London Screenwriters' Festival

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The Guru In The Attic: Memento – A Weak Story, Redeemed By Structure? By Linda Aronson

Posted on: October 25th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay No Comments

Brought to you by Charlotte Bronte and Linda Aronson

Read The Guru In The Attic, Pt 1 HERE.

The story so far…

At Thornfield Hall

In the swamps near Thornfield Hall, Jane Eyre is catatonic with repressed lust for Mr Rochester, who hasn’t noticed because his reality TV show, So You think You can do an Appendectomy, has a chance of finance from a wealthy international organ donor bank that’s hoping for a spin-off called Strictly Come Kidney Harvesting.

Meanwhile, the guru in the attic, non-linear and parallel narrative script expert Bertha Antoinetta Rochester, has been approached by Steroid Productions to write a bio-pic about the Borgias called The Pope with the Dragon Tattoo, to be shot in Far North Queensland starring Hugh Grant as Pope Alexander VI and Vin Diesel as Michelangelo.

Bertha receives a letter.

Dear Guru in the Attic,

I have recently been approached by a group of businessmen who run a dispute resolution company. They want me to write a crime movie. However, while half of the group want me to construct it like Memento the other half have heard that Memento has a weak storyline made interesting only by its structure, so want it linear and say all non-linear is rubbish. What should I do?

Screenwriter (name withheld)

PS. At meetings these men all wear glasses, insist on sitting with their backs to the wall, and last week paid me for a treatment in bank notes stained with red dye. One laughingly said that if I didn’t write the film like Memento, I would get my kneecaps tickled with a persuader. Since I am not ticklish this does not worry me. However, should I register the treatment with the Writers’ Guild?

Dear Screenwriter,

Quite possibly this is not the time to point out that if Memento is indeed a very weak story made brilliant only by its non-linear structure this is a reason for anyone in the film industry to run into the streets weeping with joy, since, if true, it means any old nonsense can be turned into a cult success by its structure.

Personally, I don’t think Memento’s story content is weak, however if it IS weak, isn’t that even more of a triumph for the non-linear rendering?

Non-linearity is definitely a fix for many kinds of problem scripts. Properly done, it’s not only a way to tell stories that arrive in your head obviously needing flashback, or, like The Hours or Amores Perros clearly cannot transmit their message in the standard one-hero linear way. It’s also a miraculous fix for a wide range of top-heavy, predictable or anticlimactic storylines.

However, this does not solve your problems with your producers. I would suggest plastic surgery and an air ticket to South America. By all means register your treatment with the Guild

Kindest regards,

GITA

Meanwhile, Hugh Grant, Vin Diesel and the producers of The Millennium Trilogy Project are suing Steroid Productions because none of them has heard of The Pope with the Dragon Tattoo, and in North Queensland, tropical cyclone Brian has washed four crocodiles into the Borgia Palace and the fibreglass replica statute of David was last seen heading out to sea.

Bertha is unfortunately unable to attend the LSF . However, if you’re interested in hearing more about how to construct non-linear scripts (flashbacks, ensemble films, time jumps, structures like ‘Pulp Fiction’ ‘21 Grams’, ‘ Babel’ etc) , Linda Aronson will be talking on the topic in a two hour lecture on 30 October. Visit Linda Aronson’s website HERE.

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.

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 your script read FREE by professionals at the London Screenwriters’ Festival

Posted on: October 11th, 2011 by Chris Jones No Comments

Euroscript Submissions are now live! Complimentary service for delegates.

This is a unique opportunity for delegates at the festival to receive valuable FREE professional feedback on their work from Euroscript’s team of highly experienced script editors.

You can send us material in advance, or simply come along and discuss a particular project, or your work in general. More details are on the Euroscript website.

You’re strongly advised to book an appointment, as the script clinic proved very popular and successful last year. However, we’re also running a drop-in-desk for casual visitors.

The quality of Euroscript’s script feedback is second to none, and this service gives fantastic value.

Sign up now! http://www.euroscript.co.uk/script_clinic.html

PS – If you have not yet got your pass for the festival, you can still sign up and get £30 off with the discount code TALENTCIRCLE. Go to www.LondonSWF.com now.

Love Team LSFx
www.LondonSFW.com