London Screenwriters' Festival

Archive for the ‘Guest Blog’ Category

Keep On Learning (Or Why Seasoned Pros should Go To @Londonswf) by Hayley McKenzie

Posted on: October 24th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay No Comments

You’ve made it! In fact, you ‘made it’ years ago and you’ve been a professional screenwriter/ producer/ director/ agent/ development executive for more years than you care to remember. So surely there’s no point going to the London Screenwriters’ Festival, right? Wrong! And here’s why.

1) The industry is constantly changing and if you don’t keep up you’ll be left behind.

2) New talent is always emerging and they might just have exactly the project you’re looking for. They’re also keen, enthusiastic and hungry to help you make the project a success.

3) New creative relationships create new worlds, new stories, new ways of working. What’s not to love about that?

4) Attending a session about something slightly left-field of your speciality (if you work in feature films, why not go alone to a session about writing for the games industry) might just make you look at your project with a fresh eye and give it an edge that makes it innovative, fresh and original.

4) However brilliant we are, there are others in our field just as brilliant as us. Listening to others who are also at the top of their game is inspiring and means we’ll go back to work on Monday morning more excited than ever about the work that we’re doing.

5) There’s a creative atmosphere at the London Screenwriters’ Festival that is exciting and energising, and we all need a bit of that from time to time, so I’ll see you there!

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Hayley McKenzie is a Script Consultant with over ten years’ script editing experience in the UK film and television industry. She runs Script Angel and uses Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about screenwriting & filmmaking opportunities and events.

Announcement: LSF Advanced Mentor Programme Candidates

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

Last week The LSF Advanced Mentor Programme was announced: delegates were invited to apply for a script workshop or “Lab” with either Linda Aronson (Non-Linear & Multi-protagonist); David Reynolds (Family Audiences) or Gub Neal (TV Drama). We had nearly 50 entries for just a few places in each Script Lab and as ever, my readers & I had some difficult choices to make!

Without further ado then and in no particular order, here are the LUCKY participants and their scripts who will take part in the Script Labs, which will happen during the festival next weekend:

LINDA ARONSON’s NON-LINEAR & MULTI-PROTAGONIST WORKSHOP

Nell Denton, THE JAZZ TSAR

Graham Walker, HEARTS AND MINDS

David McCrea, LONDON CALLING

David Atkinson, THE REALITY PRINCIPLE

Jacqui Canham, VERA OF THE ADMIRALTY

David Gilhooly, ROUNDABOUT

DAVID REYNOLDS’ FAMILY AUDIENCES WORKSHOP

Darrin Grimwood, MYTHOS.

Stephen Potts, COMPASS MURPHY

Guy Fee, THE BOY WHO LOST CHRISTMAS

Julia Andersen, THE LEFT HAND

Nick Horwood, GURK THE SLAYER.

 Norah Henderson, CHUBB & PETER KING

GUB NEAL’s “PRODUCER’S DEN”

 Sophie Petzal, SANCTIONED

Dominic Carver, WHITE KNIGHT

Tom Kerevan, WRECKERS

Paul Goetzee, OUT ON A LIMB

Steve Turnbull, MONSTERS.

Richard Wheildon, I AM YOU

Many, many thanks to all who entered and especially to those who didn’t make it through *this time* – all the entrants demonstrated impressive CVs and packages (ooo er, missus) and for them and indeed any other interested parties, here’s a brief overview of the pile:

Looking Out For Linda. The entrants submitting for Linda Aronson’s workshop were the most hotly contested, plus this was a VERY strong bunch indeed. There was some fantastic risk-taking in terms of storytelling, with ingenius methods of breaking up the narrative and character introduction. However, some ideas/premises were quite similar, meaning there was literally a hair’s breadth between applications at times and quite a lot of soul-searching for our readers. The scripts and writers that often made it through in this section were those with strong visual flair and that elusive “je ne se quois” in terms of grabbing the reader’s attention via an unusual, intriguing or shocking hook in the first instance.

