Monday, 15 January 2018

Screenwriting Advice for BA Students... From a Masters Grad (Part Five: Actual Writing Work and Agents)

And now, we finally talk about being paid to write scripts. Yes, a series all about screenwriting, and it's just now that we finally talk about actually making any sort of living at it.

Ah well, save the best for next-to-last, right?

As mentioned at the beginning, you don't need an agent to walk up to a producer or development person and pitch your idea. Procedure is much the same as the work experience discussion last time: find the relevant email, compose a short pitch and logline, and then send it off. Agents really exist to help with contracts, payment and get you past the 'unsolicited' material bit, but they do not get you work. You do. You still have to network and talk to people and pitch and all the rest of it. That will never change.

Also, note what I said above: I said pitch your idea, not guarantee a read or development or actually getting made. The reality of the industry is most of your money, and by proxy, most of your career, will come from development, rather than actual production and release. Indeed, that show or film you want to make will more likely serve as a calling card to work on a similar project that the company or producer is making: your period drama pilot may open the door to work on a series like Versailles or Gunpowder, or a crime spec onto Midsommer Murders or Father Brown.

But before any of that, having some independently produced material can also be handy: It shows you write well enough to have people want to make it, as well as have initiative. Sometimes, it can even serve as a demo of a bigger project (think Whiplash), or be a way to build your own brand with some other successes. So, what can you do?
  • Short films: Classic staple. Doubt I need to say much on them. If you didn't make many connections at uni, don't worry: Facebook has tons of filmmaking groups, filled with a never-ending supply of producers and directors looking for short scripts. It's as easy as typing in film or screenwriter and BOOM: a goldmine.
  • Webseries: Good if you have an eye for TV and want to show you can write a returnable/long running project. Plus, if you have a pilot idea, this can also act as a road test. Facebook and Screenwriting Staffing also put these gigs up in droves.
  • Plays: Loads of small theatres and festivals offer opportunities and competitions for material, some even doing full plays. Agents and other talent scouts attend, so it's a good way to get spotted and network. BBC Writersroom and London Playwrights' Blog are great sources for who has an open slot.
  • Radio and podcasts: The audience is smaller than film or TV, but the advantadge: lower costs, allowing more risks to be taken. Yes, you can just pitch straight to a producer on radio, and maybe get your work on BBC Radio 4, without any sort of 'unsolicited' hullabaloo. Welcome to Nightvale and Homecoming, meanwhile, are proof of how much narrative podcasts have become a force of their own, and not something to overlook.
  • Screenwriting contests and competitions: You pay a fee, and your film or TV script will be entered into a competition, with the prizes running from big fat cheques, to meetings with producers and agents. Even just placing highly can be a useful sales hook. Just like everything thus far, however, Be A Discerning Shopper: Check the prizes, credentials of the judges, fee prices, how long they've been running and if they've had any major success stories. Thescriptlab.com did a great piece on the best ones.
  • In addition, writing news scripts, adverts and other types of commercial, short-form content (known as copywriters) are also a common way to earn your keep as a new writer.
One I did not mention was Amazon Studios: you might've heard the Big A has a system of reading unsolicited scripts. A couple of years ago, I would have said give them a go, but nothing from their unsolicited slate has been greenlit in forever, since they started working with represented writers. The only thing of worth, the forum, has since been shut so, really, there's no point going there.

Now, let's say you do make it: you get a read, they like it and then the follow-up meeting goes well (once again, civility with just a touch of energy and healthy, non-creepy mania, is king). Sometimes, you may get your work greenlit, and suddenly, your movie or pilot is being made. In which case, congratulations! You've now got that rags to riches story that every student screenwriter dreams of.

However, moreso in TV than film, this will likely not be the case and, instead, the company will pay you some money for development, and then offer you a job on something they're working on (a commission) that is similar to what you pitched them. This can be rewrites on a film (an assignment) or work as a staff writer on a TV series. Rule here is don't be a snob: any paid work is good work, even if the premise doesn't seem like the most groundbreaking or original thing ever. You may laugh, but soaps, daytime television and kids TV are all the classic stomping grounds of new writers, so keep a good watch on them.

The mantra goes that it takes 'ten years' to make it in the business, and sadly, that's often not far from the truth (it's the one I'm living with right now). However, this does not mean 'ten years' till you get paid, or meet people, or get meetings or even get an agent: it just means you get into a good position to really advance your career, with some decent credits under your belt.

