I am resolutely still trying to promote Curzon Soho's Serious About Shorts series. You can catch the Bitesize Cinema programme this Saturday and on Thursday 27th there will be a selection of animated films showing as part of the Oscar Nominated Shorts programme.
Finally, I've just discovered the Bird's Eye Short Film Festival Blog, which I've added to my links. The festival itself is held in three stages, the first to celebrate International Women's Day in March, the second is coming up in June and the final part will be held in September. More details are on the festival homepage.
Sent my Coming Up submission off yesterday and have been dealing with the slight sense of a come-down that tends to follow any submission. The idea I had been working on has been with me in some shape or form for a couple of years now, stored away mostly in my head and scribbled on bits of paper. I've always tended to have a love/hate relationship with my scripts and ideas and this one was no different. There's a strange mix of emotions to sending something off for consideration - relief to finally be finished (insofar as any script is ever finished), hope for the prospects of the project, fear of rejection, resolve to take it on the chin if it is another rejection, enthusiasm for the next project, and sadness to have left behind your characters in their world, if only for awhile.
In this instance, though I really liked my finished synopsis, I still feel uncertain it is the sort of thing they are looking for, and more significantly, I feel I may be considered too inexperienced for this scheme even if my synopsis is well received. It was clearly stated that this is not a beginner's scheme, but aimed at writer's "building a track record" in film and television. When does one cease being considered a beginner, and become a writer building a track record? How exactly is that defined? I've been slowly but surely increasing my submissions over the last year and in my mind I'm working on building up that track record. But will the good folks at IWC Media agree?
I'm not planning on giving myself too much time to think about that. As Danny Stack sagely noted in this posttoday, "the best way to wait for a reaction to a script is to start another" . I have several other things I should be getting on with now, so I plan on taking that advice to heart. I'll be rewriting some older scripts, working on a new short script hopefully for the Kaos comp, and then developing at least one of three possible feature script ideas. And at some point I do intend to come back to my synopsis for Coming Up, whether it is successful in that scheme or not. I'm going to keep busy.
Scriptwriting is big business. There are numerous books on scriptwriting, "script gurus" offering workshops or one-to-one advice, scriptwriting retreats, scriptwriting software and of course, many script reading and script editing services. Despite the industry in scriptwriting related products, making a living out of scriptwriting (or indeed any other kind of writing) is difficult and notoriously badly paid. Aside from the fact that, as a script reader and a spec scriptwriter, I never have any money, I'm also the sort of girl who likes to find a good bargain, so I've decided to do a regular series of posts on this blog, under the theme scriptwriting on a budget.
I'm focusing this time on getting script feedback either for free, or at an a affordable rate, which I've set at £50, because it seems a realistic benchmark and because it is about as much as I would be able to pay for a report myself. At this juncture I'll point out that I'm not personally endorsing any of these services and I would ask that if anyone wants to comment on this blog, any references to the services I've mentioned here are respectful. Also, I'm not suggesting that the script reporting services that I haven't mentioned here on the basis of their rates are not also value for money. Low budget isn't always high quality, but on the other hand, I see no reason why good constructive analysis needs to be prohibitively expensive.
I mentioned in my last post a competition Spread the Word are currently holding. For those who didn't go off and check the website for details, the competition is to have your script or novel critiqued by a London-based script reading and script editing service. To be considered, you need to be comfortable posting an extract of your script on the Spread the Word forums. The extracts posted there will then be voted on by other forum users, and the manuscript with the most votes wins a report of the complete manuscript from the London Literary Consultancy. There are also a few free reports of manuscript extracts up for grabs. According to their website, paying clients would be charged £275 to have a feature screenplay (of up 120 pages) read and critiqued by LLC - not a sum most of us have just lying around in spare change! So, perhaps worth a go. More information on how to enterhere.
