London Screenwriters' Festival

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Hollywood Comes to London ~ How To Play The Players #LondonSWF

Posted on: October 28th, 2013 by Leilani No Comments

Producer Iain Smith, Producer Ned Dowd, Executive Producer Luke Ryan and Agent Brandy Rivers came together on this panel to give some insight into the Hollywood dream, and it’s realities. Answering questions and putting forth their own take on the best way to approach entry to the system in LA, there session was both fun and informative.

Here are a few of my favourite snippets.

  • The most fertile relationship is by far the one between a writer and producer
  • Time and money are the studio questions about scripts above artistic merit or other factors. Just okay movies can still make money. The investment risk is a real factor and it’s concept and spectacle therefore that are being pushed forward.
  • Think beyond single scripts. It’s how you write that matters. You can get more from the work you get off the back of the quality of your script than you do from selling the script itself.
  • Don’t be resistant to development. If the fixes they offer don’t seem right to you, work on fixes that give a studio what they want out of the project.
  • Think of who your audience is, always.
  • Make sure when submitting that YOU are the one who’s written your synopsis.
  • Scripted TV in Hollywood is higher than ever. One hundred and ninety shows are on TV right now and lately two mainly reality based networks have started including drama. Cable content platforms such as Netflix are happening too.
  • The good news is that Hollywood, though full of writers, has a fairly thin talent pool to feed demand and the fresh voice is more necessary right now.
  • Movie companies are just a small part of large corporate entities. Companies coming up who can market without huge P&A budgets will bring back mid level film, which is currently being ignored as too risky for the level of investment.

So there you go! Positive news in a crowded market. The message seemed to be that if you can know your craft and rise above the flotsam and jetsame ever floating around the Street of Dreams then there’s work to be had and careers to be made. So if Hollywood is what you want, what’s stopping you eh? Go play with the players.

Leilani Holmes at the London Screenwriters’ Festival

Tweet me @momentsoffilm

Making ‘The Fall’ #LondonSWF

Posted on: October 28th, 2013 by Leilani No Comments

Moderated by crimewriting Goddess Barbara Machin of ‘Waking the Dead’ fame, writer/creator of ‘The Fall’ Allan Cubitt and his award winning producer Gub Neal came along to speak to us about the cutting edge of crime drama, and how to keep fresh a genre which can become over familiar.

Firstly came the idea that genre can be a friend to screenwriters and not something they need to fight. In fact, Gub says that TV that exists outside genre now, really struggles. With the chance to do a hunted and hunter drama within a writer led company the guys long working relationship rose to the fore to join them in creating something fresh with The Fall. The premise from the start, is more of a ‘why done it’ than a ‘who done it’ and from the very opening scene the subjects of the drama are juxtaposed and we see that they will conflict. The simplicity, says Allan, is what makes it good. Not a huge fan of the drama of revelation he chose to show the killer from the outset. Very often we can spend so much effort and story time concealing the killer, that we don’t have time to spend getting to know the victims, or to understand the reasons people give themselves to do things. He thought it would be interesting to, from the beginning, let the audience see things that the police didn’t know and see if that could maintain the same tension. In fact, The Fall does well on this score as we see the two lines of action side by side as they cross and cross again. All the way through the action reveals small signs of the character’s personalities. Profiling was used to create the characters. Police officers are all about control, male violence toward women is likewise about control, the hunter/hunted duo paralleled in ways as well as being in conflict.

Asked if worried about the level of disturbing crime in the drama the guys said that going into audacious storytelling, with a detached, sexually adventurous police woman and a fetishistic murderer, you have to commit. With the killing Allan says you have to be sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons and not just to ramp up the story. Murder without consideration of the death is not connective to the audience. In addition to characters, crime drama often has a strong sense of place, Belfast in particular had a very interesting and violent history of it’s own, a vibrant place with a dark shadow, so to speak. It proved to be a good setting for this story.

Al works hard on his first drafts to make them close to complete and then from what was shot for ‘The Fall’ the drama was honed in the cutting room rather than on the page. He has a police adviser and suggests that writers hang in there through their redrafts and stick to the integrity of the story they tell. Police handbooks, he says, are great reading for crime research. Other materials he reads to pick up stuff include other crime writings and especially academic books. If you get only one moment or idea that improves your story then it’s worth doing all the reading and research.

