CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2017
A reminder that you have only 9 MORE DAYS to get your entry in. We close for entries at midnight on Sunday Sept 25th.
This week a report on this year’s LONDON SCREENWRITER’S FESTIVAL, which took place on Sept 2nd – 4th. I sadly wasn’t able to make it this year but excellent comic screenwriter LAURENCE TRATALOS was! And he has very kindly written this brilliant account of his experiences there, with many excellent insights into the event. Thank you Laurence!
You can follow Laurence on twitter @LozTrat
London Screenwriters’ Festival 2016
‘So Chris Jones (head of LSF) is on stage and he’s going mental, getting the crowd geed up for three days of ‘fucking awesomeness’. You’d excuse people for thinking they’d walked into a Tony Robbins convention (check out ‘I Am Not Your Guru’ on Netflix) but this mentality sets the tone for LSF. A three-day intense weekend that is not a convention but a ‘movement’. Anyone who’s trying to empower writers deserves credit even if the ‘we can all make it’ mind-set isn’t to your taste.
For those of you not familiar with LSF, it is a three day festival for writers to meet up, exchange ideas, network and learn about the craft from industry personnel.
I arrived on the Thursday for the pre-festival drinks evening. Not knowing anyone there I threw myself into the proceedings and got talking to as many people as possible. The atmosphere at LSF was wonderful, very welcoming. I could walk up to anyone and start a conversation without fear of rejection; everyone was there to meet new people, to talk about their projects, about their influences and their writing.
To get the most out of LSF you just have to climb out of your comfort zone. As a writer, myself at least, networking doesn’t always come easily but when you know most people there are also writers it does make those first introductions much easier. And everyone has nametags, which helps if you’re bad at remembering names.
You can apply in advance for many initiatives at LSF, such as Pitchfest or the Writersroom labs, but for the ‘speed networking’ you can just turn up on the day. It was essentially fifty people in a room walking around in a circle. You spent two minutes speaking to a person and then a bell rang and you moved on. This was an odd but helpful experience and a great way to meet copious amounts of people in a short space of time.
One of the initiatives I was selected for was the Euroscript surgery session. I sent in ten pages of a script with a two-page outline. I was given an hour with a script consultant working through my feature screenplay. I chose to work with Paul Basset Davies because he writes comedy. His notes on my script were excellent. We really managed to cover a lot of ground in the hour session and I left feeling re-invigorated to work on my next draft.
I didn’t apply for Pitchfest, although most people I spoke to who had attended recommended it, and had secured requests to send work to agents and producers, perhaps next year I will. The Pitchfest is a relaxed informal five minutes sat at a table pitching to a producer, exec or agent. Some people suggested it’s perhaps better to pitch yourself rather than going straight in with your ideas, to let people know what you’ve been doing, competitions won, short films made etc.
For me, The Actors Table Reads were the best part of the festival. You send in four pages of a script, and if selected you get an hour with a director and actors working on those pages. Getting to see a director work up close as he dissects a scene is invaluable, especially if you write comedy. The scene was performed about ten times, each time changed slightly. The actors and director seemed to like what they read as they requested the full script from me, demonstrating that there are opportunities everywhere at LSF.
By the end of the weekend I was exhausted, I’d met too many people to remember, amassed almost a hundred business cards and had attempted to take in too much information. I felt like I needed a few weeks just to process.
Would I recommend LSF to other screenwriters? It is quite expensive but for those serious about their writing I believe it is worth it. You will meet so many other writers, learn a great deal and have the opportunity to make connections with people in the industry that you wouldn’t otherwise have met. In my opinion it’s best to go to LSF not expecting necessarily to further your career, but to go with an open mind and see what happens. I would advise applying for as many initiatives as possible.
There are too many speakers to list them all but I’ve included a few snippets of information from my favourite sessions.
Pixar’s Emotional Core:
Why are Pixar movies so engaging? Why do they make us weep so openly?
The characters in Pixar are crucial to their success. And the relationship between the main characters lies at the heart of every Pixar movie. If you look at nearly any Pixar movie poster, it is these relationships which are at the forefront.
Karl believes there are 4 elements of character connection. Four traits that make us empathise with Pixar’s characters:
Recognition (seeing ourselves in a character)
Pity (feeling sorry for a character)
Humanistic traits (caring for others)
Admiration (hero, cool, traits you want)
Karl used Finding Nemo to highlight how in the opening minutes of that film we become totally invested in Marlin and Nemo’s relationship simply by using the four elements of character connection.
He used a quote by Ron Bass – ‘Stories are about what happens between people’.
I’ve been told Karl Iglesias’ book ‘Writing for Emotional Impact’ is excellent. He certainly spoke with a lot of wisdom in this session, despite being heavily jet lagged.