There are other ways to get feedback on your work for free. Online writing communities such as Writewords andWriter's Dock can be a good first port of call for informal, supportive (mostly!) feedback. And of course other writing groups, friends and family can be great resources too. BBC Writer's Room of course, accepts unsolicited scripts and the team of readers there will read at least the first ten pages of everything submitted to them. The feedback offered will be minimal, but constructive. BBC Wales also accept unsolicited scripts, though again, the feedback won't be extensive and for new writer's the Writer's Room should always be a first port of call. Screen Yorkshire have recently launched a script reading service for companies and individuals in the Yorkshire and Humber area, and the first use of the service is free to limited companies, sole traders or partnerships. Northern Film and Media offer free script assessment to writers based in Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, County Durham and Tees Valley.
Another option for free feedback (although of a slightly different nature) is the Rocliffe Forum. Submit your script to Rocliffe, and if they pick it for one of their new writing forums, the script will be read by professional actors to a select audience, with a discussion of the script following the reading. Of course, just submitting your script is no guarantee of having it selected for a performance, and there aren't any details on the website about the process of reading through submissions in the first place. I would expect that unsucessful applications don't recieve any analysis, though there may be some minimal feedback. Probably best approached as a showcase for a script that has already been through some development, but nevertheless a good opportunity that won't put you out of pocket.
If you are willing and able to part with some cash, there are numerous options for getting a professional script report, but as I said I'll stick to services for under £50. Writernet offer a script reading service on a sliding scale. Writernet subscribers get a discount, but for non-subscribers the prices are still affordable - for a fully waged writer, a report costs £30. Writernet have a particularly strong background in theatre, but will also read radio, film and TV scripts. On the subject of theatre, Soho Theatre and Writer's Centre accept unsolicited scripts and will provide a report on submissions free of charge.
Scriptonic provide script reports for £50 on feature scripts of up to 100 pages, with higher rates for longer pieces. Regular readers of this blog will have benefitted from insights from Lucy, who runs her own script reading service with reports at very affordable rates. Have a look at Lucy's excellent blog for more information. Another blogger, Scott the Reader of Alligators in a Helicopter offers script notes for $60 - about £35. And not to blow my own trumpet, I also read scripts for private clients and my rates are all below the £50 mark - I won't go into further detail here, but my contact details are in my profile for anyone interested.
So there we have it, a brief guide to free/cheap script reports or feedback. If anyone has any suggestions I've missed out on, let me know. Equally, suggestions for more Scriptwriting on a Budget guides are welcomed!
As they have just announced their new season of literature workshops and events, it seemed a good idea to highlight a great writing resource for London, Spread the Word. There is a slight bias towards poetry and prose in the new schedule, but scriptwriters might find Life Recorders and Sketched of particular use. I'm thinking about signing up for these two myself. I attended one of their workshops last year, about writing for the web, and found it a really informative and enjoyable day. If you want to support Spread the Word's activities, you could also get involved as a volunteer.
For the non-London based writers who read this, take a look round the site anyway, as there is some useful information and interesting links in the resources section and a forum that could do with some lively debate. Spread the Word are also running an interesting competition at the moment, which isn't exclusive to London writers (that I can tell), but it ties in with the planned topic of my next post, so I'll discuss it then. Those of an impatient disposition can find the details on the website...
The early deadline for this competition is just a few days away, on April 14th. If you get your script in then, you'll save £10 on the entry fee. I'll be aiming to have something ready in time for the late deadline of 26th May. I did start something for this a while back, but have adandoned it on the basis of it being utter crap and have now got a much better idea to work on, so I'll be cracking on with that once I am liberated from Coming Upsynopsis hell. I have decided I hate synopses - story breakdown I can do, but a sexy synopsis is beyond me. But I will persevere with it.
Anyway, for anyone entering the Kaos comp, scripts will be accepted if they are post-marked by those dates. I'm on the Kaos mailing list, and this morning they sent a useful little interview with the founder of the competition, Arif Hussein. It's useful whether you intend to apply or not, so I've copied below for your reading pleasure:
We are constantly asked by writers: What are the Judges looking for? Can I see the previous winning screenplays? In this article we've put these questions and more to Arif Hussein the founder of the BSSC.
