London Screenwriters' Festival

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Common Pitfalls

Posted on: October 31st, 2011 by Leilani No Comments

Writers, Daniel Martin Eckhart, Paul Andrew Williams, Evan Leighton-Davis, Danny Stack and Steven Russell using their own experience and mistakes as early writers, covered the common pitfalls that new writers can make when marketing themselves, their work and writing their early screenplays.

In fact, the session was more positive than it’s title sounds, with the writers talking at length about the things a writer should and could do to give themselves a positive experience. The session was relaxed and friendly, with questions from the audience and advice ranged from picking your battles and learning to adapt when taking notes and feedback to not sending generic letters or emails, learning not to be difficult and just staying calm and pleasant, understanding that what you wear can be a visual metaphor for how people view you as a writer (a superman t-shirt not being a bad thing in some instances apparently!). Research was highly recommended so that your genre and style of work goes to production companies who actually are looking for that type of thing and so that you don’t earn producers’ disrespect.

Dialogue needs to be good and real (‘not shit’ director Paul Andrew Willams amusingly phrased it) and not written the way you’d be used to hearing it in other movies, but the way the people in your film would naturally say it. Rein in your ego (not reign in your ego as I mistakenly tweeted during the session!) and in person just take it easy, chat and be yourself. Producers are people too, they want to work with people they get along with. As long as you treat people nicely and approach them with respect they won’t care if you persist every so often if your work is good and you’ve made contact in the right way.

A lot was said about public presence too. It’s true that social networking and online presence has become a familiar thing for most of us, and while you can get away without an online presence right now often people will expect you to have one and the general consensus was that this aspect of working will mean that in five years time if you can’t be googled online then you’re nobody. But when in public internet space you have to take care with how you portray yourself. Don’t blow any fuses online. Maintain your online presence well & make a good representation of yourself. Social media is an extremely powerful thing. Don’t burn any bridges that you might want to use later. Danny Stack pointed out that blogging is not going to be for everyone but if you do decide to blog, do it well and make it about what you want to say. And to remember that it’s not an instant thing to benefit from blogging, it can take years for blogging and tweeting to pay off. Daniel Martin Eckhart brilliantly pointed out that there is always downtime from writing so blogging and micro-blogging are a great way to use social media to express things and show you know something about writing and about the world and why not take full advantage of that!

Paul Andrew Williams probably put forward my favourite bit of advice from the session. He said to establish a relationship now and allow it to develop for years before it reaches fruition and becomes truly beneficial, often partnerships forged years ago can lift both individuals up in time, especially if one does well an opportunity arises and they can bring the other into their work and lift them too.

Finally the consensus was not to fixate on luck. Make your own luck. A great and friendly last seminar of the festival and with a fantastic bunch of writers who were charming to listen to.

Leilani Holmes

www.leilaniholmes.co.uk
www.twitter.com/momentsoffilm
www.momentsoffilm.blogspot.com

In Conversation With Ashley Pharaoh

Posted on: October 31st, 2011 by Leilani No Comments

Ashley Pharoah writer, producer and creator of numerous TV series including ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ gave us an in-depth and honest account of his career to date and his current work and new series ‘Eternal Law’.

Training at the NFTS he was at first reluctant to take work in TV, especially soap writing because of the attitude he’d inherited which biased him toward film as being more artistic. Five years with little money however encouraged him to give it a try and not only did he find that it was more than useful to be able to write regularly and see the work performed, strengthening his craft through production, but he had produced credits and a career to prove to his family that he was succeeding in his chosen profession.

From those beginnings and after a number of years on Eastenders, he went on to write for other well known TV Dramas, until he eventually began creating his own shows.

In terms of getting his own creations made he says that he doesn’t do Show Bible’s as he finds them to be difficult documents both to write and to read. And while some writers do still use them he never does. In pitching the ideas he says that you must, in a sentence be able to to put across the concept for a show in a way that puts across the idea that it has endless potential for conflict.

Always bothered by the idea that TV is seen as social realism and that film was viewed as more poetic and he has tried to bring high concept into his TV work as Dennis Potter often did. Television writers have a lot more influence over the shows they produce but he finds film is far less writer-centric and he both dislikes the way writers are treated with the significance of a cleaner in film finding it baffling that film directors and producers would not use his extensive experience to the film’s advantage. TV writing is therefore more fun and given the trend for current cinema more intricate and containing more craft than a lot of movies these days. And a decent living can be made from TV writing, but it’s important not to become complacent or lazy, it takes more than talent to succeed.