Remembering the (Family) Audience. Bizarrely, sexual nudity, drunkenness, swearing and general bloodshed played a major part in many of the David Reynolds’ submissions. Despite Reynolds  being responsible for the likes of Finding Nemo, there was a dearth of talking animals, fish or supernatural elements like friendly ghosts which the readers predicted at the beginning of sifting the pile. Here the scripts and writers that made it through usually demonstrated a child-like charm or tone seen in the likes of Roald Dahl (even if there were no children in it); the gothic overtones of Tim Burton or an important element of family life, ie. Christmas, birthday parties or fantasy stories.

Identity Crisis. The TV scripts were some of the most accomplished in the pile, both on the page and in terms of previous development, but some premises *felt* quite familiar, especially with reference to existing stories and/or series. Others had a bit of genre crisis, making them difficult to place in the schedules writers claimed they were suited to. The scripts that made it through this round were those with a strong identity, with writers who had managed to visualise their story worlds not only in the script, but in the production bundle.

Once again, many thanks to ALL who entered and to the mentors for making this initiative possible, I hope to see ALL of you at some point during the festival!

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.

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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!

Why A Ticket To @Londonswf Pays For Itself By Dom Carver

Posted on: October 20th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay No Comments

I’ve always been a shy person, very quiet when you first meet me, so when I bought a ticket for last year’s festival I was determined to make the most of it. I found it difficult to approach people at first, but once I got into things I really began to enjoy myself. Soon I was talking to anyone and everyone, amazed to find I was surrounded by hundreds of people who wanted to share their passion for writing, just as I did…who would have thought it?

Needless to say I networked myself silly, but it was a chance meeting that brought the biggest surprise of the festival. I was in the bar networking my way around, politely refusing offers of drinks as I wanted to stay sober, when I spotted a friend. I hadn’t spoken to him since I arrived so I headed over to see how his festival was going. He introduced me to a producer. The producer offered me paid work on the back of my friend’s recommendation that I was a good comedy writer. It has taken a year to get to the point where writing is about to commence on my first paid feature screenplay, but it has been worth the wait. These things take time after all, even if I wish they didn’t. It just goes to show you only need one incident like this to make your ticket pay for itself.

Having learnt that networking works and it really is just as much about who you know as what you know, I carried on networking after the festival. This in turn led directly to getting another paid commission from a Dubai based director, this time on a short film, which went on to be chosen as an official selection at the Cannes Short Film Corner earlier in the year. Now the director and I are getting funding together to make our first feature, a thriller, looking to shoot in Canada late next year. Another London based producer has snapped up a comedy short of mine and has massive plans for it, which quite honestly made me giggle like a schoolgirl who had just met Peter Andre.

To add to all this I’ve connected with several script editors who like my work, producers who have offered me an open door to send them more of my work in the future and a great deal of others interested in me as a writer. Thing is I’ve had fun doing it and I’ve never felt networking is a chore. I’ve met a lot of lovely people, enjoyed their company, our chats, emails about writing and life in general and all of this has helped me improve as a writer able to market himself.

So don’t be shy when you arrive next Friday, dive in and say hello… It may just lead somewhere.

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Dominic Carver is the winner of the Prequel to Cannes Feature Screenwriting Prize 2011 and has just completed the first draft of a spec comedy heist feature A Fist Full Of Euros. Read Dom’s blog here, his website here and find him on Twitter here or email him at domATthescriptwriterDOTcoDOTuk.

What Not To Write by Ellin Stein

Posted on: October 19th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay 3 Comments

Between working one-on-one with writers as a script consultant and working in the development departments of off-Hollywood companies like Miramax and Zoetrope, I’ve read quite a few scripts. While their virtues are all different, the same mistakes come up over and over again.

This list will probably be familiar ground to anyone who’s ever taken a screenwriting course and these problems obviously occur most often in scripts by inexperienced writers. But not always – you’d be surprised how often they turn up in scripts submitted by top agents.

Reading a script is a bit like getting in a car with an unfamiliar driver. If you set off smoothly and the driver seems to know what he or she is doing, you’ll relax and enjoy the ride. But if within five minutes the car stalls out, you’re thrown forward by sudden braking, and the driver swerves to escape a collision, you’re going to stay tense through the whole trip. As a writer, you want to encourage the perception that you are in full control of your medium so the reader assumes you know what you’re doing and stays receptive. I don’t believe in prescriptive formulas for screenwriting, and I hope anyone reading this will remember rules were meant to be broken, but avoiding these common pitfalls will encourage the reader to approach your script in a state of expectation, as opposed to dread.

