Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Stop Gap Blog Post

On Friday, I return to the day job after a long break working on my writing. I'm madly busy trying to finish a few things, and the blog is not getting as much of my attention as I'd like. So, only time for a few bullet points:
  1. About an aeon ago, I went to a Screen South Information day, and a Raindance open evening. A couple of people expressed interest in seeing a write up of these. I have a pile of notes that I hope to turn into a post before too long. Ditto for the next installment of my Digital Shorts diary. Watch this space.
  2. I didn't make the Script Factory 'Wireless and Boundless' scheme but I did at least get a polite (mass) rejection e-mail. 120 people applied for 20 places. Phew! Anyone else apply? Anyone get in?
  3. Paul Cornell's episode of Doctor Who on Saturday was possibly the best so far. And what a cliffhanger!
  4. The BBC Writer's Room still has my radio play, and it's nearly been four months. Is this a good sign or does it take them that long just to reject scripts? I'm hoping for some feedback at least (fingers crossed).
  5. My second spec radio play has been put aside half-finished while I've been revisiting a short. I'm rather pleased with it, so it's off to the British Short Screenplay Competition. Hooray!

Okay, that's all for now. Back to work.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Only just resisted putting a ‘Cannes’ = ‘Can’ pun in the title here

It’s around this time each year that I don’t go to Cannes. I annually don’t soak up the unique atmosphere, don’t race around trying to get meetings, and don’t blag my way into parties or screenings.

Is this a mistake? I ask myself this every year. I’ve never had the readies, and I’ve never been convinced it’s particularly helpful for a writer. This year it was a particularly hard decision to make, though, what with the 60th anniversary and having written a film that’s there too. But my producer has gone over and is flying the flag (ooh, Scooch flashback – nasty!) for ‘Lent’ this week. So, I’ve saved my pennies for the Cheltenham Screenwriter’s Festival in July, which I think will be more useful for me at this juncture.

But, reading Sal Brown’s Cannes updates is wheting my appetite for when I finally give in and give it a go. Next year, definitely. And hopefully, with another short film to take with me…

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Digital Shorts - Part 2: Selection

The continuing tale of my journey as a writer on the UKFC / Screen South Digital Shorts Scheme. Part one took us up to the selection of one of my submitted projects for the initial shortlist in August 2006.

17th – 18th August 2006: two days of interviews held in Brighton, for representatives from each applying team. I’m there for the first of the two days. I’m told around 200 teams applied altogether, and 18 interviews happened on the 17th, including mine. So the long shortlist was somewhere around 36 teams.

The interviews were 15 minutes for the one-minuters, and 30 minutes for the longer ones; they were embedded in a day-long seminar about comedy from Sam Snape, which involved Q&A, screenings of some comedy shorts, and Sam’s enthusiastic stand-up style of interactive training. Later, there was a session with Sam on documentary shorts, and the next day - which I couldn’t make – saw an all-day drama seminar, which all were invited to attend. Some people who couldn’t do the whole day just turned up for their interview, but I liked to think of the seminar as a prize for getting that far, and I stayed for the day. I had lunch with a few of the other attendees down on the beach, as the weather was nice.

I then met with Miranda Robinson, Screen South’s head of development, and Pippa Brill, who would be working as script developer / editor with the winning teams. Also attending was Ricci-Lee Berry, production and development assistant. They gave me some good notes about what worked and what didn’t, and what could be done differently; we discussed various ideas. It was very much like a script development meeting, and not an interview. I decide I really want to work with these people.

30th August 2006: Final deadline to write a new draft of the screenplay based on the notes from my interview. Most other projects will have been given the same task, but some may have been asked to submit different or additional materials. These will now be considered before announcing the final shortlist for second interview. I don’t know exactly how long this final shortlist was; best guess: around 20 teams will be left.

4th September 2006: I get a call informing me that I’m through to the next stage. I’m quite happy to hear this news (understatement).

11th – 12th September 2006: The second set of interviews, held at the Film Council in London. As well as Miranda, Pippa and Ricci-Lee, there are a couple of other Film Council board members. I am nervous, but - again - everyone is very complimentary of my work. There are a few questions, back and forth, but it’s painless and over reasonably quickly – I think it lasted twenty minutes in all. It is here that the possibility of my directing the short is discussed: I turn the offer down. I’ve only ever wanted to be a writer, and I want someone with a little bit of experience to direct the film.

