Sunday, June 28, 2009

Be careful what you wish for


I'm not going to claim that my every wish comes true - I should be so lucky - but I do find the universe tends to come around to my point of view, more often than not, eventually.*

I have occasionally bemoaned the fact that the Virgin train journey time from Manchester to Milton Keynes is too short. I can't really get into any solid writing.

Well not today. Much longer journey time because there are signalling problems just outside London, again, so trains have been cancelled and the one I ended up on is taking longer because its stopping more frequently.

The trouble with blind obedience to wishes is that it tends to take no notice of consequences.

The train is packed.

*Yes, of course, it could be coincidence, in which case I'm a fan ... mostly

What's on the turntable? Not a sausage (and not anything else either)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Writing at last

Yes, finally back in Creativity Ville. Wrote the key scene from Tec that's been balking me for a while and the next couple. Then I lay down on my bed and stared at the ceiling.

Nothing like staring at the ceiling for a bit. I planned out the final few steps of this episode. The apparent denouement, when the murderer gets arrested, then the real end when the real bad guy reveals himself almost gets the protagonist but fails (Hurray!).

Although Tec is a "story of thee week" detective series there is a revenge arc running through the first season about why the protagonist - just out of jail - got in there in the first place. I had been relying on a character from this story to provide the final piece in the last episode of his own free will - which was dicey.

A reason why he must do his thing in the final episode suddenly evolved in this episode (it hadn't been planned) - I love it when a story comes together.

What's on the turntable? "Perilous Journey, Guitar & Piano version" by Gordon Giltrap from "Perilous Journey"

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Deja Vu, all over again

Okay, that was weird.

Everybody gets those moments of "oh I've seen this before", like when the cat flickers and suddenly moves back to a previous position and replays.

Or something.

But this one went on uncomfortably too long. I got the "seen it before" feeling while looking at a particular arrangement of windows on the computer. Then I did something else and that was part of it. Then I thought "deja vu all over again" and nearly screamed as that was part of the replay too.

And I knew I had to do something different because the original version ended badly.

So I wrote this. Which wasn't in the original. Phew.

Now I really need to be doing some original writing on Tec.

What's on the turntable? "Reflections" by Gordon Giltrap from "Perilous Journey"

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Snakes and Ladders

Quick update 'cos I've been busy.

The Director has been working on some visuals for the Monsters Trailer. Meanwhile I've gathered the scenes that we need to shoot and cut them back. I'd like to shoot a fair bit more than we need but there are constraints (of course).

I dug out Tec which I haven't worked on for three weeks now and read it through to get myself back into the flow. Not bad, if I do say so myself.

My Accidental Contact got back in touch and we're arranging a meeting. I suppose that means I'm going to have to practice my pitching. Damn. Still I could do that on the way down to my sister's 40th birthday party at the weekend.

While showering just now I worked out how to turn Snakes and Ladders into a real game. Does that have anything to do with screenwriting? Yes it does.

What's on the turntable? "Daylight" by Coldplay from "Rush of Blood to the Head"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cargo Cult Filmmaking

To quote the opening of the Wikipedia article on Cargo Cults:

A cargo cult is a type of religious practice that may appear in tribal societies in the wake of interaction with technologically advanced, non-native cultures. The cults are focused on obtaining the material wealth of the advanced culture through magical thinking, religious rituals and practices, believing that the wealth was intended for them by their deities and ancestors ... Members, leaders, and prophets of cargo cults maintain that the manufactured goods ("cargo") of the non-native culture have been created by spiritual means, such as through their deities and ancestors, and are intended for the local indigenous people, but that, unfairly, the foreigners have gained control of these objects through attraction of these material goods to themselves by malice or mistake.

The result is the instigation of rituals and rites to bring the cargo to them, invoking the magic that will see them rewarded with the cargo from the sky.

Which made me think of Hollywood and, to a slightly lesser extent, other Film/TV organisations and conglomerates. (Actually mega-corporations as well but that's not my focus.)

Talent-less executives using the magical rituals of the "screenwriting gurus" that they perceive as the magical formulas for success in their desperation to create the blockbuster that will make them.

The magic must work because it has worked is the thinking.

The fact that these so-called formulae only work if backed by actual writing talent passes them by, just like any ignorant savage. Woebetide (and a thousand curses upon) anyone who suggests that a good story with good characters is what you actually need.

A simple concept, a horrible result. Let the sacrificing of human hearts begin.

Addendum: And, of course, the more they fail, the stronger they adhere to the rituals - they must have done some bit of it wrong, must stick even more strenuously to the prescribed rules. If it didn't work it can't be the ritual that was wrong...

I can't claim complete originality for this concept, I read this article today and realised that it applies particularly to Hollywood and other TV/Film establishments.

What's on the turntable? Nuffink, I'm at work

Monday, June 22, 2009

Nobody wants to be a loser

What happens when you're identifying with a character in a story? You become that character, depending on the skill of the author.

