Sunday, 9 September 2018

Why One Pagers are handy for screenwriters

One of the hardest things about writing is pitching. Let's be frank: most of us are pretty nervous about it, and would rather eat burning coals than have to sell someone our story. How can you tell someone your compelling saga of emotional heartache or exciting adventure within a minute or two?


And what about when you're starting a project? Naturally, give yourself the freedom to experiment: Just plugging in for the formula won't yield interesting results, usually. However, with that always comes the peril of losing focus and forgetting why you ever bothered in the first place. Wouldn't having some kind of mission statement help keep you on track with what your intent is? What is your story about, at its core, when you strip away all the bells and whistles of snappy action or whimsical dialogue?

Enter one pagers: a succinct and tidy summation of the project and what you want. For me, they've proven to be rather handy and helped keep me on the course to story nirvana. No, you don't have to obey them as gospel or refuse to change them: consider them more as roadmaps on the creative journey.

So, how do you actually write one? Well, there's three steps:
  1. Start with your logline, the super basic distilation of your film. Who is it about, what the threat/problem is, and what will happen if they do or don't get it. IMPORTANT: Loglines are not taglines. ''In space, no one can hear you scream'' ain't a logline. Neither is ''why so serious''. Need help? Try this video.
  2. Then, write three or four paragraphs that cover the major beats of your film or pilot. Broad, arch and not usually invoking dialogue, it's your cliffnotes but is also, in a sense, why you want to write this specific story with these specific parts. Also, like in a script, use strong words that evoke clear images in the reader's eye.
  3. This is capped off by a paragraph devoted to explaning why it matters, what's special about it and why it could work. This is where your awareness of the market place, what it has and what it doesn't, will come into play. You have been reading the trades, haven't you? Haven't you?
From this, you can then graft and expand into a treatment or even a step outline. Again, gospel is not what you're writing, merely a friendly reminder. What's more, this can help narrow down your brainstorms and early research, as well assist email pitching, as it's a much easier document to hand over than a whole script. It can, also, very succintly tell someone how good you are, and if the script is right for them. I should know: I've used it to not half-bad effect before and gotten some reads for one of my kids show pilots.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Got my first TV Credit - Pablo

So, BIG BIG news everyone: just got my first legit, signed-on-the-dotted-line television credit. I'm writing an episode of the popular CBeebies animated series Pablo (also broadcasts on RTEjr and CBC).

 
The series, produced by Paper Owl Films and CAKE, is about the misadventures of the titular six-year-old, who has autism. The series focuses on how Pablo interacts with the world and how his atypical mind can make seemingly mundane things like clothes, baths and toys feel like great conundrums.

It's a great honour to be working on Pablo, having been diagonsed on the spectrum as a kid. I wish I had something like this when I was growing up (and I doubt I'm alone in that, given we're on a second series now). Naturally, this (hopefully) won't be the last, as I've continued to pitch ideas, some further along in development then others.

Now, not to get overly schmaltzy, but I have to extend a big thanks to several people: first, to my wonderful script editor Andrew Brenner, who has been very helpful and supportive; to Helen Stroud over at Collingwood&Co., who introduced us and was my 'Yes'; to Dominic Carver and my tutors at Met Film School who helped me create and hone the spec that lead to this.

When further arises, you'll be the first to know.,.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Abel Diaz - Complete Credits

Just a little record I keep of what I've done, on top of my little IMDB page (and will still keep even after that, as its reliability is notoriously unwieldy at the best of times). Stuff both on-screen and off, for your perusal.