Asking for twelve episodes for telling the story, they were commissioned for five, but that was five with the likelihood of a second season. This second season was then confirmed shortly after broadcast began. This meant that though the ending wasn’t to everyone’s full satisfaction (Lord Sugar tweeted ‘only ten minutes till the end and the loony bloke still hasn’t been caught!’) it was because of not getting 12 consecutive episodes that a conclusion needed to be reached that would end the story well enough, without fully ending it.

The Fall being one of my all time favourite TV shows this year, I felt really privileged to be in the room hearing about it’s creation and I got straight away the brave decision it was to step outside the norm and create a very subtle but emotionally brutal show that won audience and critical approval, including my own fervent following of the show. After today’s session at the festival, I felt fervent about this great writer/producer team too, and the exceedingly brave decisions they made to give me this show that I loved.

Leilani Holmes at the London Screenwriters’ Festival

Tweet me @momentsoffilm

Luke Ryan: How a Script Gets To The Screen ~ #LondonSWF

Posted on: October 27th, 2013 by Leilani No Comments

Luke Ryan is Executive Vice President of Disruption Entertainment, which has a first look deal at Paramount Pictures. He’s also worked as a screenwriter and came to share with us the detailed process of how a Hollywood script gets to the screen and why it does, using the project of Hot Tub Time Machine as an example.

He begins by telling us that Hollywood is a silly place, but it’s a place where things get made and Execs need to keep material flowing in the pipeline. This begins with the script submissions. One thing I didn’t know on screenplays is that on the title page of a script, an ampersand means the writers work together and an ‘and’ means they wrote as well. Good to know and tells the execs whether they’re dealing with individuals or writing teams. The logline must express what the story is about, succinctly and include the story hook. As a rule the shorter the logline the higher concept the story is likely to be, in that it needs fewer words to explain. What story to write and pitch is a case of concept and character change, and you need to consider whether an audience will really want to see it. Not only are audience returns important to the studios but for your own writing life, if you’re committing part of your life to this story, can you really ‘write the hell out of it’ before you commit part of your life to writing this particular screenplay. When an exec finds a story they can make, they need to justify the spend to the studio to get it approved and financed. Often they are going into a room with an extremely busy person who may be also on the phone while listening to them convey your forty minute pitch in just a couple of minutes to get an okay. The clearer you can make your pitch the easier it is for them to go in and get that okay.

Writing deals in the Hollywood system guarantee WGA minimum, if they buy your screenplay the deal will likely include one re-write before they can bring other writers in. Optional revisions and polishes can form part of the contract too, if they continue to like what you’re doing with the notes and changes. Bonuses come at the end and are greater for sole credits, much less for shared credits. The process starts with a draft and then either you or another writer/writers will redraft until the exec things it’s ready to move on, or it gets ‘Turnaround’. Turnaround rights are where a story has been going through this process a while and you and your representation can ask to buy the rights back so that you can shop the story elsewhere if the studio is not going to make it. After turnaround the process of pitching begins again and you’re back to square one. But if the project moves on the process of attaching talent like actors and director begins. Luke warns that if attaching talent to sell a screenplay make sure that those people bring genuine value to the project. They may be a big name, but there are names who bring less value and their attachment can be more of a hindrance to a project than a help.

There’s a green lighting committee who decides if the project is green lit for production, if it doesn’t there may be delay or turnaround. They wear much nicer clothes than anyone else and don’t care about the creativity of a project, but are predicting the worth of the investment. Movies have traditionally been green lit based on a document called a profit and loss statment which is a low, mid and high case projection of the real production costs against the predicted (imaginary) income cost figures that the project is likely to bring in. It’s not merely a process of will the film make a profit, but will it make enough of a profit for the amount invested. For instance an $8M profit on a $50M investment is a bad investment, not only because the $8M is only a prediction but because there are better investment returns out there for anyone wanting to make money on a $50M investment. Changes over the years have meant that marketing budgets have increased and as technology changes revenue fluctuates so this process is affected quite a lot by what can be marketed now. Global decline has meant that the industry shrank in recent years by about 40% and there are less execs buying less work. Piracy, complex markets like China etc. come into play. Understanding this gives you an insight into what you will really want to spend your life writing.