Ashleigh finds Genre and structure a help when writing, comparing it to writing writing a sonnet, that the rules of the structure help the writing a great deal. However sometimes you need to let a show die, when it’s run it’s course. He went on to speak about moving on from ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and not really wanting to do those again, he went on to speak about the transfer of ‘Life on Mars’ to the US and that having not contracted the original writers to consult on the series they were free to adapt it into a longer seasoned US show without really having the expertise of the original creators involved to keep it on track, therefore it did less well than in the UK. He’s since formed a writers company with his writing partner, not so much a production company but one that holds the rights to their work, that way if any future work goes to the US he can arrange to be as involved as he wants to be in the development of it.

Speaking of series writers and the people he employs on writing teams Ashley said it’s not all about talent. It’s also a great deal about being able to sit in a room with someone over long periods and be able to like each other and have a laugh. In terms of his writing partnership with Matthew Graham they split up the writing according to their individual strengths, something that works well for series television.

His new series ‘Eternal Law’ is currently in production and despite his proven and excellent track record for drama, he still has his difficulties to get work produced in the way he intends it. TV drama is tough and producers ever concious that if their audience don’t get something that they will just change channels.

Enthralling us with ‘war stories’ of his ‘Life on Mars’ US experience and other writing tribulations and engaging us with his clear love for the job he does, the hour went very fast indeed but it was clear that here was a writer who enjoyed giving the benefit of his vast experience to other writers, something that came across even more clearly in the scriptchat afterwards where we sat around a table in Herringham Hall and spoke more casually with him. He’s a very personable writer who cares deeply about his craft and likes working the way he does, becoming a show creator and producer has not made him a poacher turned gamekeeper but has rather allowed him to work with other writers and pass on the benefit of his own solid experience and is something not every writer has the talent for but that he finds he has a knack for. His love of his work and the writers he gets to work with was perhaps the nicest thing he shared with us and that was very appealing. Eventually we reluctantly let him go but it was so very nice meeting him and I look forward to watching his new work very soon.

Leilani Holmes

www.leilaniholmes.co.uk
www.twitter.com/momentsoffilm
www.momentsoffilm.blogspot.com

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

www.nealromanek.com
@rabbitandcrow

Events & Horizons..

Posted on: October 30th, 2011 by Leilani No Comments

As well as the business side of networking at the festival, there’s been social events every day. A great opportunity to relax after the flurry and frenzy of energy surrounding the speed pitching sessions and many of the speakers have come along and mingled with the delegates sharing more of their knowledge and people everywhere are just saying hello, it feels very inclusive and the evening drinks and coffee sessions have spread out all over London until the early hours by all accounts with some firm friendships being forged in the process. There are smiles everywhere and a few tired faces, it’s quite a marathon of a festival but you sure get your money’s worth in terms of things to do.

The speed pitching is going very well by all accounts, some writers having a go just for fun and some finding it terrifying but being proactive with their work. Many writers I’ve spoken to have asked to send in their sceenplays to the producers who’ve heard their pitch. Good luck to all!

Last night we were treated to free drinks from The Welcome Trust, a charitable foundation who work with creatives in order to share their stories with a wider audience. It was wonderful to hear about their work and to also see more opportunities for ours. And the free wine went down a treat, after the second intense day at the festival, everyone was very exhausted and very ready to unwind and yet there were still opportunities being talked over and a lot of excitement in the room. Indeed there are so many people with projects going on at the festival and not all are writers, some are filmmakers, producers and directors too and I’ve been pleased to meet some people interested in having me involved in some of their work either directing or writing for them, whatever comes of it, it’s been an absolute pleasure to see so much happening in the industry. A big thank you to The Welcome Trust for hosting a really pleasant evening.

Leilani Holmes

www.leilaniholmes.co.uk
www.twitter.com/momentsoffilm
www.momentsoffilm.blogspot.com

Festival Faces.. day 2

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

A few of the faces at the festival today..


Matt Howling is a writer with attitude who’s written for radio as well as film and is a former journalist.


Robert Grant is a fledgeling screenwriter and also part of SCI-FI LONDON Film Festival.


Rav Punj writes TV screenplays and came to pitch an idea for a show.


Emer Gillespie is a novelist and screenwriter.


Andy Wright, screenwriter and founder of Evermore Films has worked in the television and film industry for twenty years.


Emma, Screenwriter and Nathaniel Lloyd Actor & Screenwriter both networking in the refectory.

Leilani Holmes

www.leilaniholmes.co.uk
www.twitter.com/momentsoffilm
www.momentsoffilm.blogspot.com

Connecting With the Audience: What the Numbers Mean.

