Friday, March 31, 2006

Scripts I'd Like to Rewrite

Tom of The One Year Push was also tagged by Ismo and opted not to tag four more bloggers, but instead to ask scriptwriting bloggers to list the 4 films they would like to rewrite. I like making lists but can't think of 4 at the moment so here are 3:

Creep: I'm not a huge horror fan by any means, and my taste in horror veers towards the psychological horror/thriller. Still, I love the simplicity of a good, classic horror set up, like Halloween, The Shining or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Most of these are actually surprisingly light on the guts and gore. Anyway, I loved the idea of a horror set on the London Underground. The tube is scary and uncomfortable and I'm glad I don't have to use it too much anymore. But Creep was so disappointing. The first problem was that the lead character was a hateful bitch I wanted to die. Not a good start. And then killer was revealed far too early, rather than building up the suspense. And he was called 'Craig'. Not scary. If I were to rewrite it, I'd try to crank as much tension from the situation as possible, before revealing the killer. A bit like in The Descent, where there is already a lot of jumps and scares just from the fact these idiotic women are crawling around in tiny caves in the middle of nowhere. And I'd try to make the lead character someone the audience might actually want to survive!

The Warriors: I really didn't expect to like this, but I loved the idea, the central characters were nicely contrasted and it was a lot more tense than I thought it would be. Strictly speaking, what I'd want to do is remake it, because it is obviously very dated now, but I think it could be updated very effectively.

When Brendan Met Trudy: This was written by Roddy Doyle (The Commitments) and so I had high expectations. It suffered from trying too hard to be wacky and funny, without bothering to develop the characters and it was poorly structured. I'd go back to square one with the central relationship, and develop the story from there, but somehow magically maintain Roddy Doyle's wit!

Now, since, as I said I like making lists, I'm going to throw another one back out there to my fellow scriptwriting bloggers. Feel free to share your dream adaptation project. They can be book, comic, play or true story. Here are mine:

The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold: Adored this book, about a young girl who is murdered, watching over her family from heaven as they to piece together their lives after she has gone. It could have been so sentimental given the scenario, but somehow avoids this. Sadly, I'm too late for this one. Last I heard Peter Jackson had bought the rights. Before that, Lynne Ramsay had expressed an interest. Have to say I would have gone for Ramsay over Jackson, but time will tell if I'm judging harshly. I loved Heavenly Creatures after all, so we'll see.

Death and the Penguin, Andrey Kurkov: Set in the Ukraine, its about an obituary writer who adopts a penguin from a zoo that's about to close, which eventually leads to his involvement with Kiev's criminal underworld. No idea yet how I would handle this, but I'd love to have a go anyway. Misha the depressed penguin is a fantastic creation, and the book is very visual, so I think it would make a great adaptation. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks so, but if the rights have been bought, I haven't been able to find anything about it.

Summer of My German Soldier, Bette Greene: One of my favourite childhood books, about a young Jewish girl in the Deep South during WWII, who befriends an escaped German POW. Very poignant and a very resonant story. There has already been a TV adaptation of this in the 70's, according to Imdb, but I think enough time has passed to tackle it again. I'd want it to be a feature rather than TV.

I do have a fourth but I'm not telling as it is something I intend to tackle in the near future. So watch this space!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Some Updates

A little while ago I posted about short films on the web, and some opportunities for short film script competitions. I've just discovered the Super Shorts Film Festival, which will be held for the second time this summer, entries are being accepted now until the final deadline of 6th June. Perhaps an opportunity more geared towards directors than scriptwriters, but for any screenwriters out there lucky enough to have a produced short film it's a good opportunity to have it screened. You can also watch last years Super Shorts entries here.

Another one for those of you lucky enough to have a completed short film ready (or nearly ready) to go is theBetting on Shorts competition. The theme for submissions is 'vacancy' and there's a prize of £200.

Finally, Curzon Soho are screening a selection of British short films from the Dazzle distribution label tomorrow night at 6pm. Tickets cost £5.50 and I'll be going if I can get out of work a bit early.

And by the way, I am still interested in any views on the short scripts I recommended in my original post, or any alternative suggestions. Ot perhaps I should deduce from the lack of response to that post that no one else is all that interested in shorts? If so, your missing out I tell you!