At the end of the redrafting stage roundtabling may be used by the exec to improve as much as possible before shooting the script. For the cost of a re-write a number of highly talented writers are brought together in a room to go over and discuss the script and brainstorm it. It’s a good way to get a lot of brilliant minds contributing ideas to a project. Actors drafts may come in and their ideas may also be included. A lot of Hot Tub Time Machine ideas from John Cusack’s draft were included in the final film. Finally the production phase gets underway which is prepping and shooting the film. A timetable is put in place which also includes post, studio viewings, and tests. Writing can sometimes go on during production but ideally one wants to start with a completed screenplay where possible. There were 27 official studio drafts of Hot Tub Time Machine through development and production with stars, studio heads etc. input throughout. Everyone cares about things and wants the best movie and the changes they care about can affect the entire draft. For Hot Tub Time Machine with the time travel aspect this made changes more difficult.

Release schedules are then looked out to find the best available window to maximise profit and interest during release. All kinds of facts, figures dates and timelines are noted and weekend projections made on various release schedules then there is a testing phase, they like to do several tests on full theatres (about 300 people). On Hot Tub, money was pulled from marketing to create word of mouth and social network buzz when tests showed that recommendation may be the way to get people to see the film. Testing also highlighted a dead comedy zone within the film, and reshoots were done to improve that. Testing also happened for the trailers and though a number tested well, they went with the trailer that tested best with their preferred demographic. Looking at the variants, the chosen trailer was actually the one I preferred, it was clear, fun and simple.

Roundtabling happened again after the re-shoots to decide what was or wasn’t to be included in the final release cut of the film. Then tracking data is used to predict how the marketing is going, who is or isn’t aware that the film exists, if they know when it’s released and if they plan to see it as a first choice or dependant on the other films they might see in that release slot. Then the positive/negative reviews are tracked on release. The release and income data will predict whether a sequel will happen.

All in all this was an incredibly useful amount of information to hear, and gave me a huge insight into the very difficult jobs of studio execs and what happens in the industry. The writers’ strike had a huge impact on the market with less specs being bought now and that pause forced people to implement those changes ahead of when they’d have done so if the machinery had kept ticking forward without disruption. Execs may get writers in to write to specifications that fit their studio requirements, that are more likely to be green lit and that don’t get into spec script bidding wars which can be more expensive. In the next few years there could be more changes with money coming from companies like google and those who own screens like cellphone companies. Those companies can reach an audience without a massive marketing budget. Executives will try to achieve and maintain relationships with as many good writers as possible, and that’s something to remember when pitching. You can in a round of pitching only sell your script to one person but you can use those pitches to forge relationships with twenty people who can remember you and your writing talent. Share your mastery of the craft as a writer and they could come to you as well as you to them.

I’m supremely grateful for what I learned here and very respectful of the very complex process of getting a Hollywood script made. There are pitfalls and opportunities but knowledge is power they say and we were definitely given some incredible knowledge here today!

Leilani Homes at the London Screenwriters Festival

Tweet me @momentsoffilm 


And so it begins… #LondonSWF

Posted on: October 25th, 2013 by Leilani No Comments

This morning, Chris kicked off an even bigger than ever 2013 London Screenwriters’ Festival with the usual welcome introduction to the festival workings, what to expect and a bit of stuff we’d need to know. It’s great to have this intro, as not only are there new faces and many new people attending each year but it’s a great way for people to begin the festival feeling revved up and ready for the absolutely huge amount of activity coming at them. The festival is busy with bustle and lots and lots of faces, information, meetings, networking, pitching, script evaluating, socialising, catching up with friends and contacts and a tidal wave of amazing advice, information and insight into the screenwriting industry and how it works here and abroad.

I for one relish the opportunity to spend time immersed in writers for three days. As Chris was keen to point out, we have our own community and understand each other much better than non-creatives and I’m proud to say I’ve made some lovely friends from meeting people at the fest in past years. It’s great to see the numbers growing, the spaces filled with promise and inspiration and the business of getting scripts on their way to screen getting underway.