15th September 2006: I’m called on Friday afternoon by Miranda Robinson. I’ve got the gig. I’m ever so slightly chuffed (another understatement). Twelve live-action shorts will be made in all (7 long ones, and 5 short). Miranda tells me that Ricci-Lee Berry is interested in moving into a producer’s role, and asks me if I would like to work with her on ‘Out of the Frying Pan’. As I’ve already met Ricci-Lee, it won’t mean building a completely new working relationship, so it’s ideal. She’s very enthusiastic, and contacts me within a couple of hours of Miranda’s call. We talk about the project, and what to do next: we need a director.

To be Continued...

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Where am I?

I'm in a state, that's where I am. It's a nice state, though. There's so much going on at the moment - which is obviously a good thing - but it just means I have lots of things to blog about, and no time to write the blog entries up.

I've just completed entries for the BBC Writer's Academy, and for the Script Factory 'Wireless and Boundless' scheme. Soon, I will publish the second installment on the process of creating a film for the 06/07 Digital Shorts programme. I've just been to a Screen South Information day, and to Raindance's open evening in London, and there's a bit of useful info to disseminate from both those events. Plus, I am working on a spec radio play. And making arrangements for going to the Screenwriter's Festival in Cheltenham in July, and submitting a feature screenplay to their ScriptMarket. And trying to listen to as many radio plays as I can, and watching every episode of all the four BBC continuing dramas.

There aren't enough hours in the day, I tells ya! Anyway, I hope everyone else is keeping busy too. Better get back to that radio play...

Friday, 11 May 2007

Interrogation, without the Bright Lights

'The Dark Art of Script Development'
[NB: Jason Arnopp has also summarised this event, and the page is linked to from his blog here.]

The Date:
Wednesday 9th May 2007

The Panellists:
Dan MacRae (DM) was formerly Deputy Head of the Development Fund at the UK Film Council and an Executive at Working Title; his credits include RED ROAD and the forthcoming ATONEMENT.

Sarah Golding (SG) is currently Head of Development for Potboiler Productions and was previously Head of Development for Skreba Films, Development Manager at Zenith Productions and Script Consultant for Yorkshire Television and Fair Game Films. Her credits include THE CONSTANT GARDENER, DEEP WATER, BROTHERS OF THE HEAD and the forthcoming THE BEST TIME OF OUR LIVES".

The venue:
Lighthouse in Brighton: very nice squishy leather sofas, and minimalist studio-style d├ęcor. The administration was efficient (though perhaps some handouts with the speakers’ biogs on wouldn’t have gone amiss), and the bottle bar was inexpensive by Brighton standards.

Value for money?
The Q&A went from 7:30 to 9:00pm, with informal networking before and after. Dan and Sarah made time for everyone who wanted to speak to them, and were very pleasant to chat to. It cost only a fiver, and was well worth it. Lighthouse has an event like this on every month, though sometimes with focus more on direction than writing, and I will definitely be looking to come along again.

Why was I there?
The process of script development is very important, and something that any serious scriptwriter should be aware of, but what I – and probably many others – were interested in was how to get our scripts and ideas into development in the first place. This was covered to some degree. Others in the audience wanted to talk about the difficulties inherent in the UK Film Industry, which did tend to get a bit repetitive (there’s no money, too many films are being made, not enough are being seen) but again, the panel were happy to share their thoughts.

The Questions and Answers:

What is this intangible thing called Script Development?
DM: Working with writers to generate an idea, or adaptation of an existing piece, and turn it into a script that will attract talent, funding, and ultimately an audience. The script editor works to translate the feelings of all the interested parties, like financiers or actors, to define the right vision, and achieve consistency for the project. To make some parts stronger, say, or more comedic, as required, without unbalancing the script as a whole.

SG: A different approach if you are a freelancer, rather than working for a big company. Script Development can be more like writer development, helping the writer to hone their skills, project by project and sell themselves as a writer. Helping production companies to accumulate a slate of projects.

What’s the difference between script development and script editing?
To edit something it must exist
DM: Development takes something up to script; after that, editing takes over.

How can an editor ensure that the aims of the piece remain the writer’s rather than the editor’s?
Ask them lots of questions before starting, make sure you’re on the same page; it's an interrogation, but without the bright lights.
DM: Sometimes it isn’t the writer’s aims that need protecting. In ‘Mr Bean’s Holiday’ Rowan Atkinson and Working Title had more input than the writer or director, but the people employed to do those jobs are picked accordingly and aware of this.

What’s the process of development?
DM: It varies every time. You have to identify ambition, identify audience, identify the budget required, and identify how that budget relates to the possibilities of the material. Gain the trust of the team, find a shared vocabulary, identify strengths and weakness and where to go next with a new draft: are you developing plot, or tone, or the world of the story? You’re finding out what the piece is about ultimately, and that is very satisfying.