So, I've talked reading material, job prospects, networking and your first gigs. What else is there I could cover? How about some home truths, including one which is almost never addressed, but can make all the difference.

Join me for the sixth and final part when I talk about getting it wrong, and why that's not the end.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Happy 2018 - New Year's update and future plans (10/1/2018)

Hello everyone! Hope everybody enjoyed Christmas and getting smashed on New Years'.
Now back to work adn, for me, new horizons.

Since my last update, a fair bit has happened: I'm two months off from graduating my MA in Screenwriting, courtesy of the lovely folks at Met Film School. It's been quite a ride, but I'm very glad I did it. I now feel light years ahead of where I was as both a creator and industry professional. How much so? Well, now I'm reading for Lime Pictures (Hollyoaks, Evermore) and hope to have a few more things set up in the near future (can't say what yet. Don't want to jinx it).

On the writing front, I'm working through another draft of my Spanish Civil War feature, Sapphire Butterfly. It's been quite a challenge, as period romances are not my usually go-to, but the experience has been very rewarding. It's given me a newfound appreciation for the primacy of character in screen stories and the importance of having subplots to balance and develop your story.

Other projects include a recently complete superhero series for kids, which I've sent off (again, can't say more than that), as well as working on a new draft of a kids swashbuckler set in 1840s Spain, and brainstorming more TV ideas. I've also got two kids features in the works, one a sports dramaedy, the other a dark fantasy set around the time of the Civil War, but it's still too early to say more than that.

As for this blog, I'll continue the transition towards writing and screenwriting focused content, with more entries in my 'BA Students' series coming very soon, as well as some one-offs that I've really wanted to do for some time (including one geared towards people with packed schedules).

So, cross your fingers and toes for my sorry sake, because 2018 will prove to be a most.... interesting year.

-A.D.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Screenwriting Advice for BA Students... From a Masters Grad (Part Four: Jobs and Networking)

Alright, I'll not beat around the bush: No, you're not likely to get your first paying gig in film and TV, if not just gig period, writing a script. Unless you have a Cousin Joel at Warners, or Uncle Mark at the BBC, you'll likely have to find another way. Sad, but true.

The good news: there is no one route. Everybody's way in is different, meaning there isn't a right or wrong way to start in the business. The bad news: that lack of structure puts all the onus on you and your initiative to get anywhere. No one comes to you: YOU go to people. Also, doing a lot of unpaid work is the norm, so don't be quick to give up the day job just yet.

So, what are your ports of call (as said, a number of these are also covered in Stack and Clague's book)?
  • Being a script reader: one of the most common methods of attack, you help a produciton company wade the tsunami of screenplays and decide what ones are actually worth the head honchos' time. Usually in the form of a three+ page report, you grade the piece on several criteria, such as character, structure, dialogue and commercial prospects, write up a synopsis that summarises the whole script. With that you offer a page worth of comments on the positive and negatives, and whether or not it should be taken further for development.
  • Being a runner/low level position at a production company: like the reader, you'll be starting at the bottom, helping to do odd jobs around the office and make the tea.But again, you'll meet people.
  • Join a training scheme: certain companies and broadcasters like the BBC do offer training schemes to help get you involved on series and in departments, usually in an on-set/technical capacity. Be sure to check on their websites every couple of weeks if new ones come up.
  • Being a teacher: Again, another common pathway is to get involved in the teaching of creative media at the college/university level, as well as on special film programs and workshops for schools. You'll be able to pay bills, enjoy certain benefits afforded the teaching profession such as set hours and, thanks to school holidays, have nice big chunks that you can devote solely to other pursuits.
  • By the way, CVs? Keep it simple, keep it single column, two pages max, and tie every piece of information into the position you're applying: generic do-all CVs will not work (and forget about the 'Interests' section: no one cares if you like swimming or Chinese food). Lucy Hay talks about it here better than I can.
Say you pick the first two: Much like pitching your idea, introducing yourself to production companies and asking for the privellege of giving them free labour (remember, ask not what they can do for you, but what you can do for them) is a skill of its own. A short email, giving a brief account of you, your ambitions and your relevant experience, as well as why this specific company, followed by a quick ask to do, say, two weeks free work, can help. (How to reach them? IMDB Pro.)

