Saturday, 21 July 2007

Three Events

Two nice, one nasty.

Screen South are having an Information Day in Hastings on the 1st August. They will be talking about the Digital Shorts scheme for 2008, and screening some of the shorts from last year - I don't know whether 'Lent' will be one of those shown yet, but I hope so. I can't make it, sadly, but I urge any southern-based filmmakers to get there if they can. Note to Londoners and Northerners: the Digital Shorts schemes normally run at around the same time in all the regions, so keep an eye out as you should hear something soon. In fact, South West screen have already held a roadshow introducing their scheme, which Lucy Vee has written up here.

The WGGB are having a broadcasting event on 9th September, where Paul Ashton and Kate Rowland from the BBC Writers' Room will be interviewed. I'm going along to this one, as I missed out on Kate's appearance at Cheltenham.

And the final event is the death of my PVR due to fatal hard-drive crash. One day it was a portal to a world of entertainment, the next it became an expensive matt-black paperweight that flashes 'Er09' at me. No more freeview channels, no more hard drive to store episodes of telly for 'research' purposes. No time-shifting. Garrgh! If I want to watch a programme, I have to sit down when it's on, on analogue, which - let's face it- is practically impossible.

It's out of warranty, so I'll have to save up now for a new one. And that means next to no TV. For weeks. I'm choosing to see this as an experiment. I certainly have more time for writing. But I also have this yawning emptiness inside - is that normal?

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Digital Shorts - Part 3: Script Development

Another instalment of my writer's diary from the UKFC / Screen South Digital Shorts Scheme 2006/07. Parts one and two which I posted ages ago now, took the tale up to the selection of my script “Out of the Frying Pan” as one of the digital shorts 2007, and the attachment of a producer, Ricci-Lee Berry.

Late September 2006: arrangements are made for producers and directors to attend a training session at the NFTS. Ricci-Lee attends this. In the meantime, we both were scouring websites, and our contacts lists, for a suitable director. This was a long task, and obviously an important one. The worst thing that can happen is to end up working with a director that doesn’t have the same vision of the material as you do. But how do you tell who’s attracted to the material, rather than just attracted to the juicy UKFC funding already in place?

Well, you have to get to know them, and see if you like the cut of their jib. This can take a lot of time, and be very frustrating; and, it is where, with hindsight, I can see the advantages in applying to the scheme with a director already attached. Once you’re given a go-ahead and a budget, you want to spend every moment you can in development and preparation. If the director (and producer, if you can get one) has been with you from day one, then you can start the fun stuff straight away.

October 2006 – December 2006: Over the next month, I watch a lot of showreels, and towards the end of October, Ricci-Lee, Screen South Exec Miranda Robinson and I perform the first of our interviews. We whittled down the number of candidates over the next couple of weeks, and then we went quite a long way with one director, but things didn’t work out. It was mid-December when we finally appointed the third big member of the team: James Twyford - who had previously worked on the Digital Shorts scheme in 2005, with the comedy short ‘Little Things’ - was our director.

November 2006 – January 2007: While we hunted for a director, script development took place. I had notes for the next draft based on the discussions during the selection process, and Ricci-Lee had some good ideas. The marvellous Pippa Brill, script executive for half of the 2006/07 Screen South Digital shorts output, including our film, worked with me to realise these. Input came in from our initial director, and then from James.

I think in total there were about ten drafts before we submitted our final script to the UKFC, which isn’t a great deal in the larger scheme of things, but unfortunately not all of these drafts were for the better. Drafts 3 to 5 were a digression, and we kept little or no material from them when we reverted back to draft 2 as the launching point for all future work. [By the by, I’d recommend this approach if you get too bogged down - never be scared to admit you’ve taken the wrong track, and revert back to an older draft. It will stop you going insane.]

How did it happen? Simply: I didn’t know the strengths of my own material. It sounds dumb, but it is a very easy trap to fall into. When people get together to discuss scripts – and we did make the effort to all be in the same room occasionally, although a lot more was done on the phone, or by email - notes fly around, and creativity bounces off every corner of the room, and before you know it, someone - with the best of intentions - has said “Why don’t we set this domestic drama in –ooh, I don’t know – a spaceship?” and you’re saying, “Dammit, you're right”.

(That particular example never occurred, but we had a few mad ideas that weren’t far off it).

Luckily, I had Pippa to get me back on track. At that stage, I wrote down every point that I thought was good or worthwhile about the story, and I kept that piece of paper with me for the rest of the process. It wasn’t about being precious: it was just to remind myself what worked; had anyone tried to persuade me to change any of those points, I would have listened to their views. But everything on that list made it to the screen, because ultimately we all agreed that it was the heart of the film.