1) NO LOOKING, NO NODDING, NO ENTERING, NO EXITING. Many writers don’t bother to hone the interstitial business, the paragraphs between dialogue. In fact, every word you write is a chance to show the reader you can create dramatically compelling narrative that pulls us into the story and makes us want to keep reading. Don’t use the business to describe meaningless action like walking or glancing, unless it reveals character or sets up a significant development to come. Nodding does not reveal character – give the character a line so we know why they’re agreeing. Similarly, why tell us someone enters? If they speak in a scene, they’re obviously there. On the other hand, “John enters the room, unaware that his coat is on fire,” will keep us reading.

2) DON’T SOUND LIKE A MEMO. A variation on the above. Make sure your writing in the interstitial paragraphs is involving. So, “as John comes into the living room, everyone else falls silent. He opens the closet door, then steps back in horror – there’s a moldering body inside” is fine. “John enters. He walks over to the closet and opens the door. He notices a body inside” while accurate, will send us to sleep.

3) DON’T BE TOO FLOWERY. At the same time, don’t try to be overly poetic or “literary”, like this line I’ll always remember for the wrong reasons (from a script sent in by a big agency): “the moon chases its orbit across the sky.” You want to set the scene without being overly descriptive but at the same time give us any significant or telling detail. Show your talent for dramatization by describing characters and scenes in pithy, vivid prose.

4) NO TREADING WATER LINES. Like the interstitial paragraphs, dialogue must pull off the trick of sounding naturalistic while in fact being highly crafted. But it’s possible for dialogue to be too naturalistic. You have very little room to tell your story, so every line needs to count. Make sure it needs to be said, and at that particular moment, for a reason. Don’t have characters saying something just to have something to say. It happens all the time in life, but this is art. Not that every bit of dialogue has to be laden with significance, but every line should tell us something about how the character feels, or wants other people to think he feels, or should advance the story. Of course, it’s all right for a character to say things like “really?” or “ummm” if you want to make the point that they’re kind of a boring person without anything interesting to say, or that in these particular circumstances they want to say something innocuous.

5) NO PASSIVE VOICE. Writing 101. “The envelope is torn open” hardly has the dramatic impact of “he rips the envelope open”.

6) BE SPECIFIC. “Maybe some laundry on the floor”, “the action goes something like…”, “they discuss his trip”. You’re the writer, this is a universe you’re creating, so don’t leave it up to other people to fill in the blanks. The first draft will be the only place where what you say goes, so make the most of it

7) BUT NOT TOO SPECIFIC. Don’t direct. Even if you’re planning to direct the script yourself, even if you are a director who’s turned to writing, for purposes of the script you are only the humble writer. This means being very sparing with directions, both for the camera and for action. You make a story cinematic by revealing character through action, not by specifying camera angles or every little detail of what happens in the shot. Tell us what’s essential for moving the story along and leave out the rest. The director, if that ends up not being you, is going to ignore all your brilliant ideas anyway.

8) LET THE ACTORS DO THEIR JOB. By the same token, don’t tell us what the actors’ expressions should be, unless it’s not what we would expect, e.g. “as the coffin is lowered, there’s a faint smile on her face”. Write the scene properly so we know what the characters are feeling and then trust your actors and director.

9) NO KEEP OUT NOTICES. There’s no need to put copyright notices, “Registered with WGA”, “an original screenplay”, etc. on your cover page. It goes without saying you’ve taken all the necessary precautions, and to stress the fact evokes a high school notebook with “Private property! Do not open!” on it. You want to give the impression you have no need for such warnings because if anyone were to be so stupid as to try to rip you off, your lawyer, manager, and agent would be on them like a ton of bricks. In any case, your problem is far more likely to be getting potential financiers to read through your script to the end rather than their being so enamored of it they want to rip it off.