You have to have some appreciation of what it's like to be that character. That's why deeper themes have more resonance, concepts like happy and sad are fundamental to human nature so if a character is happy or sad for an understandable reason you can identify, even if you've never been in a situation like theirs.

But that's only the start of it.

The character's dreams become your dreams (to a greater or lesser extent, it's all subjective, naturally), their aspirations become yours, their decisions are your decisions. You have to agree that what they're doing is logical - otherwise the story is lost to you.

(As a side note, although identifying with the protagonist is the main activity we also identify to some extent with all the others too. Any character behaving "out of character" is spotted immediately - how could you do that if you didn't identify with them too?)

So the protagonist must, within his realm, be successful. Nobody likes to be a loser, so you can't make your protagonist into an unredeemed loser - unless it's a comedy, but even then they have their little successes. Frasier Crane was a wonderful loser - but even he came out on top occasionally.

But people do like to be a hero, even if it's only a minor hero. They don't have to save the world but saving something is good. And it's better if it's not just themselves, because this world involves other people and (apart from a small minority) everybody wants to help if they can.

In a story where stupid people are getting systematically slaughtered by something very unpleasant, being given no other choice, the viewer will identify with the murderer - because at least that character is succeeding at something.

Nobody wants to be a loser.

What's on the turntable? "Soil Festivities (Movement 4)" by Vangelis

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Celtx Studios

Collaboration is a nice friendly word, all cuddly. It's chocolate where a word like "organisation" is dry flour.

Unfortunately - just like the uncomfortable fact that if you have decided you want people to buy your writing skills you're a business (whether you like it or not) - another uncomfortable fact is that if you are working with other people to produce some end result you are now an "organisation". Calling it "collaboration" doesn't make it any easier - it could make it harder because you may think that it's something that it's not.

The efficiency of any organisation is proportional to the level of communication between the individual team members. And that's two-way communication, not just dictats from on high. Regardless of whether it's a behemoth of a blockbuster or a couple of mates with a camera.

If you work in the same location as your team mates you can chat, discuss and whatever, the person you need to speak to will generally be on hand. But even then it can be hard, there are misunderstandings as well as people's lives getting in the way.

Distributed organisations are a thousand times worse. If the people you're working with are not around you, but scattered across the globe, or even just the country, the level of communication drops, the opportunities for misunderstandings increase. Idle gossip can become a serial killer's knife slashing through the body of your organisation.

So if you are operating a distributed team in an effort to produce some sort of film, you have truly got your work cut out - you have to keep the communication level high, and keep the thing moving.

Celtx is a free screenwriting tool and production tool. From one computer you can write the script, and perform most of the breakdowns you need to organise the actual production. Which is great if you're just one person, but organisations aren't, they're more than one. What can you do then?

This is where Celtx Studio comes in. Celtx acts as a front-end to a powerful online application which not only stores your project in a central location it allows you to create a set of user accounts that other people can use to log in and work with the project.

So you, as the writer, can create the screenplay, the director can produce a shooting script, or a shot list, or whatever. the producer can use the system to assign locations, actors, props to a calendar and have automated call sheets and what not.

All saved in this central location, all available to the people that are given the accounts.

Celtx Studio is not free but the entry level is not expensive ($5/month) which gives you four additional accounts; $15/month for 15 accounts, and so on: $1/month per seat basically.

Using a little ingenuity it's possible to create a communication system using Celtx alone - use specific documents for communicating. Putting things in writing is better than phone calls which are too ephemeral.

That's the theory. We shall see how it works out in practice...

What's on the turntable? "Soil Festivities, Movement 3" by Vangelis

Friday, June 19, 2009

Good news, bad news

Mostly I've been working on the website for a friend (as part of the keeping my CV up-to-date procedure), when it's finished I'll tell you where it is. It is screenwriting-related.

However yesterday evening I didn't work on it, I got excited instead.

Why did I get excited? I read a page of text which represented 30 seconds of on-screen time. And I went "Ooooooo, that's good, I want to watch that TV show."

There was minimal description - in fact minimal wordage - but I could picture it (and hear it) perfectly.

It was the Director's take on what the Monsters trailer should consist of, and it really conjured up the first episode for me - of course, I could see it and hear it because it's my universe, built with these very digits that are typing for you now. But it's thrilling to realise the Director has bought into that universe too.

The bad news is that my illustrator for the Monsters: The Graphic Novel has become involved in an activity that means he won't be able to do the work. Pooh. I can't really criticise 'cos he's doing something truly worthwhile (in a social sense) but he apologised and had to bow out.

So that's a bit buggered until I can find someone new.

In other news...

The Daughter finished her last A-Level exams yesterday, and that's it for school. Done. Finished. She's a free agent - now she has to get out there and earn some pennies so she can go to Borneo next year.

