Wednesday, February 21, 2018

INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE

I was chatting with a friend and fellow graduate of the BA (Hons) Screenwriting for Film and Television at Bournemouth University and was surprised when he mentioned that when he graduated a couple of years ago the university still didn't include an industry training module as part of the course. There wasn't one when I graduated in 2001 either, but I would have expected them to have introduced one since then. After all knowledge of the industry is a vital part of a successful screenwriting career. Without it, you're floundering in deep water with nothing to cling on to but your writing skill.

When I left university with my screenwriting degree I thought I knew it all and it was only a matter of time before my work was recognised and my career took off. I couldn't have been more wrong. It didn't matter how good my writing was, my lack of knowledge of the industry held me back. It took me nearly nine years and a lot of wasted hours to finally discover this. You guys have it much easier though. There's so much more information out there on the internet than when I started out. All you have to do is hunt it down.

Industry knowledge is just as important as your writing. Without it, you'll be sending your work out blind and that will never do you any good. Remember, first impressions count. It was only when I realised this that my career started to go somewhere.

It's not even enough to occasionally check what's going on in the film and TV world, you have to spend at least twenty-five percent, if not half of your time on this. It is equally as important as writing. Writing isn't enough on its own. You might be the world's greatest writer but if you don't know where, when and how to send your work out, you are going to fail.

So what do I mean exactly by 'industry knowledge'? Industry knowledge is:

  1. Networking - meeting and forming relationships with other media professionals.
  2. Approach - how to conduct yourself so you will be remembered for all the right reasons.
  3. Social Media - how to use it to your advantage and what mistakes you should avoid.
  4. Trends - knowing what producers and broadcasters are working on and looking for and how to approach them.
  5. Knowledge - making sure you read industry publications such as Broadcast and Screen International regularly.
Unfortunately, very few people or courses talk about industry knowledge. Maybe that's because as soon as it's written down it's already out of date. There are several posts on this blog that cover all of the points above. Why not have a look and see if any of them can hlep you. I would also be very interested to know from my subscibers which degree and masters courses now do feature an industry knowledge module. Luckily though, there are a few books out there you can buy that cover this subject. The best of the bunch are:

THE UK SCRIPTWRITER'S SURVIVAL GUIDE
by
TIM CLAGUE & DANNY STACK

and

WRITE, WRITE, WRITE
by
DANIEL MARTIN ECKHART

Those who are knowledgeable about the industry have a far better chance of being successful in it. Those who can't be bothered, or think it'll take up too much time... well, that's their problem.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

BLOG REWIND: ONE PAGE PITCH

As I'm currently churning out eleventy billion one page pitches for my agent to pimp, I thought it might be an idea to jump back in time and take a look at a blog I published on the 5th November 2014. So here goes...


One Page Pitches are an art form, difficult to write and get right and probably the most important and powerful selling tool at a writer's disposal. So how exactly do you write a great One Page Pitch? Here's how I do them.

FONT:

The font you use is just as important as everything else. Get it wrong and your pitch will be a difficult read, or at the very least not inspire much enthusiasm in the reader.


I used to use FINAL DRAFT COURIER for everything I wrote until I came to the realisation readers spend their entire lives staring at that font. Your font doesn't need to be fancy, just clear enough to read. I wanted to give readers something different to look at, easier to read, which is why these days I use ARIEL in all my pitch document and treatments.


LAYOUT:


At the top of the page, centred, in bold, in capitals and font size 14, you need to put your TITLE - ALIEN. Below this (non capitals) you need to state the format and genre of your pitch - a sci-fi/horror feature proposal. Then below this 'by (your name)'.


The next line should be your Tagline, written in ITALICS, in font size 12 and captured in quotation marks - "In space no one can hear you scream!"


Then below that your Logline (written in a plain font size 12).


And finally below that your pitch (written in a plain font size 12 as above), containing a brief outline of the conflicts, characters and plot.


GENRE:


Your pitch will be selling your genre, so if your script is a comedy then your pitch should also be funny, a horror then your pitch should be tense and full of scares, etc. If your script is a comedy and you pitch isn't funny then it's not doing it's job.


