London Screenwriters' Festival

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I Hate Pitching By Neal Romanek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE ON PITCHES

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

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

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

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

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.

Announcement: LSF Advanced Mentor Programme Candidates

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

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

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

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

Nell Denton, THE JAZZ TSAR

Graham Walker, HEARTS AND MINDS

David McCrea, LONDON CALLING

David Atkinson, THE REALITY PRINCIPLE

Jacqui Canham, VERA OF THE ADMIRALTY

David Gilhooly, ROUNDABOUT

DAVID REYNOLDS’ FAMILY AUDIENCES WORKSHOP

Darrin Grimwood, MYTHOS.

Stephen Potts, COMPASS MURPHY

Guy Fee, THE BOY WHO LOST CHRISTMAS

Julia Andersen, THE LEFT HAND

Nick Horwood, GURK THE SLAYER.

 Norah Henderson, CHUBB & PETER KING

GUB NEAL’s “PRODUCER’S DEN”

 Sophie Petzal, SANCTIONED

Dominic Carver, WHITE KNIGHT

Tom Kerevan, WRECKERS

Paul Goetzee, OUT ON A LIMB

Steve Turnbull, MONSTERS.

Richard Wheildon, I AM YOU

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

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

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

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

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

Positive & Negative Deadlines by Michelle Goode

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

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

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

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

Positive deadlines:

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

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

Negative deadlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writers Helping Other Writers By Neal Romanek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Not To Write by Ellin Stein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

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.