London Screenwriters' Festival

Archive for the ‘#scriptchat’ Category

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.

————–

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.

————————————————–

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

Four Nights In August Contest … And We Have A Winner!

Posted on: October 7th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay 5 Comments

And here it is, what we’ve all been waiting for… not least the filmmakers who’ve been on tenterhooks all day to get going on the 4 Nights In August Filmmaking Challenge! [Details/Sign up here]

And somewhat surprisingly – for us, too! – we have TWO WINNERS.

That’s right, we just couldn’t decide between these two… They were THAT good. Here they are:

Dave Turner with EVERYTHING YOU NEED.

LSF’s director Chris Jones said of this script: “The challenge was always going to be moving an audience in a single page and that’s what Dave’s script does. It also remarks on the violence without becoming political and manages to evoke a loving calm amidst violent chaos. I can’t wait to see to the movies made from this script.”

AND…

Milethia Thomas with WHY?

One of the other judges, Final Draft’s Joe Mefford, said of WHY? “The writer did a nice job of setting a scene in just one page. Short scripts are too often tilted toward too much exposition or too much dialogue.  This writer did a great job of balancing dialogue and action. Also, the writer did a good job of telling the character’s story and not just using the character to mouth his or her personal opinions.”

Well done, Dave & Milethia! You win a free ticket to London Screenwriters Festival; mentoring from script legend Barrie Keefe; £125 each; a year’s subscription of Moviescope Magazine; a copy of The Knowledge; Final Draft ScriptXpert Analysis worth $300 and of course, most **importantly**: a lovely shiny award!!!

What’s brilliant about this result is this is going to create a REALLY interesting dynamic to The Filmmaking Challenge now – who will choose each film, what will they do with it, how will each turn out… And which story will win?? ‘Cos there REALLY WILL be only one winner in that contest!!!

I can safely say this has been the MOST DIFFICULT scriptwriting contest I have been involved in. The quality was SO high it just melted my brain. I’ve written to everyone on the shortlist to thank them for their entries and give them some brief feedback on what I LOVED about their work – ‘cos I really did love all of them!!!

And WELL DONE to each and every entrant of the Script Challenge, you really made me and my reading team – not to mention the judges – work our SOCKS OFF. Kudos!!! Feeling very emotional right now!

So now… are you ready? FILMMAKERS, GO MAKE THOSE FILMS…

Download them both here and make your choice!

GO GO GO!!!!

4 Nights In August Script Competition – Shortlist Announced!

Posted on: October 5th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay 2 Comments

 

There has been major deliberation going on here at LSF Towers – not to mention some screaming, crying and general fisticuffs as to WHO goes through from the longlist to the coveted shortlist of The 4 Nights In August  Screenplay Challenge.

As with the creation of the longlist, yet MORE hard decisions had to be made.  However due to the quality of the entries we were not able to whittle it down to  the final 5 as expected, so instead we have a final 12!

Without further ado then and in alphabetical order ONLY:

BIRTHDAY by Michelle Golder

BURNING BOOKS by Steve Irwin

EVERYTHING YOU NEED by Dave Turner

FATHER TO THE MAN by Liz Holliday

FOUR DAYS ERE THE FESTIVAL OF DEACON LAURENCE IN AUGUSTUS by Sara Atiiyan

I WITNESS by Gareth Turpie

IN HEAD by Jamie Wolpert

LOST & FOUND by Mikey Jackson

RIOTERS AT THE GATES by Jon Cronin & Anna Carmichael

THE GAME by Terence Barry

WHY? by Milethia Thomas

YOU by Dominic Brancaleone

What’s great about this shortlist is that each entry is very different in its own way, presenting very intricate stories that reflect the complex issues behind the riots. We have entries here full of light and shade; nostalgia; even comedy. The styles of storytelling too are very different, with dialogue and non-dialogue scripts; talking heads and even almost “war reporting” cinema-verite styles to name a few. Several have no human or animal characters in whatsoever.

