An INDIE TRAINING FUND Course that I’m running in June–
June 21st 1 Day STORY, CHARACTER & IDEAS MASTER-CLASS
This week – two ‘guest blogs’ – one from Cannes, the other from LA. A big thank you to both HANNAH KHALIL and MING BALLARD.
‘3 things I learned from Cannes’ by HANNAH KHALIL
In mid May I found myself in a surreal situation – I was at Cannes Film Festival. I wasn’t involved with a film that was screening, I’d been selected by Maison Scenarists – a group of French screenwriters – to pitch my screenplay idea to selected producers there.
I didn’t really know what to expect and it was certainly a baptism of fire, so here are three things I wanted to share from my experience that might be useful should you ever find yourself in the mouth of the beast.
- It may be the digital age but you need a hard copy card. This was my big Cannes faux pas. Everyone is at Cannes to be seen and everyone within seconds of meeting presents you with their business card. 80% of the time that I shyly admitted I didn’t have one (but that they could google me or look on my agent’s website) I was regarded with a raised eyebrow – I couldn’t be a proper writer without a card on it saying so.
- Don’t expect to see any films. This was an anathema to me, a film festival where I failed to watch a single movie! I was imagining the equivalent of an Edinburgh fringe fest for films – how wrong I was. There’s massive hierarchy to the festival, after asking for your card people have no qualms about grabbing your accreditation pass which everyone wears around their necks and judging you on the information held therein: name, profession and most importantly what level of access you have all aid the process. But even if you have high level access getting into films is tough for all but the VIPs – with high level entry you can buy tickets but still have to queue and may not get in! Even at short film corner the queues are staggering and constant. There’s also a weird phenomenon of beautiful young women appearing near the festival entrances in the evenings dolled up to the nines with signs saying ‘invitation please’ – it must work sometimes but I found it pretty creepy. I did discover this useful blog however on my last day which gives some tips on early morning screenings and other insider info should you ever need it: http://www.bestofniceblog.com/things-to-do-in-nice-by-month/may/cannes-film-festival/
- Be yourself even if other people aren’t friendly. There’s a very un-British dog eat dog atmosphere that can be supremely intimidating. It’s about the business not the art of films. But I think it’s important to be yourself because so many people are there putting on a pose. What’s good about that is when you meet a genuine someone you know it straight away – I was lucky enough to meet a few. And I’d recommend looking up the good folk at Maison Scenarists if you are ever there as they offer free masterclasses with screenwriters (highlights this year included one with Paul Laverty – Ken Loach’s screenwriter.)
And one more tip for luck – brush up on your French. Although many people speak English having your logline in French is very handy – just in case.
Thank you for your blog; it was very enjoyable and helpful. Here are my answers to the 20 questions:
1 WHERE DO YOU WRITE ?
I write in my kitchen, standing up. My electric stove serves as my desk, even though I have a desk upstairs. I don’t know why, but I like that spot a lot. Sometimes I will drive to Big Bear, CA and rent a log cabin to write.
2 WHEN DO YOU WRITE?
I write on weekends and evenings. But I always keep a recording device on me in case I get a surge of creative information.
3 WHAT SORT OF STORIES EXCITE YOU?
Heartfelt, romantic stories; (intelligent) horror; psychological horror; and anything with a strong anti-hero.
4 WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF BUILDING A GREAT CHARACTER?
Being honest with myself. All my characters have a bit of me in them. If their voice doesn’t resonate with my core, then I am not writing them from a place of truth, and I instinctively know it is going to come off as vapid or self-indulgent. There is also the aspect of the archetype, which I use as my blueprint.
5, 6 2 WRITERS WHO HAVE INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
Hemingway: He wrote with an economy of words, but in such a way that the essence and beauty of what he was conveying hits you hard.
Steven King: He taught me how to create unique characters with unique traits and ways of talking based on socioeconomic status, age, temperament, belief, etc.
7, 8 2 TV SHOWS THAT HAVE INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
“True Detective” – The writing is phenomenal; the writer was definitely in that zone. He writes clean, but it goes POW.
“Breaking Bad” – The episodic is simply brilliant. Nice subtext throughout, interpreted by brilliant actors.
9, 10 2 FILMS THAT HAVE INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
Anything Kubrick. He taught me how to hold back, how not to reveal everything and let the audience have some fun figuring things out.
11 1 THEATRE SHOW THAT HAS INSPIRED YOU AND WHY
“Cabaret” was the reason I moved to LA to act and then eventually write and make movies. Something happened to my soul when I saw the musical. I realized that I hated Virginia and had to get the hell out.
12 DO YOU OUTLINE BEFORE YOU START WRITING?
I always outline before I start writing. It’s a very loose outline initially, as I am mainly concerned with hitting the major beats at first. I then fill in the wall-sized outline with sticky notes.
13 1 PIECE OF ADVICE FOR SCREENWRITERS JUST STARTING OUT
Don’t go to school for screenwriting. If you go to college, major in something marketable and practical so you can find a job and live well as you write. You can learn screenwriting from reading books on screenwriting, watching movies, and reading good screenplays.
14 WHAT SHOULD THE FILM \ TV INDUSTRY BE DOING FOR SCREENWRITERS THAT IT ISN’T?
Good writers should be nurtured and valued more in Hollywood.
15 WAS THERE A SPECIFIC MOMENT THAT MADE YOU START WRITING AND IF SO WHAT WAS IT?
In the fifth grade, we were made to write a few poems. I wrote them, and my teacher, Mrs. Eichelberger, called my parents in for a conference. She said that I was a writer in the making, and that I should be nurtured. She was practically in tears. I will never forget how wonderful that made me feel.
16 WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN THEN THAT YOU KNOW NOW?
I wish I had had the self-faith to rigorously pursue the arts and not lived for others and not betrayed my soul for others, because they are all dead now, anyway. It was not my responsibility to make them happy and coddle their issues. Back then, I didn’t realize that I had the option of speaking up for myself.
17 WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT THING ABOUT SCREENWRITING?
18 WHAT IS THE MOST ENJOYABLE THING ABOUT SCREENWRITING?
I love it when, out the blue, the muse bestows a kiss upon me, and I run to my stove and start scribbling an idea that blossoms into 10 pages of script before I know it!
19 WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF (AS A WRITER) FIVE YEARS FROM NOW?
I see myself, after having made my second and third movies, writing screenplays to sell. I am interested in writing a historical screenplay down the line.
20 AND FINALLY – ONE SURPRISING (NON-WRITING RELATED!) FACT ABOUT YOU.
I rescue feline leukemia-positive cats and give them a LOT of love.
Thank you for this opportunity, Philip!
It was really fun!
A big thank you to those writers who have already sent in scripts for this podcast initiative – I already have a fair few scripts that I’m very excited about, a real variety of different voices and stories. But I am still looking for more – and this is just to remind you that the June 12th deadline is rapidly approaching.
I will look forward to hearing from you,
The next newsletter will be Friday June 17th.
All the best
June 3rd 2016