What's on the turntable? "Soil Festivities (1st Movement)" by Vangelis. A new purchase to replace the Teacher's tape that we lost many years ago. Love Vangelis.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

As a final comment on the Ofsted inspection at the Teacher's school - today she was at an Early Years conference for educators in Huddersfield. As it turns out, unsurprisingly, everything she's implemented in the school is 100% right.

Monday saw the CBBC Screenwriting Q&A in London which I didn't attend but many in the local scribosphere did - the list is summarised by Robin in this blog entry (and includes two people I wasn't previously aware of, they are added to my huge number of blogs). Since I sent my entry - Air - three weeks ago I can't change anything but I am very interested to know whether I got it right or not.

So I have analysed each blog to arrive at the definitive list, so thanks to everyone who took the trouble to (a) go; and (b) share:
  1. Relentlessly exciting;
  2. Expanding the imagination of kids;
  3. Show the world differently;
  4. Educate and inform through entertainment;
  5. Don't talk down to them;
  6. Help children find their place in the world;
  7. Provide quality shows that will be remembered into adulthood;
  8. Child-driven story - they are the protagonists, they do the problem solving;
  9. Real characters with depth;
  10. Small cast but enough to allow for replacement in case of illness (more common in kids);
  11. Mix of characters in scenes for both potential illness and allowing for restrictions on performance that kids have;
  12. The protagonists must have exciting lives;
  13. Be scary as appropriate - but not too scary;
  14. Think big, go anywhere;
  15. Take risks - if the characters are good you still might get the commission even if it means toning down the risks;
  16. Make sure you balance emotion with action;
  17. Know your genre and use it;
  18. Have a solid/unusual concept;
  19. Don't do personal relationships with the kids (target audience is too young);
  20. Different cultures;
  21. Mental illness (wha?);
  22. No less than 28 pages (no more than 32);
  23. Do number scenes;
  24. Write from a child viewer's perspective;
Credit where credit's due most of this excellent list was stolen from Michelle (whose blog, incomprehensibly, I wasn't following either. Weird.)

Everybody mentioned this as well (wording nicked from Jez though he didn't write it): The drama should be all of these: MAGICAL (like waking up and seeing carpet of snow for the first time) THRILLING (like a ride at Alton Towers) and EXCITING (like Christmas Eve when you're a kid).

As mentioned yesterday this is a selfish blog because I am happy to report that Air meets pretty much all the requirements, except it's 27 pages (they won't shoot me for that will they?) And I did number the scenes because that's what most of my readers want - it makes it easier to discuss points.

I never talk down to kids, and never have - they're human beings who happen to have smaller bodies than adults. (I could never comprehend people who have the idea that they "own" their children. We are given the responsibility of bringing up a child so that he or she can survive successfully in this vicious world we live in: they have to be tough without losing the love.)

Funnily enough, I even have the mental health thing in there - since the main adult character assumes the protagonist has been abused and has created a fantasy world of her own to escape it. Amusing.

Risks? Yes. Conceptually big and unusual? I think so. Scary? Oh yes.

Without really thinking about it I do have a good mix of scenes some not involving the kids. I was well aware of the licensing issue since our children have done professional performances. (We've just received the paperwork for the Boy's licencing for recording Bamzooki.) Mind you the illness thing kind of surprised me, our two are almost never ill - neither of them has seen the inside of a hospital since they were born. The Daughter was personally affronted when she got a cold a couple of months ago, how dare the virus come her way.

No boy-girl (or any other variation) planned in Air. Though, funnily enough, one of my readers suggested there might be something between the protagonist and one other character. Quite surprised me. It's not in the outline.

Most of the other stuff is there too. So I heave a sigh of relief.

If you want to read the first 10 pages of Air you should be able to download it from my Shooting People profile. If you're a member, you can read it all. (Note: as of 9:00pm this evening this page is generating an error for some reason.)

And did they really say that Buffy was about slaying vampires? How silly. It was about being a teenager and how hard it is growing up. Air, on the other hand, is about family.

What's on the turntable? "Mother Stands for Comfort" by Kate Bush from "The Hounds of Love"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy endings

Although the Teacher only got about 3 hours sleep last night due to worry, the tactics we'd discussed actually worked. She found a suitable document, e-mailed it to the Headteacher. Plus others in her team, equally annoyed, had done their own research and pulled out all sorts of interesting and useful stats.

These all got passed on to the Ofsted inspector - who completely reversed her position and, though it's not official yet, awarded the best grade she was allowed to give. And was very complimentary.

The Teacher is very tired but much happier.

Thanks for your concern, peeps. It's a lesson in never bowing to the inevitable, no matter how battered you might feel.

I'm still making progress on the website I have to work on, spent another 3 hours on it this evening (since most interesting shows have finished their runs for the time being). Be able to get back to writing the real stuff soon. Tomorrow there will be a fairly selfish post about writing.

What's on the turntable? "Don't Interrupt the Sorrow" by Joni Mitchell from "The Hissing of Summer Lawns"

Monday, June 15, 2009

Open the vents


This is nothing to do with screenwriting.

