INDIE TRAINING FUND Courses that I’m running in the next few months-
May 19th 1 Day SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS
June 21st 1 Day STORY, CHARACTER & IDEAS MASTER-CLASS
Last weekend was the latest iteration (a word I learnt on my holiday in LA where it is used endlessly) of the 2 PHILS WRITING AND SELLING A GREAT SCREENPLAY weekend course. As ever, Phil G and I had a great time running the course, and meeting so many super-charged, highly entertaining screenwriters.
Here is a summary of just some of the things that the weekend reminded me about screenwriting –
The importance of the social side of writing – meeting, connecting. Forget the mystique of screenwriting – in this respect, writing is like any other business – the better you are at connecting with other people, of enjoying other people’s company, the better you’ll do.
The importance of good ideas – and techniques to generate good ideas. This is something that my courses keep reminding me – I have developed / stumbled across several writing exercises for creating strong story ideas. We had one particular session last weekend where we’d asked all of the writers to bring along a recent newspaper cutting that suggested a dramatic story to them. This session of listening to the writers pitch their ideas to us was probably my highlight of the whole weekend – there are so many amazing stories out there in the world, already hand-picked for you by brilliant journalists. Look to the world outside of you – it is absolutely stuffed with amazing human stories. There’s really no excuse for story ideas with that aren’t inherently dramatic and exciting.
However unconnected to your personal experience some ideas may seem, you will always have an instinctive, emotional reason for being interested in certain ideas, and as writers, you will always bring something individual and unique to any idea.
There’s no excuse for coming up with a story that isn’t bold, imaginative, topical and attention-grabbing. Spend 10 minutes with any daily national newspaper and you will find at least 5 of these stories every day.
We had a great session with our guest speaker, literary agent MATTHEW BATES, from Sayle Screen. Matthew encouraged the writers to think about when they’re ‘ready’ to get an agent. Don’t think an agent is the answer to all your problems. Agents usually only take people on, on the basis of recommendations. Agents look for signs of activity, for self-starters. The industry requires writers to have certain personality traits, a sense of energy and initiative – and a thick skin.
Matthew talked about there being reasons why the barriers exist – ie the frustrating process by which producers say they won’t accept scripts unless they’re from a recognised literary agent; and literary agents won’t accept unsolicited scripts.
And how new writers are still getting employed by someone, somewhere every day. As writers you have to find smart ways to circumvent the system – the way the industry tries to funnel you through the BBC Writers Room – you have to not get down about this, but find clever ways round it.
Consider other mediums – both radio and theatre have opportunities for dramatic writers that screenwriting doesn’t.
Potential employers want to give you the information you need as new writers – there is a wealth of information on the web eg Creative England, Film London, BBC Writers Room.
Get your work and yourself out into the world. Meet people, share info – be generous and your generosity and openness will be repaid. People want to work with people they get on with. Make full use of networking, industry events – eg the LSF, BFI, BAFTA, RTS, etc etc
You will generally be employed by people you know. Don’t let this get you down – just get to know as many people as possible who can employ you – make this part of your work – it’s as important as the writing itself.
Don’t get too obsessed with the minutiae of the business and your own successes and failures. At the end of the day, you have to be in this because of your love of the act of writing itself. You have to please yourself – you have to enjoy the craft of screenwriting, and be constantly challenging yourself to learn and improve. You have to be excited by the work you’re doing. If you’re not excited by it, it’s not likely that other people are going to be excited about it either.
Be professional and conscientious. If you have meetings, prepare as best you can. Watch the output of the company you’re going to meet, know as much as you can about their work and about the people you’re meeting.
Always attempt to push back the barriers of your knowledge and experience. Our course took place at Birkbeck College, London University and there was a huge array of different courses going on there over the weekend – before this weekend I hadn’t even heard of the idea of ‘Family Constellations’ – but, thanks to a random conversation in a lift(!), I now have! It sounds like it could have great applications for story-telling – in the way it spotlights family relationships. And thanks to Victoria Trow for telling me about the inspiring story bank that is the ‘I fucking love science’ facebook page!
Make a plan – take the time to sit down and plan out where you want to get to in the next 3 years. It’s so easy to get lost in the frenetic day-to-day detail of our lives – you need to take the time to form an overview, and be honest with yourself about where you’re heading. Make an ambitious plan, and do everything you can to follow through on it.
The much-derided social media can be a wonderful tool in helping you with so much of the above – in finding out about opportunities, shows, competitions, etc. And in making those all-important connections with your peers and potential employers. BUT don’t construct some idealised, commercialised version of yourself at your unrealistic best – just be your (most positive!) self, and trust that people will find enough of interest in what you think and say, to want to connect.
Don’t be cowed by the word ‘pitching’. We all pitch constantly without realising it – but for some reason, when this becomes a formal process, UK writers (in particular) break out in a cold sweat.
I could go on…Have a great bank holiday weekend.
The next newsletter will be on Friday April 8th
All the best
March 24th 2016