Alternately, just ask to have a five minute meeting with someone in development about career advice, as a graduating/graduate student. You'd be surprised how generous people can be with their time, as well as how useful being a student is: you're still in school, so you're not trying to sell them anything. You're just a wide-eyed kid with big dreams. They can relate, and if they like you, they may even offer you some work experience, or possibly even a read of your script.
Now, onto the N-Word.
The Non-Tarantino one.
Networking.

Yes, YOU have to go and meet people. YOU have to acually talk to people before they can read your script and maybe, MAYBE, give you a job. YOU have to make people want to be around you. Go to festivals (like London Screenwriters), media conferences, screenings, talks and lectures: anywhere makers and movers will be, so must you. Research who they are beforehand, so that when you introduce yourself, you can point to something they've made and can say you admire. Nobody can resist a compliment, and thus, that snowballs into a chat, a conversation and, possibly, an exchange of numbers and/or emails.

You must, also, not be:
  • Clingy 
  • Annoying 
  • Impatient
  • Whiny 
  • Unclean
  • Demanding
Nothing cheeses off a producer like someone with no concept of patience or personal space or, just as bad, an obvious salesman. Britain, unlike the States, is not terribly fond of aggressive pitchers: people like to actually talk and hold interesting conversations about stuff that isn't just your idea.

Just like anywhere else in life, treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. Be polite, be understanding and, here's the big one, LISTEN. The art of shutting your mouth, letting others talk and actually absorbing what they are saying is such a rare quality that I think the dodo is a more populated species than people with this skill. And yet, just like making sure to say please and thank you to people, it makes all the difference in endearing you to someone.

After you are done, cordially thank them and send a follow-up email a few days later, thanking them for their time and that you hope that you can stay in touch. Afterwards, stay in touch every 3 or so months. Ideally, when you have a new project or piece of work or major news to share with them. Remember, treat others as you would want to be treated: you wouldn't want your time wasted with monotony or trivial nonsense, so don't waste theirs if you have nothing to show.

A last tip: to stay informed of who is making what and where, subscribe to the trade magazines: Deadline, Hollywood Reporter, Screen International (for film) and Broadcast (for TV) come out regularly and for an efficient fee. Occassionally browsing on IMDB is not good enough: you have to have a steady flow of reliable, well sourced information, if you want to stand any chance.

Okay, so let's say you've met someone and they want to read your script. What now?
Join me in Part five, where I talk about actually writing for a living, and those mystical, mythical beings known as ''Agents''.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Screenwriting Advice for BA Students... From a Masters Grad (Part Three: To Degree or Not Degree)

Here's the sad truth: 

Most, if not everyone, doesn't care where you studied, or how much you paid, or how high your grades were. Of course, doing well at school is an indicator of your ability and talent, but it's far from the final say. Ipsoergo, if your BA is so worthless, therefore, your Master's is as well.

Might as well just gung-ho it with a copy of Blake Snyder, right?

If the answer was that straightforward, this post wouldn't exist, would it?

Here's the thing: just like agents, you do not need a Masters to become a writer and get work. I've already shown you the resources available that can teach you all about craft and business. Indeed, the steep price tags of these more advanced degrees can be turn offs, and with an industry loaded with contradictory stories about how people broke in, many completely clear of degrees, gauging their actual worth can be very tricky.

HOWEVER, a Master's in Screenwriting is not merely just learning how to write a better movie:
  • Careers: Other skillsets and career paths can open themselves up to you, that you wouldn't be exposed to by just reading. Not merely writing for film (feature and short) and television, but radio, video games, commercials, as well as development roles like script reader, script editor and then, finally, teaching and consulting. 
  • Professional development: on the course, you'll be getting your material developed, reviewed and critiqued by veterans with whom you develop a relationship with and can turn to for help. You can even, if you ask nicely, get them to read and critique non-course work, or run a CV or cover letter passed for a check. This also covers pitching and getting comfortable talking to others.
  • Work ethic: the structure and deadlines of the course will encourage you to start working more professionally and efficiently on your material. Learning how to turn around an idea into a script in about five-six weeks is a useful skill (not to mention, close to what is expected in the business), as well as how to generate multiple ideas (more on that in a bit).
Really, it comes down to you: are you better as a lone wolf, learning as you go, or do you need a guiding hand to help? Do you do better in class, with order and structure, or do you thrive on the wiles to the tempestous muse?