Short films aside, I mentioned two new script opportunities recently, so here are another couple I spotted recently:

The London Script Consultancy is looking for interns. This is an excellent opportunity to gain an in depth knowledge of all aspects of screenwriting and the film industry, assisting with script reading, film reviewing, industry research, and general administration. Applicants should be based in London, have a good telephone manner, basic computer skills and be available 10-6pm Mon-Fri for a minimum of 2 months. To apply, 

And there's still a chance to get involved with this summer's screenwriting festival in Cheltenham:

The first international Screenwriters' Festival is taking place at Cheltenham Film Studios at the end of June 2006, and we are looking for dedicated volunteers to work in a variety of roles, both in the lead up to the event and during the festival itself. This is an excellent opportunity to get an inside view into the running of an international festival, with the chance to work alongside top industry professionals and big names in screenwriting and film
There are full or part time roles available.
To apply contact Adam Laity

Monday, March 27, 2006

A Couple of Opportunities - London Based

From Arts Council England's "Arts News" mailing list:

This course is aimed at anyone who is interested in writing for
television, film, radio or theatre. The course covers all the main
areas of scriptwriting craft. If you have story ideas you would like to
bring to the class for development, please bring them but this is not
essential and no previous writing experience is necessary. Everyone
welcome. Concessions available. For further details and booking

From Creative Capital:

Film London Company Placement Scheme
Applications are now welcome for trainees to the Film London Company Placement Scheme for new entrants into the film and TV industries. Film London is supporting six film and TV companies to provide six-month paid work placements. The companies hosting the placements are:- Karen Hamilton Productions- Diverse Productions- Two Four Productions- Number 9 Films- Adventure Pictures- Tigerlily Films.As a trainee benefits include: - six month placement - minimum wage (£5.05 per hour - 40 hour week)- a structured work plan- a senior supervisor / mentor. Film London welcomes applications from individuals from under-represented groups including: individuals excluded through economic circumstance, women, people of Black or ethnic minority background and people with disabilities.This scheme is supported by the London Development Agency. Application deadline 7 April 2006.
Film London Contact: Kevin Dolan
Phone: 020 7613 7676


Oblique Ismo has tagged me with the "Four Things Meme", so here we go:

Four Jobs I've had:

  1. Assistant Stage Manager
  2. Shelf stacker
  3. Youth worker
  4. University administrator
Four Films I can Watch Over and Over Again:
  1. I Went Down
  2. Jaws
  3. Star Wars original trilogy (Okay, that's cheating a bit but there are lots more than 4 films I can watch again and again)
  4. The Breakfast Club
Four Places I've lived:
  1. Donegal
  2. Dublin
  3. Dorset
  4. Hampshire
Four TV Shows I love:
  1. Spooks
  2. Shameless
  3. Life on Mars (please, please, please BBC/Kudos, don't make us wait another year for the next series!)
  4. Green Wing
Four Places I've Been on Holiday:
  1. Netherlands
  2. France
  3. Spain
  4. York
Four of my Favourite Dishes:
  1. Veggie Chilli
  2. Veg Stir Fry
  3. Brother-in-law's veggie lasagne (spotting a theme yet?)
  4. Any veggie dish with garlic, tomatoes, onions and peppers but absolutely no mushrooms. I do not eat fungus.
Four Blogs I Visit everyday:
  1. Writer's Guild
  2. Danny Stack
  3. Bang 2 Write
  4. Scott the Reader
Four Places I'd Rather Be Right Now:
  1. Home (London)
  2. Home (Ireland)
  3. That's
  4. it!
Four Bloggers I'm Tagging
Can only think of three who may not have been tagged with this already (and apologies if you already have!)
  1. Lucy
  2. Dom
  3. Olaf
There, now, wasn't that enlightening?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Light Housekeeping

I've (hopefully) sorted out some of the links on the right that weren't working, and added a few new links as well. I thought it was about time I put a picture in my profile as well. I wouldn't dream of inflicting my mug on the www, so here's a picture with, appropriately enough, some pretty light and shade!

I've tidied up a few loose ends writing wise as well. Some helpful people over on the Writer's Dock noticeboard have helped with a few research questions I had regarding my synopsis for Coming Up. Thankfully, the story seems to hold up and its really taking shape now. I'd been worrying for a while about which script to submit with the synopsis as a writing sample, but I've found something old that I think would be an appropriate choice, and it doesn't need too much re-writing before it's presentable, which is a bonus! I've also been chasing up script reading opportunities this week and things are looking positive with one company in particular, so fingers crossed, as I need the work!

