Saturday, 10 August 2013

Definitely Chip Paper By Now...

Last time we spoke, last time I spoke, last time I typed ... was a few days after I'd found out that I was one of the winners of the Bafta Rocliffe New Writing Forum for Comedy. Everything up until then had been fairly normal. Since then, it's safe to say things have been wee-inducingly exciting.

I've met, talked to and had several free cups of tea (sometimes there have even been biscuits) with some very exciting people. But it's not all rainbows and rhododendrons; I have noticed the occurences that I've woken up in a cold sweat just to double-check my 'sent' email folder have increased significantly.

It would be foolish to think that things will continue at this momentum unless I make the most of it. So in the run-up to the big event, I've been working on the script extract that will be performed at the Edinburgh TV Festival as well as drafting and re-drafting new and existing ideas. I don't mind being tomorrow's chip paper, as long as there's hope that eventually I might occupy a tiny space in the Radio Times.

Speaking of which, fellow Boltonians may have spotted me in the The Bolton News (or The Bolton Evening News if like me, you can't seem to call it anything else) at the end of last month. The last time I graced the pages of my once local paper was back in '86, when I was merely minutes (possibly hours or days) out of the womb. It was a charming Christmas story covering the birth of the last of five Brockbank girls... possibly signalling the coming apocalypse and definitely confirming that Christmas time can sometimes be a slow period for news. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Winning a BAFTA

It's only been two days since the release of the official announcement that I'm one of the winners of the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum for comedy and already I've lost count of the times my family members have incorrectly boasted that their loved one has won a BAFTA.

So Mum - no, it's not quite a BAFTA... but as a writer at the beginning of her career, it's just as exciting.

In the agonising wait for the announcement to be made, I re-read Chris Sussman's top tips for comedy writing, available on the Rocliffe blog. Whilst they're all extremely useful things to bear in mind when writing comedy, it's the ninth point that rings true: don't give up. You'll be surprised how quickly you can go from receiving generic rejection letters and emails, to talking with all kinds of exciting people who want to know more about you and your script.

It's been a bit of a shock to the system how quick things are moving. Already I've found that my diary in the run-up to the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival (GEITF) is filling up quicker than a Which? approved washing machine.

No doubt in the coming weeks I'll be blogging all about my exciting adventures into this uncharted territory, but until then all this talk of washing machines reminds me that I'd better go and put the Hotpoint on.

Well you've got to make the most of this weather, haven't you?

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Loglines are your Friends

Loglines are a one sentence summary of your script that shouldn't really consist of more than 20 words. They're often mistaken with their flashier, chattier and more charismatic cousins, taglines which are used to market a film. Whilst the logline is a straight explanation of the plot, the tagline is there to draw you in and, in some cases, make you laugh. 

Take The 40 Year Old Virgin, for example.

The logline is:

Goaded by his buddies, a nerdy guy who's never "done the deed" only finds the pressure mounting when he meets a single mother.

The tagline is:

'The longer you wait, the harder it gets'


Why are loglines useful?

Again, I find myself returning to a familiarly cynical answer - people are lazy. They want to know what your story is about. And fast.

Whoever reads your script, whether it's a friend, a producer or an agent, it stands to reason that they'd rather not struggle through the first 10-20 pages of a script without even an inkling of what it's about. Even the humble cinema-goer usually has some idea about what they're going to watch before they see it, thanks to marketing materials such as posters and trailers - where those showy bastards taglines tend to make their appearance.

How do I write a logline?

Start with the sentence 'This is a story about...' and once you've got it, delete this introduction (just to give you a bit of leeway in terms of word count) and edit until it reads well.

If you're still unsure, take a look at the loglines from existing films.

I've taken ten example loglines from IMDB, just to show that even the basic plot of some quite lengthy films (I'm looking at you 5, 7 and 9) can be reduced to one succinct sentence.

See if you can guess the film (answers at the end of the post):

1) An unemployed actor with a reputation for being difficult disguises himself as a woman to get a role in a soap opera.