Let's say yes, you do need that class environment. What do you do next in course hunting?

What have I kept saying? Be A Discerning Shopper. Some degrees are undeniably better than others: fairer prices, better modules, more variety, more content and higher quality tutors. Just like with books and websites, similar criteria applies:
  • Tutors: Just like with writing gurus, make sure the tutors are practitioners and have some experience. You likely won't be taught by a titan like Julian Fellowes or Steven Moffat, but even someone who was a producer on Casualty or a development exec at Lime will be a stronger guide and mentor than just a regular film professor. They know your pain, your anxieties, and will be able to offer you support and even advice on what to do.
  • Module content: The course should offer a nice sample platter of the industry, covering all the key mediums, as well as a fair focus on the business side. There is no point in spending thousands on a course that, yes, can make you write well, but does not prepare you for the industry or suggest career options to explore while you prepare your material. Also, how is it structured? Does it feel like one subject flows into the next, or is it just a random jumble?
  • Reputation: The more presitigious an establishment, the more difficult the entry criteria will be, and just like pricing, this can be a hurdle. The National Film and Television School are especially strict, demanding an entire portfolio of work from you (if you want to try, start working on it now). Inversely, the smaller and less well known the school, the higher the chances are that the MA is not very good, especially if it's not a school that primarily specializes in media.
So, you like the course and the school. Great, but what are some other MA benefits?

Well, one of the big downfalls of newbie writers is getting stuck on one project: that one pilot or feature that will, somehow, magically propel them to riches and fame, and as a result, never diversifying or working on anything else. This is the screenwriting equivalent of abortion: denying your career life before it's even begun. As a writer, like it or not, you have to create many stories, not just one. Going on an MA will force you to learn how to generate mutiple projects in a timely fashion, and not get tempted to be glued to one 'magic ticket'.

Another benefit? Names do, somewhat, matter here: in more developmental roles such as reading and editing, being taught by someone with a modicum of clout and respect can be handy to drop into your CV to show you've recieved quality training in said discipline. Plus, depending on who and where you pitch your project to, what your tutor worked on may also come in handy as an extra hook (want to sell a crime series? Maybe mention that you were helped in its creation by someone who worked on, say, Luther or Prime Suspect).

What's more, as you'll recall from your BA, you'll develop a little network among your peers of people who can share advice and even work, to be read and critiqued. While they may not seem like much now, someday... you never know. A script read today for a classmate could equal someone getting you a job on a hit Netflix series a few years down the line. Plus, you get free script reads, which never hurts. You may even get to write shorts, if the course crosses over or collaborates with other ones at the school, such as directing or producing, which will beef up your credits.

However, what if the propsect of more school just doesn't suit you? What are your options if you'd like some type of class, but not as expensive or long term a commitment? Well, there are no shortage of shorter writing courses, online classes and weekend workshops that you can easily search up online. Some will even tackle other roles, such as Yvonne Grace's sessions on being a script editor.

No, these aren't necessarily a replacement for what a good MA can offer, but they do offer some of the same features and, with careful selection, you can add up several in row and enjoy a variety of teachers and approaches. Like with an actual degree, the same criteria applies: make sure they're reputable, cost effective and offers a good amount of stuff.

Whatever you decide to do, degree or not, remember this: INVEST IN YOUR EDUCATION.

No, you don't have to drown in debt with expensive degrees, but learning and improving your craft, any way you can, is vital. It's slow, it's difficult and can often be maddening, but if you put in the effort and learn your inciting inicidents from your midpoints, and your elevator pitches from your series bibles, you will already be beating out a lot of your competition. The harder you work and the more you read and write, the better you'll be. Simple as: no cheat sheet or secret formula can replace that.

So, you've worked hard on writing, and are starting to get comfortable. You've got a few scripts that are coming along nicely. What can you do in the meantime? Join me in part four, where I finally talk about your job prospects. SPOILERS: your first gig likely won't be as a writer.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Screenwriting Advice for BA Students... From a Masters Grad (Part Two: Freebies)

Now, where were we?

Ah yes, FREE screenplays.