So I feel nice and refreshed for the weekend knowing I've done what I can to tidy up a few things. Unfortunately, I now need to do some actual tidying up, which probably won't leave me feeling quite so refreshed. Still, for some reason I get some of my best ideas when doing washing up or hoovering, so it isn't all bad!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Cool for Cats

I've often thought I'd like to write for a children's series or cartoon so I try to pay attention to what's on CBBCwhen I can - not easy as I'm not always home during the day, but I try. So I read this Guardian article with interest. Jess, the black and white cat belonging to Postman Pat, is to get his own spin-off show! The new series will be called Guess with Jess and is aimed at pre-school children.

My initial excitement at this was soon replaced with dismay as I read further. Three things unsettled me: 1) the new show will be computer-generated, 2) Jess will TALK!!! And 3) production hasn't even begun yet and a deal has already been struck with Fisher Price toys, so when the series does air, it will "be accompanied by a host of toys and other merchandise". Interesting that the show has been developed due to "public demand" - Postman Pat was first aired 25 years ago so the people who remember it fondly, like myself, are now adults (well, in theory anyway) and possibly even have kids themselves. If they are the ones who have expressed interest, they are surely going to be disappointed with the new, all-improved CGI'd Jess. Of course, cable channels like Nickleodeon show old episodes of classic kids programmes, so I'm sure there are a few new generation fans of Postman Pat out there. But again, if that's the case, why not just bring back Postman Pat as it was? Who wasn't dissappointed by the new Muppet Show, or the fact that the Pink Panther talks now?

As for the marketing deal, I find it a little disturbing that this has been decided before the new show has even begun production. Of course, marketing has always targeted kids with various degrees of subtlety - the trend for supermarkets to put brightly coloured confectionery right by the tills where kids can easily grab them, for example. And I have distinct memories of the merchandising tie-ins connected with my favourite childhood shows - I got a Roland Rat bathset one Christmas, and at one stage I'm sure I had a Zig and Zag duvet set. Still, announcing the merchandising deal in the same press release as the show seems pretty cynical to me.

I admit that have a slightly rose-tinted memory of childhood TV, sitting on my Granda's knee (back in the days when that sort of thing wasn't met with suspicion) watching things like Button Moon and Bagpuss. The charm of these shows was their simplicity, and nowadays kids TV shows seem to be so sophisticated. Still, I did recently stumble across a lovely animated series on CBBC called Binka. I was home during the day and depressed, naturally I turned to kids TV to uplift my spirits and uplift my spirits Binka did! Binka is a big fat cat who spends his days eating, sleeping and occasionally pretending to catch mice. As a cat lover, I really liked the fact that it captured the character of cats so well - there's a bit in one episode where Binka finds a bed to sleep on, and kneads the duvet with his paws before he settles down, like I've seen cats do so often! It's aimed at young kids (not overgrown ones like me, sadly) and Binka doesn't talk or do anything particularly human, apart from maybe trying to impress Suki the girl-cat. It's very endearingly narrated by Stephen Tomkinson and I'd recommend anyone with kids, or adults in touch with their inner child, to look out for it. More information about Binka here. Not sure what time it is on, or even if it is still showing. Hopefully there will be another series, or it will get an airing on CBeebies or something. Interestingly enough, I haven't encountered any Binka soft toys, duvet sets or bath sets!

Despite my despair at the CGI Jess, I still look forward to the imminent resurrection of Jackanory - please BBC, don't mess it up!

More classic kids TV here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Comments Function Sorted - Thanks Scott!

Thanks to Scott the Reader for alerting me to the fact that I was unwittingly preventing comments on this blog - seems I had the 'moderate comments' box ticked. Anyway, I've unticked it now so apologies if anyone else did try to leave a comment - feel free now to share your views!

On an unrelated note, many of us UK-based scriptwriters are probably now aware of the upcoming Screenwriters Festival in Cheltenham. Anyone with festival organising/admin experience may be interested in this opportunity I spotted on Talent Circle:

Working with the Director and the Board of Screenwriters Festival, a new exciting international festival devoted to the art, craft and business of screenwriting, to organise, book and arrange the logistics of the June 2006 festival and project managing this to a tight deadline and budget.
Skills:High degree of organisation, methodical approach, good planning, financial control and project delivery: involving multi-tasking across a range of different tasks under time and financial pressures. A good communicator who can work both in a team and alone, and is self-motivated. A knowledge and a desire to operate under health& safety regulations associated with events staging. Essential: Good people skills, sense of humour, flexibility and commitment to the Screenwriters Festival 
Experience: Festival administration and organising, or TV or Film production manager skills. Project management including finance. Other requirements:To be largely based in Gloucestershire from April to July 2006. This is a paid freelance contract. Please do not apply unless you have relevantadministrativee experience and references. 

