Wednesday, November 29, 2017

COMPETITION

You are not the only writer out there. Yours is not the only fantastic screenplay doing the rounds. There are hundreds of thousands of wannabes and professional writers competing with you for every writing job you apply for and every competition you enter. It's a bit daunting, isn't it? But it doesn't have to be.

It's surprising then there's a great camaraderie amongst writers. It's a wonderful community with as much support as any given writer wants or needs. The reason is because every single writer knows how tough it is getting started and maintaining a career. Every writer will at some point experience the ups and downs of what it is to be a struggling or working writer. Every writer knows what you are going through because they have too. The key is determination and resilience.

First of all your writing has to be top notch. It won't do you any favours going off half-cocked and sending out work that isn't ready, or that hasn't been proofread. That, as a writer, should always be your first priority. It's always worth getting a professional reader or two to check your work and recommend changes.

When your work is the best it can be, it's time to send it out. Reseach the people you are sending it to. If they don't make the genre of screenplay you've written it's a certainty they won't be interested. If they don't accept unsolicited work, move on. Don't waste your time or their's. As for competitions, make the most of them. Enter as many as you can, not just the big ones, but the smaller ones too. Competitions can be a fantastic measure of how good your work actually is. The better you do, especially the more consistently you do this, the better the writer you are.

Network like crazy. Go to every event you can fit into your diary, even the ones you can't afford. You can always crowdfund your ticket or borrow money from your partner or parents. Put yourself out there and make a great name for yourself as someone who is polite, enthusiastic, hardworking and reliable. The more people you meet and connect with the greater your circle of influence. Be brave. It can be great fun if you let yourself enjoy it.

If you see an opportunity advertised, or a friend highlights one online, have a screenplay ready to enter. If you're thinking, "I won't bother with this one because I don't really stand a chance," think again. The more initiatives, jobs and competitions you enter or apply for the more your chances increase. If you limit your opportunities to just one or two a year, then don't be surprised if you don't get anywhere. You have to be in it to win it after all, so be willing to take the risk.

Last of all, don't let the competition get you down. Concentrate on what you're doing and forget about everyone else. Don't compare your career to other writers, you'll only end up being disappointed. If you get turned down for a job don't stress it, just look for more opportunities, at whatever level, and go for them.

Even when you're an established writer you'll be turned down for work, your awesome new idea will be rejected, probably multiple times and you will be fired from the odd job now and again for creative differences. It's the same at all levels of writing. And it'll never change.

As long as you learn not to let it bother you, you'll be okay. Work hard, hunt down those opportunities and make the most of them and apply for everything even if you think you won't succeed. Successful writers are successful because they put themselves and their work out there on a constant basis. They never take their foot off the accelerator. They get on with it and don't let other people's success or doubts get to them. They write and send stuff out, write and send stuff out, day after day after day after day after day after day. Be that writer.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

COLLABORATION & COOPERATION

Collaboration and cooperation are a massive part of being a successful working writer. Not only do they highlight to producers and directors that you're willing to work with others, they also help to promote your work.

Over the years I've heard of several instances where writers have ruined opportunities for themselves by either not being prepared to collaborate or not cooperating. Here are a few of those examples.