It was also during these months that the title “Out of the Frying Pan” became “Recipe” (for about a week), then “Pancake Day”, and finally “Lent.” So, we made it to the beginning of 2007 with a title, a locked script, and a shooting date for early February. All we needed now was a crew.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Pearls from Cheltenham

I've settled on a different approach to covering the Cheltenham Screenwriters' Festival, as so many others have covered things in depth elsewhere. So here are a few soundbites that stuck in my head over the two professional days, all of which seemed wise:

Be a writer-producer, either in reality or in your mind: think like a filmmaker when you are writing (Bill Nicholson)

Read books on negotiating – beware of saying ‘Yes’ to your first offer, or signing whatever contract is put in front of you (David Kavanagh)

Join the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain and make use of its services (Julian Friedmann)

No one owes you a living as a screenwriter. If you think the money or treatment isn’t good enough – do something else (Julian, again, sugar-coating things as always - don't hold back, Julian, tell us how you really feel!!)

He's right, of course; but, to balance it out:

A professional is an amateur who didn't quit (Stuart Perry, but I'm only passing it on - I must have read it somewhere, possibly in Julian's wonderful ScriptWriter magazine)

Change the system for the better in whatever small way you can (Valentin Tubau)

Try to work on projects that excite you, or you find fun. A film will only be any good, if the writer has had fun doing it (Michael Goldenburg)

Tell the truth – it saves time (Michael Goldenburg again - and he backed this up with a great story about Tom Hanks, who - as producer of a film that Michael was in line to write - pitched his producer's idea of how the story would work. Michael thought about it overnight, and said 'No, I can't write it in that way, but good luck with it". Within days, Hanks was banging down his door to say "Okay then, how would you write it?")

The best notes are from people who know about life, not necessarily those who know about writing ((Sir) David Hare)

Advice is terribly cheap. If someone offers you input when they have no investment - monetary or emotional - in the project, disregard that advice (Sir David, again, who had a wonderful analogy for this behaviour: the people giving advice without investment are like the blondes in Casino movies that stand behind the cigar-chomping rich guys and say "Put it all on red, honey". If you don't pay, you don't get a place at the table!)

Good writing finds its way – it may take time, but it finds its way (Diana Ossana)

The battles you have when making a screenplay work will ultimately be battles with yourself. How far can you go against your own integrity? (Anthony Horowitz)

And this was only a fraction of the pearls of wisdom on offer. But I'm mindful that I haven't got any comments from the last two big sessions on the final day. So , a brief note on each:

Simon Oakes, of Hammer films, is working on building a slate of horror pictures - aiming for at least five low budget pics per year. He may be remaking some classic Hammer films, but he's also looking to the future, particularly for psychological horror scripts. You can pitch projects to Hammer, as long as you have an agent or a lawyer.

Stephen Frears. What can you say? If you get the chance, see him speak - he's always a good performer, and the unprepared interviewer should beware. But he also has some wonderful information for writers and directors. The main thing I took away from his session was that, if one can, one should work with a director like Stephen Frears, or - if one is really lucky - a director who is Stephen Frears. He brings no preconceptions to the project he wants to work on next, he just finds a script that excites him and makes as good a film as possible from it. And he works with the writer at every stage to achieve that. The results speak for themselves.

Back Home from 'Nham

Back from the Cheltenham Festival to masses of work of the writing kind, the Day Job kind, and the household kind. And I had a bit of sleep to catch up on too.

I will be posting a write-up of the two professional days soon - it won't be exhaustive, but it should be informative. In the meantime, my overall impressions:

The administration was very efficient for the most part. The sessions were excellent - a good mix of information-packed sessions, and the more after-dinner style speakers with wonderful Hollywood war stories. The food was expensive, but the tea was free. And there was always a KFC five minutes outside the venue, if one fancied a variety meal (I did - I'm not proud, I was hungry).

I had a great script meeting while I was there, and managed to pitch a project to a producer. It went disastrously, but that's another story (good thing I wasn't on stage!)

I met many wonderful writers, some I already knew, some whose blogs I read, and some whom I was meeting for the first time. Aside from the speakers, it seems there weren't many writers making a living from screenwriting alone, but quite a few who make a living solely from writing in various media, or with an industry day job (which, I think is a pretty good show for a random sample of screenwriters in the UK).

I am saving the pennies now, so that I can go for all four days next year. Take no notice of the Newbie/Professional split - you really need to get as much Screenwriters' Festival as you can in 2008.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Off to the Screenwriters' Festival

Going straight from work tomorrow to Cheltenham, so I probably won't be able to post for a couple of days. I'll be sure to report back at the weekend. Ta ta!