Contact details etc can be found in the original ad, though you might have to log in to Talent Circle to view it. It's a free site though and worth signing up if you haven't already. As for the job, it's a great opportunity to get involved with the first UK screenwriting festival. I'd go for it myself if it weren't necessary to be based in Cheltenham. Good luck to anyone who does apply!

Oh, and don't forget, as part of the Screenwriters Festival there's a short script competion for writers who live, work or study in Gloucestershire.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Short Films

As well as working on a synopsis for a 30-minute single drama for Coming Up, my other writing project at the moment is a short film, which I may or may not enter for the Kaos Films short script competition. The concept is simple, as all good shorts should be, and the first draft is 4 pages. The minimum page length for the Kaos comp is 5 pages, and you might think it an easy enough task to stretch 4 pages to 5, but I'm wary of dragging it out just for the sake of it. 1 minute of screen time can be a very long time if isn't necessary to push the story forward. Of course, as the early deadline is 14th April and the late and final deadline in May, I suppose there's time to write another short to submit to Kaos, one that more naturally suits the specified timeframe.

In fact, though I don't write too many shorts, I've decided I'd like to have a few good short scripts under my belt by the end of the year. Short scripts are great projects for new writers, because they can usually be made cheaply and quickly so it is a good way to get a writing credit. Sites like Shooting PeopleMandy and Talent Circle frequently feature posts from young directors or fledgling production companies looking for shorts scripts to direct/produce. There are also some funding opportunities and schemes for short films, such as the UK Film Council's digital shorts scheme and The Irish Film Board also have a number of short film funding initiatives.

With broadband internet connections now the norm, there is no excuse for not checking out some of the huge range of shorts available online. BBC Film NetworkChannel 4 Film and Atom Films should be your first port of call. Shooting People and Raindance have both produced DVD collections of short films, details of which arehere, and here. Getting hold of scripts of produced short film scripts isn't quite so easy. I have manged to find some of the winning scripts from the Orange short film competition (sadly no longer active) to download here and there are a couple of shorts on the Internet Movie Script Database but otherwise I've drawn a blank. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know.

For anyone about to trawl the net for short films, looking for inspiration, here are a few recommendations:

Six Shooter - Written and directed by playwright Martin McDonagh, this won the 2006 Oscar for Best Live Action Short. With two mesmerising performances from two of my favourite Irish actors, Brendan Gleeson and Ruadhri Conroy, dazzling dialogue and a darkly funny tone, it's a must see.

Old Street - Written by another playwright, Patrick Marber (Closer), this stars Ray Winstone as a man stuck in a carpark late at night.

Bouncer - Another one starring Ray Winstone, just because I love him so! A riveting drama with Winstone doing what he does best - playing a hard bloke with strong sense of morality.

Dual Balls - One of my tutors at university screened this clever little comedy, and it still sticks in my mind years later.

Undone - Watched this recently and again its a very simple idea, inspired by a Bjork song, which was reason enough for me to watch it.

I've picked these are they are a good variety in length, theme and genre, but I'd love to get some suggestions of other good short films, or opinions on my selections.

Friday, March 17, 2006

A Few Irish Films, Introduced by The Hoff!

Happy St Patrick's Day from the Hoff! My brother sent me this today, and I'm sure you would agree, it is too fine not to share. For more Hoff beauties, check out

On a slightly less surreal note, but continuing the Irish theme, here are a few Irish films I recommend. I'm too tired and a little bit too hungover to write much about these today. So you'll just have to trust me!

In no particular order:

1) I Went Down, 1997. Scr: Conor McPherson. Dir: Paddy Breathnach
Two hapless mismatched criminals and a very talkative hostage.

2)Disco Pigs, 2001. Scr: Enda Walsh. Dir: Kirsten Sheridan
Born on the same day in the same hospital, minutes apart, Pig and Runt's inseperable bond begins to crack days before their 17th birthday.

3)Intermission, 2003. Scr: Mark O'Rowe. Dir: John Crowley
A misguided break-up triggers a series of events between a disparate group of Dubliners.

4) Adam and Paul, 2004. Scr: Mark O'Halloran. Dir: Lenny Abrahamson
Laurel and Hardy on smack.

5) Angel, 1982. Scr/Dir: Neil Jordan
A musician witnesses the murder of a mute girl.