2) A silent movie star meets a young dancer, but the arrival of talking pictures sends their careers in opposite directions.

3) Three unemployed parapsychology professors set up shop as a unique ghost removal service.

4) An offbeat romantic comedy about a woman who doesn't believe true love exists, and the young man who falls for her.

5) Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a plan to assassinate Nazi leaders by a group of Jewish U.S. soldiers coincides with a theatre owner's vengeful plans for the same.

6) In the distant future, a small waste collecting robot inadvertently embarks on a space journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind.

7) An in-depth examination of the way that the Vietnam war affects the lives of people in a small industrial town in the USA.

8) A psychotic socialite confronts a pro tennis star with a theory on how two complete strangers can get away with murder...a theory that he plans to implement.

9) Musical about two youngsters from rival NYC gangs who fall in love.

10) Tricked into thinking he killed his father, a guilt ridden lion cub flees into exile and abandons
his identity as the future King.

When will I use it?

Some companies that accept unsolicited material will request a logline with your submission, but even if they don't, it's a good idea to include it whenever you send your script out. If you're attaching a synopsis, I'd recommend adding the logline again at the top of the page, so that everything's all in one place and you're making life as simple as possible for the person on the other end.

Loglines can also provide clarity in your own mind of what your story is really all about. And they're a great pitching tool - just in case you ever find yourself in a lift with George Clooney and can't think of anything better to do. 

Answers: 1. Tootsie, 2. The Artist 3. Ghostbusters 4. 500 Days of Summer 5. Inglorious Basterds 6. Wall-E  7. The Deer Hunter 8. Strangers on a Train 9. West Side Story 10. The Lion King

Friday, 31 May 2013

Losing the plot

Synopses are a pain in the arse. No-one likes writing them and I definitely don’t like reading them.

Well, no, actually that's not entirely true - I just don't like reading bad synopses. 

A good synopsis is a rare pleasure, like a Cadbury's Creme Egg in November, but a badly written synopsis makes me turn cold at the prospect of reading a further 90 plus pages of script by the same author. 

Never forget that first impressions are lasting; how many times have you been told the importance of a good covering letter when applying for a job? Your synopsis is the first sample of your writing that the reader will get - so the same definitely applies. Your synopsis should be dynamic, it should be exciting and if you don't enjoy reading it, why would I?

Another common problem of synopsis writing is that people get bogged down trying to express the overall mood of the piece or providing in-depth character breakdowns without ever really offering much in terms of plot.

Writing a good synopsis is about knowing your story, so it's not surprising that the things you should be communicating in this crucial introduction to your script aren't a million miles away from Kate Leys' storytelling tips which I wrote about last week.

Essentially your synopsis should tell the reader four things... hopefully in this order:

1) Who's your main character when we meet them?

2) What's the conflict/motivation that sparks the main character into 'action'?

3) What do they do (ie what 'action' do they take) to sort it out?

4) What’s the resolution and how has the main character changed from who they were when we first met them?

That's really it.

And the quicker you can get this across, the happier your script reader will be.

But what if you can’t answer these questions in your synopsis? What if it’s not absolutely clear to you who your character is and what troubles they’re facing?

Then it’s time to go back to the drawing/writing board.

Below, I’ve used the example of Rain Man to show how clearly these four questions can be answered to create a clear and well structured synopsis:

1) Charlie Babbit is an egotistical, ruthless, young professional.

2) When Charlie’s estranged father dies, he discovers that he has received a very small amount of the will. The rest, he is informed, has gone to his older brother, Raymond who is severely Autistic and who Charlie had no idea existed.

3) Charlie decides to take Raymond out of his care facility, as they travel across the country to meet with attorneys, in an effort to begin a custody battle which he hopes will end in out of court settlement granting him half the Babbit estate and returning Raymond back home.