The longlisted entrants who did not get through to the shortlist this time however must not despair – they placed in the top 16% of the contest, no mean feat at all when we had so many entries. And they have no idea how close to fisticuffs Team LSF REALLY came…

Don’t forget you can see inside the spec pile as a whole for the contest by clicking here.  And here’s a blog about coping with rejection for anyone who needs it. And stay away from windows for at least 24 hours! ; )

NEXT ANNOUNCEMENT: The Winner!!! Coming VERY soon… Watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Nights In August – A Look In The Spec Pile

Posted on: October 4th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay 6 Comments

A small change of plan – whilst we’re waiting for the longlist to get whittled down, we’re going to give you an overview of the script pile and how it looked to our readers during the Four Nights In August 1 Page Screenplay Challenge.

We had a MASSIVE 241 entries, a HUGE response! To put into perspective, our previous 1 page contest for April’s Comedy Festival, “Laugh A Minute” had 97 entries. Even our Short Script Challenge for last year’s LSF main event couldn’t come close at 115 entries.

First, the boring stuff. As with our Laugh A Minute contest, there were lots of people NOT READING THE BRIEF! Shockingly, quite a few people submitted scripts in files other than the requested PDFs, with .doc the favourite. In addition, some entries were submitted that were LONGER than one page. For some entries, it was obvious what had happened – a line or two had “fallen off” the page to the next when converted to PDF, which was no big deal. But several were MUCH longer, even up to three pages!

Interestingly, the number of female entrants was a little lower in this contest than Laugh A Minute or The LSF Short Script Challenge last year, with women appearing to make up approximately 60% of 4 Nights In August entrants. In contrast, it was a rough half/half split in the previous two contests.

Very few scripts were actually CALLED “Four Nights In August” (though there was no reason they *had* to be). Some titles were weird and wacky; others poignant. Probably the most frequent titles that appeared (other than the expected “Riot”) were variations of words and phrases like SHATTER, FRAGMENT, LONDON’S BURNING, MOB, LIKE FATHER LIKE SON, FRACTURE, BLAME, LOOT, CONSEQUENCE and CHANCE. Interestingly, not one entry was called I PREDICT A RIOT! Plenty of people used the Martin Luther King quote on their title pages however, “A riot is the language of the unheard”.

Following yesterday’s announcement of the longlist and the flagging up of “infeasible” scripts, a couple of people have emailed or messaged me to ask why this notion was not included in the rules. The main reason: ‘cos it wasn’t a rule! As with all script contests, “feasibility” was just ONE element scripts were scored on, so inevitably some scripts that scored low for feasibility still went through to the second round, whilst others that scored highly did not. We announced the Filmmaking Challenge at the same time as the screenwriting contest so scribes could have all the facts on what was happening next, but it was not a requirement, since there would obviously be *some* leeway for directors and teams to “re-imagine” events in the story… BUT it was also worth remembering we wanted the winning script to be available to every filmmaker, “no-budget” or not – and not just professionals with access to lots of equipment and contacts. In addition, I also asked my readers to consider whether “re-imagining” stories for safety’s sake  as well as individuals’ inevitable personal interpretations would end up with filmmakers making completely different films from what was intended on the page of the winning script. It was a VERY difficult balance and obviously my readers could only use their own judgement on all of this, but it was not something they or I took lightly.

In addition to “feasibility” then, the readers scored for the usual such as presentation, story/structure and “other” (sometimes visuals/arena was noted here, but also dialogue, in case of non-dialogue scripts – and there were many, given the brief). As ever, the usual issues with format raised their ugly heads, particularly an over-reliance on bold and capital letters for “impact”. Almost without exception these actually interfered with the “flow” of the read, so it really is worth thinking about. Check out my comprehensive Format 1 Stop Shop here or take a look at Danny Stack’s “screenwriting bullet” on format he posted recently, here.

We also looked at how the reader was affected by the message, tone or “point” of each script, noted “impact” on the score sheet. Given the seriousness of the riots, we received more scripts than we anticipated of a comedic nature, which was a pleasant surprise – and some were genuinely amusing or even laugh out loud funny. Inevitably however, the vast majority of the scripts were very serious in tone with specific moral messages or statements about society. The readers tended to feel the stand-out entries were the ones that managed to show some kind of contrast or balance to their stories and the complex issues behind the riots. No mean feat in just one page!