CONFLICT:


The most important aspect of the One Page Pitch is to show conflict. Your protagonist must be in peril and you have to show this, especially the conflict with other characters. If you don't your pitch will be dull and flat. Show your protagonist bumping up against problems and obstacles, and make the reader really feel for his/her plight.


THE ENDING:


I've been guilty of this myself on many an occasion, but you should never end a pitch with a question - Will Ripley be able to defeat the Alien and escape home? You want your audience to ask this question, but not your reader. The reader needs the full picture, what happens and how the film or TV series plays out. If you don't tell them they'll think you don't know yourself and it'll go against you.


FOOTER:


Add your NAME - EMAIL - PHONE NUMBER (or your agent's details) in the footer at the bottom of the page. It's OK to do this in Courier font as it's not part of the main document.


Here's an example of one of my pitches (copyright me of course) for reference only.

“SIDEKICK”
a 6 x 60 minute comedy drama TV series proposal
by
Dominic Carver

‘Second best.’


A middle aged man, disillusioned with being the sidekick of superhero Captain Cosmos, struggles to find himself as he juggles his family life and his secret identity, while looking to get the credit he thinks he deserves.


DAVID TUCKER has just turned 45 and he’s already smashed head first into his midlife crisis. By day he works as a traffic control officer and by night he becomes The Gnat, sidekick to the superhero Captain Cosmos. His landmark birthday prompts him to reevaluate his life, his job, his friends and family. It’s only then he realises he's completely lost.


David hates his job... both of them. He constantly struggles to keep his secret identity from his wife LUCY (42), who’s obsessed with aerobics, fad diets and is desperately trying to reclaim the body she had when she was twenty, and his son ALFIE (17) , who is uncommunicative and embarrassed by his parents on a daily basis. David’s trying to find himself again and thinks coming out from under the shadow of Captain Cosmos to become his own superhero is a much better idea than buying a powerful motorbike, falling off it at high speed only to watch it be totalled by a passing manure truck.
 But even branching out on your own can have its mishaps - like not being recognised by the police and being arrested for exposure when you’re trying to suit up in a phone box.

Millionaire IAN BAINES (44), aka Captain Cosmos, doesn’t understand and is too ignorant and self absorbed to notice his crime fighting partner isn’t happy with his life. Lucy doesn’t have time for her husband to give him the love and support he needs, and Alfie is too wrapped up in his raging hormones and his own burgeoning super powers to spend any time with his father.

The only one who claims he understands David is PROFESSOR DOOMSDAY (56), aka estate agent MARCUS WAINWRIGHT, turning him against Captain Cosmos, his wife and his son, taking him out drinking and generally leading him astray. But Professor Doomsday’s motives are far more sinister than simply turning David evil - he wants to destroy him, to bring him down so that he’s in no place to rescue his son Alfie. It is Doomsday’s dastardly plan to have Alfie become one of his minions and to join him in the crime of the century - stealing the Royal Family and replacing them with robots.


This is David’s journey to find himself once more, make it as a super hero in his own right, rekindle the romance with his wife, reconnect with his son and save him from the evil clutches of Professor Doomsday.


Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I'VE GOT SUNSHINE

I've been in a rut for several months now, going through the motions and not really enjoying what I do. This is mainly down to a deep abdominal strain I picked up at the end of August last year, one that stubbornly refuses to heal. It has been causing me a great deal of pain for the past five months. It's very debilitating and has been incredibly draining. It got to the point I simply couldn't contemplate even thinking about sitting down to write when I knew that doing so would cause me more pain. In fact, it got so bad I dreaded firing up my iMac. I decided I had to do something about it.

Drowning in self-pity and doubt yesterday, I sat and thought about what writing is, what it means to me and broke it down to examine the reasons behind why I chose to be a writer in the first place. I asked myself a lot of questions. Can I really class myself as a professional writer? Is it, in reality, nothing more than a hobby that occasionally pays? Am I actually any good at what I do? Is it an obsession, an addiction that is getting out of hand? Can I make a sustainable living from it? Do I have the motivation to get on with my writing when I'd rather be playing Call Of Duty on my Xbox, or any other of the numerous ways I could procrastinate? I was brutally honest with myself. Should I carry on or should I walk away and call it a day?