  1. A writer had his feature optioned and was asked to rewrite it and change a few bits. He went away and wrote a completely new screenplay loosely based on his original. He changed most of the story and the majority of the characters, so much so that the screenplay was hardly recognisable compared to the original. Because of this, he sunk the project and the producer lost money.
  2. Two writers wrote a sitcom together and a major broadcaster commissioned them to write the entire series. One of the writers got cold feet and walked away killing the project for both of them as he wouldn't sign over the rights to the other writer.
  3. A new writing duo had their screenplay optioned and the finance was raised. As they were about to sign the contract they decided to renegotiate so they could also direct the film. The producer tried to tell them if they insisted on this the financiers would pull out, but they wouldn't listen and this is exactly what happened. The project crashed, was never resurrected and the writers were never heard of again.
  4. A new writer went to an experienced writer with a great project and asked him if he would be interested in a collaboration if he would show it to his contacts when it was done. The experienced writer agreed as he loved the project. Six months later the new writer took back ownership of his idea as he thought things weren't progressing quickly enough, just as the experienced writer had managed to get significant interest in the project from one of his producer contacts. The project and the new writer went nowhere and the experienced writer was so embarrassed in front of his contact that he vowed never to work with amateurs again.
All of these examples are true stories and illustrate how easy it is to not only get a bad name for being unreliable in the busineess but how quickly you can end your career before it's even begun. How could the above have avoided this?
  1. The writer should have listened closer to what the producer wanted and rewritten his screenplay accordingly, rather than going off and writing what he wanted to.
  2. The writer who had cold feet should have worked on the first series to completion before walking away and then let the other writer carry on alone with the second, either that or sign over the rights so the writer could continue without him.
  3. The writing duo shouldn't have got greedy or precious about their work and instead should have trusted in the process to ensure their debut film was made, which would have put them in a much stronger position if they wanted to direct in the future.
  4. The new writer should have had more patience as it takes time for a project to be picked up, greenlit and broadcast. If he had trusted the more experienced writer the series might now have been commissioned and broadcast.
So how can you help yourself? There are two great examples that have happened to me recently and they are...
  1. I sat down with two producers to discuss a long-gestating project. Times have moved on and one of the producers felt the idea and the screenplay should also. We discussed it, debated and suggested new ways we could look at the story. In the end, we have a new, fresher vision we all agree is way better than the original. We will now work together to make that new version a reality.
  2. I was contacted by a friend I was at university with who now teaches. She asked if I had any short screenplays her students could film as part of her course. I had eight which had been lying around gathering dust for years. The students picked the ones they liked and asked if they could make changes. Some changes were minor, some for practical reasons and others a little more drastic. I could have been precious about my work and insist they film them as I wrote them, but I was intrigued to see what they could come up with and gave them permission to change whatever they wanted. I even made a few suggestions for changes myself. I can't wait to see what they deliver.
Collaborating and cooperating shows everyone how well you can work with others, that you're reliable and that you understand how the media business works. If you have a reputation for being easy to work with you're more likely to be approached with work. That doesn't mean you have to bend over backwards and do everything you've been asked no matter how ridiculous. You can always decide not to change something you've been asked to, as long as you've talked it over with them and explained your reasons why in a polite and respectful manner. It's a collaborative business after all.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

COPYRIGHT

"If somebody writes a screenplay, shouldn't they own a copyright before making it public?" - posted in response to one of my posts on the SCREENWRITING Facebook page by Leon Stansfield.

Those of us who have been around for a while will have seen this query, and other's very similar, pop up on a regular basis on screenwriting pages. Why are new writers obsessed with protecting their work and is there really a need to do so? Here are some answers for you, Leon.

CAN YOU PROTECT YOUR IDEA?

In short, no, you can't protect an idea. If someone likes your basic idea or outline and wants to go and write their version of it, they can. Do you remember in 1991 there were two versions of Robin Hood made and released - Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner and Robin Hood starring Patrick Bergin? There was no copyright issue there even though it was the same idea because they were two very different versions. However, if someone lifted chunks of your story and your characters straight out of your screenplay and put them into theirs, then that can be considered theft.

IS YOUR WORK GOOD ENOUGH?

While many new writers concern themselves far too much with copyright and protecting their work, they fail to realise that in reality their writing or their idea probably aren't good enough (yet). It takes time to become a good writer, to find your own writing style and to perfect it and to recognise cliched ideas and why most screenplays fail. There are always a few exceptions to the rule, but in my experience most of the screenplays new writers are desperate to protect aren't really of a standard worth stealing. That sounds harsh, I know, but never the less it's true. Those more established and practised writers worry about copyright theft a lot less, or in most cases not at all.

MAKING YOUR WORK PUBLIC.

Why would you want to post your whole screenplay on a Facebook page? Send it to friends, peers you trust and professional readers to get feedback. Send it to producers, production companies and competitions when your work is ready. But there's really no need to post your screenplay on a public website in full view of any Tom, Dick and Harry.

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR WORK (if you really have to).

  1. Once you've written your screenplay, that version belongs to you, it is your intellectual copyright. There really isn't any need to protect it further.
  2. The Writers Guild of America West will, for a fee, register your screenplay for copyright purposes.
  3. For every draft you write save it in a sperate folder on your hard drive and backup, making sure you put the date in the file name. Each time you start a new draft make a copy and then rename it. Then at least if the worse does happen you'll have a chronological record of what you've written and when.
  4. Print out your finished screenplay, put it in a sealed envelop and post it to yourself. When it arrives keep it safe unopened. Alternatively, give it to your lawyer to keep in his safe.
WHY NO ONE IS GOING TO STEAL YOUR WORK

Why would they? If they want to take your screenplay and have it written by someone else, they'll just buy it off you and go and do that. If they steal your screenplay and get found out it will be the end of their career and it's not worth the risk. Why risk their reputation?