10) TYOPS. No one’s going to pass on a totally brilliant script because of a few spelling mistakes or grammatical errors, but they don’t help matters. For one thing, typos create an impression of carelessness, and if you can’t be bothered to care passionately about every word in your script, why should anyone else? Secondly, grammatical errors or poor usage (unless intentional in the dialogue) suggest you are not really in command of your craft. As noted above, you don’t have to be a great literary stylist, but if you don’t seem to know when sentences just don’t sound right, the reader will lose confidence in you (I know Quentin Tarantino is dyslexic and the original script for Reservoir Dogs was far from a model of spelling and grammatical correctness and was written on the back of a cocktail napkin or something, but I’ll bet Lawrence Bender cleaned it up before it went out. It’s also true that many producers, in the tradition of Sam Goldwyn, wouldn’t know incorrect usage if it fell on them, but development staffs tend to attract English majors, who care about these things).

Also, while imperfect punctuation is hardly going to undermine your credibility, not putting question marks at the end of questions in the dialogue or putting question marks where they don’t belong suggests you’re not really hearing how the dialogue will sound when it’s spoken as opposed to written. Similarly, the grammar police will not be monitoring your comma use but how you use commas indicates you’re hearing (or not) how a line will be phrased and you’re aware that actors need to breathe now and then. Finally, lots of exclamation points do not add dramatic excitement.

The problems I’ve mentioned are all very easy to avoid and it doesn’t require an enormous amount of talent to do so. Unfortunately, getting them right is no substitute for the ability to bring a story to life. The perceptive reader will have noticed I’ve avoided dealing with the big issues, like creating believable, involving characters who get up off the page and walk around, or tight, fast-moving structures. Those things are hard to get right. It’s more like the difference between showing up for a job interview in a torn T-shirt and dirty jeans or looking sharp. It doesn’t really affect how qualified you are, but it never hurts to make a good first impression.

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Find Ellin on Twitter here and via her website and blog, here.

Get The Most Out of Speed Pitching by Jared Kelly

Posted on: September 30th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay 3 Comments

One of the more outstanding elements of the London Screenwriters’ Festival is the Speed Pitching. Whether it’s with agents, producers or both, speed pitching presents the golden opportunity to get your desperate face in front of the creative behemoths and life-changing giants who spend the rest of their year locked behind The Firewall of F*** Off.

There can often be a whisper of negativity and cynicism surrounding these kinds of sessions, especially from those who have participated in similar events and not had any success, but success really boils down to three massively important factors:

1. Have you got something that they want?

2. Can you present it to them in a way that makes them understand what you’re selling?

3. Have you got a snub-nosed .38 pointing at them under the desk when you slide them the “read my script or die” note?

I’ve speed pitched before. I pitched to three producers and it resulted in all requesting to read my work without me having to fire a single shot.

The guidelines are very straightforward: research who you’re pitching to, prepare the very best pitch you possibly can, and present it to the best of your ability without ******* your pants. Although the speed pitching sessions lasts five minutes, you really need to be pitching your project in 30 seconds, definitely in under a minute, allowing enough time to chat about your script and work. If you give a confident and succinct pitch, you are more likely to have a confident discussion about that script in the time remaining. If you don’t think you can pitch your project in under a minute, then you won’t be able to pitch it in five. I pitched two projects in each five-minute session and had a relaxed chat about both of them. Two producers requested to read one, the other wanted to read both. It is doable.

You need to strip your story back to basics to cater for the event and also for small attention spans. I guarantee it’s much better to have a brief pitch that leaves questions than a rambling pitch that creates doubt, plus, no matter how well rehearsed you are, the moment you sit in front of Scary Person Who Can Change Your Life, it’s understandable that you will most definitely, unquestionably, without shadow of a doubt, break down and start weeping uncontrollably, so creating a short pitch gives you less words to get wrong and less time to make a complete arse of yourself.

Introduce yourself, include any credits and awards (but leave out criminal records and diseases), thank them for their time and set the scene for your pitch. I said something like, “I’d like to pitch you a low-budget screwball comedy set in contemporary England.” Once you establish those basics they instantly know how to listen to your pitch. You’ve now got under one minute to briefly explain your story plus any business the script has been involved in (placed in any competitions, significant development, etc).

The session is immediately easier once you’ve got over that pants-soiling first hurdle, because then you’ll be fielding questions about a story and characters you should know inside out. Just don’t ramble. Have another longer and looser pitch prepared that expands your opening salvo into a half-page/one-page synopsis. Learn that in the same way and use it to riff back and forth while discussing your film.