Film/TV Credits:
  • 2019: Pablo (TV, 1x11mins, CBeebies/Paper Owl Films). Pre-school, animation. A 6 yr. old boy with autism explores the world in his own unique way.
- Headache Volcano: Pablo has a funny feeling in his head when he plays on a hot afternoon, and it won't go away.
  • 2018: Wrapped Up (short film, 15 mins.) Dark comedy. A lovestruck finds herself in deep when she kills her boyfriend, who was sleeping with her brother.
  • 2017: Creative Access: Bobette’s Story (Promo, 2 mins.) A recruitment video for Creative Access (a service that enables B.A.M.E youth into internships in media industries), centring on one of their success stories, theatre manager Bobette. Link to film.
  • 2015: Spiderfly (short film, 5 mins.) Romantic thriller. Two lawyers, following the closure of a murder case, embark on a ‘killer’ affair of their own. Available at: https://vimeo.com/139926786
Film (Not as writer):
  • 2015: Silver (short film, 10 mins. Dir. Zay Basile. Script consultant, credited under ‘Special Thanks’). A tale of love between two living statues in the heart of London.
Non Film/TV:
  • 2018: Cull (One-Act Play), performed at the Oast Theatre, Tonbridge, as part of New Writing triple-bill. A dystopic drama that looks at overpopulation in the near-future.
  • 2016: Doctor Who: Iron Joe (published short story for charity anthology Time Shadows). The Sixth Doctor and Peri travel aboard the newly inaugurated Transcontinental Railroad, only to come face to face with the ultimate terror of the West: a bandit made of metal known only as ‘Iron Joe’.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Reference Books - The Writer's Secret Weapon

For a lot of writers, it's a pain: ''I don't want to do homework, I just want to write!''

But, as discussed last article, the old addage of 'write what you know' can only help to a point. But where do you start research: any subject can be broad and look rather daunting from the outside. How do you begin to tackle proper police procedure or modern medical practice or the Napoleonic Wars?

Internet, right? Well, not really: while the options are nigh-limitless, it also means you could get easily overwhelmed by all the search results. Within that comes sites of varying credibility, the always debatable Wikipedia and even the differences between countries - police in the States are quite unlike our local bobbies, for example.

What is needed is a guide, a lense that will focus where to start and, from there, expand. Reference books are just such a tool: tomes devoted to specific subjects that will tend to cover a little bit of everything, giving you plenty of places to then dig further on Google or Bing. It's actually kind of incredible they aren't talked about more often by writers, blogs, courses or just in general discourse.


But what do some of them actually offer?
  • The Crime Writer's Guide to Police Practice and Procedure by Michael O'Bryne and The Real CSI : A Foresnics Handbook by Kate Bendelow. These are as good as anything for getting started in writing about crime, providing a nice overview of police hierachy, investigations, crime scenes and the plethora of possible crimes you can use.
  • The Writer's Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction by Benjamin Sobieck: want to know how guns, knives are other weapons work and are supposed to be like? This military vet had you covered with easy-to-read yet comprehensive detail on all types of weaponry.Plus, he deubunks common myths and exaggerations. such as the uselessless of pumping and cocking guns to be threatening.
  • The Writer's Guide to Psychology by Carolyn Kaufman. Too often, insanity is used as a lazy crux by writers to write dull, nonsensical villains who exist just to be bad. Or worse, misappropriating conditions such as schizophernia and giving them nonexistant effects like split personalities. Well, Kaufman's here to combat that with a tome that covers all the major mental illnesses and, more handily, also provide coutner-examples to common misuses of the conditions.
  • Oxford Handbooks: this ever-respectable label is most notable for its lengthy series geared towards healthcare, such as Clinical Medicine and Clinical Diagnosis. These are primarily intended for students in these fields but still contain a wealth of useful intel on the how and why of medicine, surgery, hospitals and proper treatment. They're so good they even got namedropped in the BBC miniseries Trust Me.
  • Spycraft: Essentials by Bayard and Holmes and Spycraft Secrets: An Espionage A-Z by Nigel West. Fancy knowing about the real life 007s, what their jobs are really like and the strange lingo? Well, these books'll have you covered, though Bayard and Holmes' book is geared more in favour of the States and organizations like the CIA.
  • The For Dummies series: hey, they have the title for a reason! Well written for novices and very detailed, these books have endured so long for a good reason and are the most common and easiest to find of any on this list. There exists one for just about every topic out there, no matter how random or ridiculous it could be. After all, they did books on sex, beekeeping and Youtube Channels. What's next? A book about Freemasons?
And that was a super-quick skim. Just typing in 'reference' in Amazon will yield loads more results that cover almost every subject you could want to know. You'll also often find tons of them at charity shops and boot sales for ridiculously low prices, since they're seen as just disposable 'general interest' and thus, not percieved as valuable as novels, comics or even their more respected breathren, encyclopedias.

