers must help other writers. I say it over and over again – if I blog, teach, collar people in the elevator, when I mumble in the middle of the night: Writers must help other writers – because no one else is going to. Events like the London Screenwriters’ Festival are extraordinarily powerful not because of the speakers and chances to meet the magic person who is going to make your career (although all that’s pretty important), but because they allow writers to meet with each other, exchange ideas, and ultimately become partners in crime. If you’re a writer – even if you just dream of being one – you know that no one understands your masochistic, idealistic, narcissistic, aspirational, glass half-full one minute/half-empty the next madness like another writer. We need each other – if nothing else, just to keep from going bananas.

We are in a hierarchical business. We petition people holding the purse strings, we put our best selves/samples forward hoping to please them so that they will give us work – or at least say “Send us your next thing when it’s done”. The writers around you are probably not going to be the ones writing you a cheque (or, if they are, they’ve become producers, temporarily stepping outside the writing herd). But those writers in your network, your team, your crew (word) are going to be the ones who ultimately will help you succeed – the ones who will encourage you, offer experience, tell you how great/shit your work is, tell you that you must stop rewriting that script and move on to a new one. They really will be the ones that will make or break your career. And vice-versa. There is so much in this industry that is open to chance, and to forces beyond our control. It’s probably the least fair of businesses, and you do have to be a bit of an idiot to be a screenwriter (that’s what people keep telling me anyway). But one thing you can absolutely rely on is your own ability to help another writer, to really help. When I can’t solve a thorny plot problem, helping another with theirs somehow helps unknots my own problem when I’m not looking. When I’m worried about my representation, helping another writer who doesn’t even have an agent always irons out my own worries.

So when you’re at the LSF next week, check out as many speakers as you can, throw yourself at every producer you see, but above all, meet writers, meet writers who can help you – and, more important, writers who you can help! The London Screenwriters’ Festival is our festival – put on by writers, for writers – and I can’t wait to meet you!

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Find Neal on Twitter  and his  blog  - and watch out for his posts, HERE LIVE from the festival next week!