Many scripts shared essentially the SAME STORY, despite being written by different, unconnected people – as flagged up in advance by (non-judge) Linda Aronson in her blog post on coming up with ideas for the contest. This is of course made it even HARDER for individual scripts to stand out in the pile. There were no less than FOUR stories or story elements that appeared multiple times:

1) Young people set up *as* looters, only for the final reveal to show them as part of the riot clean up.

2) People you would not expect looting – the elderly were a firm favourite, followed by the police.

3) People criticising parents for not raising their children “right” – only to see their OWN child partaking in the riots and looting.

And finally:

4) Interestingly, a small but significant number of entrants wrote very visual scripts from the POV of an inanimate objec in the riots, such as weapons and aerosol cans, but also household items helping the clean up operation, ie. mops, buckets, etc.

This also backs up my notion of what I call “zeitgeist scripts” – screenplays written by unconnected people, at a specific time, usually because of something that’s happened in the news or a particularly popular show or film doing well. So next time you’re tempted to think someone’s “nicked” your idea, remember this!

4 Nights In August Script Comp – Longlisted Entries!!

Posted on: October 3rd, 2011 by Lucy V Hay 6 Comments

So we had a whopping 241 of entries for the Four Nights In August Competition! To say we were surprised is an understatement. Traditionally, script calls with very specific and difficult briefs like ours usually attract a small amount of entries and our readers initially predicted 50 – 60 entries, yet we received well in excess of this with a WEEK to go before the deadline. Amazing!

As ever, we’ll give you a look inside the spec pile, but first we will announce the top placing entries and their writers. All of the scripts below made it through the first round, gaining a second read. In NO particular order then:

BROOM by Dan Rogers
YOUNG PEOPLE TODAY by Debbie Moon
CHOICE by Gavin Harrison
SHATTERED by Lewis Swift
LOST AND FOUND by Mikey Jackson
OLD NEWS by Nicholas Buss
THE CHOICE by Kristi Barnett
AMY By Louisa Fielden
BURNING BOOKS by Steve Irwin
IN HEAD by Jamie Wolpert
KALAMATA by Hugh Prior
YOU by Dominic Brancaleone
PIRANHA by Kevin Pacey
SPLIT by Alexander Roy
HANNAH & GEORGE by Chip Tolson
FRACTURED by Lynne O’ Sullivan
BIRTHDAY by Michelle Golder
KIDS LIKE US by Martin Thelwell
WASTE by Bev Prosser
WORD ON THE STREET by Christian Hayes
OPPORTUNITY NOX by Stephen Atherton & Ian Gilbertson
WHY? By Milethia Thomas
EVERYTHING YOU NEED by Dave Turner
AFTERSHOCK by Christina Tring
BULLSEYE by Tom Kwei
CONSEQUENCE by Anne Marie Fry
4 NIGHTS IN AUGUST by Mark Hodges
FATHER TO THE MAN by Liz Holliday
THE ARROGANCE OF YOUTH by Sheila McGill
CAUSE & EFFECT by Jordan Sheehy
THEM & US by Daniel Hill
TWO FACES by Joseph Ackroyd
THE FLAME OF MY ANGER by Bella Nova
THE GAME by Terence Barry
RIOTERS AT THE GATES by Jon Cronin & Anna Carmichael
CHOCOLATE by Lizzie Mason
I WITNESS by Gareth Turpie
HOME INVASION by Christopher Bevan
FOUR DAYS ERE THE FESTIVAL OF DEACON LAWRENCE IN AUGUSTUS by Sara Atayiian

Please don’t be despondent if your script didn’t make it through the first round. As ever, there were some hard decisions to be made – I know competition readers always say that, but that’s ‘cos it’s TRUE! But don’t take my word for it, here’s some “insider info” from our readers about scripts that did not make it past the first round, yet they still loved:

Asib Akram, YESTERDAY’S NEWS. Our reader said, “I would have loved to have put this one through, but the petrol bombs just made it infeasible for the second phase of the contest, the filmmaking challenge.”