Should writers or editors try to second-guess the wants of an audience?
SG: Your own taste should be your guide. If I respond well to this, there’s a good chance other people will too. But ‘analysis’ is a better term than ‘second-guessing’. You have to provide security for the money invested. What satisfaction does the audience expect of the genre?
DM: Audiences are well served by TV. What is your film doing that’s different? Bleak and downbeat stories don’t sell so well, so you must be aware of this when thinking about your budget.

Are table readings of scripts important?
DM: Yes, both the UK Film Council and Working title have arranged them. They are usually helpful for comedies, but not so much for dramas where there might be lots of stage directions to read out.

Should the editor research more than the writer?
DM: Yes, it’s very valuable to have explored the subject (but this if you’re working for a company and therefore getting paid for it).
SG: As a freelancer, I wouldn’t expect to do as much research as the writer. There’s not enough money to be a researcher as well as an editor.

What potential is there for new ideas in a world of franchises, adaptations, etc.?
DM: Financiers like to have something more tangible than just a pitch. And an existing property has a built-in audience, which provides them more comfort. So make it a very good idea.
SG: Or write a spec script.
DM: The great thing about being a writer is all you need to do is write.

How would you work with a writer-director that used improvisation? How would you get budget to do this without a script?
Detailed treatments are required. Funding would be based on the reputation of the filmmakers involved. Get a track record in radio or stage plays. Trust equals money.
DM: Establish a structure. Again it comes down to budget.
SG: Or just go out and do it – but you’ll need to find the right actors.

How do you identify a good script?
Something enjoyable, compelling, with characters you can care about. There’s no elitism or mystery, just a response to the material. Write a good script, not a perfect script – something to start a conversation.
SG: It’s not just about good writing, but finding work with a specific voice. This needs to be taken to the right sort of producer.

How important is a good writing style?
Quite important- clumsy technique can put you off a script you’re reading.

How important is 3-act structure these days?
It’s at the heart of genre cinema, but you don’t hear as much about it in the UK as you do in the US.

How would you give advice to a unique voice / auteur?
SG: They need funding from an arts body. Financiers don’t usually want this kind of work.
DM: Auteurs need money from across Europe. Script editing doesn’t exist in France, for example. But the UK is not an auteur country, it’s a genre country.
What genres?
DM: Comedy, Action, Rom-Com, Teen Movies, Family Movies…
SG: Or something with a bravura performance from a star.

But unknown writers don’t stand a chance, do they?
Everyone’s an unknown at first.
DM: There’s no desire to shut out new writers.

And what about getting paid?
You priority must be to work with producers that have money.
SG: Producers with a track record shouldn’t be asking you to work for no money. But if both you and the producer are at the start of your careers, you can take a risk on a project together.

What can you do when the writer/editor working relationship goes bad?
Who’s running the show? If it’s the producer, they need to step in and resuce the project.
SG: Find a new script editor. Go back to a draft you were happy with, and work from there.

Have you ever wanted to be a writer yourself?
SG: Absolutely not! That's why I do the job I do - I don't want to take over from the writer, I'd rather work with them.

Final thoughts
Through the evening, there was also some sharing of script development horror stories from members of the audience, and from the panel. In all cases, it seems it is best to be clear about your intentions from the off, and not be afraid to revert to a previous draft.

My experience (working on 'Lent' ) was very positive, but when I first went in, I hadn't fully formed my aims for the piece and written them down. I would advise anyone in the same position to do this, even if you change your mind about the content later. Luckily, I had a development exec that helped me to understand the strengths of what I'd written - and pull those intentions out of my woolly subconscious and onto the page.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Script Development event, Lighthouse, Brighton

Attended this useful event last night. A full report will be up as soon as I can find a few moments to decipher my notes. I met the very talented Jason Arnopp there, who will also be writing it up, and I'm sure that between us we'll get everything of interest down.

That was the first time I've met someone who I'm already familiar with from their blog. Praise be to blogging, it makes networking so much easier when you know there's at least one friendly face in the crowd at an event. I hope to meet many more of you guys when I go to things. Talking of which:

A head's up. Raindance - who provide training, and run an independent film festival - are having an open day next Tuesday (15th) in London. Details on their website here. It looks very likely I shall be going, I'm just juggling meetings at the moment.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Digital Shorts - Part 1: Submission

A few kind folks have expressed an interest in my experiences on the UK Film Council / Screen South Digital Shorts scheme over the past year. I’ll have to post this in a few chunks, when I find time. But here’s the first bit:

June 2006: I receive Screen South’s mailshot announcing the Digital Shorts scheme is open for applications, deadline in mid-July. There are three strands: ‘Long Shots’ for five to nine minute shorts, ‘Close Ups’ for one minute live-action, and ‘One Minute Wonders’ for one minute animation.