‘Written By’ Or ‘Based On’: Successfully Adapting Existing Works
Jim Uhls (Fight Club screenwriter):
‘If you slavishly adapt a book you will find yourself in a straightjacket. You need to make the characters your own in a screenplay. This takes time to work out but luckily I found adapting Fight Club to be a lot of fun as it was such a fun book.’
‘Being faithful is more about being faithful to intent rather than content.’
Peter Ilif (Patriot Games screenwriter):
‘Planning is crucial when adapting. That’s what separates the professionals from the amateurs; heavy outlining is crucial.’
‘It’s also easier to be objective about your work in the outline stage rather than once you’ve written a first draft’.
On the other hand:
Ol Parker (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel screenwriter):
Doesn’t outline. He doesn’t believe in them. He likes to be surprised, prefers to write something so he can see the characters. He takes a while to think about his story but his process is a lot more chaotic when writing. He doesn’t know if he can write a script until he’s spent time with the characters.
This just goes to show that there’s no one-size-fits-all for writing.
Line of Duty: Script To Screen Live With Jed Mercurio
(N.B. This will only make sense if you’ve watched Line of Duty Season Three) One of the shocks of this season was Danny’s death. However, originally Danny didn’t die in the opening episode but when Jed began writing the second he started thinking about how important it is to make a strong impact, to make the first episode really stand out (and not just in your pilot, but each season). You may not get another sixty minutes if people don’t watch anymore — so leave everything on the field and give the audience a reason to come back for another season.
He doesn’t try and top the previous season; he just wants to tell a good story.
He tends not to be too rigid when structuring his episodes. ‘If you rigidly follow structure you will have something that works but is not interesting. Stuff in an outline doesn’t always work on the page, stuff that seems shocking can become bland.’ He likes to discover as he writes.
This worked to his advantage when writing Dot’s character. Dot turns out to be the antagonist for large parts of season two and three and yet this wasn’t planned. In series one Jed didn’t know how crucial Dot’s character would be. When planning the second season he felt he hadn’t fully exhausted him as a plotline. ‘Dot felt like an exciting opportunity.’
On his influences: ‘The challenge is always to be distinctive.’ ‘The Shield’ was great but ‘Hill Street Blues’ was a big influence. He doesn’t really look at other shows or compare his show to theirs. As he puts it ‘he’s in the game- he’s no longer a spectator.’
Inevitably the Saville photo was mentioned. Jed believed that it was relevant to the story and to Danny and his childhood. The season was about institutionalised cover-ups. And using the Saville photo related it to the real world and made the audience ask appropriate questions:
‘Because we know Saville cultivated relationships with the police, they were happy to supress complaints about him, and reprimand Junior offices who tried to prosecute him, as such we have to ask, what did the police officers get in return?’
‘Red Rock’: A Candid Case Study In Breakout TV Success
John Yorke, Kim Revill and David Mansell:
New soaps never get made so this seemed like an ‘exciting opportunity’ when John Yorke saw TV3 were looking to make one.
They were given half the budget of Doctors or other soaps, which meant they had to rethink how to create soap in a different, modern way. If soap operas were invented now they wouldn’t be run the way they are with out-dated methods. So they decided to use single cam and make the show ‘filmic’.
Everything has to be rigidly planned, no room to panic, so the script is everything, they can’t use big set pieces to elevate their show they have to use strong writing. The scripts and writers are at the heart of the show.
Red Rock aim: To help nurture, mentor and treat the writer well — not use them to find the story over multiple drafts. They have a two-month workshop on scripts and only once story is settled do they ask the writer to write the script. Thereby helping the writer and saving money on needless drafts.
It sounds like they have a great system in place, it’s no wonder Red Rock has been so critically acclaimed – their writers are at the centre of their show.
Lastly, some random quotes I took away from the weekend:
John Yorke: ‘Audiences are much cleverer than we allow.’
T.S Eliot: ‘Poems communicate before they are understood’.
Karl Iglesias: ‘You can break every rule in writing but one: don’t be boring.’
Karl Iglesias: ‘Make your exposition active. Glaze it with emotion and it won’t seem like you’re just telling us information. Good dialogue is active. It has a purpose. It is not a conversation. It is an action’.
Jeff Norton: (In your pilot episode) ‘you’re asking a question that your show should answer’.
David Pope ‘ Subtext can only be developed meaningfully when the writer has a deep and clean understanding of the characters interior life’.
Paul Mayhew-Archer on The Vicar of Dibley ‘If you want to write a hit sitcom, you only need one thing: to write with Richard Curtis’.
Jen Grisanti ‘Your ‘voice’ is simply your worldview’.
Jorge Luis Borges ‘ Art equals fire plus algebra’.
Pilar Allesandra ‘Any character over fifty comes with a natural superhero power: a skill developed over their years of experience. (Think Mike in Better Call Saul)’.
David Mamet: ‘No one says anything unless they want something’.
The next newsletter will be on Friday Sept 30th,
All the best
Sept 16th 2016