Karena Marie Satchwell, AMATEURS. Our reader said, “Brilliantly executed dialogue, the transitions from character to character were fab – but with so much smashing of property, it was just unsuitable for the filmmaking challenge.”

J Mockridge, OUTSIDE LOOKING IN. Our reader said, “A great idea with an interesting twist, but I was unsure of how it could be “translated” by MANY filmmaking teams without making an essentially identical film each time.”

Nikki Edwards, FRAGMENTS. Our reader said, “This one stood out for its simple yet effective structure… However this script scored low in feasibility too due to the need to break into a car AND break a shop window. Much of the first half of the script would have needed to be modified by filmmakers.”

Christopher Schiller, STAY HOME, STAY SAFE & Harry Loney, TOCK. Our reader said, “They both fell down on feasibility, but they both stood out for me because I really enjoyed them.” (Sometimes it really is as simple as that).

These are just a handful of the great scripts we received – and perhaps already you may see why your entry did not make it past the first round, as “feasibility” for no-budget filmmaking teams was key to ensure scripts progressed … If not however, don’t worry: I will be composing an in-depth “look in the spec pile” as usual later in the week, so keep your eyes peeled!

Team LSF are working very hard now to whittle down these longlisted 39 entries a shortlist and our next announcement is just days away. Good luck!

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

Don’t Just Stand There, Adapt Something by Paul Bassett Davies

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

 

The other day I got a parking ticket. I was very impressed by its potential, so I’m adapting it into a film. It’s a high concept project and it will appeal to the most profitable contemporary audience demographic: people who will watch anything. I like to think the title says it all:

Parking Ticket – The Movie.

In fact, the title says so much that I may not have to write anything else. Writing tends to gum up the machinery of film adaptation, which is now an efficient industrial process that renders everything into the same product, whatever its origins. Who cares what the film is about? The action sequences will be like epileptic siezures, with special effects that punch you in the retina so hard you wouldn’t notice stuff like story and character anyway. The only purpose is to impress you, regardless of how well the thing works. It’s like someone buying a solid gold bidet and then installing it in the living room.

Now try this simple test about forthcoming film adaptations. Are the following statement true or false? Answers below.

DR. SEUSS
The next film to be based on the work of Dr Seuss is called Tomatoes, Tuna and Toilet Roll and is adapted from a shopping list found in a pair of his trousers.

POPEYE
The charismatic matelot is re-launched as a brooding nautical avenger. As a boy, Popeye (Justin Timberlake) sees his uncle Bluto (Colin Firth) murder his parents with poisoned spinach. He runs away to sea and endures unspeakable abuse aboard a series of tramp steamers, from a series of tramps. A ship’s purser, an undercover Tibetan lama (Denzel Washington), takes Popeye to a remote temple and trains him in secret techniques of enlightened violence. His final challenge is to face his worst fear: spinach. He eats it, and discovers that it unleashes an awesome power, which he vows to use only in slow-motion. He returns to confront Bluto, and to woo the enigmatic Olive Oyl (Natalie Portman).

SPEED LIMIT
Several big studios are developing films based on road signs. The most notable is the Tarantino project STOP, about a team of driving test examiners who are secret Ninja assassins.

Answers:

1. False. The shopping list was found in his raincoat.

2. True. Or it would be, if any of the studios I pitched the idea to would recognize its brilliance.

3. False. The most notable is the Charlie Kaufman script about a screenwriter writing a script about a writer trying to adapt a map of the Beverly Hills traffic flow system into a movie. The action is set inside a suitcase that’s been left on a bus.

There’s a paradox here. Producers want adaptations because they figure there’s a better chance of people liking a film if they liked whatever it was before it was a film. On the other hand, whatever it was before it was a film is going to be irrelevant once the film has changed it beyond all recognition. The only thing you can be sure of is that producers distrust original ideas and don’t want to risk money on some crazy nonsense that a writer made up out of their own head. Why should they, when anyone can still walk into a kid’s bedroom and find a toy, comic book or game that hasn’t yet been used as the basis for a film? By the way, if you’re going to snoop around a kid’s bedroom it’s best if it’s your own kid’s room.