However, there are a rare few people out there that will risk doing this. In my experience, I've only ever had it happen twice to me and both times it was a student who tried to claim my screenplay as theirs to get a better mark on their uni project. I simply went to see their tutors and made sure I got the credit I had earned. End of! I can assure you that I've never come across a single working professional who has stolen any of my work or anyone's that I know.

THE BBC/ITV/SKY/NETFLICKS STOLE MY IDEA.

No, they didn't. I can guarantee you that somewhere right now, someone is writing a screenplay that is pretty much identical to your idea. The more cliched the idea, the more likely this is happening. I can't remember how many times I've been working on an idea only to have to drop it after finding out a broadcaster is working on something similar.

Last year I had a cracking school playground comedy idea and pitched it to a TV production company, only for them to tell me about a BBC comedy in production called MOTHERLAND. It's disappointing, but it happens. It doesn't mean someone has stolen your idea, it just means someone had the same idea and got there first. Tough luck! Move on!

So my advice is to stop worrying about trying to copyright and protect your work and spend that energy learning your craft and finely tuning your screenplays instead.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

SCARY

Yesterday was deadline day for a screenplay to be handed in. I sent it off as scheduled. But I'm not relaxed about it. I'm anything but. I'm terrified I've ballsed it up, that they won't like it, or that their situation has changed and they'll go off and work on other projects. The irony isn't lost on me that I emailed the screenplay off on the scariest day of the year... HALLOWEEN.

It's scary because it matters and not because I doubt my ability as a writer. I know the screenplay's good, they told me they love it. They just wanted a few minor changes. It matters because it's my award-winning script. It's been optioned before, only for the option to run out and the rights return to me. It matters because I've spent years refining and honing this screenplay, polishing it and improving it with every draft. I love this script. I poured my heart and soul into it. I want other people to love it as much as I do. And I really, really, really want to see it on the big screen. More so than any of my other projects.

I think every writer experiences a little fear when they send out their work for others' approval. It's only natural. But I don't fear the fear, I embrace it. I'm scared because I care. If it didn't matter or I didn't care I wouldn't be half the writer I am. A little fear now and then keeps me on my toes.

But it's out of my hands now. I've done my best. The screenplay is bloody awesome. So deep breath and on to the next project. That one is going to be awesome too!

Happy writing!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

TAKING NOTES

I get excited when I receive notes. I love to see what others think of my work, what they like, more importantly, what they didn't like and I can't wait to get into my next draft. But not everyone takes notes well. Here's how to do so.

Now some of this will be familiar, especially if you read my previous blog about seeking criticism. But it doesn't hurt to reinforce what I've said before, so here goes.

MINDSET

Firstly, notes are not a personal attack on you as a writer. They are not even a personal attack on your screenplay. They are simply a guide. This is how they should be viewed, as a helping hand and not a nuisance or unwanted invasion you have to put up with. Embrace them.

Never react badly publically to your notes. You might scream and swear vengeance in the solitude of your office, but don't do it in front of the script editor or the reader and certainly not on social media. Be polite and gracious at all times.

THE TWO TYPES OF NOTES

1 - Script Editor - A script editor works for the producer of the show and will work with several writers at a time. It's their job to make sure what the writer is delivering what the producer wants, that it not only fits with the tone of the show as a whole but also the characters and their motivations as well.

A bad script editor will try and rewrite your screenplay for you, even down to individual lines of dialogue.

A great script editor will tell you something's not working and ask you to take a look at it. Maybe a scene doesn't pack the punch the producer was expecting. The script editor will ask the writer to take another look and see if they can boost the scene's impact.

If you get bad, intrusive notes like the first example then contact the script editor, politely inform them how you would prefer to receive your notes and ask them about each of their notes and the reasons and thinking behind them. If they've rewritten a fight into one of your scenes because it lacked conflict, then go back and take another look at it and see if you can find another way to bring the conflict in.

Of course, these are the two extremes and you'll probably find most script editors fall somewhere in between the two.

2 - Reader - A reader works for the writer. It's not their job to impose their version of the writer's idea on them, but to understand what the writer is trying to do and help them toward that goal. They do this by pointing out things the writer might have missed and suggest alternatives for the writer to make their own changes. They will let the writer do the work and will just point them in the right direction.

WHAT SHOULD YOU LISTEN TO?