Q: First of all I'd like to congratulate you on behalf of the writers out there for what is widely recognised as the best and the most prestigious screenplay competition in the world.
A: Thank you and I'd like to thank the writers and the sponsors who have supported the competition without them we wouldn't be here. This is the fifth year of the competition and it really has exceeded all our expectations. Today we have The NFTS as an associate partner THE TIMES newspaper as our media partner, Working Title Films are supporting us. And in this fifth year of the competition we have great prizes for the writers. The winner will not only have their screenplay produced but will be invited to the awards ceremony of The British Independent Film Awards to receive an award. All the finalists will be invited to apply to the NFTS to go on the MA in screenwriting and will by-pass all the preliminary rounds. Any one who has ever applied to a film school knows the true value of this prize and of course all the runners up will receive screenwriting software. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the judges who have put in an enormous amount of work each year particularly Nik Powell, Stephen Woolley and Michael Kuhn. I'm hugely grateful to them for their support.
Q: Let's start with the one of the most frequently asked questions. Why don't you publish the winnning screenplays on your website?
A: The main reason is that we want to produce the film and allow the film to have a reasonable exposure in the market place before we publish the screenplay. The winner of 2002 competition THE HANDY MAN by Tom Beach is a thriller with a twist in the tail. It is important for the audience's enjoyment not to know the ending. The 2003 winner THE STARS DON'T TWINKLE IN OUTER SPACE by Hank Isacc is a very powerful drama with a twist. Again, it would kill the film if we publicise the ending. And the same goes for the 2004 winner LIKE FATHER by James Walker which is about to go into production in Bosnia.
Q: Well that gives us some insight into the winning screenplay, in that all three you've mentioned have a twist in the tail. Is it reasonable to assume that the judges are looking for a screenplay with a "twist in the tail"?
A: No, not necessarily. Yes the first three winning screenplays of BSSC do have that in common but last year's winner THE OTHER ME is just a very clever piece. What they all have in common is a great story with a beginning, middle and an end. They are all mini features and that is what any script reader, production company or competition wants to see in a script. Some people say but it's only a maximum of fifteen minutes! I say to them think about the best commercials on television, the ones you remember. Now ask yourself why do you remember them? Because they tell a story with a beginning, middle and an end and they do it in just thirty seconds.
Q: Is that what the readers are looking for?
A: The readers are asked to judge the entries in six categories. 1. Plot/premise 2.Structure and pacing. 3. Characterisation. 4. Dialogue. 5. Cinematic potential and 6. Quality of writing. You don't have to get ten out of ten in each category to be the winner. We often receive scripts with no dialogue it doesn't mean they will receive zero in that category. It's not how it works. The marks of each category carry you through to the next round.
Q: So you need to score high marks in the categories that apply to your script.
A: Yes. In all the categories that apply to your screenplay.
Q: Okay, so you can't publish the winning screenplays, what about the runners-up, why don't you publish them?
A: We don't own the copyright on the runners-up. If we publish them we could be in serious trouble.
Anyone else intending to apply for this one?
After almost 5 months, I've finally got some feedback from BBC about my Evening Play Submission. As expected, the feedback was brief, though it was encouraging and they pointed out the "emotional potential" of the piece, which I wasn't convinced I had captured in the pitch. So, I now have my first official rejection slip of the year - hurrah! I'll certainly come back to that idea, though not for a while as there are several other things I want to get on with first. I feel as though I've been working on the Coming Up submission forever and a day, so I'm hoping to put the finishing touches to that over the weekend and be able to put that one to bed too. Next up, the Kaos short film competition.
As I've mentioned before, my current working situation is three days of the week in a stuffy office doing a job I'm not especially enthusiastic about (though it does have some nice perks), and two days at home script reading. Writing is shoe-horned into weekends and on my freelance days, the couple of hours freed up by not having to commute. My freelance days are both precious to me and pressurized. I need to make ends meet and script reading doesn't pay fantastically well, so I have to read a lot in those two days. Unfortunately, every so often my body rebels against me and prevents me from getting through as much reading and writing as I would like.