Just got off the phone to the Teacher who is really upset. Her school is getting the Ofsted treatment. The Teacher is in charge of Foundation, the little ones. This type of unit is run according to the Government's EYFS guidelines. (Early Years and Foundation.)

It is actually pretty good and for the very young ones encourages learning by playing - "child-initiated learning" is the buzz phrase. You give them lots of things they can do, lots of different sorts of experiences and the children do them. They role-play, play with words, letters and numbers and so forth. The "teachers" are there to help, and to put in ideas for the kids to think about and try out. There are guided activities (what you might call "teaching") as well but these tend to be short.

So in comes this woman from Ofsted and thinks it's all a mess and nobody is learning anything, the Teacher is on for a barely Satisfactory rating when actually she is the one who goes round to other schools to help them put in EYFS, her work is exemplary and recognised.

Why does this woman not recognise this? Because she is a Secondary school teacher, Key Stage 3 = teenagers, and she knows nothing about EYFS.

Plus there is no appeal system, so this ignorant woman issues her dictat that says the Foundation stage is barely Satisfactory and that goes on the Teacher's permanent record and there is nothing that can be done about it.

Of course I'm angry. And frustrated because I'm not there, not that there'd be anything I could do even if I was. The only thing is to search the web for a Government document that is a simple guide to EYFS that she can show this stupid woman tomorrow.

I did suggest being all nice and saying "Oh gosh, what you're saying is very interesting - can you show me where it says that in the EYFS guidelines?"


Still working on a Drupal 6 website, getting into the nitty-gritty now, but should be finished soon.

What's on the turntable? "Warning Sign" by Coldplay from "Rush of Blood to the Head"

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Oh. My. God. #7

Yes indeedy.

We all know this business is about contacts but you only make contacts by communicating (inconvenient but true).

Again can't say much about this but it's another potential commission that this time came through an accidental contact. To explain without explaining, I got this contact by accident when someone thought I needed to talk to this person when, in fact, I didn't. However this person read Monsters, liked it and wants to talk to me about their project.

Even accidents can be happy.

What's on the turntable? Nowt.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Lonesome Trail

I'm so glad I invited input on trailers and thanks (in no particular order) to Frank, Chris and Eleanor for commenting, even if I did lie about the prize.

Clearly I am not the only person to think that a trailer is a visual logline - yup, Frank, my exact words in the sealed envelope, as opened by the lovely Samantha, in front of invigilators. (Samantha loves to open up in front of invigilators.*) And you said it too Eleanor.

That's it really. Protagonist, Antagonist, Goal + Barriers (conflict), Setting.

Now we just have to get clever and choose the right bits. (Eleanor, I promise we won't do anything to cause you to come round and kill me.)

Chris, I wonder how different it needs to be if it really is a visual logline?

What's on the turntable? Still quiet, I'm currently on my way back from Derby and wrote this last night on the train.

* My tribute to the late great Humphrey Littleton.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Are you "industry ready"?

The Scriptmarket '09 meeting was today and my arrival went completely to plan.

I'm not entirely sure how much to tell you, because I'm rather tired and not feeling my garrulous self. The overall idea was to see where you are up to in terms of being ready to push your script into the market but it was primarily directed at movies, though I wasn't the only one with TV series ideas.

So there were interviews with industry peeps based on the script report that we'd all been given and there were exercises in logline writing and pitch writing. In case you hadn't noticed I can be an arrogant sod when the mood takes me.

As it is I got rather defensive in the interview (I was second-up in my group). You see I had two problems: first, I didn't like the script report because, in some respects, it went against every one of my recent reports on Monsters. Plus there were a couple of actual errors (like thinking it was a 2-parter when it's a 6-parter). So my arrogance popped up with a vengeance.

The second problem is a little hard to resolve though I have, in fact, reached a resolution.

I think Monsters is great (naturally) I would love to see it made. But I am also a pragmatic realist: who is going to make a UK-based, fairly expensive, SF series? Probably no one. So, let's just call it a sample script - and a damn good one which has already done me good service.

So there I sit in the interview: what do I want to do with the script? Who do I want to talk to at the Scriptmarket? (That's the real prize: you get to have quality time with a major player.)

So my initial response? An agent. Why? Because I want someone to promote my writing, not have someone make Monsters. (That road leads to disappointment only.)

But then, let's look at the truth of this: I want it made, don't I? And we're going to be working on this trailer, aren't we? Why am I bothering if, deep down, I don't want to push it? Plus, didn't I start to organise a "Original Graphic Novel" of Monsters as well?

At this point I scream - the sensible part of me insisting that I'm not really bothered and it's just a sample script. This didn't all happen in the interview, by the way, much of this was thinking afterwards. Someone said I looked shell-shocked - perhaps that's how I look when I'm thinking.

At the end of the day we were asked to tell the gorgeous Phoebe (the Runner-de-jour, and prolific Radio 4 afternoon play writer) who we wanted to see, and I said "Producer". Well, why not? Monsters was good enough to write, it should be good enough to produce.