As previously discussed in the seeking criticism blog, it's advisable to pay close attention to the issues that pop up more than once and to deal with them. The issues that are only mentioned once might not be so important and if you feel they don't work for your screenplay then you can drop them.

Whether you're working with a script editor or a reader it's up to you what you choose to implement and what you don't. Don't be too eager to action every single note. Also don't be too eager to dismiss them all as well. Read them, read them again and then pick the ones you think will work. But remember though, if you're working with a script editor you had better have a valid reason for why you don't agree with some notes and it's always best to discuss these reasons with them before you start your rewrite.

Happy writing!


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

ACTIVELY SEEKING CRITICISM

Why would you want to actively seek criticism? Why would you want to listen to people telling you where you went wrong and what they dislike about your work? Wouldn’t it be better to focus on the positives? Actually, it wouldn’t and here's why.

If you want to improve as a writer you need to know where you’re going wrong. Actively seeking criticism helps you to achieve that. But it needs to be the right kind of criticism and from the right people. Here are some handy tips to getting the best feedback for your work.

THE RIGHT PEOPLE

That’s right, I said people, as in more than one person. Why? Because when you have more than one person giving you feedback the serious problems with your screenplay will be highlighted by at least two, if not all of them. It’s those issues that crop up more than once which are the ones that urgently need fixing. But who do you ask?

Avoid family and friends. Why I hear you ask? Because they won’t be objective and objectivity and honesty are what you want here. The people you should be asking are your writing peers, those with a bit of experience or training. Three should be sufficient.

YOUR APPROACH

Contact them and first offer to read and give feedback on their work. They will be more inclined to help you if you offer to help them first. Second, tell them you only want to know what’s WRONG with your screenplay and not what is right. Ask them to be brutally honest with you and assure them you can take whatever they throw at you.

IT’S NOTHING PERSONAL

Whatever they say about your work don’t take it to heart. It's not about you, it's about your screenplay. The aim here is to find out what doesn’t work, not to stroke your ego. So keep a clear head and look at what they’ve said and what they mean with an objective eye.

If someone says they hate something, go back to them and ask them to explain why. The more information you have the more prepared you are when you settle down to get on with your rewrite.

COLLATE FEEDBACK

Read through the reports at least twice and on the second time take notes of the points that crop up more than once. These are the main problems with your screenplay and have to be dealt with. Ignore them at your peril.

What you do with the minor points, those that are only mentioned by one of your readers is up to you. I’m not saying they’re not important but they may have only been highlighted because of the reader’s personal preferences, rather than because the screenplay is worse off because of them. However, my advice would be to look at all of your notes, decide which ones you think are relevant and action them.

REWRITE

When you’re finished do it all again. Try to repeat this at least three times, more if you can. The more you rewrite the better your screenplay will be. Don’t be a fool and send it out to producers before it’s ready, it won’t do you any favours.

IMPROVEMENT

Do the same for every screenplay you write. Don’t become complacent with this. If you do this religiously you’ll soon find the problems with your screenplays lessen and the quality of your work will increase rapidly.


Happy writing!

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

SPINNING PLATES

I'm busy. Very busy. I'm working on four projects, three for producers and one for a competition. All are due this month. It would be easy to tie myself up in knots. But I'm getting stuff done. And it's all down to planning.

The first is due by the 9th. Well actually it's due by the 10th, but I want it done the day before so it's ready in time and there's no last-minute rush. The second, a rewrite of a feature, is due on the 31st. The other two can be done anytime this month, as long as they're handed in by the 31st.

The most important one is the one due on the 9th. This is the one I have to spend the most time on this week. So 50% of my writing will be concentrating on that. That's my mornings taken care of then.

The next most important project is the feature. So 50% of my afternoon after lunch is set aside for that. The other 50% I'll work on one of the other projects, the one nearest completion, to keep it ticking over. There's no point working on all four at the same time. It's difficult enough working on three at the same time. I don't want to be running around in circles worrying about four projects and not actually getting anything done.

When the script with the earliest deadline is done, I can then spend my mornings working on the feature and my afternoons on the final two projects. Job done!

However, if it's obvious I'm not getting enough done on the first screenplay, then I'll drop the third and spend 75% of my day on it and 25% on the feature rewrite. It's important to be adaptable.

So if you're struggling with several projects at once, all with impending deadlines, work out a simple timetable, putting the most urgent ones first and spending the most time on them. All that work doesn't have to be daunting. It's all about priority and not overloading yourself.

Happy writing!