Take today. I like to have an agenda for my days at home, otherwise I get nothing done. Today the plan included doing a bit of yoga (does wonders for my dodgy back) getting through 2 scripts (both lengthy ones, but for different companies so one brief report and one detailed analysis), at least an hour on my own writing, update blog, and make a few inquiries about script reading work. But no. My body is having none of it. It has been threatening a strike for most of the week now, but chose today for a complete shut-down. To be pretentious for a moment and quote Withnail and I, "I feel like a pig shat in my head". I physically couldn't get out of bed till gone 8am, an hour and a half later than I had planned. As my other half has observed on more than one occasion, my body hates me. If I've got a deadline, have got to travel, or am looking forward to, well anything at all, it will find a way to scupper my plans. But today is the day that I fight back! I've fortified myself with pomegranate juice, toast and fruit and I've dragged myself to the computer to update the blog. I'm about an hour behind schedule, so the yoga had to go, but maybe I can fit that in a bit later. Now, I'm going to try and read through the pain and later I will try to write through it as well! What a trooper I am...
Last year I did a short course about writing arts reviews. I'm not sure review writing is really for me, but I found the course useful in other ways. As with scriptwriting, writing reviews is all about economy, and the course tutor very helpfully made a list of phrases to avoid using, and invited us to add our own pet peeves to the list.
I got thinking about this list today as I was reading scripts and again came across two of my most hated expressions : "All hell breaks loose" and "..With hilarious consequences". The latter is more frequently found in synopses and pitches, which is probably even more damaging than putting it in the script, as it increases the likelihood that the script won't be requested. I've never yet read a script that promised "hilarious consequences" that was actually funny. And I've lost count how many times I've read "all hell breaks lose" in scene directions. It's a lazy turn of phrase that leaves so much open to interpretation. Writers, describe how you imagine all hell breaking loose would look like!
So today I revisited the notes I took in the reviewing class and added "all hell breaks loose" and "with hilarious consequences" to the list of banned phrases. I'm aware that I'm not immune to overusing certain words in my own writing, so I intend to consult this list next time I'm rewriting or editing. "Suddenly" and "however" were also on the 'to avoid' list, and I'm particularly partial to the latter. "In order to" is another good example - what's wrong with just "to"? The extra words are simply a cushion. Scriptwriting is about getting to the point. No room for cushioning!
My usual approach to avoiding lazy phrases is simply to go back through my script with a highlighter pen and mark up phrases I need to rethink, or any persistently repeated words. This may seem pedantic but good scene directions are as important as any other aspect of the script, and it seems that many writers focus their attention on editing or rewriting dialogue and ignore the flow of the scene directions. A few of these tired old phrases on each page will have a huge impact on the overall pacing of the script. And as for dialogue, simply going back and cutting out words like "well" and "look" can make all the difference in injecting some energy into the script. In real life people might use the words and phrases all the time, but in a script they just slow things down.
I'm sure there are plenty more cliched words and phrases we could add to this list, these are just a few that struck me today. Anyone got any other suggestions? What makes you cringe every time you read it? What word or phrase do you find you just keep using in your own writing? I'll attempt to compile a definitive 'to be avoided' list!
Red Road The Devil Wears Prada Little Miss Sunshine Away From Her The Departed Stranger than Fiction Mean Creek Switchblade Romance Somersault Keane The Wind That Shakes The Barley United 93 Breakfast On Pluto
So far this year I've read
Stuart: A Life Backwards, Alexander Masters Tilt (play), Ailis Ni Riain Comfort Woman, Nora Okja Keller The Cement Garden, Ian McEwan Stasiland, Anna Funder Starter for Ten, David Nicolls Night, Elie Weisel Silver Bay, Jojo Moyes Noise, Hari Kunzru In Cold Blood, Truman Capote Notes on a Scandal, Zoe Heller The Vanishing Hitchhiker, Ian Harold Brunvand The Courage to Create, Rollo May Bad Behaviour, Mary Gaitskill If You Want To Write, Brenda Ueland