What I discovered is that yes I do love writing. Yes, I am very good at it. Yes, I have found it difficult recently. I know I'm struggling at the moment. I know it occasionally feels like I'm banging my head against a wall, especially where TV writing is concerned. I know my motivation isn't what it would normally be, mainly because of the struggle with the pain I'm having to live with on a day to day basis. But despite all that and after stripping everything back, I realised I write because it makes me happy. I'd forgotten that.

For me, it's not about seeking adulation. Nor justification. Not even remuneration, although it's absolutely fantastic when my bank account is full. And it's definitely not about making other people happy. I write because it makes me happy. What I write makes me happy. I'm happy because it's what I want to do and not something I have to do. I'm happy because I have the most fantastic job in the world where I can write about the things that appeal to me, the things that get my juices flowing, the stories that I would happily read and enjoy myself. Every one I finish brings me great satisfaction. What happens to it after that really isn't important. That's other people's worry. The journey and how I get there is the only thing that matters. My happiness matters. If I'm miserable then what is the point?

I'm only going to write what makes me happy from now on. I'm not going to try and please others. I'm just going to please me. And when I do that I'll know what I produce is going to be absolutely awesome. It's when I'm at my best. I'm going to cut out the noise and get on with what I want to focus on, what I need to focus on for me.

So if you're feeling down, or think you're not getting anywhere with your career, take a step back and ask yourself this simple question... What makes me happy? When you know the answer go and do that. Nothing else matters. Everything else is a distraction. Events and states of mind are tempory. Disappointment is tempory! Rejection is tempory! Feeling adrift is tempory! Pain is tempory... even if it's been with you for five months! Find your happy.

Those two words I always signing off with have never been so poignant.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

WRITERS' BLOCK

Writers' block doesn't exist. It's a myth. It's an imaginary hurdle some writers use as an excuse when they've been lazy and haven't done enough preparation before diving into their writing. Here are a few ways to avoid tying yourself up in knots and to keep the words flowing.

1 - First things first, it's important to remember ideas don't fly out of nowhere fully formed. A spark of conversation, an article in the local paper, or even something you've seen on TV might ignite an idea for a story. You might even be lucky enough to have the basic framework of your story idea suddenly present itself to you. However your idea reveals itself, you will still have to put a lot of work and effort into it to get it on the page. As the saying goes, nothing comes for free.

2 - Preparation is key. The more you do the better. I know writers who refuse to write treatments or outlines, who are quite happy to throw themselves headfirst into the chaos of a screenplay without as much as a paragraph of preparation. And then they wonder why they come to a stumbling halt part way in. Mental! I couldn't work like that, but if it works for them then fine. From my experience the more work you do beforehand the easier it is to write your first draft. There won't be those unexpected pauses where you suddenly discover your character doesn't work, or there's a gaping hole in your plot. Or if there are, there will be far fewer of them and they will be easier to deal with.

3 - Even with the best preparation in the world you will occasionally stall when you encounter a problem with your screenplay. If you do come up against an unexpected pause the best way to deal with it is to go off and work on something else. Give your brain time to think about the problem and find the solution without pressuring it. The worst thing you can do is sit there staring at that blinking cursor for hours without the slightest clue on how to proceed, tying yourself up in knots because the answer won't present itself instantly. You could always skip to another section of your screenplay, one you know you don't have a problem with and write that. Eventually, the solution to your problem will present itself and you'll be able to go back and work on it with confidence. I prefer to go for a walk and usually find the problem has resolved itself by the time I get home. Fresh air works wonders for firing the imagination.

4 - Write bollocks! Yup, I did just say that. If you're struggling just write anything, even if it is crap. Having something on the page is better than nothing. Writing utter rubbish is better than staring at that dreaded cursor or procrastinating on Facebook. You're a writer, so write. Crap can be fixed. Rubbish can be refined. Bollocks can be whipped into shape. A blank page will always be a blank page.

5 - Work on more than one project at a time and ensure each one is at a different stage of development. That way you can keep things fresh, switching between the projects when you need space to think on something. I usually have one project at outline stage, another at first draft and a final one that I'm polishing ready to send out.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

DON'T BE A DICK

It's only the second week of 2018 and already I've had reason to be frustrated/angry/utterly fucked off with other writers' attitudes.