4) After spending countless days with his brother on the road, Charlie begins to bond with Raymond and realises that he genuinely wants to care for his brother and no longer cares about his inheritance. Raymond eventually returns to his home at the institute and Charlie promises to visit him in two weeks. Charlie is no longer the selfish, money-obsessed character we first met as he has nothing to gain financially from this promise - a relationship with his long-lost brother is enough.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The First Isn't Finished

I've run out of fingers, toes and other bodily extremities trying to count the amount of times I get an email asking for me to read a script which is still being written.

I'll never understand why some writers do this. As a writer myself, it makes me nervous to think that someone would send out their work as soon as the word 'FIN' leaves their fingertips. 

There are a couple of famous sayings that often get circulated in reference to this very point - they recommend throwing your first draft either in a drawer or the dustbin (depending on how ruthless/cynical/sadistic the advice-giver is). And as much as it pains me to regurgitate these well-worn words of writing wisdom, I'm inclined to agree. 

It took me a while to take this advice on board; I felt like maybe I was the exception to the rule, maybe my first draft is the equivalent of other people's fiftieth. Maybe I was an idiot. 

So don't send your first draft, don't even send your second. Send the final draft. The one that you're really happy with - in a month's time, in two years' time, in ten years' time. 

That's the script I want to read.

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Art of Storytelling

Last week I attended Art Wednesday’s Nice to Meet You event, where amongst Game of Thrones' cast members and aspiring creatives, Kate Leys (legendary script editor and general story-maker-better-er) gave an extremely insightful talk on ‘The Art of Storytelling’.

Her advice was simple and spot on. Just the tonic for anyone stuck with their script.

Her main points were thus:

  • The basis of all narrative is that a stranger comes to town - whether it’s a shark (Jaws), a tsunami (The Impossible) or a wealthy businessman (Pretty Woman) - to disrupt the status quo.

  • If you want to work out what your film is all about, start with the sentence:

This is a story about...

  • You should be able to answer the following questions about your character:

1) Who are they?
2) What do they want?
3) How are they going to get it?

And the secret fourth question:

4) What do they really need?

  • Remember that a ‘writer’s voice’ is all about finding truth, in character, situation or human emotion. If writers aren’t true to this - if they’re faking or trying to second guess what people want from the story - the audience will know.

And there you have it. Just a couple of embarrassingly rudimentary ways to make sure your script has all the right ingredients to keep the audience on your side.   

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Greetings from the Dark Side

Working as a script reader sometimes feels like being a deserter, a traitor or the unwilling executioner standing reluctantly beside the guillotine. Most of us are scriptwriters ourselves and know all too well how each rejection can cut you down to size... like a blade would... from a guillotine.

It’s no fun receiving a rejection, but you might be surprised to discover that it’s no fun writing them either. 

If there’s one thing I can assure you is that all script readers want to find something good in that gigantic, towering never-ending (I really should get back to it in a minute) pile of scripts. Don’t be deceived into thinking that just because we’re writers ourselves we delight in belittling and hindering the chances of others.

But at the same time, it’s really frustrating when writers don’t do everything in their ability to make it as easy as possible for the reader when submitting their script. Again remember, we’re usually writers too -- So by design, that means we’re irritable, emotional and lazy... No? Just me? Alright then...

It may sound stupid and entirely obvious but doing something as simple as sending your script as a PDF can put your script reader in a good mood. Converting your script to PDF takes a matter of moments and on a practical level makes life a whole lot easier for the reader; I rarely print off scripts and will often read them on a tablet instead. Most companies will stipulate that you attach PDFs and if you ignore this, don't expect a reply any time soon. Not taking the time to read and follow submission guidelines is another cardinal sin, punishable by death... with a blade... from a guillotine.

And quite rightly too. It's a well-known fact that every time you attach a script in DOC format and without following submission guidelines, a script-reader dies.

You might think that’s a good thing. I might be inclined to agree with you. But in all seriousness, we’re not as mean as you might think - we want to give people a chance, so just make sure you’re doing everything you can to give yourself that too.