London Screenwriters' Festival

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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.

LSF Success Stories, Pt 3. Penny Dreadful: Evolution of a Project by Elinor Perry-Smith

Posted on: October 17th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay No Comments

If I’ve learnt anything about this scriptwriting lark, it’s through the evolution of Penny Dreadful, a script I started to develop under the auspices of a scheme at London Metropolitan University. It started life as a realisation, on my part, of how fed up I was with the passive portrayal of women who are murder victims in Ripper stories.

So I decided to write a story about a woman who assumes the cloak of Jack the Ripper in order to wreak revenge. It was through London Met Uni that I met Lucy. In fact I chanted for Lucy in Buddhist fashion so that my script was assigned to her, having seen from her old blog that she was into horror. Then, ‘Penny Dreadful’ was called ‘Sever’ and it was a right old mish-mash structurally and included the sacking of Benin, a crippled aristo and more voodoo altars than you could shake a virgin’s thighbone at.

Lucy helped me sort it out into a half-decent piece of work (I think her exact words were: ‘There’s a really good idea in here, I just wish I knew what it was’) and subsequently, myself and some of the other participants presented it and other scripts at the EIFF. I’ve picked it up and rewritten it at least twice a year ever since. If you go to my blog you can see a short trailer for the script by MyVisualPitch. I also honed my synopsis, treatment and pitch doc skills on this story, which are just as important as the script, I now realise.

Only now, after 4 years is it anything like I hoped it would be. I tried out different versions of the first ten pages at Off the Page at the LSWF 2010 (read a review, here). I must say it was a revelation to me to see my words come to life with the skilled direction of Michael Clarkson and the cast seemed to be enjoying themselves very much. Matthieu Gras created some excellent storyboards that suited the story well and Nick Norton-Smith composed some suitably atmospheric music. I honestly couldn’t fault it.

I made some revisions to the first ten pages and entered them at Bafta 2011 with the Rocliffe New Writers’ Forum where ‘Penny Dreadful’ was trashed by the esteemed Julian Fellowes! He didn’t seem to like it at all, particularly the aristos being spanked by East End whores, though perhaps I touched a nerve there?

I’ve met a lot of good people over the years writing Penny Dreadful  and can’t recommend a live reading highly enough in terms of seeing how actors bring your words to life and how audiences react.

My latest plan is to turn Penny into a graphic novel. Another new skill for me! Bring it on…

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!

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… 

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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.

Success stories from the festival

Posted on: September 20th, 2011 by Chris Jones 1 Comment

Henry placed 2nd out of 115 entries

It’s said you have to “speculate to accumulate” – and this certainly seems true in building your career as a screenwriter and/or filmmaker. It seems there are companies, initiatives and organisations everywhere just begging for your hard-earned cash, promising you training and opportunities in return. But are they worth it?

We can’t speak for the others, but we think London Screenwriters Festival is! We subscribe to the notion that we’re “all in this together” – and we designed the festival, its ethos and everything within it (including the schedule) on the basis of what WE’D like to have access to, as well! We got tired of expensive courses and schemes that offered time-limited opportunities to their delegates; we wanted to create a whole NETWORK for ours, not just in our private group but across social media and blogs, where people could meet and foster creative partnerships for years to come. The motto of London Screenwriters Festival is “inspire, educate, connect” on this basis.

But don’t take OUR word for it. There have been many success stories from last year’s festival already. We asked Henry Fosdike, the second place winner of our Short Script Challenge 2010 his thoughts on LSF and what he’s been up to since the festival…

“… Prior to the LSF, I hadn’t entered many competitions.” Henry says, “I was just starting my final year at Bournemouth University studying Scriptwriting for Film and Television and had decided that entering contests could be beneficial to my writing as it’s all feedback at the end of the day.”

Henry entered his dark short THE DECISION into our contest: “The original concept was for the job interview scenario to involve killing someone, a bit like those tough and violent movies that Asia have become so well known for (Battle Royale, Oldboy, etc.) The final ending only came as I was already writing it when I had a, “Oh hang on!” moment where everything suddenly came together.”