I requested to join a screenwriter's Facebook page called SCREENWRITERS WHO CAN ACTUALLY WRITE last week. The arrogant title alone should have set the alarm bells ringing, but like the optimistic and sometimes nieve believer in humanity that I am I went ahead anyway. My request was approved two hours later and I logged in to have a look at the topics they were discussing. One caught my eye straight away.

The Admin had decided to take a screenshot of a member's post giving advice on copyrighting work in the UK and used it to slag her off, laughing at the advice, using the label 'Screenwriting Guru' as an insult and arrogantly announcing to everyone this member knew absolutely nothing about copyright law. He reinforced this by stating he was a lawyer and personally knew of fifteen examples of work being stolen from members of his Facebook page, yet in an article he wrote for ScreenCraft it was clear he couldn't even tell the difference between a WAVER and an NDA. I couldn't believe what I was reading.

As I continued to read the comments the insults increased, not only from the Admin who boasted of his fifty-six competition wins in an attempt to prove his experience, but from many others in the group too. Disbelief turned to anger and anger rapidly evolved into disgust. Not only were they dismissing what was very sound advice, they were happy to go even further and shamelessly assassinate the character of the lady in question, aggressively challenge her experience and achievements, proudly and smugly declaring she had none and should be ignored. They seemed perfectly happy to ignore her two feature credits as a producer, her years as a reader and script editor, her three published writing guidebooks and two internationally successful novels.

What she had to say was in direct contradiction to their limited knowledge of the industry, so instead of debating with her and questioning her on why she believed her advice to be true, they delighted in dismissing her as an inexperienced wannabe, an idiot, ignoring what she had to say and her experience. I was a member of that Facebook page for less than five minutes... I think that might be a record.

It seems I post blogs about this subject at least twice a year and it dismays me that people still can't grasp the basic fact that being nice, polite, encouraging and helpful are the basics of not only a long and successful career but also the basic requirements of humanity. Just because you think you know more than others, even if you actually do, it doesn't make you better than them and excuse you for treating others with contempt.

My message is simple... don't be a fucking dick! Be better! Make the difference!

Happy writing!

Monday, January 01, 2018

2017 REVIEW AND 2018 GOALS

2017 has been a mixed bag of success and disappointment... just your typical writers' year then.

On the upside, I've created and written several new projects, my writing has done really well in competitions and I've had the opportunity to pitch ideas to some exciting companies and writers I'm looking forward to working with in 2018. On the downside, this was the first year since becoming a full-time writer that the work I lined up didn't come to fruition. Every year since 2010 when I became a full-time writer I've landed work, even if it was only a small project. As a working writer, it's always tough when you have a barren spell. It happens to us all and it can easily erode your confidence. Not me though, it just makes me more determined that 2018 is going to be my most successful year to date.

Don't get me wrong, 2017 hasn't been a total loss, in fact, it's been a great year overall. I've made progress. I have some fantastic possibilities lined up. I've worked extremely hard to get myself in a position where 2018 is shaping up to be quite awesome, with multiple projects ready to go. I now need to ensure I keep that momentum going. So what are my goals for 2018?

It's important to set yourself goals for the forthcoming year. Some writers even advocate adopting a five-year plan. However, I think a one-year plan is sufficient as things can change quite quickly in twelve months. More importantly, those goals should be achievable.

For 2017 I set myself the goal of writing a new screenplay and rewriting an old one every month for twelve months and a lot more besides. It was far too much. I should have set myself a more realistic target. My goals for 2018 are as follows...
  1. Earn a TV drama episode commission.
  2. Finish at least four new projects - two feature and two TV drama.
  3. Have a feature optioned.
  4. Have a TV series idea optioned.
  5. Win a screenwriting competition.
  6. Finish my novel.
  7. Watch more TV drama including keeping up with my favourite continuing dramas.
  8. Watch as much of the programmes recorded on my Sky + box as possible and get it down and keep it below 25%.
  9. To make more of my YouTube channel and social media in general.
  10. To read more.
Just ten goals and after all the hard work I've put in this year they are all achievable.

What were your 2017 successes and what are your 2018 goals? Let's share them.

Happy writing!

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!