Of course, there are good and bad adaptations, and the best ones are reinventions not rewrites. You can make a fresh work of art when you turn a book into a play, or a play into a film, or a collection of songs into a musical, unless the songs are by Queen and the musical is We Will Rock You, obviously. Tim Burton’s first Batman movies created a new world, stimulated by the comic books that had already reimagined the character. Great adaptation is a process of transformation, and many of them take liberties with their source material. In ‘Chimes at Midnight’ Orson Welles turned three separate Shakespeare plays into a fresh story about Falstaff, and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet was a blast even if it offended some purists. They’re the same people who object that Shakespeare didn’t write a version of ‘The Tempest’ which ends with a crew of gay sailors dancing around an octagenarian blues singer performing ‘Stormy Weather’, so why did Derek Jarman film it that way? Maybe because it’s better than simply putting a camera in front of a stage play and expecting it to work as a film. But adaptation can be tricky for writers. You need to be able to make the material your own, and at the same time you need to respect its origins. You’re screwing around with another writer’s work. It’s even worse if you’re adapting your own material because the original author is always there, giving you a hard time.

Novelists, playwrights and TV writers are now aware that their work might be adapted into a film. Even screenwriters know their film might be adapted into another film, especially if they’ve committed the eccentric solecism of not being American. If you’re French, Swedish or even English, it must be annoying to know that the more successful the film you write, the greater the chance that Hollywood will turn it into a bucket of steaming donkey vomit. I’m prevented from discussing the exceptions to this rule by the red mist that descends every time I think about The Ladykillers or Dinner for Schmucks (originally Le Diner du Cons), which were great films that were then degraded into vile insults to the human spirit. You might say I’m talking about remakes now, not adaptations, and I might agree that you’re technically right, but morally wrong to deny me the satisfaction of a good rant on the grounds of a minor category error, and then in a few days I might cut the brake pipes on your car.

But if we’re aware that what we write could end up being adapted, and it affects the way we write, is that always such a bad thing? Literary critics often accuse authors of writing novels with an eye on the movie adaptation. “It reads more like a screenplay than a book,” they sniff. But some authors have always written cinematically, and some of them were doing it long before the invention of cinema. And many great authors wrote adaptations. Dickens collaborated on stage plays based on his stories, and Shakespeare ‘adapted’ (i.e., stole) ideas from historical and literary sources. These writers were happy to recycle material, both their own and other people’s. They were working stiffs who needed to make a crust. “That’s right,” people say, “if Dickens was around today, he’d be making money by writing for TV cop shows!” Maybe. But it’s more likely that if Dickens was around today he’d be making money by selling whatever it is that’s kept him alive for two hundred years.

If film adaptations, good or bad, currently dominate the market, can you still pitch an original idea of your own? Yes, with the reservations I’ve already outlined in my article How to Have Someone Else’s Idea. But here’s another strategy: pitch an original idea but make it sound like an adaptation. Reassure producers it’s based on something that’s already been succesful. They’re not actually interested in the source material, they just want to know that this thing didn’t come out of nowhere. In this respect Hollywood is Darwinian and not Creationist. What they really want to hear is that your idea was originally a popular cave painting, and has since appeared as a book, an edition of sepia photogravures, a long running radio show, several films, a TV series, a comic book, a children’s cartoon, and a beer commercial. Tell them you’re not doing anything new, and then do something new. Sure, it will need to conform loosely to what they expect a film to be like right now. But everything changes, and meanwhile you have to do what it takes to work as a writer. We all have to see which way the wind is blowing, and make the best of it. We have to adapt.

NB: This article is currently being adapted into a ringtone.

Paul Bassett Davies runs a blog, The Writer Type – find him on Twitter here.

Networking The Shirt Off Your Back by Janice Day

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

Writing’s hard. I discovered this when I was five years old and was told off for plagiarising the work of the little girl at the next desk. The teacher had asked us to write our name. I figured that if I copied the strange marks on my neighbour’s page I would be able to write my name too. The little girl was flattered and we became friends. Result!

And the writing? The teacher said one of us must have copied the other and her money was on the one who wasn’t called Susan.