And if that's not enough Irishness, Barbican are celebrating the Beckett Centenary festival with Beckett on Film: The Plays.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Taking the Plunge

Most professional writers start off squeezing in writing time around full-time jobs, and take the plunge to full or part-time writing once they get a break. Some people go the whole hog and work full-time right away, others work part-time initially and then gradually, as the work comes in, go full-time. There are numerous different motivating factors in making the decision to depend on income from writing, wholly or partly, but the common factor is that they are all risky. You might give it all up on the basis of that big-break, but you might never get the next break.
When I left university, I spent about a year constantly moving around and doing various temp jobs with small periods of unemployment in between. Writing was impossible in those conditions, because the circumstances were so unsettling and for a lot of the time I was literally living out of boxes or suitcases, with my temperamental but beloved laptop in storage or packed away beyond reach. Finally settled in one place, I took on a full-time job out of necessity - rent and bills needed paying, and writing wasn't going to do that. The idea was that I would do the job for a year, pay off the crippling debts getting an education in the UK incurs, enjoy the financial stability that a full-time job would give me and put aside time to write that I couldn't do before. The job had nothing to do with scriptwriting but it was an incredibly creative environment with interesting people who were knowledgeable about all things cultural, and I loved it. The problem was, the longer I was there the more responsibility I took on and as staff left, I gradually become the person that other people assumed knew all the answers, even if I didn't. Exciting though it was, it was also an very badly managed organisation with low morale among staff. What seemed on paper a fairly routine job soon became demanding and emotionally draining. My writing was sporadic and as much as I enjoyed the job, I wasn't happy wasting my expensive education and, more importantly, putting aside my creative aspirations. I thought about leaving many times until, eventually, the stress of the job combined with a sustained and overwhelming personal turmoil was the trigger I needed. I spontaneously handed in my notice without having any other job to go to, something that goes against just about every fibre of my being. I'm a cautious one!

Thankfully, I had been 'moonlighting' as a script reader for a while and having a direct, paid involvement in scriptwriting again gave me direction. I found a new part-time job and took on more script reading work which I did, and still do, from home. The couple of days I have working from home cuts out commuting time which has become writing time. There's financial pressure of course, as although I made a point of finding a part-time job that paid more, pro-rata than my previous full time job, script reading doesn't pay that much and I have to read a lot to make ends meet. Still, the time that working from home has freed up has been worth it in terms of my overall wellbeing, because I'm just happier when I'm writing, however little.

So, leaving a 'proper' job in favor of writing or script reading is a huge risk. Even though my decision was impulsive, it was something I had been quietly considering, and, true to my cautious ways, had set myself certain targets I needed to achieve before doing so. In the end I knew that for me setting these targets was just another way of putting off something I really wanted to do, because it was scary, so I'm glad certain circumstances collided to give me the kick up the arse I needed to move on. I haven't looked back and even though it is difficult always being broke, I wouldn't change a thing. I've learned some valuable lessons through trial and error and these are my tips to anyone about to, or thinking about taking the plunge to freelance work:

1) Consult your spouse/significant other. Their support is invaluable and if your income or lack thereof affects their life it will put a huge strain on the relationship.

2) If you want to work freelance full-time and have the means to, do it. Only take on part-time work if you need it to make ends meet. 2 or 3 days a week in a job you are not passionate about, when you have another job you are intensely passionate about, will soon become a horrible endurance test, and 2 days can feel like 5 if you want to be somewhere else doing something else. If you lack commitment to your part-time job, you may find yourself day-dreaming a lot about your freelance projects, and using the internet to look up things relevant to your freelance job when you should be working. In no way, whatsoever, not even a tiny wee bit does this apply to me and my part-time job. Absolutely not.

3) Have a good long think about what motivates you, when you work best, what factors you need in place to be able to work. If you need a quiet space where you are left undisturbed for hours, a conversation with the aforementioned spouse/significant other is needed, especially if there are other issues such as childcare to consider. If you work best in the afternoon, and need a part-time job, think about doing the 'proper' job in the mornings. Or use the mornings for researching or planning out work for the afternoon, whatever. Just find a routine that works for you and stick to it.

4) It's an obvious one, but contact the tax man. He gets cross if you are self-employed for more than two months (I think its 2 months, maybe less) and don't tell him. He doesn't like to be left in the dark and he punishes you by charging you money you most certainly won't have, just for ignoring him. The tax man also likes paperwork. Make sure you give him all the paperwork he demands, when he demands it. If not, again, you will be punished.

