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  • Archive for October, 2009

    SWF: Doug Chamberlain – Hollywood or Bust

    2009 - 10.31

    International Screenwriters Festival: 26th October 2009

    The first thing you notice about Doug is that his profile picture is a couple of years, possibly decades, out of date.  The second thing you notice, soon as he’s opened his mouth, is his complete affability. Like everyone who took to the stage over the four days of the SWF, on a roll call that includes some of the most successful writers and producers working in the UK today, success has not detracted from their qualities as basically fabulous mere mortals.

    There’s also something in the American accent though, isn’t there? That sheer Can Do confidence that spills over and although the dude next to me met it with stubborn British cynicism, I was quickly caught up in Doug’s enthusiasm as he explained that mad as it may appear, Hollywood does run to a certain logic, albeit a twisted one of all its own. All a budding writer/actor/director has to be able to do is understand and play that logic off to their own advantage.

    Doug structured his talk around Hollywood Myths and their true explanations. Staring out with William Goldman’s infamous nobody knows anything, he countered that with perception is reality. It’s about ‘heat’ – the number of people talking about you determines how ‘hot’ you are at any one time. Once one pace-maker gives you the nod, that nod becomes reality to everyone else. Hollywood, it seems, operates like an unholy sheep herd. The trick – and difficulty – is to find that initial head to turn, that person who will lead the rest of the herd by championing you. It’s dangerous for that person if they’re wrong – if the reality undermines the initial perception – but they’ll gain great kudos if they were right, and you really are the next hot thing.


    SWF: Spec Script Market (Part 2)

    2009 - 10.31

    International Screenwriters Festival: 26th October 2009

    Final Draft has a rather fun Reports function which can calculate for you the percentage of action directions to dialogue in your script. New writers, Simon explained, often have around 60% dialogue and 30% action description in their scripts, which is the exact inverse of the desirable 60% action and 30% dialogue that is standard for films.

    Simon and Jo then moved into timeframes: both intimately knowing the timeframe in which you have set your script (one of the scripts submitted to Script Market, for instance, was set in the 16th Century but the plot was hinged around the protagonists’… watch… – like wise scripts set in the future need to reflect the believable state of technology and society of the time) and critically the internal timeframe over which your story takes place. The longer the timeframe, the less dramatic tension. The tighter the timeframe, the greater the drama and the faster and more dramatic the transformation of the characters.

    Next our experts hit on target market: as writers we must know exactly who our intended audience is.  Toy Story was the example at hand: the film was aimed at 7-9 year olds, and so is essentially about leaving home for school, about change and making space for new people in your life. That’s exactly what is happening to that small age group, but because we’ve all been 7-9 years old, we’ve all shared those experiences, the story resonates through children and adults alike as a universal truth.


    SWF: Sharp Shooters on the ground

    2009 - 10.31

    Sharp Shooters at the SWF: from left, Kieran Doherty, Adrian Bently, Rob Eveleigh and the Fantastic Mr John Fox

    Sharp Shooters 1


    SWF: Spec Script Market (Part 1)

    2009 - 10.28

    International Screenwriters Festival: 26th October 2009

    One of the early initiatives of the SWF was ‘Script Market’. You bought a 4-day ticket to the festival, paid a fee and submitted a script for assessment for the market.

    30 were shortlisted, their authors provided with extensive feedback and then workshopped with members of the reading staff. Consequently some of the final scripts ended up a far throw from the initial submissions. The final prize for the 30 chosen writers will be one-on-one meetings throughout this week’s festival with industry professionals who have taken a shine to the scripts.  From my writers group, Sharp Shooters, Liz Holliday and Robin Eveleigh both had their scripts accepted, so I’m looking forwards to getting the gander on their meetings.

    In this Monday session, Simon van der Borgh and Jo Tracey, both on the Script Market assessment panel, gave a stack of feedback on the common flaws of the scripts entered into the Market.