For the next three days, this is YOUR time, writers. Whether you’re in the seminars with us or joining us via the blogs or tweets, seize the opportunity to learn from each other and especially from those speakers who have come to share their own knowledge and experience with us for the betterment of all.

It’s all onwards and upwards from here!

Leilani Holmes


Writing Comics with Tony Lee & Harry Markos

Posted on: November 1st, 2011 by nromanek 1 Comment

Image from Markosia's "The Young Sherlock Holmes Adventures"

The Sunday afternoon session Writing Comics, hosted by comics obsessive DJ Iyare Igiehon, featured a discussion with writer Tony Lee and head of Markosia Publishing Harry Markos. The session was well-attended, with a big helping of genre writers – a couple game writers too – seeking ways to develop their stories through graphic novels and comics (“sequential art” as Scott McCloud dubbed it).

Tony has been writing for 25 years, and doing comics for 8 of those. He’s been a novelist, a screenwriter, a writer for audio drama, and a comics writer. One of his first points was to note the tendency for screenwriters to think its easy to write comics, assuming that comics are simply the illustration of a screenplay. In fact, comics writing is its own special beast. In comics, you are writing for still images, not moving images. The reader supplies the motion and the pace – the time element – that is taken for granted in movies. Comics exist outside of time (like a sculpture or painting) and in linear time (like a story or music) simultaneously – and it’s the reader who gets to choose which side he or she wants to inhabit. Screenwriters love the potential of graphic novels, both Tony and Harry recognized, because the medium allows them to realize the most outrageous, outlandish spectacles in a way that would be budgetarily impossible outside a movie directed by Jim Cameron.

The business of comics is no less difficult than the movie industry. Harry said that he gets 100 projects a month submitted to him. He might like five of them. And from there might contact the comics creators and pursue things further. Unlike the moving picture industries who rely on “writers for hire”, a business like Markosia relies on writer-artist teams. Writers hoping to see their stories realized, will need to partner up with an artist and create half a dozen sample pages to submit. Sending just a script to a comics publisher is a waste of postage (or bandwidth).

In the comics world too, that word “collaboration” appears, a word which many neophyte writers seem to fear so much. While there is more opportunity for fine-tuning and control in a graphic novel or comic, simply because the scale of the thing is smaller, it is still a collaboration – between the writer, artist, colorist, letterer, and publisher. As Tony said, “The artist is not there to do everything you say. They are not your art bitch.” And in truth, if you knew anything about art, wouldn’t you be doing it yourself anyway? Markosia Comics is also seeking collaborators in its business, people willing to establish a long-term relationship with a company. People thinking they can swoop in with their script, get an easy adaptation, then swoop out with something they can sell right to a studio are considered scoundrels of the worst kind.

The collaborative aspect of comics creation – no different from any other creative industry – thrives on trust. Harry said that Tony is an exceptional writer, but he has also come to be a friend and great deal of trust has built up over time. He knows that Tony will deliver consistently, and to a high standard. And Tony has never missed a deadline. You hear it again and again – and again, in comics – submitting your material on deadline is as important – or more – than its quality.

There’s not much money to be made in comics, that much was clear. Markosia and other indy publishers look to the long term for making profit – towards possible film/tv, digital, and print rights, for example. The revolution in online publishing has been great for comics. Readers who might have had to travel dozens of miles (hundreds in some parts of the world) find a comic store can download comics digitally from anywhere. Whereas a brick & mortar store might decide to keep only the hottest titles on the shelves, and then only for a short time, digital downloads are perpetually available. And, of course, there are no variations in color reproduction in a digital copy – the book you download looks as good as the one the creators uploaded to the publisher (as one obsessed with image quality, I especially like this aspect).

There are no “blockbuster” comics that are going to suddenly pay off everyone’s mortgage. Even writers working full time at DC or Marvel, Tony said, need second jobs. And the current industry is especially brutal. In DC’s restructuring of their entire superhero universe, many titles were ended or combined, and as a result, many writers were let go. Now those comics writers – veterans who have been at it for many years for many publishers – are now competing for jobs and attention – and a lot of them are probably dusting off those  brilliant ideas they’ve had sitting on the shelf for years. So competition is fierce, for a fairly tiny pie.