Those are my pearls of wisdom. And now, I have a rather inviting looking bottle of wine in the fridge, the PC to myself for the rest of the evening and at least two hours before I'm overcome with fatigue so I'm going to put it to good use by doing some writing.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Submissions & Rejections

Sent off my submission for Open Eye productions yesterday. Although I was skeptical about reducing my story to just 40 words, I enjoyed the challenge and was quite happy with the finished mini-synopsis and character description. As someone pointed out over at Writewords, it was a useful exercise for any writer to undertake, and it really helps to boil down an idea to its very essence. As with any submission, I'm optimistic about its chances but not exactly holding my breath waiting for a positive response either. I don't submit work often because I do write slowly and so I consider it an achievement just to complete something and send it out there.

Also over at Writewords, there is an interesting thread about rejection slips called the 2006 Rejection Pledge (it's in the Lounge forum though, so you have to be a member to view it). The idea is to turn rejection slips into a positive by setting a target for the year. I haven't yet 'taken the pledge' but I do love this idea. It's true that you can't get published/produced/commissioned if you don't submit work, and this is a good way of celebrating the effort and courage it takes to send your work out there, without getting too upset if you get a rejection. Every rejection is a learning curve, particularly if you get some constructive feedback with it. At the moment, I'm anticipating my first rejection of the year - at this stage I know I haven't got through, but I'm keen to get any feedback and I'll be interested to find if it tallies up with what I was uneasy about myself. There won't be too much time to dwell on it though, with Coming Up and the Kaos Short Film Script Competition around the corner, I have plenty to crack on with.

And on the subject of waiting for that big break, Writer's Room have an excellent new 'Script to Screen' with Paul Farrell, discussing the progression from a spec script to a commissioned episode of Silent Witness.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Guest Post - Writing for Children LBK Masterclass

As I mentioned in a previous post below, I attended a writing for the screen masterclass at the London Book Fair last week with my friend Emma J, who stuck around for another masterclass in the afternoon, Writing for Children. Emma J has very kindly written a report on that event, so here it is:

"I've attended numerous author talks over the years and come away from most of them feeling that I have little in common with either the writer or their writing process. The only exception (until last Saturday) was hearing Philip Pullman once talk about how he always starts his books by getting an idea about a landscape first. I really identified with this (although, sadly for me that’s about the only thing we have in common!)

However, my general good opinion of author talks was fully restored at last Saturday's London Book Fair Masterclass on Writing for Children. The four authors (Geraldine McCaughrean, Philip Ardagh, Meg Rosoff and Siobhan Dowd) were inspirational in their approach to their writing, and their advice and anecdotes were informative and very helpful.

Geraldine McCaughrean talked about how not to let research slow down the narrative arc of your story. The temptation is to show off your in-depth knowledge of the subject matter, but this then detracts from the progress of the tale. Therefore, research, whilst important to stories set in other lands or periods in history, should never overwhelm the central story. GM admitted that she has never been to the Arctic or to China but still set her books in these locations, letting her imagination, and the willingness of the reader to be entertained, do the rest.

Philip Ardagh concurred, saying that by overwhelming your reader with your research all you do is make the reader think you are showing off. Whereas, one small, well placed piece of research can often impress the reader far more. He also talked about delivery of your material. He mentioned one of his books, where a boy called Fergal falls from a window on page one of the book, and dies instantly. The book then goes back through the Fergal's life, having attracted our attention to this character, and tells the story of how he came to fall. A tragic story is told in away that gets the child reader's attention. The way Fergal died is no longer important – he matters to the reader, he has a story and they want to know more about him.

The second part of the afternoon included talks from Meg Rosoff and Siobhan Dowd. Both concentrated on the actual act of writing. In Meg's case it was her resistance to writing that led to her taking up alternative careers in PR, advertising, and very nearly running her own cake making service. Then her sister became ill with cancer and it occurred to her that we all only have so much time in which to do the things we feel compelled to do. So, she started asking everyone she knew how on earth she could go about writing a book. The result was How We Live Today, an instant bestseller.

Siobhan Dowd spent 12 years patiently waiting for her big break. Three years ago she sat in the audience at the LBF Masterclass wondering if she would ever get her break. Now a writer for Random House, she was up on the stage. She talked about how to make your writing lean, mean and clean Рall traits she had learnt through patiently honing her craft in her 12 year wait to be published. According to her, if you get the five C's right (Consistency (get the details right and give your writing credibility), Chapters (structure of your story), Cast (characters that interest people and that progress or change as the story progresses), Cutting (being ruthless about rewriting), and Clich̩ (finding new ways to say things), you won't go far wrong.