The pitch exercise was fun - basically we paired up, told our story to our partner and then that person had to pitch it to the group. There are some very important lessons to learn there. I was with Maria, unfortunately we spent too much time on Monsters and not enough on hers "The Trowman's Last Trip". This cost us. I failed to communicate my story to Maria and I didn't know hers well enough. I thought her story idea was very good.

However there are some brilliant stories in there. Some of which were pitched brilliantly. (Ruth - I think - actually got spontaneous applause.)

The afternoon was spent learning more things about pitching, what a Sales Agent does and bits about how the Film Council now works and what money and help is available for unproduced writers. (They get 25-30 applications a week, accept 25-ish in a year, and 2 of those are likely to become actual films - I thought those were damn good odds: 1 in 26.)

I met some excellent people, made good friends, and discovered I am rubbish at pitching.

So, am I "industry ready"? Script-wise, yes; personally, probably not.

What's on the turntable? It's all quiet on the train.

Congatulations, Our One Millionth Visitor!

Prepared this last night, just had to tell you.

This website is one of the ones I own and run with my business partner (he does the clever SEO stuff which he is really good at) and I wrote most of the content.

And it's just had its millionth visitor. Yay!

What's on the turntable? "Ave mundi spes Maria, sequence in modes 7 & 8" a Gregorian Chant sung by some monks.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Future tense

So... tomorrow is the "Scriptmarket Market Ready Workshop" in That London.

I shall be up an hour earlier than usual, hopping on a train and arriving Euston at about 8:15. The event starts at 9:00am, and the Underground trains are on strike. (Not the trains themselves, you understand, but the staff.)

Which means two things: I shall be walking a mile or so to the location (unless I decide to take a taxi - but they're 'spensive) and I expect the train not to be very crowded, which is a definite plus.

I'll be travelling all the way back up North afterwards because my employers asked me to attend a meeting in Derby on Friday. This has the unfortunate side-effect of forcing me to carry my washing around with me - I deliberately travelled light this week. I shall endeavour to throw out a blog on the events of the day tomorrow evening on my way home.

What else?

Oh yes, the secret. Well in order to support Shooting People's Script Pitch bulletin which was being bad-mouthed by a silly person, I let the cat out of the bag today so I might as well tell you: I put Monsters in the bulletin a couple of weeks ago, got a contact from a director who wants to make a trailer, and we now have a producer as well. Which is all good fun.

And this is why I've been thinking about trailers.

As in: What is a trailer composed of? I'm pretty confident I've nailed it conceptually. In all probability I'm not the first person to think what I'm thinking but let me throw it open:

What is a trailer composed of?

I have written down my answer and put it in this sealed envelope and there'll be a prize for the person whose answer most closely matches the one I've written here. Put your answer on a postcard, or on the outside of a stuck-down envelope, and send it to the usual address (and don't forget your own name and address) - or put it in the comments below (and don't put your address for heaven's sake).

(Future tense? Just being a smarty pants ... I'll be tense in the future ... one day I hope to gain the other 50% and become a complete wit.)

What's on the turntable? "Summer: 2nd Movement" by Vivaldi from "The Four Seasons"

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

All blogged out

After last week's ridiculous number of posts I've been rather quiet.

There are several reasons for this: My sleep patterns have been completely messed up and it wasn't until yesterday I was feeling properly awake for the first time in a couple of weeks (damn that hot weather).

I have been talking to a couple of people about a secret project, which is secret. It doesn't involve me getting paid any money so it doesn't come under the heading of achieving my goals for this year. Unfortunately. Though OMG#6 may well get me to that goal.

As you can see I changed my blog design I never really liked the other one.

I haven't been writing. The day job is getting in the way though not in the way you might expect. As a contractor I never really know where the next job is going to be. I have to sell my skills every time (or at least have agents who will do it for me). I am not working in my area of specialisation currently (Drupal) which is slightly risky as clients can be very stupid: by not doing one job in Drupal it obviously means I can't do it.

Likewise Drupal 6 has been out a while but I haven't done any commercial Drupal 6 sites - now this is completely irrelevant, the differences are not that great. But again clients can be very stupid obviously if I've never done a commercial D6 site obviously that means I can't do it.

My current contract is up in about 5 weeks so I must take steps to ensure my CV is convincing to stupid clients. Luckily there are two or three websites I can work on in D6, but it means I have to spend my evenings programming rather than writing. Luckily it won't take too long - because I do know what I'm doing.

In the meantime I've been thinking about trailers.

What's on the turntable? "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen from the "Essential" compilation. A masterful poet.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Oh. My. God. #6

Good grief, how many posts this week?

Following on from my Business series, (specifically #7 that I wrote 30 minutes ago but I've put a delay on posting this) , here's an example of what I absolutely do not recommend because if everyone did it it would be really bad.