Something to note: beware of 'script sites' that are just transcripts of TV episodes and movies, like SpringfieldSpringfield. They are not accurate in formatting by a long shot, and don't even serve to help analyze a given story all that well as they're usually poorly written and hard to read. Basically, if it doesn't look like this, don't bother:


Instead, here's where you can get actual screenplays for film and TV from:
But it's not only free scripts you can score over the interwebs: how about advice and tutorials? An immediate reccommend is Bang2Write, run by veteran consultant Lucy V. Hay. It's a one-stop shop, filled with great articles and lists on just about every facet of screenwriting you could want to know, told in a humourous and snappy style. Another good resource is BAFTA: they have an acclaimed series of lengthy and informative lectures by major screenwriters, including Emma Thompson, Hossein Amini, Charlie Kaufmann and David S. Goyer.

Furthermore, many of the gurus have websites full of resources, related to their paradigm (like Save The Cat), as well as The Writer's Store and Scriptmag.com. There also exist a number of smaller sites such as the newer but pretty decent Word Dancer (it even has a complimentary Youtube channel) and TheBitterScriptReader (more geared towards the US, but worth a gander).

What about writers' blogs, as in, blogs run by actual, working writers? Danny Stack's site, Scriptwriting in the UK, is a great one: just like his book, Stack talks about everything and anything related to the business and craft. Another favourite of mine is Wolfblood creator Debbie Moon's blog, loaded with war stories, as well as some very helpful tips and tricks on what to do and where to look.

There's also  some podcasts you can listen too: Stack and Tim Clague strike again with their popular UK Scriptwriters Podcast, while over in the US, John August (Big Fish) and Craig Mazin (The Huntsman: Winter's War) have ScriptNotes: both discuss the industry climate, interview guests and offers all sorts of advice and weird stories.

So, you know have your books and scripts. Read as often as you can: in bed, on the bus/tube/train, during break and lunch, even on the tried and tested loo. It may seem obivous, but I want to smash my head against the wall with how many writers DON'T READ scripts and can't name screenwriters (Seen it with my own eyes too). Quick question: how on earth do you expect to get work if you don't know who's done what?

But surely, this isn't enough: you also need to do a Masters degree next, in order to really seal the deal. Or, maybe, you abhor academia completely and just want to go it alone. After all, Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson did, so so can you! It's just that black and white of a choice, right? Right?

Join me in Part Three when I talk about courses and the value of your education.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Screenwriting Advice for BA Students... From a Masters Grad (Part One: Reading Time)

All right then, ye student screenwriters, let's start with the basics: learning the craft.

Your course has, doubtless, provided you with a reading list, as well as some scans of specific book chapters on Moodle (or whatever your school's upload platform of choice is). Here's my two pence on the matter: a good screenwriting manual should be an informative and simple guide to screenplay construction. It should cover all the key elements (Character, structure, plot, theme, genre, drafting, outlines/treatments) with recognisable examples (Fellini and Bergman are geniuses, but I think a newbie will get more out of a comparison to Spider-Man 2 than Fanny & Alexander when first introduced to writing concepts) but never drowned in arcane or flowery language that's not useful when you're in trouble. Everything you learn must have a practical application; otherwise, it's a waste of time.

A key phrase that'll crop up again and again in these posts is Be A Discerning Shopper: You should definitely be using the reading list, though look up the books in the library first, peep in the bookshop or use the 'Look Inside' feature on Amazon. See how they read and if you can understand them before you put down cash. Some are easy and user-friendly, but not very informative, while others are very profound and detailed, but only useful at a very advanced level.

If you're flying blind, the amount of screenwriting books out there is astronomical, and seperating the wheat from the chaff can be very hard, especially if you're also on a budget (even on Kindle, the costs can add up fairly quickly if you need several for a course). The most common, and the ones that'll most likely be assigned to you, are:
  • Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field: the grandaddy of all screenwriting books and teachings, everyone's copied or borrowed from this book in some way. Three act structure, characters and their motivations, dialogue and its subtext, it's all here.
  • Save The Cat! The Last Book On Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder: the book that is alternately thanked and blamed for modern Hollywood practices, Disney scribe Snyder created a durable 'beat sheet' to help one structure and plot out a movie that would be A) commercial and B) keep the interest of cynical readers and jaded audiences.
  • Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee: Possibly the most famous screenwriting book (thanks to its simulateanous lampooning and exhultation in Spike Jonze's Adaptation), the notoriously blunt McKee drills you like a cinematic sergeant in digging for 'the truth' in your story and characters, while battling the terrible scourges of cliche and hackneyed psychology.
  • Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey: these cover the old chestnut of 'The Hero's Journey', first coined by anthropologist Campbell in the 1940s as a common pattern of storytelling tropes in classical mythology, and then popularised by George Lucas via Star Wars. Vogler's book more specifically contextualises it in film terms, with references to Star Wars as well as Wizard of Oz and other film fantasies.
  • Writing The Short Film by Pat Cooper and Ken Dancyger: Most likely the first book you'll get assigned. Basically, same gist as the first three, but applied to short films. Also, Aristotle's Poetics will be referenced A LOT by these books and your teachers, as it's basically the foundation of most dramatic writing theory.
Some others that may pop up, though slightly less well known or popular, include:
Head spinning yet?
And these are just the common ones.
For writing normal films...