But nothing is going to keep some of us away. When I relocated to the UK, two of the books I packed in my bags and brought on the plane with me were Burne Hogarth’s adaptation of “Tarzan Of The Apes” (one of the best graphic novels ever made) and “Panel One: Comic Book Scripts by Top Writers”. That Tarzan adaptation was one of my prized possessions as a kid – and it still is. It introduced me to three life-long loves: visual storytelling, illustration, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. And when all’s said and  done, isn’t love why we’re in this in the first place?

 Neal Romanek

Should I Write A Short?

Posted on: October 30th, 2011 by nromanek 2 Comments

The Day 2 session Should I Write A Short? featured festival director Chris Jones – whose short, Gone Fishing, was shortlisted for the Live Action Short Academy Award – and Esther Wouda – whose script for the animated short, Sintel, was commissioned by Blender. Blender is open source 3D content creation software and the company was looking for a writer to flush out some story concepts they wanted to use in a show piece for their product. As far as story, they had a dragon and a little girl, but not much else. They approached Esther, who gave them some initial feedback and was eventually brought as the writer of an entire narrative which would incorporate all of Blender’s requirements. Sintel is a 12 minute production, but took a year to make. The spectacular result, released on YouTube, had over a 1,000,000 (yes, that’s one million) hits in the first several days.

Esther was given a lot of narrative leeway, provided she incorporated the elements Blender was keen to show off. So she attempted to tell the entire Hero’s Journey in 12 minutes. No one can accuse Esther of not having ambitious vision. But there is saying about short film writing. If you can’t get your idea across in a short film, you probably won’t be able to in a longer one.

Esther’s experience points to an increasing number of opportunities for filmmaking on behalf of corporate clients. I, for example, have recently been involved in short film project for Adobe, who were looking for short projects which they would fund and then would be used at trade shows and other demo situations to show off their project. It had never occurred to me before, prowling the floors of NAB, that someone needs to make – and write – all that content Avid is using for their pitches to the convention delegates.

But short films need not be corporate sponsored or commissioned to be invaluable tools. There are a wide variety of reasons to write or write-direct a short film. They can be calling cards to show off your ability. They can be used to promote other longer form material via a trailer or sizzle reel. Both Chris and Esther agreed that it was important to know why you were doing a short. It’s important to work out a long-term strategy – even if that strategy is just practice for the next short. If, for example, a short is distributed, even iadvertently, on YouTube or on DVD, it will be ineligible for many festivals, or for an Academy Award nomination. Each festival or contest has its own particular, arcane set of rules and, if you plan on sending your short down these paths, you need to know what they are.

Chris found in his experience that the greatest benefit of writing and directing a short film was the amazing education he got – in writing, production, and the involved process of getting that film in front of people. He is a firm believe in making films, making them now, for the sake of making them. There is so much production technology and so many distribution outlets available on the internet that if you are not making and exhibiting short films, it’s simply because you don’t really want to. Tremendous digital tools, like Blender, used to make tremendous digital tools used to make Sintel are absolutely free to anyone with a browser and a hard drive.

In L.A., I was part of the Alpha 60 Film Collective, a group of shabby film geeks and self-styled geniuseses from Silverlake and surrounding parts. At the regular meetings 15 or 20 filmmakers would submit short scripts – some highly detailed, some no more than a note on an napkin – these would be randomly distributed and we would all have to go bring back a film, ostensibly based on the script we received, in two weeks. It was an amazing opportunity to just write and shoot, write and shoot. It didn’t matter what the quality of the script or the final production was. The idea was to be in the process – “wax on, wax off, wax on…”, but with movies. I’m definitely with Chris in that the technology you use, the polish of your film, the aesthetics you choose to adopt are secondary to being in the game and actually making something and putting it in front of people, and then doing it again and again, leading with your heart.
Neal Romanek

Writing Fantastical TV by Neal Romanek

Posted on: October 29th, 2011 by nromanek 1 Comment

Planet Maui from The Cyclopedia Of Worlds


Saturday afternoon’s panel Writing Fantastical TV featured a collection of brilliant genre writers who all have enviable genre careers. The panel was moderated by Tom Hunter, director of the Arthur C. Clark award. The writers were Adrian Hodges, creator of Primeval, Dr. Who novelist and writer of Stormhouse Jason Arnopp, sci-fi novelist Philip Palmer, and the only man nominated for a Hugo award in three categories Paul Cornell.