Back at the end of last year, after I knew I had Monsters in really good shape, I decided to do some general promotion. Based on some things I knew were going on in the TV market I selected three individuals who I felt were in a position to forward my career and wrote to them.

I did not know these people. I did not have any friend-of-a-friend connection. I found their actual street addresses on the Internet (I know how to do these things) and sent them a letter with the first 10 pages of Monsters.

The letter was very carefully worded - clearly I was overstepping the acceptable - I started off by apologising and stating I would never use their personal address again. But kept that brief as well. Followed by explaining who I was, what I was sending, plus testimonials from people in the industry who had read Monsters.

And finally said that if they were looking for a new writer ... there's me.

I sent them off, and forgot them. That was six months ago.

This morning I had an email from one of those people admiring my style of writing, asking to read the rest of Monsters and offering me an introduction for writing audio stuff.

As I said in the Business series, if you want to be successful as a screenwriter the first thing you have to realise is that you are a business whether you like it or not; the second is that it doesn't matter how good you are, if you don't push yourself out there no one will know that you exist.

This is a very exciting development which would not have happened if I hadn't followed my own advice.

What's on the turntable? "Land of a Thousand Dances" by The Walker Brothers from the "Gala" compilation

The Business #7: So, what have you done?

The final part of this particular business model takes us into a world that is similar - but different - to the one I described in Part #3. Where that is about targeted promotion this is more your general get yourself out there, promotion.

These various parts of the business model follow a sequence, and after you've had your commission (or someone bought your spec); you've done contracts and sorted the money; written it; done quality control and it's been accepted (and hopefully made). Then you have something that says "I'm a professional writer". And you can promote that broadly. Which then leads into the next cycle - hopefully bigger and better.

Of course there is a cycle before that: I mentioned spec scripts. Obviously nobody starts with a commission (well not usually) but you write a spec script you get it honed to perfection, you enter it in competitions. Then, if you get anywhere, you can promote that: "I am a competition-winning writer."

Is there a cycle before that? Sure there is: You sit down and actually write something. You may only be promoting to yourself but then you're "someone who wrote something and finished it." (Professional writers finish things, amateurs don't.)

So, what do you use for your promotion? Websites, networking, blogging, getting testimonials [for example I can say "Cery Meyrick liked Monsters"], sending out letters to possible clients [more on that soon in the next OMG blog, right after this one]. Absolutely anything. And you hang your awards up on the walls. You are not a shrinking violet, you tell it like it is. And ultimately you achieve recognition. In the early cycles maybe not a lot of people know who you are, but you keep at it, keep promoting and eventually everyone who needs to know, will know.

This is a very exciting and pro-active business model. It works for anything but this is my personal view of how it works for a writer.

Am I qualified to talk about business? Well, I have run various organisations using this model. And I do give business advice on a personal one-to-one level and the people I advise have been grateful. So I guess I probably am. (See what I did there - that's doing this part of the business model, general promotion, testimonials, clever eh?)

Hope that was useful.

What's on the turntable? "Summertime" by George Gershwin, as sung by The Walker Brothers from the "Gala" compilation. This is a surprisingly good rendition of an amazing song.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Scriptmarket Prize (Part the First)

I had a really crappy day (the payroll section of the agency that found me my current job are a pathetic bunch of imbeciles) so I was pleased to find the script report of Monsters as part of the ScriptMarket'09 prize in my inbox in the train.

And I have read it. I shall not make any comment because I normally miss bits out on a first read and then need to read again a few times to get the full and accurate picture.

Next Thursday is the "special day" when we get to talk to people. Exciting.

What's on the turntable? Not a thing.

The Business #6: Never Mind the Quality

Do you write perfect scripts first time? No? Me neither.

Why do you have to put a script away for weeks before looking at it again? It's to do with viewpoint. When you write you are being The Writer, but to evaluate what you've written you can't be that any more, you have to be the audience.

Some people are better at changing over than others, some people can't do it ever. Some can't change back - which you have to in order to write again. Putting time between the writing and the editing helps.

What's that got to do with this business model? (Apart from the fact that every distinct bit requires a different viewpoint?) Because after the writing comes the quality control. You have to evaluate it, you have to see what you could be doing better.

It's in this section that you get yourself training (whether proper courses, reading books, blogs, getting consultancy - whatever). And demonstrating you've improved.

We're nearly there now just one more to go.

What's on the turntable? "I remember you" by the Eurythmics from "Revenge"

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Cutting scenes

I mentioned recently somewhere (might have been this blog, might have been an email to someone - it all becomes a blur) that I like cutting abruptly between scenes. I take the principle of "enter late-exit early" as far as I can. And like to contrast scenes where possible.

This relates to the idea of audience "contribution", which is to say that you have to let the viewer / reader / whatever, fill in the gaps. You make a point of not showing everything. That's what subtext is about - the audience interprets what they hear. Sometimes you leave out entire characters (like "She who must be obeyed" from the Rumpole stories - the main character's wife who never appears). The audience creates the character in their own heads.