What your course uses will vary, depending on your tutors, so be sure to ask what one they mainly use, as that's the one you may have to shell out cash for, just to keep up with classes. If your tutor's not too strict on using a specific tome, that gives you some wiggle room to use the one that's easiest to understand (If you're not already from a Literature or Psychology background, Poetics and Thousand Faces can be a slog to get through due to their language, and McKee is geared more towards an experienced writer than a newcomer, given how much he leans on dramatic theory and psycho-babble, some of it ripped straight from Aristotle).

Remember: everything must be practical. No one will give you a prize if you know some obscure Latin or French word if you can't write a halfway interesting story. Conversely, you're not original if you shriek, 'I hate formulas! I don't read! I wanna be rule-breaking!': everyone has said this. EVERYONE. Plus, how in the nine realms of Asgard can you break the rules if you can't be arsed to learn them? Yeah, sounds stupid now, doesn't it?

And then, as you get closer to graduation and want to open your options further, what else could you look up? Well first, here's one that, I think, should be mandatory for screenwriting graduates  and, to any film teachers and tutors reading this, ADD THIS TO YOUR READING LIST FOR THIRD YEARS:
  • The UK Scriptwriter's Survival Guide: Veteran film and TV scribes Tim Clague and Danny Stack (Eastenders, Doctors, Thunderbirds Are Go) give a practical, no B.S. guide on what you can do to help yourself get a foothold in the industry. It only came out in 2014, but I honestly believe this should be compulsory reading for all new screenwriters, as it will open your eyes to many possibilities, as well as give you useful tips and tricks to navigate the business.
And that's not all:
  • The Insider's Guide to Writing Television by Julian Friedmann: like Clague and Stack, it's a practical guide to British television writing. However, it is more geared towards business over the craft: The next three are more about the American system, but have more actual craft advice that is crosstransferrable to British shows.
  • Writing the Pilot by William Rabkin and Crafty Television Writing: Thinking Inside The Box by Alex Epstein are two popular staples, as well as newcomer Write To TV by Martie Cook. The market of TV gurus is a lot smaller than film, so being overwhelmed by choice is not as big a danger. These cover all you need to know about writing effective pilots, crafting shows with long term story potential, and what seperates a film from a TV character.
  • The Creative Essentials series of books cover different types of film and television writing, including comedy, thrillers and soaps, as well as other roles/elements such as script editing, reading and pitching. Contributing authors include Robin Mukherjee, Lucy V. Hay (more on her next time) and Charles Harris, among many others.
  • Of course, no matter if you go for film or TV, you still need to make sure your work is presentable. Your Screenplay Sucks: 100 Ways to Make It Great by William M. Akers and How Not To Write A Screenplay: 101 Common Mistakes by Denny Martin Flinn are good smack-across-head reminders of rookie blunders that can cost you dearly.
Now, you can use any of the titles above, but if you're more adventurous and want to give a go at a newer book, what should you look out for?
  • Author's credentials: make sure the writer is/was a working screenwriter, producer or development person, and has a decent amount of credits. They may not have worked on Breaking Bad or be BAFTA winners, but they've been where you've been, know your struggles and will be living proof of the effectiveness of their methods. People who are solely teachers will have less awareness of the demands of the industry, and may not be as helpful in giving you a realistic outlook or proper tools.
  • Gimmicks and cheats: I'm highly suspicious of any 'quack' miracle cures and formulas in these 'secret'-style books. 'Write a Great Movie in 10 Days', 'Write An Awesome Screenplay in 30 Days Or Less', 'The Secret Hollywood Formula: How you can write a blockbuster that sells', you'll know it when you see it in shops and on Amazon. It's snake oil: Good craft takes time and being able to write well, not to mention consistently, has to be learnt and earnt. There are no shortcuts and searching for them is the hallmark of a unready screenwriter.
  • Date: If it's focused solely on writing craft, then it's not a huge concern. If it also touts the business side, however, then aim for a book released/revised within the last 5-10 years, as the industry changes faster than ever before. Also, CreateSpace allows lazy authors a means to upload ancient books in sleek new packages, filled with outdated advice and terminology that won't help you, so beware anything that looks cheap or too new.
Returning to budget concerns, how many books should you own? Well, having a library card can be very helpful in balancing things, but I feel you should own a few, just to refresh yourself during breaks or holidays abroad, or to consult during writing. Minimum should be at least three or four: two on film, one/two on television, and then Clague and Stack's book as your job manual. 
Of course, you'll only get so far without knowing what a screenplay actually looks and reads like. There are printed screenplays available, usually for really acclaimed works like Pulp Fiction, Chinatown and Big Lebowski, but the format is often truncated to fit the smaller page size of a book, meaning a script that's actually 100 pages runs to 150. So, where can you read proper sized ones?