    Most writers did not really understand the underlying theme of their script – what lay at the heart of the story, and so were unable to properly unify the script itself, or pitch or even write a good log line for it.

    As a result of this, many writers did not fully understand their characters – and character is of course story. If there was no theme to build a journey for the characters, they remained static throughout.


    SWF: S&R Euroscript Feedback

    2009 - 10.28

    International Screenwriters Festival: 27th October 2009

    There was a point in Tuesday’s 45 min Euroscript script surgery session in which I squealed/shouted so loudly/passionately/aggressively at poor Paul Bassett-Davies that people on other tables actually stopped and looked around – assumedly to make sure I hadn’t physically assaulted him in some way.

    Bless Paul, he was just doing his job and doing it extremely well – and worse, doing exactly what I’d asked him. And don’t we all know that we must be careful what we wish for…

    The Euroscript sessions are a genius bonus of the Screenwriter’s Festival, where delegates could book a 45-minute slot (45 minutes? With a highly skilled writer and educator? For free? Gold!) and send in a question, one page treatment or 10 pages of a script to prep your Doctor. Paul emailed me for my info about a week after I threw my Sienna & Rael pilot out the window again, so I was left with only a severely broken script and a series of inarticulate strangled noises with which to communicate my frustration. These do not translate so well to paper.

    So I sent Paul my logline and synopsis – which have not changed – and said something along the lines of: rip this up. Challenge the concept. Challenge me. Ask all the questions I don’t want to be asked and don’t know how to answer.

    And you know what? That’s exactly what he did.  And it was probably the most useful single session I’ve ever had working on this project.


    SWF: Chris Jones’ Call to Adventure

    2009 - 10.26

    International Screenwriters Festival: 26th October 2009

    Chris Jones – of The Guerrilla Filmmakers Handbook and short film Gone Fishing fame – opened the 2009 Screenwriters Festival with a confession of a grave attack of the nerves, which apparently only increased the enthusiasm for his address. He welcomed the hall of writers as ‘fellow wizards and heroes’ – which made me smile, but the man next to me practically grind his teeth – and launched into a primal reminder of why stories are important: the human desire to live vicariously through the lives of others. “Who,” he demanded of us, “do we want to be?” That’s the starting place. It’s a blatantly obvious point, but one which I for one had somewhat lost sight of. Writers are the wizards who transport the rest of the world to places and into characters they want to share experiences with.

    We are also heroes, although this was initially a more puzzling connection. Chris launched into a review of the Writer’s Journey – which seemed an unusual choice of topic in a 15 minute festival opening – only to then turn the model hilariously on its head, re-dressing it as the Writer’s Hero Journey. Sadly I cannot communicate Chris’ entertaining presentation, but the story goes something like this:

    You – the writer – have an ordinary life. Ordinary job. But finally there’s a Call to Action in your day – might be the boss, the partner, the car, the transport system, whatever – which drives you to say: Enough. I want to Write.

    But like the traditional hero, you initially Refuse The Call to Action. There are plenty of reasons: rent to be paid, family and pets to be fed and so on. Writing is a foolish dream.


    Smug Mode

    2009 - 10.23

    Though truth be told, I should be less smug than utterly ashamed. I am constantly amazed at how blind the creative process can be – or perhaps it is only me who suffers from this affliction.

    You see it goes something like this: you’re working on story, right. And you think you know your shit. You think you know what’s going on, that you’re in the drivers’ seat. And then someone asks you something extremely simple and blatantly obvious – and you’re totally flummoxed. For me, this catastrophic questions tends to be: so what’s it actually about, then?

    If you’ve seen some of the earlier entries, neither of us is suffering an unexpected bout of déjà vu – I’m just having a creative Groundhog Day. Having ummmmed and ahhhhhed and ripped up and re-laid down the bones of Sieren & Rael/Sienna & Arial (jury is still hung on this small matter of names) over the last fortnight, I had a similarly illuminating confrontation with Lien today.