LSF’s readers noted Henry’s lean style of scene description and economical dialogue, scoring it highly on nearly all counts, meaning his script was number 2 out of a whopping 115 entries. “Naturally there was a tad of annoyance when I realised I was only one script away from winning,” Henry admits, “but that soon passed!” Henry won a ticket to the festival and was personally congratulated on stage by TV screenwriting legend Tony Jordan.

But that wasn’t it for THE DECISION, for new film production team White Tiger Films picked it up shortly after the festival, gaining Henry his first production credit. Director Trev Walsh and Henry got together after both posting on LSF Festival Organiser Lucy V’s “Film Shorts Club”, a registry of people interested in collaborating on short film. “The fact it was runner up in LSF’s contest peaked my interest,” says Trev. Like the readers at LSF however, Trev is complimentary of Henry’s writing – and his understand of logistics: “It was the writing itself and the fact that logistically it could be short with a tiny budget and in a great location I already had access to.”

There were lots to learn on the journey from the page to the screen for both Henry and Trev. “I learned a hell of a lot through the production process, a real baptism by fire.” Trev explains, “There were inevitable mistakes made during filming, but overall I am pleased with how it came together in the edit.” Henry agrees. “There wasn’t much editing of it that needed to be done, but there were a couple of slight changes for logistical purposes, including changing the gun from a pistol to a shotgun. It’s all the better for it.”

So what’s next for Henry and Trev? “Having just graduated, I am currently spending my days writing all sorts – a novel, a number of screenplays and a play. When I’m happy with the back catalogue, I shall go about trying to find an agent and hopefully go from there!” Says Henry. It’s more of the same for Trev, too: “I am currently in production on an ambitious short film with huge production values, Big Pink, which is aimed at Cannes 2012.” Big Pink was even written by LSF’s Short Script Challenge winner, Laurence Timms!

So was it all worth it? Henry thinks so – and recommends the festival itself, too. “I got some great tips from a wide variety of speakers – Linda Aronson being my personal favourite – and a chance to meet new people who are all just as passionate about writing as I am! Some of these people have become firm friends so I’d definitely recommend it to anyone pondering whether or not to attend.”

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

Comedy: It’s All In The Delivery… Of Everything!!

Posted on: February 27th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay 2 Comments

Jim Carrey as Fletcher in LIAR LIAR

When asked to do development notes on a comedy script (feature, sitcom or TV pilot), one of the things Bang2writers inevitably want me to comment on is this question: “Is the dialogue funny?” Most are surprised then when I answer, “Is it important at this stage?”

Now of course the **obvious** answer is “Duh, it’s a comedy, OF COURSE it’s important!” But let’s look at the evidence:

Show It, Don’t Tell It. Every writer knows scriptwriting is not JUST about dialogue… Except, it seems, when they’re writing COMEDY. I’ve lost count of the number of comedy scripts I’ve read  - both specs and commissioned, especially features – that seem to rely wholly on dialogue for laughs, so we end up with very little physical comedy at all. This seems a wasted opportunity, since even the most cerebral of comedy also demands a small level of physical interraction or visual gags/back up in the very least, else the comedy feels “one-sided”.

Comedy relies on structure. The best comedy is almost “inevitable” in its approach: we’re led TO the punchline or comedic moment in the pay off. In order to do this then the best we can, we need a proper SET UP. Yet writers are so frequently hung up on *how funny* the dialogue is, they forget about set up and pay off, the very basics. If we then add structure *as a whole* – The Three Acts in features, the story of the week vs the serial element in TV pilots or the A & B Strands of Sitcom (returning to the status quo per episode) – then the problem with structure at grass roots in comedy is exacerbated. This then means a huge proportion of comedy scripts are doing the rounds which are essentially *just* a string of gags, rather than a holistic story; some even lack an identity altogether, leading script readers to write “what *is* this?” in coverage, in terms of where it “fits”. Sounds strange, but then knowing your audience and what they expect in terms of conventions is very much part of comedy (as it is all genre). So isn’t it better to work on the STORY and how it WORKS OUT before you work on the “funny dialogue”? (more…)