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

Comprised of analyst and journalist, Charles Gant, British Producer Stephen Follows and film distributor David Wilkinson this seminar dealt with box office figures and why screenwriters should pay attention to them.

Speaking about British film in particular, theatrical release is a tricky business. Most films want it and most distributors will try to place it but this is perhaps something that is not serving the industry as very few films make profit from theatrical screenings. When it comes to smaller films, there is the problem of there being just too many produced. Theatrical distribution windows are tight, often they compete against both mainstream films and other independents and as people don’t really go to see four films a week so if you are competing for theatrical box office you have to be compelling. Nice films alone are not enough and if a film lacks clear focus it’s harder to find a market. Strait drama for instance doesn’t work in theatrical. It’s done very well on TV so there’s no market for it in cinemas when people can get it at home for free, and broadcasters make films now so sales to TV are only a fraction as profitable as they used to be ten years ago.

All of this sounds quite depressing and it’s true that there are problems facing the industry. Paying attention to the box office though can help a writer see what audience want and what motivates them to theatrical screenings of film, plus identifying the trends and companies making the films that succeed.

It occurred to me walking away from the session that if I was in the business of marketing my work to other directors and sold screenplays that ended up as flops, then my my future as a screenwriter would probably begin to dry up and if I could market my work to the right people and my first few scripts produced did well then I’d be more likely to have a long and sustainable career. I’ll be subscribing to Charles Gant’s Box Office Analysis forthwith!

Leilani Holmes

www.leilaniholmes.co.uk
www.twitter.com/momentsoffilm
www.momentsoffilm.blogspot.com

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

www.nealromanek.com
@rabbitandcrow

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

www.nealromanek.com
@rabbitandcrow

A Network of Screenwriters

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

Regent’s Park is in it’s Autumnal glory at this time of year, and the beautiful buildings of Regents College are charmingly bathed in sun creating a relaxed atmosphere for the middle day of the London Screenwriters Festival. A perfect and calm setting for networking, which is what I largely chose to do with my morning.

Elsewhere in the comfortable conference rooms the serious business of screenwriting is being addressed. These are skills that writers need to be able to practice their craft and profit from it. Charles Harris once again is began his day with The Hour of Power to help writers get the best out of their festival, motivate and getting the mental game into the right space for effectively focussing on goals. Meanwhile other sessions included advice and information about agents, technique to get into what you bring to your work and characters to release the power of your writing, and the business end of how your screenplay translates both in terms of the cinematic language and in the edit room.

There are networking breaks dotted throughout the festival schedule and a fairly long lunch to allow time for meeting the other festival delegates. Yesterday was a very friendly day and today has been for me, more about the nature of our industry, and the legacy of the festival is the people who become part of your life after it finishes. Now is the time to meet those people. I know from my experience as an actor that future work comes often through being ready to take the opportunities that cross your path, and that those opportunities cross your path through the people you get to know and like. This was re-iterated time and again during the talks I listened to in yesterday’s sessions with every speaker mentioning one or more opportunities that had come to them through people they knew or friends of people they knew. Networking, after all isn’t all about swapping business cards it’s about getting to know people in your field of interest and maintaining those relationships so spending time really connecting with other writers now is time well spent.

It’s a glorious day for new beginnings so let’s see if I make some new friends today, and/or solidify the bonds I’ve created with the people I already knew who are here at the festival with me. Having had four short screenplays picked up by other directors (two already made) since last year’s festival I know that if I keep meeting people and learning from them, good things are ahead.

Leilani Holmes

www.leilaniholmes.co.uk
www.twitter.com/momentsoffilm
www.momentsoffilm.blogspot.com

Festival Faces

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

Just a few of the faces I met around the festival today..

Screnwriter and filmmaker Allison Parker is a deputy moderator of #scriptchat on twitter. She’s currently crowdfunding funds for her comedy short film ‘With a Little Help from our Friends’ on Indiegogo.

 

Met over lunch Russell Heyworth lives in the north, makes short films and has various scripts he’d like to improve and make.

Guido Lippe is a script editor of some nine years, writer and creative who lives in London, and is at the festival to network, learn and find fun.

 


Ben Williams is a Producer’s Assistant and also screenwrites and directs films.

 

Neal Romanek is a working screenwriter and my fellow festival blogger and tweeter.

 

Teenie Russell is a screenwriter of mainly comedy screenplays working on multiple projects, and is looking forward to the networking sessions.

 

From De Montfort University Tommy Haymes came on the recommendation of his university with some other graduates and students from his course.