Always have back-up pitches. Were they to apologise and say comedy isn’t really their thing, you can calmly respond with, “I have a creature-feature horror set in the Scottish Highlands at the turn of the century. Would you mind if I pitched that to you?” Hopefully this is less likely to happen because you’ll have researched who you’re pitching to in order to cater your pitch and projects to their preferences. Try saying that drunk.

Don’t take along scripts or USBs to thrust into their hands, but do take along carefully prepared one-page pitches and business cards. Your one-pager should include logline, synopsis, any script business and your details. Ask before you produce either of them. The producers who requested to read my work were not interested in my one-pagers, but other folk I met during the festival were interested in them (okay, so it was for a paper aeroplane competition in the car park, but I’ll take whatever I can).

Plan your pitch like you would when writing dialogue in a script. You need to hone it by reading it out, by performing it, to iron out any word combinations that don’t feel or sound right coming out of your mouth. Once you’ve got your pitch down, print off several copies to take with you and keep reading and rehearsing.

Remember the recipients of your pitch are not in your head (at least not until you follow them home and eat their brains), so make sure you explain your story as simply, clearly and calmly as possible without overselling yourself. Do not tell them your comedy is “hilarious” or your horror is “really scary”, that’s up to them to decide when they read it later that weekend at gunpoint.

It’s important not to confuse speed pitching with speed dating. Also, do not eat whilst pitching. I made the honest mistake of buying a baked potato with tuna, cheese and beans just before I was due to pitch. Not wanting to wait (cold beans? I don’t think so) I brought it to the pitching table. Turns out me going to all the effort of providing an extra fork for the producer is somehow not considered thoughtful. Neither is using that fork to stab the security guard. Basically, if you want to eat a baked potato during the pitching session, simply buy extra ones to give to each of the producers and agents when you sit down.

Good luck with your speed pitching and your writing and try to enjoy the experience!

Jared Kelly

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

THE ANSWER IS: “YES, OF COURSE, ONLY AN IDIOT WOULD ASK THAT.” NOW, WHAT WAS THE QUESTION?

Posted on: March 9th, 2011 by Anton No Comments

Creative director Paul Bassett Davies answers some of your FAQs (Fantastically Annoying Quibbles) about The London Comedy Writers Festival.

CAN YOU REALLY LEARN HOW TO BE FUNNY?
I’m often asked this question, usually when I’m promoting my workshop called “Yes, You Really Can Learn How To Be Funny.” In fact, the real title of my workshop is less specific and vulnerable to litigation. I’m not like a hypnotist with a book called “I Can Make You Thin.” Although I do have book coming out called “I Can Make You Wish You Were Less Gullible (Price: £95). Okay, to answer the question. The way I see it, comedy is a mindset. It’s a way of thinking that uses certain muscles. You can learn how to locate and exercise those muscles, in the way that when you learn to ride a bike you start using muscles that you didn’t use before. That doesn’t mean you’ll automatically become an Olympic cyclist, but you can practice and get pretty good at it, and at the very least you should be able to cycle to your destination without falling off. Unless your bike is a bit frisky, and tries to throw you. That sometimes happens if the bicycle has been drinking.

 

WILL I LEARN HOW TO BE FUNNY AT THE FESTIVAL?
No. But you’ll learn everything else about comedy writing.

 

CAN YOU BE MORE SPECIFIC, PLEASE?
Sure. You’ll learn some basic techniques and dynamics of comedy writing. You’ll learn how some very successful professional comedy writers got where they are. You’ll learn how rising stars of comedy writing are breaking into the business, and how you can do it, too. You’ll learn how to get your work seen by the people who control the routes into broadcast comedy; how to write what will appeal to them; how to approach and pitch to them, and how to convince them to commission you. You’ll learn how to vastly improve your chances of writing a successful, produced comedy feature film. You’ll learn about the other avenues that are opening up in web comedy and transmedia. You’ll learn about effective writing disciplines and how partnerships work. You’ll learn how hard it is, and how rewarding it can be.

WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE CAN TEACH ME ALL THAT?
Well known names like Dan Mazer, Robert Popper, Rhona Cameron, Griff Rhys Jones, Jessica Hynes. (I’m not going to list their credits; if you don’t know them, check out their profiles for yourself on the site. What am I, your mother?) Also those whose work you’ll certainly recognize, if not their names; people like Paul Jackson and Jon Plowman, who have had, and continue to have, a massive influence. And some very important people you may not know about, like Simon Wilson, who makes the decisions about commissioning comedy at the BBC, and Lucy Lumsden, who is spearheading Sky’s drive into the original comedy market, and Newsjack producer Tilusha Ghelani. We’ve also got seasoned professionals like Brian Leveson and Paul Minett, who’ve written a whole string of mainstream TV hits and can give you invaluable insights into the craft, Rob Grant, and Doug Naylor, the co-creators of Red Dwarf, both of whom are now exploring great new projects, and John Langdon, who has been Rory Bremner’s main writer for ever.

WHAT ABOUT THESE PRE-FESTIVAL WORKSHOPS?
Three great session with a little more time to get into it. March 15th: the creators of BBC Online phenomenon Misery Bear look at the whole process of online comedy, especially using animation. Check out their latest film for Comic Relief. And then check out everything else they’ve ever done, especially Dawn of the Ted. It’s all very, very funny. March 22nd: simply about the best comedy writing masterclass you’ll get in under three hours, from Red Dwarf co-creator Rob Grant. March 29th: an intensive hands-on topical sketch writing workshop, in which you’ll participate in putting together a sketch from the day’s news, run by Paul Bassett Davies. Hey, he’s got the same name as me. What are the chances?

CAN YOU THINK OF ANY REASON WHY AN ASPIRING COMEDY WRITER LIKE ME SHOULDN’T SIEZE THIS AMAZING OPPORTUNITY FOR MYSELF AND MY CAREER THAT I REALLY CAN’T AFFORD TO MISS?
Let me think. Er… no.

 

Being Prepared – Leilani gets ready!

Posted on: October 29th, 2010 by Leilani No Comments
Leilani Holmes ~ Festival Delegate
Blogging live for and from the London Screenwriters Festival

 

Hello all. I’m Leilani, one of the festival delegates and I shall be live blogging and tweeting (from @momentsoffilm on twitter) this weekend to share my experiences of the very first London Screenwriters Festival with everyone who reads and shares these posts.

Just a bit about me first. I’m a professional actor and in my spare time I’ve been screenwriting now since 2005 (though consider myself still young in the craft). For a number of years I have been a member of The Writers’ Building, a network of screenwriters headquartered in Los Angeles and I also co-run and administrate UK collaborative filmmaking group OTTfilms where I write, direct and produce short films. My first micro-short film in 2006 Death of the Dinosaurs was nominated for a British Independent Film Award so my focus as a writer is how writing transforms onto screen and becomes realised into film. This will be my approach to the London Screenwriters Festival and I hope what I learn will prove to be informative and give everyone a flavour of the festival as I experience it for the first time as a novice writer. I shall try and keep my meanderings entertaining and not to bore you to sobs. (No promises!)

So, it’s the eve of the festival and never quite having lost my Girl Guide’s principle of ‘Be Prepared’ I’ve spent this evening sorting out my laptop ready to blog efficiently from the London Screenwriters Festival tomorrow and throughout the weekend, I’ve been going over the new schedule to make sure I’ve got myself sorted and familiarised with everything that’s happening and I’ve assembled a little pile of business cards to put in my bag (with replenishment piles at the ready to refill for Sat & Sun). I’ve checked my transport route, got my GPS ready, checked over my schedule, packed up my camera and all that’s left is to stuff everything into a bag and head off tomorrow.

Despite being this prepared I still really don’t know what to expect from the festival over the next three days or in what ways I’m going to find it helps my screenwriting or indeed maybe influences the directions I go with my work, but, what I am very prepared for is turning up with an open mind, an enthusiastic heart and being ready to soak up every single thing the festival and all it’s people have to offer me. I know how hard everyone organising the festival has been working to make the event an amazing experience for us all. I’d like to say to all the organisers and speakers a big thanks in advance of the festival, I’m sure that they are anxious everything runs smoothly and I’m confident in their abilities to ensure that’s the case and that this will be a really beneficial weekend for the delegates (no pressure guys!).

So here’s to a fun and fact filled long exciting weekend ahead, meeting people learning things, sharing things, and socialising.. well it’s not called a festival for nothing you know!

Bring it on!

Leilani Holmes

http://www.leilaniholmes.co.uk