Hey ho, at least I’d made a friend. Many years later I’m still much better at networking than I am at writing, and looking forward to my Networking Workshop at this year’s Festival.

I teach Interface Networking. That means I can help you to make that all important personal connection with the industry player who’s going to make you money.

Of course I can only teach it because I learned it at the coal-face. Unconscious networking is a doddle. We’ve all been doing that since we first shouted “Get off me you bastard” to the nurse who smacked our arses on arrival.

But conscious networking has most of us stumped. And I was no exception…

I stared up at the speaker, a celebrated screenwriting agent. She’s the one, I thought: confident, sassy, passionate and tough. She knows her onions. I want her.

 I followed her to the bar and joined the queue of writers nonchalantly pretending that they weren’t queuing to speak to her.

 As I moved up the queue I practiced my perfect pitch. This was it! I knew I must reveal myself as her next must-have new client. I just had to.

 Suddenly I was on. My mouth dried up, a ball of tumbleweed rolled across my vision and the eerie sound of nothingness whistled in my ears. While she looked at me expectantly, my knuckles grazed the floor and a little sliver of drool escaped from the corner of my mouth. My eyes rolled back up into my head. The seconds ticked away. 

 “What a lovely shirt,” she said, to break the ice.

“Would you like it?” I said. “You can have it. Honestly.”

 Right.

 But, hey, there’s always another chance. The next time I bumped into her…

 “We met last year. You said you liked my shirt. I’ve got it with me. Shall I get it?”

 Hmmm.

 But, hey, there really is always another chance. The next time I bumped into her…

 It occurred to me that she might be tired and thirsty after her speech. She was only human after all.

 I approached her as she came off the stage and offered to buy her a drink. I said I’d get the drinks in and find a table in the bar. She accepted gratefully and joined me after she’d seen off the wannabes offering her the shirts off their backs. We began a relationship and not long after that I joined her agency.

 The difference?

Acts I and II were about me. Act III was about her… 

————————————

Janice Day is a Writer Performer and Writers’ Agent who teaches Interface Networking. Author of the comedy cancer memoir GETTING IT OFF MY CHEST, she is currently working on its stage adaptation with top West End Director Matthew Gould. The film adaptation is in development with Island Pictures. She’s also developing a documentary about Adult ADHD with Maverick Television.

Everybody Knows Everything by Daniel Eckhart

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

The post’s title is the upside down version of William Goldman’s famous quote about Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything”. As a screenwriting newbie, take it to heart. Believe in yourself and realize that you have all it takes. You, my friend, have as much of a chance of making it in this crazy business as everybody else out there.

I’ll let you in on a little secret – writing a screenplay is easy. As you start out on your screenwriter journey you’ll want to learn, of course. You’ll read the many how-to books, you’ll attend the workshops and seminars, you’ll follow websites, forums, blogs – and of course you’ll be attending the London Screenwriters’ Festival. All of the above is useful as this business is incredibly multi-faceted. But all of the above is also dangerous. It can keep you from writing, it can stop you in your tracks. It can serve as indefinite excuse, as there’s always something more for you to learn before you actually begin with your brilliant story. In addition, all of that knowledge offered out there can seriously drag you down to the point where you think you’ll never be able to get it right.

I’m neither wizard nor guru – I’m just an average screenwriter schmo. I’ve been at it for twenty years now and I have the good fortune of getting hired for doing what I love doing. About a year ago I started a screenwriting blog and guess what – most of the post are not about the actual craft – but instead about everything else – about passion, discipline, stamina, meetings, collaborating – about all the stuff I’ve picked up along the way. Basically, it’s about living life, attitude, guts – it’s about believing in yourself when everybody tells you to give up and go home.

Which brings me back to the beginning – writing is easy. Learn from others, but don’t depend on them. Trust your instincts and stay true to yourself. YOU – CAN – WRITE. And write you must – if you don’t, you’re not a writer, simple as that. And no, you’re not going to be Aaron Sorkin right away – but once you start writing, you’re on your way.

That’s it, there’s no great magic – it’s just words, it’s just life – now go write!

Daniel Martin Eckhart