Also handy - autobiographies: what better way to learn than from someone who's been and done it? You can't take it word for word, you'd need to buy the rights for that, but these two can help guide your explorations and even help inspire a few characters.

Monday, 6 August 2018

The Research Conundrum - How much to do for scripts?

''Write what you know'' is quintessential writing advice: Start from your own life, experiences and memories. From there, you can mine for thrills, chills and laughs. But after a point, it stops yielding. If you want to write a procedural and you're not a police officer or detective... what do you do? Or being a super-spy, or a rocket scientist?

RESEARCH! Good old fashioned studying is there to help you with your woes. In our information age, education and knowledge have never been easier to find and access. Or maybe you're the old fashioned sort who likes going to museums and libraries to study: Also a valid method. You fill up notepads, diaries and Word docs with all sorts of tidbits to help you create a world and characters you can draw from.

But then comes the question: how much is too much? 

When does research becoming delaying and excusing not writing? At what point does your story become a documentary or worse, an essay? On the one hand, William Goldman spent several years researching the Old West to write Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid; by contrast, David Henry Hwang, who wrote the acclaimed Broadway hit M. Butterfly, said he only researched what he absolutely needed and then got on with writing.

This is a question that's been, I imagine, especially on the minds of those who wish to write period pieces and stories with a lot of technical jargon, such as medical dramas, spy thrillers and anything involving scientists. Here's the thing: like most writing questions, it's not so much a matter of right or wrong, as everyone's method is different. Rather, it's a question of priority. What is your story really about, and what does it require?


Consider the following trifecta when pondering this question:
  • AUTHENTICITY: How 'real' are you trying to make your story? Are you going for a complete tell-all recreation of events, or just enough to give you a credible platform from which you can tell the story that really interests you? How heightened or fantastical will it be? Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Carribbean are both period pieces with well-realized worlds that are researched, but they're not concerned overtly with historic fidelity or recreation: they just give the story a world to play with.
  • ACCESSIBILITY: At what point does this information become irrelevant for the reader/audience and, worse, could create a roadblock? Is there a simpler way to say or name something so a reader doesn't have to break off and go find an encyclopedia (or Wiki it)? Deadwood is a classic example: its unmistakable roostersucking dialogue was anachronistic, but it was done because actual curses of the time would seem silly to a modern ear and thus, lose a lot of their vulgar impact and harm the drama.
  • NECESSITY: Following from the first two, relating to setting and clarity of information, do you need this specific thing to make your story work? Does your character arc or theme hinge on this detail? Do you need to mention the extact brand of shoe polish Winston Churchill used in order to write about his nature in office? Do you need to name a specific make of Rolls-Royce, if it somehow serves to inform that character, or just put up the date and say it's a Rolls? Remember, the more details you put in, the bulkier your action lines and, by extension, screenplay will be, which will have a knock-on effect on pacing.
Never forget, your plot and character is your first priority. So long as they're good, the audience will forgive anachronisms and, to be frank, most are not versed in random cultural or historical minutiae. Saving Mr. Banks was so touching and funny you forget P.L. Travers actually hated everything that happened, or Tombstone so exciting you'll not recall that the real Wyatt Earp was not the clean-cut good-natured Kurt Russell.

But okay, that's what to do during the research: what about a starting point, since the internet can be a giant ocean to explore? Next time, I'll tell you about your new best friend(s).