The opening question was, What exactly is this “fantastical tv” we’re talking about? Science fiction, fantasy and horror are the standard macro-genres, but the topic really covers any story depicting events which could never happen in real life. This is separate from surrealist stories in that the fantastic does assume that there is a real world that adheres to real laws. It introduces an unreal element into this world to see what might happen.

Most of the discussion was around the current state of the fantastic in British tv. Is it in good health. Everyone agreed that Dr. Who and Merlin, phenomenally successful, have helped advance fantastic genre series. But it does seem we are at a “tipping point”. Dr. Who did prove that genre works and works well, but producers are still scared. Sci-fi and fantasy especially are usually expensive and that’s still a bar to their being made. One thing that has changed, and works in the favour of genre shows is that the newer breed of executives have all grown up on sci-fi and horror – and, unlike execs of past generations, understand it. There isn’t the hurdle of past decades where a sci-fi pitch might be met with scorn or bafflement. Still, when one just one genre show is a flop, producers fear that none of them will work anymore. It’s almost more reassuring, the panelists agreed, that Merlin is doing well rather than Dr. Who. Dr. Who has a built in audience, but Merlin has had to fly on its own merits. In an age of tighter budgets and brutal cuts, caution prevails. Paul related hearing that BBC1 will no longer look at sci-fi shows from indy production companies. If any shows were going to make it to air, they would be developed in-house.

Despite the great success of many sci-fi and fantasy franchises, they are still mostly cult hits and do not often venture outside their niche audience. A sci-fi series, no matter how successful, is never, ever, ever going to have the same viewership as Coronation Street. Broadcasters understand this very well. Writers need to understand it too.

Writers can do themselves a big favor by thinking first of the broadcasters and their needs. For example, think really hard before you put something on another planet. Budgetary considerations make this an almost impossible ask. Even Dr. Who has shunned extraplanetary adventure, simply because it takes so much effort and money to do it convincingly. In fact, don’t use the words “science fiction” when you are pitching or selling a story to execs. Immediately their tendency is to assume it’s something alienating, that will be difficult for them to get. At best they’ll think “Oh, spaceships.” There still is prejudice – fear probably – against fantastic genre storytelling, despite its success and rabidly loyal fan base. The average costume drama is comparable to a big sci-fi piece in budget, but is somehow seen as more value for money. Paul Cornell noted however that often costume dramas are based on established brands or proven concepts, and this is something sci-fi writers should note and perhaps emulate. The success of Merlin and Dr. Who would seem to support this.

It is a male dominated genre – in part because television writing itself is already male dominated. There has been only one female writer on the renewed Dr. Who, Bev Doyle, who is also a writer on Hodges’ Primeval. One attendee pointed out the horrible irony in this by reminding us that Mary Shelley was one of the inventors of the genre as we know it today.

For those clinging too tightly to their own otherworldy visions, ignoring the realities of the business and the requirements of producers, Paul Cornell offered food for thought applicable not just to genre writing, but to any facet of our industry: “You’re signing up for a team game. Everyone gets to have a go at the ball. If you think that’s your ball, you need to find another industry to work in.”
Neal Romanek

Who’s Driving Your Career? with Jo Calam

Posted on: October 29th, 2011 by nromanek No Comments


The London Screenwriters’ Festival is wall to wall with practical sessions on How To Do This, How To Make That Happen, and that is one of its great strengths, giving writers actionable steps they can take towards enhancing their craft or advancing their careers. But there can be a danger of overbalancing on the exterior side of our craft – forgetting that creativity is an internal process.

Jo Calam’s Friday session, Who’s Driving Your Career? Addressed that creature too often forgotten in the filmworld climb to success – the writers themselves. I believe it was Rilke who said “If you want to work on your writing, work on yourself.” Or it’s the kind of thing he might have said anyway. Go to as many seminars as you like, pump out as many screenplays as you can, if you neglect the component at the centre of it all – you – you’re just building a house of cards.