    What I’d written on the tab page above was utter rubbish. It was a Why, not an About. I knew it needed changing, but was highly reticent about actually sitting down to properly tell you, dear reader, what those 8(ish) books are about. And that’s because, somewhere along the imagination highway, I’d kind of forgotten.

    Fortunately a fruitless ummmming and ahhhhhing session in the cafe this afternoon, followed by a brisk walk home in the chill autumn air, turned about to be exactly the right ingredients. All the confusion and plots and strands and themes joined to make an alchemical concoction… which went something like this:


    Good By You gets SCOODed

    2009 - 10.17

    I’ve just put this together for the Screen Writers Festival Script Library.  This script has been in hibernation for a very long time, but I do so love it and couldn’t resist putting it up there. I’m not convinced the first 1o pages are quite up to the job, and writing the synopsis made me realise I can make it a whole lot better still.

    But this is what made the process exciting: a post on Screen Writing Goldmine, which I found courtesy of one of the script readers I use, Si Spencer, who was terribly pleased to have his services given a resounding two thumbs up in the article. Good news for me too, really.  And within its gems of wisdom, we come across the SCOOD technique for writing log lines. How did I not know this? Or had I just forgotten?

    Situation: When his violent, thick Conan rip-off character and a half-formed monster of darkness blunder into the real world,
    Character: a pulp comics writer
    Objective: must overcome his writers’ block to give depth to
    Opponent: his character and shape to the monster,
    Disaster: before the two of them can wreck vengeance on their ‘creator’.

    And thus we now have a far more interesting logline and synopsis for one-off drama Good By You:


    Someone, please turn the pressure up

    2009 - 10.17

    I entered Starbucks with trepidation, curiosity and quite a lot of difficulty this morning, for about 30 people from what turned out to be the Brutally Early Club – a monthly communion of mad artists – were taking up almost every available seat, table, nook and cranny. In fact, if you take a quick look here, check out the third picture down, top left corner. See the girl with the shock of red hair, backpack and turquoise jacket? Yours truly, reporting to the morning office.

    So I lined up with a few other bemused regulars, hypothesising what the collective might mean, before interrogating a number of members to get the full story. And that was only the start of the distractions.

    First Gib bought Zetti, his absolutely divine girlfriend, freshly arrived from Malaysia; then there were emails with Hols and Ben, and then I thought the little spinning silver fan thing on the top of a chimney pot across the road was spectacularly on fire (it was not: trick of the sun, but an easy mistake to make, you understand) and then I farted around with my blog and ummed and aaahed over the header image again. I think this is what is called constructive procrastination? That, I or am being an absolute slothful prat who does not deserve this gift of Time that I have been granted.

    In fact, let’s be honest – I’m finding this abundance of time in my day frankly terrifying. It’s not as though I have too much time – such a thing is surely impossible. What I have is not enough structural pressure. More than ever, I appreciate the adage about busy people being the ones to get things done.  The potentiality of the space paralyses me. I need deadlines to be harassed and have my efficiency protected by.

    This is why I’m working for Bio again next week. 14+ hours of teaching and the same of working for the Bio relaunch ought to mean I can easily squeeze 20+ hours of writing and SWF research back into the week. Right?

    Can’t wait.

    Putting the Pro in Procrastination

    2009 - 10.15

    Wednesday 14 October:

    Business cards designed and ordered for SWF – check
    Hostel stay extended to see the Moff on the Thurs – check
    Train to Cheltenham – OMG SO EXPENSIVE. Ask Marya to cover Sun night – check
    Several new blogs about writing stuff – check
    Pitched the new S&R to Bram – check
    Decided on a whole new opening post Flash Forward pilot – check
    Prepared and uploaded Fall to Script Library – check
    Procrastinated my way out of actually writing anything about the new S&R pilot – check

    All in all, a hard days work…