I have seen the scheme advertised in previous years, but not felt I had the right quality of script to put forward. And I had it in my head – perhaps correctly – that the scheme was not intended for writers who didn’t have anyone else attached to their projects. But, I have a strong nine-minute comedy screenplay perfect for the ‘Long Shots’ strand, and – scouring the guidelines - I find nothing in there about needing to have anyone else attached. In fact, one of the reasons for the scheme is to hook up talent, so I hoped my script would be enough for Screen South to put me together with director and producer.

July 2006: I polish the script, and put together the large amount of material required (this is certainly something that would be easier when applying as part of a team). Five copies each of the screenplay, my CV, a synopsis, a director’s statement of intent (I wrote this as guidelines for any director that became attached). Even though I didn’t have to submit any visual material, it was listed as an optional requirement: so, I drew up some storyboards, again as guidelines for future crew. I found out at my interview that the panel was impressed with the storyboards (though perhaps not with my stick-man art), so I’m glad I made the effort.

Mid-July: days before the deadline, I get the crazy idea that I should apply for the ‘Close-up’ one-minute strand as well. I’d had an idea rattling around my head for months that I was planning to write as a three-minute short, but it will be good practice to tell it in a disciplined way. It also might attract attention as it is a drama, and one-minuters are usually comedic. I have a day off work, write the script and prepare the materials, including more storyboards (five copies of everything). I put everything in the post, thinking that the long one is a definite contender, but that maybe it wasn’t worth rushing the short one, as it doesn’t stand much of a chance.

Mid-August: I get a call from Screen South. I’ve made it to the long shortlist. Hooray! But only for one of my projects: my one-minute drama “Out of the Frying Pan” is going through to the next stage of selection. The other one isn’t. Show’s what I know…

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Radio, Radio

Two quickies about radio drama.

As mentioned in the comments of this post, I have been investigating radio drama development executives. They most definitely exist for every region, but they cannot be submitted to directly (except in BBC Radio Scotland - see the writers' room site here ). Radio drama submissions in all other regions should go to the writers' room, or to a producer (BBC or independent).

The best thing to do would be to keep an eye out for any events where these development producers speak, and network there; but, I haven't heard of any such events, and nor can I find a current list of development producers working at the BBC. If I find anything out, I'll be sure to post here.

Secondly, I wondered if people had seen this scheme advertised: Wireless and Boundless. It sounds very interesting to me, and I'll be entering. Deadline is May 24th.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Screen South & UKFC Digital Shorts - Class of 2007

Wednesday night was the Cast and Crew Screening for the 2006/2007 Screen South Digital Shorts. It wasn’t much of a slog for me to get there, as it was held at the Cineworld on Brighton Marina. I used to be a regular patron of this cinema in my popcorn-munching youth, and it was fantastic to see a whole screen occupied, for one night only, with a programme of shorts including one what I wrote.

Alas there was no ‘Lent’ legend and poster alongside those for ‘Spiderman 3’ and ‘Mr. Bean’s Holiday’, but I did get a schedule with my name on it as writer (woo-hoo!) as well as Lent’s synopsis and enigmatic promo pic (a plate of pancakes). Queuing to go in, I bumped into people I’d met at the first interview session last Summer, and found out they’d been selected too. Which was nice.

Thirteen shorts made up the 90-minute programme. Our film was the second one shown, and so my expectation and nerves didn’t have to last long. Seeing the work on the big screen added so much (I know that should’ve been obvious, but it still came as a wonderful revelation). After that, the time whizzed by, so good were all the shorts shown. I was proud that our film was one of such a high-quality crop. Some good ten-minute dramas, two beautiful short documentaries, and some great one-minute comedies in there. I’m far too close to the production to have an unbiased opinion of ‘Lent’; I hope people like it. It got many favourable comments afterwards, so here’s hopin’.

The party that followed the screening was more of a celebration than a networking opportunity, but I tried my best. [I was – and still am - looking for a producer that might want to work on a comedy short this year. My e-mail is in my profile, if you’re interested]. Everyone is now bracing themselves for the long tail of marketing and distribution – there’s at least another two years of work (!) involved in getting the work out there.

And it’s been nearly a year since I embarked on this journey. As there’s been some interest, I’m going to post in the next few days about my experiences on the scheme. Watch this space…

Coming soon (fingers crossed) to a festival near you: UK Film Council and Screen South present ‘Lent’ by Stuart Perry; directed by James Twyford, produced by Ricci-Lee Berry. “Every Shrove Tuesday, Diane makes pancakes for her husband. And every year, she tries to give up something bad for her. This year she’s using a new recipe. And she’s going to have to give up something big for Lent.”