By entering late and exiting early you make the audience construct what came before and after in their heads - and that pulls them in tighter to the story. They are no longer a spectator, they are a co-creator. Of course it is a balancing act, and different people can create to different degrees of ability which is why people appreciate different things and different types of storytelling.

Although I've always done the scene-cutting thing fairly naturally, it was this article that showed I was on the right track. I tend to be analytical and try to reduce principles to their fundamentals. So if someone says "subtext" and someone else says "enter late-exit early", I do some thinking and ask questions like "are these things related?" and "what's actually going on here?" and then you get something interesting like the commonalities between those principles.

Thenyou test your theory by applying it to other aspects of screenwriting and say "well, does this principle of leaving stuff out so the audience puts it in apply to any other part?" And you might arbitrarily choose "Sound", are there any examples where sound is deliberately left out and the audience puts it in? Certainly. I've certainly seen one film where the sound of someone screaming was deliberately omitted (cinematically justified by having them behind glass). And I know I put that scream in.

And so on.

Anyway I was reading a posting on the Artful Writer - interesting forums though very firmly Hollywood oriented - where someone was discussing montages and someone else pops explaining that Sergei Eisenstein (Director, Battleship Potemkin) had analysed and categorised montages in the 20s.

One of his fundamental principles was that the cutting between images could be used to create conflict and that, of course, is the essence of drama. And you only need to watch Battleship Potemkin to see that theory in practice. He wasn't wrong. And it's another aspect to how as a writer we should consider how our scenes are cut, individually and one to the next.

One of the posters on Artful Writer didn't think that understanding how to edit sequences for the best emotional response was relevant to a writer - that's the editor's job isn't it?

It's relevant because our scripts have to make an impact on the reader (and ultimately the viewer). If we can achieve an Eisenstienian (as opposed to Einsteinium which is a radioactive transuranic element) quality in our writing then we will have a more powerful emotional effect on the reader, and hence stand a far better chance of going further and doing better.

Which has to be a good thing.

In other news

The Boy will be on Bamzooki! Excellent. Apparently they were very impressed with him. (Most people are.) The new series has a new style which requires them to be better in front of the camera, depending on what happens he could be there for just a day or possibly five days. Filming in September.

The Daughter received her Cosplay that she ordered from Hong Kong. Everyone heaves a sigh of relief. They required detailed measurements and it's really well-made. Of course, HK is where you can get a proper tailored suit in 24 hours so we shouldn't be too surprised but considering we ordered it less than two weeks ago, we're impressed. It looks like this.

What's on the turntable? "I could give you (a mirror)" by the Eurythmics from "Sweet Dreams"

The Business #5: Say Your Right Words

Yes! Writing!

The first stage is organising yourself - I'm not talking about outlines, character descriptions or anything like that. This is about setting schedules, looking at deadlines, being realistic about what you can achieve (while doing everything else). If you have a writing partner this part would involve ensuring that you get time to discuss and do whatever you need.

Then comes the actual planning. Yes, I know some people don't plan but honestly there are very few professional and successful writers who don't. At a totally random guess I'd suspect it was in the ratio of about 50:1. Like all good statistics that was completely made up. It may be an underestimate.

So planning, outlining, character descriptions, treatments, synopses, loglines. They all belong here - everything except the actual writing thing. It may be that you need to get approval on the various stages that you are at. if you do well it's the earlier logistics phase that makes sure you organise yourself to make those deadlines and make sure you get the feedback you need.

This is one reason why it's important to get things clearly stated, if not legally stated. Your agreements must be based on the client actually doing their bit as well. If you don't get the feedback then you can't proceed. But if you then get blamed then that's not good. You need to be sure that you've a clear picture of what you need and when, and you need to demonstrate reasonable efforts to get the client to supply their part of the deal (in this case: notes).

One job that I did that went wrong I was writing A/V narration for educational videos (among other things). The client did not deliver any notes and then complained that it wasn't right. We parted company but I knew, and could prove had it been necessary, that the fault lay in the other camp. I had made plenty of reasonable efforts to get the feedback. I didn't get it, the job became late and that was that.

Finally you have the writing. The actual getting those words down on paper ... well, screen. Whatever.

So is that it? Oh dearie me no, not at all. Two more episodes to come.

What's on the turntable? "Mademoiselle Will Decide" by Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, featuring Mark Knopfler

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Squirrel love call

I'm not good with hot weather. A problem that's aggravated by the fact that I'm in a room built into the roof of a house, and it's south facing. The last few days I've been baking when I get back from work, and sleeping badly.

But with the heat off this evening I've been cooking. Unfortunately it's been doing stuff other than writing scripts. Letters, emails, text messages, blogs - all important, as it happens.

I had a really significant thought about screenwriting I wanted to share with you. I've forgotten it.

Did I mention that the Boy got through that last round of the Bamzooki audition system? Well, he did, now they've asked for a sample Zook to decide whether he is skilled at the construction aspect.