Jo is a creative coach and former development exec. Her session was the opposite of the “Here are some to do’s which will guarantee you success” information we all so desperately crave. The headline question asked, “Who’s driving your career?” is meant to direct writers toward themselves, to ask honestly “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”. Jo had participants answer on an index card the question “What is the most important thing about being a writer?” and then share the answer with the writer beside them, who then shared back what they heard. This was off-putting in the extreme to a person who sat beside me, his arms folded tightly across his chest. “I’m off,” he grumbled – and he was.

In my case, I wrote that I was in this game because I wanted to live in the world of my characters (to “dance with the gods” as Hubert Selby Jr. says) and to get paid a lot of money for it. When my “partner” in the exercise shared this back to me, I realized how bizarre this combination sounded – a bit like serving both God and Mammon. “Can I have transcendent spiritual experience and be filthy rich too?” Of course, it’s what a lot of us are in it for, I think. I do have a family, so the money is important. And it’s important – essential – for writers to get paid well. But after sharing that out loud, I couldn’t help but wonder if that deep desire for the money was really just fear that this path I’ve chosen just isn’t sustainable, and that I need a back-up plan – preferably in the form of a very large investment account. Whenever I start talking about needing lots & lots of money, you can bet I’m afraid of something that actually has nothing to do with money. So just that simple exercise inspired a lot of insight for me.

There were other exercises too. Assessing from 1 to 10 where we felt our writing careers were in several categories – in the central reason for writing we had previously stated, in money, in the support we were receiving as writers, in inspiration & ideas, in opportunities, in networking & contacts, in skills, and in time. The goal ultimately is to try to create a balance in these. But I, along with the rest of the people in the room – and you too, I expect – showed a wild-crazy variance across these categories. I’m big on inspiration & ideas and skills – a lot of us are – but low on networking. It was suggested we pick a particularly low scoring area and take one action that we promise to perform by the end of the Screenwriters’ Festival on Sunday. For me, I need to do more networking, so I’ve decided to do the Speed Pitching, which, for some self-sabotaging reason, I was avoiding. Oh, wait. I remember why. I hate pitching. Must, must get over that.

In another part of the session, Jo asked us to identify our personal creative Gremlins and what they say to us (mine say “You’re inept. You’re an idiot. You’re a barely verbal mental defective. You are fooling everyone. You’re a fraud…etc, etc, etc.). She invited us to get their voices down on paper and invent a physical form for the bastards, give them a name. This externalization is a therapeutic process as old as Freud – or Jung, at least – and it works. Dennis Potter named his fatal cancer Rupert (after Mr. Murdoch). It helps to give the things that are tripping us up a separate identity so when they show up and try to ruin our workday, we can tell them to have a jog around the block – or better yet, make themselves useful (I’ve found that that wretched, negative voice in my own writer’s head is often just a part of me that’s feeling a bit left out. He wants to be involved, wants to feel important. Sometimes I let him work on my structure.)

I’m from Los Angeles and so naturally have done a heap of Artist Way workshops and a hundred dozen other creative development courses. It’s what we do.  But it’s useful for an artist. Not to overgeneralize, but we writers are raving lunatics, any chance we have to get insight into ourselves, our process, our inner life is water in the creative desert.


Neal Romanek

The Comedy Broadcasters: NOW What Do They Want?

Posted on: October 28th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay No Comments

While everyone was swooning at the feet of Edgar Wright this afternoon, I was in an adjacent room at a superb, informative discussion about the state of British tv comedy, called The Comedy Broadcasters: NOW What Do They Want?, hosted by Paul Bassett-Davies. Guests included Mark Talbot of Hat Trick and writer-producer Jeff Atkinson and Chris Sussman, comedy commissioning executive at the BBC.

Paul started by apologizing for the lack of women on the panel. The good part of the story is that the female member of the panel couldn’t attend because she’s very busy with a project in production. Since there’s such an emphasis on pitching at the Screenwriters’ Festival, Paul opened by asking the producers present what they are thinking when a writer comes to them with a pitch. The first, universal answer was “Is it funny?” You would think that would go without saying, but apparently not. In my case, the simple and obvious often eludes me. It’s nice to be reminded. The rules for comedy pitching – and indeed writing – are no different from drama. Producers are looking for a page turner. Is there a character that they really want to know about. Writing comedy is more than “just writing jokes” and they said it was easy to spot when somone was just trying to do “funny” without a character or a compelling situation to back it up.