And, finally, all four answered my question about whether or not you have to be around children to be a good children's writer with the answer I wanted to hear. No, you don't, it doesn't matter, the story is key. And, as Meg Rosoff put it, "Don't trust children, they have very bad taste…." Philip Ardagh agreed. He once asked readers of a book he was particularly proud of to write to him and tell him which was their favourite character. They ignored all of his well-rounded, funny characters in the book that he had spent ages writing witty dialogue for, and instead overwhelmingly voted for a stuffed stoat that never said a word. "

Thanks Emma!

I want to read the book with the stuffed stoat ....

Thursday, March 9, 2006


IWC Media have just announced details of the 6th Coming Up initiative for new writers. I've been zealously checking IWC's website for this information since the end of last year - I went to a Script Factory SCENE event on which Eileen Quinn of IWC was a panel member and she mentioned Coming Up (I posted a report for this onWritewords as there was some useful information for writers. You can read it here but you'll need to be a Writewords member). It's an excellent opportunity for new writers without a primetime television credit, and previous winners have gone on to have work commissioned for the BBC while one winner, Andrea Arnold, won an academy award for her short film Wasp. At the time I remember thinking it was a great thing that to enter, you "only" had to write a 1 to 2 page synopsis in the first instance. I set to work on my synopsis and after several attempts, came to a grinding halt. I had forgotten the trouble I have with synopses.

Writing a synopsis is not made any easier by the lack of a clear definition of what a synopsis is. Different companies and organisations obviously have vastly different ideas about how they define a synopsis. As I mentioned in a previous post, I've also been working on a 40-word synopsis for the Open Eye submissions. To my mind, a synopsis should give an overview of the story to its conclusion. In script reading terms, a synopsis is usually (though not exclusively, again different companies have different guidelines) kept to under 500 words and covers the main plot, main characters and the subplot. 40-words is more akin to my definition of a logline - a summary of the story in one or two sentences. Perhaps the reason there is such fervent debate among writers about the definition of these industry terms is because they are getting different explanations from different organisations - over on the writewords site for example, in the synopsis and outline group there seems to be a firmly rooted belief that a synopsis should not tell too much of the story. Perhaps it's the script reader in me, but I always want to know how the story begins, how it develops and how it is resolved.

Thankfully, the guidelines for Coming Up are fairly clear about what they want from the synopsis. I've made quite a bit of progress with mine but now feel I'm at the stage where I need to dive in and write a draft of the script and resolve any problems that way. Then I'll write my synopsis again and when I do, I will certainly be consulting these two excellent articles about synopses on Writer's Dock. In the first article, Pam McCutcheon lists the top ten synopsis mistakes, and she nails my two personal weaknesses at numbers 4 and 5 respectively: Too much detail, and not enough emotion. The former isn't so much a problem because I'll always go back and cut things down once I've got a draft of something, and I'm a fairly ruthless self-editor. The latter is a problem, however, as I tend to write emotional, character driven stories. While I don't feel I have any difficulty conveying the emotion in the script, getting that emotion into the synopsis enough to hook the reader is something I have doubts about. Still, I will persevere!

If anyone out there reading this is planning on submitting something for either Open Eye or Coming Up, remember the deadlines: Open Eye is just around the corner on 13th March (you can email submissions, which saves the postage time) and Coming Up is 18th April. Good luck!

Monday, March 6, 2006

Organic Scriptwriting

It seems everything has become organic these days, even scriptwriting. At the London Book Fair Writing for the Screen Masterclass I attended yesterday, I counted at least 3 uses of the word ‘organic’ in relation to scriptwriting. Tim Firth said his approach to writing comedy was ‘organic’ in that he let the humour emerge from the characters rather than from one-liners he wanted to add to the script. Deborah Moggach spoke of the ‘organic’ feel to her recent adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. And Amy Jenkins, when asked if she first writes the dialogue and then adds further details, or if everything is written in parallel, agreed that it was the latter, and that this was an ‘organic ‘ process.

I’ve been to similar events as this before and though they are always incredibly useful, the limitation of the set-up is that there is never enough time to fully discuss specific issues that crop up. I’ve encountered the word organic in connection to scriptwriting a few times recently, though I can’t say that I can remember the context at this moment in time. Yesterday, after the third instance of the word ‘organic’ (there may have been more, but I stopped counting) I started to wonder exactly what they meant – it all seemed a bit vague. When I got home I decided to look up the word organic in the dictionary to help put it in context and this is what I found:

adjective 1 relating to or derived from living matter. 2 not involving or produced with chemical fertilizers or other artificial chemicals. 3 Chemistry relating to or denoting compounds containing carbon and chiefly or ultimately of biological origin. 4 relating to or affecting a bodily organ or organs. 5 (of the elements of a whole) harmoniously related. 6 characterized by natural development.
The latter two definitions proved useful. I liked Tim Firth’s assertion that he finds the comedy from the characters. As I mentioned in my first post, I get to read quite a lot of sitcoms and more often than not the characters are secondary to the jokes or slapstick situations and it just doesn’t work. When I think of my favourite sitcoms, I think of the characters and the way they relate to each other. I think Father Ted’s dreams of fame continually thwarted by Dougal, Jack or Mrs Doyle and Blackadder’s scheming destroyed by Baldrick. It’s the blueprint for any story – somebody wants something, someone or something stands in their way. In that sense, Amy Jenkins’ overall approach to writing (and it has to be said, most screenwriter’s approach to writing – why make extra work for yourself by going back and adding details, except if you are actually re-writing?) and Tim Firth’s description of creating the comedy in a story meet definition number 5 and definition number 6. If a story is about someone who wants something, then everything stems from that character which could be said to be ‘a natural development’. As such, the comedic value of a story and the scene descriptions should also be ‘harmoniously related’ elements of the whole story.

This all may seem fairly obvious but I had never really thought of describing scriptwriting as an organic process before. Certainly I agree that all aspects of the script, from the characters to the dialogue, the arena and the pacing should fit together with no one aspect of the craft of writing overtaking another. But perhaps because writing a script can so often be such a laborious, painful process I didn’t associate it with being either harmonious or natural.

On that note, I’m off to start chopping carrots for dinner (organic carrots, of course!).

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Progress, or lack thereof

I'm finishing up for the day and have had the kind of typical 'writing' day of not achieving very much in terms of words and pages, but lots in terms of progressing ideas. I've been working on a short script and have a grand total of, wait for it.... 3 pages. Something was niggling at me the whole time I was writing those 3 pages though, and I stopped for a bit, started working on something else and realised what it was I needed to do on the short script. The 'something else' was the excruciatingly difficult task of boiling down a 100 page screenplay into a 40 word synopsis and a 40-word character description for the upcoming Open Eye productions Open Doorsubmissions. I've got the 40 words for each, but not convinced what I've written gives any useful sense of the story. The deadline is 13th March though, so there's still some time to rework it a bit. There has also been a fair amount of the 'other stuff' that tends to distract me which today has largely been tinkering about with links on this site and a fair amount of general internet-ing.

Tomorrow I'm off to the London Book Fair Writing for the Screen Masterclass. There are presentations fromDeborah MoggachChristopher HamptonTim Firth and Amy Jenkins. I've attended separate events with Deborah Moggach and Christopher Hampton before and their insight is worth the £25 cost alone, but I'm particularly looking forward to hearing what Amy Jenkins (who wrote This Life) has to say. Will try to post something about it over the weekend - if anyone happens to be reading this, 3 posts in one day should not be taken as any sort of precedent!

Friday, March 3, 2006

Technical Errors Already

I've only just started and already I've spotted a silly mistake in the description section above. I've changed the settings, republished and the changes haven't shown up. How frustrating! I want to try to work out what I'm doing wrong, but I'm supposed to be writing now so I'll have to do it later. But the absence of the word "of" in my description is going to irritate me until I fix it...

Update: Fixed it!

First Post

So I've finally started a weblog. Characteristically, I've been meaning to do this for ages now, but haven't quite got around to it. I've been busier than usual with script stuff this week and it seems to have been the motivatating factor that I needed to start this up. I'm a professional script reader and a spec scriptwriter, so this blog will be about writing and reading film and TV scripts. I hope it will be informative, but I'm also hoping it will help me keep to my own writing routine to have something to regularly update.

There are advantages and disadvantages to being a script reader who also writes, or a writer who reads scripts - I'm not really sure which way around that should be for me, because I started writing before I began reading scripts, but I earn money from reading scripts and not from writing them. The obvious advantage is the insight that this affords me into the quality of spec scripts being submitted and also to the type of scripts people are writing. I get a lot of horror scripts and a lot of sitcoms, for instance, but not many romantic comedies and hardly any strong, socially based dramas. Reading scripts, good, bad or ugly, is the best way to learn about writing them. On the downside, I personally find constantly critiquing other people's writing makes me hyper sensitive to the flaws in my own writing, to the point where every new idea is scrutinized and analyzed mercilessly in my head before usually being discarded. Reading scripts can also be a distraction from writing them, and, with that in mind, despite several fat scripts I have waiting to be read, I've put today aside for working on my own scripts. I've had two cups of coffee already, so I suppose now it is time I actually got on with it....