Tuesday, October 30, 2012


I did go to the London Screenwriters Festival and it was good. Very good. I almost didn't go, I'm very glad I did.

But that's not what this blog is about.

It's about something screenwriters talk about in relation to scripts but something I have never seen defined: "Script energy".

This came to mind because of John August and Craig Mazin's podcast this week. You can listen here, the relevant bit is around 33 minutes - but why not listen to it all?

[Of course, it was a risk writing this before I finished listening to the podcast and, of course, they carried on and said much of what I wrote here, but less pedantically. But what the hell. I'll leave it, it was still my realisation, at the time.]

So "energy": Craig is talking about scenes ending with an energy that propels the viewer forward. But what is this energy? Just saying "your script lacks energy" or "this scene lacks energy" is unhelpful. Am I supposed to fry it with 20,000 volts? Okay, disingenuous, but still. What. Is. It?

So I applied some of the old mind power. And this is what I came up with, you may feel differently.

When talking about this energy we're actually talking about the viewer's reaction. It's not actually energy in the script, it's the energy the script generates in the viewer. I got a grip on it by looking at a scene which lacks energy (a metaphorical scene, not a real one):

Let's say someone watches this metaphorical scene, and at the end of it they sigh and say "so what?" The scene engenders nothing in the viewer, or rather it engenders boredom, disinterest. An emotional state of nothing much really. That scene has no energy.

A scene that brings about any emotional state reaction is a scene that has energy. But that's not all of it.

A scene could of itself be complete, it could start somewhere, cause an emotion and then complete. It still wouldn't have the energy we're really talking about because at the end of it there is no impetus to continue. The viewer could just stop and be satisfied. And we don't want that. (Want to know a reason why you get out of a scene as early as possible - that.)

What we want is the viewer to cry out "What happens next???!!!" They want to know, they must know what happens next. They cannot stop watching they have to know.

And, in my view, that is the energy, it's the desire to keep going, keep watching, keep listening, to stick with it because they have to know. (In horror it's a kind of negative: they have to know, but they really don't want to, but they have to...)

'Nuff said.

What's on the turntable? "BWV 1004 Chaconne by Bach" by Steve Hackett from "Tribute to Bach"

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Blown trumpets

A quick follow-up to the previous post, in case the statement about me writing fairly decent first drafts might have been poo-pooed. One of my first draft scripts received the following comments:

"The greatest contributor to this screenplay’s enjoyabilty is perhaps its well-written dialogue, descriptions, and action sequences."

and from a different reader:

"Almost every page of this screenplay contains a new visual delight.  The screen directions are clear and economical, painting word pictures of each scene without bogging the reader down in unnecessary details."

But, of course, the reason why this script will never win any prizes as it stands, because it is a first draft: "sometimes plot elements are unexplained or become confusing" and "your plot is too rambling and lacks cohesion – plot elements crop up, seem important, and then are discarded". From the same two readers - but essentially saying the same thing.

The details may be fine, but the big picture is flawed.

Doesn't matter how good a first draft you write: It's not finished. Writing is rewriting.

What's on the turntable? Nowt

Friday, October 05, 2012

First draft is the best

Yeah right.

As was stated recently by my blogger good buddy Kid in the Front Row: it's great how independent movies can be made nowadays with no interference from the big studios through the use of crowdfunding.

But there's one major problem with that: No quality control.

I have been generous with my funding of projects on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo - I want to do some major crowdfunding in the future and I have a "what goes around comes around" attitude. As you give so shall you receive and all that.

This has had one unfortunate result. My name is now attached to a product which suffers from a script that clearly has had zero quality control. Honestly, I have the greatest admiration for someone getting off their backside and actually making something. But please put the work in with the script first, it's the most important part.

(On the positive side I've also helped produce some very good stuff as well.)

But if you want proof positive? I have two scripts as quarter-finalists in Philip Gladwin's Screenwriting Goldmine competition. Now I'm not saying this as a boast because I submitted four (or was it five?) scripts in a fit of crazy overspending. (This makes me only 20% as good as those who put in one script and got it through.)

Of those scripts the two that got through were the ones that had received a massive amount of feedback. I'm mean, seriously, a lot - over a two year period in both cases. The others had had minimal or none. First drafts.

Now I know I don't write totally crap first drafts, they're reasonable and they're readable. But they aren't great. Screenwriting is hard work, all art is 5% creativity and 95% hard slog.

There are those who will tell you that buying feedback from script readers is useless because they'll always tell you that more work needs to be done. Or they don't know what they're talking about. Or some other excuse.

It's bollocks. The only people who will say this are those not willing to put in the work needed to make their scripts great.  I have had a script reader tell me that a script is as good as it can get - until a director gets his hands on it, of course. And that is one of the scripts that got through and I haven't touched it since he told me.

If you're serious about being a screenwriter you need professional feedback. And you need to trust these guys and gals, because they know what they're talking about.

Are there any caveats? Yes, anyone can set themselves up as a reader - but I have yet to find one who was a fraud and I've used quite a lot of different ones. It is possible to come across one who doesn't quite have the same sensibilities as you. This does not mean they don't know what they're talking about but if you don't get on, it's not going to work so well. But that's just life.

If you can get two reports on the same draft that's good, but three is better. And rotate them, and try to get someone new on a draft because if a reader's seen it before their attitudes to the previous version will still be sitting there (though I know they try hard to read each draft as if they've never seen it before).

So what's the take-away? Scripts always need work. Get feedback so you know what to work on.

What's on the turntable? "The Light Dies Down on Broadway" by Genesis from "A Lamb Lies Down on Broadway"