I’ve already heard several speakers today talk about the importance of finding and adhering to your own voice. Again, comedy is no different. Jeff Atkinson said that in Britain, we are lucky to have writers who have maintained a clear voice and that it was important not to lose that. There’s a certain amount of faith and courage that it takes to stick to that original voice – especially when writers are so eager to please producers. But the faith that you believe in what you are presenting really shines through, it would seem. Jeff Atkinson has been working with Jo Brand’s “Getting On” and cited that as a prime example of a show that has something to say first of all, a unique personal voice (Jo Brand did once work as a nurse, like her series character). That conviction, combined with personal experience, and in Jo’s case talent and real experience, produces something quite memorable.

How does a comedy writer get their work to these guys (and others like them)? The BBC looks at scripts almost exclusively through production companies. So if you want to pitch a BBC series, hook up with a production company first. 25% of their comedy material is developed in house, but even these are likely to be farmed out to production companies once they’re fully developed. Another advantage of going to a production company instead of the BBC is that if the Beeb says no, that production company can always go to someone else. Writers can often approach production companies themselves. Mark Talbot said that Hat Trick’s policy is that they never read unsolicited manuscripts – but not really. Officially, most UK companies do not read unsolicited work, but the truth is they probably do, if you approach them in the right way. It was also repeated that, from a producers point of view, a submission from an agent is no guarantee of quality. An agent will not get you a commission. You will do it. But when the deal has to be made and money comes into the picture, that’s when having an agent is essential – and when it will be no problem finding one.

It’s a boom time potentially for British comedy now, especially with Sky putting so much money into comedy. There was some disagreement on the panel about the value of online content as a calling card for writers. Some said you should never write for free – there’s always a way to monetize it. Others said it was a useful investment if what you had was really going to attract attention. There was a consensus that there is a new kind of writer coming down the pike – especially as transmedia/cross-platform content takes greater hold. Don’t be shackled by traditional restraints, was the message. Don’t self edit.


Neal Romanek

Up and at ‘Em!

Posted on: October 28th, 2011 by Leilani No Comments

So it’s Friday morning and my first blog of the festival. I’ve got my business cards at the ready, a stash of chocolatey snacks to keep my blood sugar up, the obligatory bottle of water that we actors always carry, iPhone, itinerary, a massive handbag to put it all in.. sunglasses for that festival fabulous look (a must have for any festival dahlink) and I’m ready to rock!

The festival actually started over an hour ago with the opening keynote. It’s an important part of the festival that I think helps energise the day and just allows people to acclimatise to the building and each other. It’s a very large festival with a lot going on and a lot of people, the days are long and it’s pretty non stop all weekend. So to have a grounding positive introduction and just settle in helps things not to become overwhelming. It’s bustling here and I’m thrilled to be milling about in the milieu!

And it’s also a chance to spot some familiar names and faces. Fellow screenwriter Neal Romanek is alongside me also blogging and tweeting from the festival so hopefully between us we can offer different perspectives and cover a bit more of the festival flavour. Both of us and numerous others who are part of the festival familiars will be live tweeting and there will be blogs aplenty on the London Screenwriters Festival Blog Page. A few other twitterati of my aquaintance are here and I’ve already been greeted by friendly faces and faces of friends. It’s feeling good to be here and to be focussed on screenwriting again. The highlight I’m looking forward to this afternoon is the In Conversation with Duncan Kenworthy not only because I hugely respect and love his work and am really looking forward to hearing his views, but also because my friend is his assistant and a pretty darn good writer too, so hopefully will be along to the festival too and I’m very much looking forward to catching up with him and hearing his take on it.

Then after that I’ll hopefully make In Conversation with Joe Cornish, Writing Games 2.0: the sequel and The hero’s Journey Continues.. so quite a full day indeed.. where did I put that chocolate stash?!

Right now I’m off into my first seminars and I think I’m going to opt for Kate Leys Produced or Rejected? Is Your Script The Best It Could Be, which will take me up to lunchtime.. and then a bit of networking is in store. Like I said… I’ve got my business cards handy! ;)


Leilani Holmes