Join me in Part Two, when I look over how to find them, and what your free online resources are.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Screenwriting Advice for BA Students... From a Masters Grad (Introduction)

Oh joy, another writing blog with advice and recommendations. 

How novel. 
How inspiring.
How impactful.

But this time, it's for students. Wait, what?

Why single them out? Because I know what it's like for you right now, and I wish someone had told me what I'm about to tell you. Yes, you. The e-surfing student reading this right here, right now. You're not sure where you're heading, not sure where you are right now, armed with a degree you're not completely clear on and having just finished a grad script you're not entirely sure of.

I know that tune. All too well.

Being a BA student with screenwriting desires is hardly a new or unique phenomena: you realize directing isn't everything it's cracked up to be, and you just don't have the piss and vinegar to be a producer. So instead, you create that first step in any production: the script. You dream of Hollywood paychecks on franchise movies and Oscar glory, or perhaps the hordes of adoring fans at Comic-Con when you become a hot new Netflix showrunner, cranking out binge-friendly series and starting tumblr shipping wars by the thousands.

However, as soon as graduation is done and you start trying to get out there, you find the environment hostile and disheartening: agents won't look at you; producers and companies hide behind the seemingly invincible clause of 'no unsolicited submissions'; that short film that you slaved on during graduation isn't cutting it at the big festivals; even your precious degree doesn't make any impact. The day job at Sainsburys or Subway is still your day job six months, possibly even a year, on. Nothing's changed and, seemingly, nothing will. It's all been for nothing and you should've listened to Mum and become a lawyer instead.

You're wrong. So very, very wrong.

Soon to graduate from the Met Film School MA Screenwriting programme, and with some work experience on the horizon, I learnt a lot that, in retrospect, I wish I had known when I graduated with my BA in Film back in 2015, only to meet with failure and confusion for two years before signing up to Met in desperation. Some of it felt so obvious yet, bizarrely, was never discussed back at University. Certain half truths of the industry and its ways that I once thought were absolute gospel were, basically, fictions. In short, I didn't know jack.

Examples of these semi-fictions?
  1. AN AGENT DOES NOT GET YOU WORK.
  2. YOU DO NOT NEED AN AGENT TO TALK TO A PRODUCER OR DEVELOPMENT PERSON.
  3. YOU DO NOT NEED TO SLAVE AWAY ON JUST SHORT FILMS FOREVER.
  4. THERE'S MORE TO SCREENWRITING THAN MOVIES AND TV.
  5. YOUR SKILLS ARE CROSSTRANSFERABLE AND CAN WORK IN MANY ROLES.
Interested now?

The goal of this series of posts is to help you, the graduating or even second year Film student with an eye for screenwriting, make smarter, stronger, clearer choices. I'm not here to give you magic formulas or exec emails, but to simply better prepare you for the industry and how you can actually make contacts, opportunities and yes, even a bit of money at it, even if it's not on blockbusters and prime time dramas. I should know, because I'm doing it right now!

The first part will be released next week, and every installment subsequent will be released fortnightly.And even if you're not a student and are just some fresh faced, wannabe screenwriter in the UK, then I hope these will be of service to you too.

Now then, are you sitting comfortably?

Good, then join me in Part One, when I look at the basics of craft and what you should be reading. Advance tip: get a library card.