Hm. I did wonder why the same company kept reading my logline on Inktip. then I remembered some of the instructions: when it comes to loglines they are counted when they come up in a search. So they might not actually be read. Obviously this company is looking for SF/Action/Female protagonist - but probably feature not TV.

Nature calls

So there I was walking home the other evening when I heard a strange sound. It comprised a sort of throat-grating "chuck chuck" followed by a painful sounding screech. I'm no expert on nature but I was fairly sure it wasn't a bird, or if it was I had no idea what sort. So I backed up and tried to find the source. It was in a tree. It was grey. Had four legs and bushy tail. Yes indeed, a randy buck squirrel looking for a babe squirrel to hook up with. Up there on a branch saying "look what a big brush I've got".

This morning there were a couple of squirrels hanging out close to the same spot. Near a river, she was playing hard to get. Isn't nature wonderful.

What's on the turntable? "The Return of the Blues Cowboy" by Jools Holland with his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra featuring Joe Strummer. If this album doesn't get you dancing then you're already dead. (I will dance in private.)

The Business #4: Show me the (promise of) money

This is the easy one. It's the same for every business ni the entire world. Money in. Money Out. And keeping records.

You know this may be the easiest, but that makes it the hardest as well - it's just too obvious. You have to be able to invoice people, you have to be organised enough to do it when the contractual obligations have been fulfilled, when they have been fulfilled.

You have to be able to control your expenditure - the less money you have the more control you need. And you need to have business records that the Government will consider acceptable.

I am neither lawyer nor accountant. But you should never leave yourself open to threat from the grey men in grey suits. So make sure you have enough money at the end of the year to pay for your accountant.

What's on the turntable? "No One Said It Would Be Easy" by Sheryl Crow from "Tuesday Night Music Club"

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Inktip Trial: Day ... whatever

Someone read my Monsters logline, which is a shame really 'cos it's rubbish.

However if you really want to know how to create a good logline you could do much worse than read this (I hadn't read it before uploading Monsters to Inktip.) You might also want to read this about pitching.

Don't forget you can read the first ten pages of Monsters at my Shooting People profile (all of it if you're a member).

I've added a new block with a list of useful screenwriting links - things that I like.

What's on the turntable? "Wonderful Tonight" by Eric Clapton from "Clapton Chronicles"

The Business #3: Who am I?

Okay, so you have plans and you have a place from where you can communicate? (That's the super-abbreviated version of the last two posts on being in business as a writer.)

What next? Communication (obviously), in the big bad world of business this would be promotion and marketing (and something else, which I'll get to). Well, you have to do it too.

Someone once said that if you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door. This is, of course, complete bollocks. No one will beat a path to your door unless they know about the mousetrap. Word of mouth is the best promotion you can get, but until you've got something that can generate that you have to do it the hard way.

I know everybody says that writers are shy, retiring types so promotion and marketing aren't their "thing". Too bad. I think you'll find that most successful writers are very good at the whole talking to people thing - and even if they're not, they just pretend and muddle through, which works just as well. (Very few people are naturally gregarious.)

So this part of your business model is about getting yourself known: who you are, what you do and how people can contact you. That's what I was doing last week. Sorting out my websites, putting Monsters onto Inktip and so on.

Another part of it is networking, going to events, talking to people - talking to anyone.

And then people may want to see your spec work ... oh no, now wait a minute. We haven't written anything yet, have we? Not in this business model anyway. Ah well, I cheated. Actually there is potentially some writing going on in Part #1. I just didn't mention it.

Most people will decide they want to be a professional writer after they've done some writing, it would be a little unusual to wake up one day and say "I want to be a professional writer" and not do any writing until they've got a client - starvation is the most likely outcome.

So we'll take it as read that you actually do have some samples and I'll come back to this in more detail in part #5. (You think I'm making this up as I go along? Au contraire, I have a cunning plan.)

Then comes the final bit: a commission. Someone says "we want to use you as a writer". That comes just after they've been convinced by you and your writing samples.

Cool. So what comes next? Writing? Nope. You'll be needing some energy first.

What's on the turntable? "Lady of the Lake" by Rick Wakeman (and the English Rock Ensemble) from "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" (I loaded up with new music from my CD collection at the weekend. Another 40 hours worth.)

Monday, June 01, 2009

Brain dead

Didn't do any writing of Tec this evening, too tired and I've had a headache all day - unusual for me.

But I did get a chunk done on Tec last evening on the train so we're now at a respectable 37 pages. Just about due for the second murder.

I discussed the plot with the Teacher over the weekend (well, she is "co-creator") and told her that she clearly had a problem (living dangerously) as she started spouting ideas rather different to mine. The problem, as I told her, was that she isn't writing and she should be, because she has a brilliant imagination (and can type properly = quickly).


What's on the turntable? "Forever Man" by Eric Clapton from "Cradle to the Grave"