Funded by Grand Scheme Media & Creative Skillset, I’m running a series of very affordable 2 day script-editing workshops, with some excellent, experienced guest screenwriters, around the UK between April 22nd & July 16th (in Newcastle, Belfast, London, Cardiff, Bristol, Salford & Glasgow). More details, & how to book can be found on the TRAINING NEWS page of the Grand Scheme Media website http://grandscheme.tv/
More random thoughts on SCREENWRITING that have occurred to me over the last couple of weeks –
The Importance of Treatments
99% of the time if a writer writes a good, entertaining scene-by-scene outline, they’re going to write a good entertaining script. Because film and TV drama isn’t so much about dialogue, it’s about STORY. (Of course sparkling dialogue hugely enhances a script) but, in my experience, I can be pretty sure if a script is going to work or not from the scene by scene outline ie so much of successful screenplay writing is about structure, character action and story events.
The script is the blueprint for the film; and the outline is the blueprint for the script.
At their best a well-written outline / treatment / beatsheet / scene-by-scene outline – call it what you will! – is almost as entertaining and good to read as a well-written script. These documents at their best have the same sense of story intrigue and excitement as a script.
At the same time, once you get to write the script, it doesn’t mean necessarily that things aren’t going to change – but generally I think it does give your writing a confidence – knowing that you have a story that works enables you to be bold, imaginative and surprising within a story structure that is solid.
So, as screenwriters, you need to embrace this process, and find a way of enjoying it, and making it creative. Because the way the industry works, producers – understandably – often don’t want to commit to a script fee until you can demonstrate to them that a story works in outline form. The big downside for writers is that, often, constructing and writing this outline is 80% of the work – for which sometimes you’re only getting 10% of your fee – the main issue writers often have with it.
But this is an industry reality so you need to try and study and read the best outlines in the same way you will study and read the best scripts, thinking about why the best outlines work, and why some are boring and hard to read. But, to restate myself, if the story really works and is exciting, you should be able to articulate this almost as entertainingly in an outline as in a script.
More Viewing Highlights
Deposit by Matt Hartley– another excellent stage play from the Hampstead Downstairs Theatre which I’m annoyingly recommending after the end of its run. A four-hander about two young couples who decide to spend a year living together in a small London flat in an effort to save enough money to be able to buy – the joy of the play is seeing the relationships gradually unravel under the pressure of this cramped, compromised arrangement. It’s a great character study, as well as having very interesting things to say about how hard it is as a young person trying to make ends meet within London (and many other UK cities) today.
The playtext is available to buy via the excellent Nick Hern books
It’s a very successful combination of the personal and the political.
Which leads me onto…
The TV Party Leaders Debate
Another brilliant character study – as our political leaders attempted to present an engaging public face to their agendas for power. It was fascinating trying to read body language in this study of 7 people under the most intense personal pressure. There were so many lessons to be taken for writers about the public face of characterisation and ‘performance’. For me, one of the lasting images was of the painfully polite Ed Milliband holding up his hand to chairwoman Julie Etchingham, his head jutting forward like a desperate schoolboy in class saying, ‘I’d like to come back on that!’ – and being ignored. He seemed to be playing ‘low-status’ in a setting that cried out for him to be ‘high-status’!
Physical mannerisms and verbal tics are such a huge part of layered, credible characterisation – so much of the sub-text of a scene is about HOW a character delivers their lines, and what their body is doing as they speak – and while much of this is about acting, it’s also a really important (and often under-valued) part of writing.
This film won the 2015 Oscar for Best Documentary feature & was on Channel 4 a few weeks ago. Another brilliant combination of the political and personal. In the dramatic context in which Edward Snowden chose to place himself, the stakes could not be higher. The brilliance of the film is that, while we observe polite, measured conversations within an anonymous hotel room, we are aware of the cataclysmic effect, the repercussions, of those conversations – and of the personal sacrifices that Snowden is making, in having these conversations. This really is the stuff of drama – and Edward Snowden comes across as a heroic figure.
It’s a chilling reminder of what was at stake in the making of this film, that film-maker Laura Poitras has not been able to return home to the US since making it.
House Of Cards S3 Ep7 Francis / Clare.
This is a transcription of the second half of a scene – between Francis and Clare Underwood – from Season 3 Ep 7 of the consistently excellent HOUSE OF CARDS. The first half of this scene is a deliberately fairly impersonal and expositional discussion of policies of the day, before a studied pause (by Francis) and a gear change into this second half of the scene –
F: Today when we took the photo I touched your shoulder.
F: You flinched.
F: I felt it.
C: No I didn’t.
F: It was like…you recoiled.
C: I think you’re reading too much into something. That I don’t think actually happened.
F: Alright. Forget I said anything.
C: Wait…I just…Never mind. I don’t know what I was going to say
F: Good night
Now this may not read like much in terms of the characters lack of articulacy, in terms of brilliant Sorkin-esque dialogue. But what I loved about this scene was how it ratchets up the friction between the characters one more level and how wonderfully unresolved this scene is. Coming out of this scene, you know that there are real issues between the two characters, and that this conversation has made things worse – and that there are things both characters are thinking / feeling – but are not saying. In other words, it’s a wonderful example of a powerful sub-text – that isn’t stated as text.
I also like the fact that it’s deceptively simple. The scene doesn’t seem to be about very much at all – but there is such simmering tension and unease between the characters. It’s also a (very partial and incomplete) pay-off to an earlier set-up (the moment, that we’ve seen on screen, when Clare did seemingly recoil – in public – from Francis’ affectionate touch.)
Fantastic dialogue, fantastic scene. The end of scene works so well because it’s so unresolved – it increases the tension between them, declares something that needs to be addressed but which isn’t here. And this lack of resolution powers the story.
Until next week,
All the best
April 10th 2015