Monday, 23 July 2018

Screenwriting Books for TV - A Handy Guide

Movies are, by and large, the bread and butter of screenwriting guides. Three act structure, twenty two steps, story circles, hero's journey blah blah you get it. Naturally, this brings us to the question: what about TV? Surely, with the television renaissance of the last decade, someone must also be trying to conjure up paradigms and frameworks for writers to use to make it in the new hotbed of long-form storytelling?

Well, kind of: the market of TV gurus is substantially smaller than its feature counterpart. There's no 'definitive' text like Story, Screenplay or Save The Cat, or a unifying figure with a following like Robert McKee or Syd Field. The good news is that there's far less titles to cover, so your wallet will be grateful for the reduced strain.


Let's go over what we have. For ease of reference, I'm splitting them up between British and American titles. The latter still have loads of valid advice and techniques for sure, but the former are important as domestic is where you will, and should, be calling first.

First, the homegrown literature:
  • The Insider's Guide to Writing Television by Julian Friedmann and Christopher Walker. A practical guide to British television writing, Friedmann splits the book with Walker, who covers storytelling technique while Friedmann focuses on the nitty gritty of getting out there: agents, meeting, where to go etc. It is decidedly more geared towards the business side over the craft, though Walker still offers some sound advice with examples.
  • How To Write For Television by William Smethurst. The late mind who revitalized The Archers and Crossroads gives you the British equivalent of Cook and Douglas (discussed below), covering how to write for TV and radio, the differences between formats and genres, and where to look for your break. Seven editions have come out over the course of over twenty years, so clearly not an uncommon or unpopular work. Also, chalk up Sue Teddern and Nick Warburton's Writing for TV and Radio: A Writers' and Artists' Companion. Warburton was a collaborator of Smethurst's, so it acts as, well, a companion piece.
  • Writing for Television Series, Serials and Soaps by Yvonne Grace. The Holby City and Eastenders veteran gives her contribution to the prolific Creative Essentials series of books. As the title implies, Grace goes over your main go-tos in TV, who you'll be working with and how to comport yourself  properly. Indeed, there's quite an emphasis, arguably more than the others, on what you do when you get inside.
  • Writing Soap: How to Write Continuiung Drama by Chris Thompson. Well, when else am I going to talk about this? Continuing dramas (Easties, Hollyoaks, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Holby, Casualty, Doctors) are often some of your earliest shots in the business, as well as some of the consistently popular programming on terrestrial TV. Thompson delivers what he promises: a how-to on writing for one of the toughest gigs on TV, where deadlines are tight and notes many.
And now, for the States. Unless you plan to emigrate, you'll be reading these mainly for story advice:
  • Writing the Pilot by William Rabkin and Crafty Television Writing: Thinking Inside The Box by Alex Epstein are two popular staples. 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. Epstein's book also covers writing a whole series and staffing, while Rabkin covers that in his second book, Writing The Pilot: Creating the Series.
  • Write To TV by Martie Cook. Now in its second edition, the Emerson College academic's tome is the television equivalent of Trottier's Bible: a heaving jack-of-all-trades that covers how to write for different genres, formats and even advice on speccing, staffing and career moves out in the City of Angels.
  • Writing the TV Drama Series by Pamela Douglas. One of the older warhorses and probably the closest to a 'Syd Field' of TV, Douglas' work is similar to Cook's, albeit more specifically focused on writing drama.
  • Former showrunner Neil Landau throws his hat into the ring with TV Writing on Demand: Creating Great Content in the Digital Era and The TV Showrunner's Roadmap. These are some of the more current books on television, trading very heavily on streaming and how binge watching has changed the way we tell stories in this medium. Roadmap also is jampacked with interviews from the men and women behind the television revolution of the last decade and a bit.
  • Sheldon Bull, a compadre of Blake Snyder, and Ellen Sadler both step in to dissect sitcoms with Elephant Bucks: An Insider's Guide to Writing for TV Sitcoms and The TV Writer's Workbook, respectively.  Bull's pachydrym never took off like Snyder's feline, but there's some solid advice on what it takes to write half-hour yukfests with a handy beatsheet of its own. Sadler's, by comparison, is exactly what it says on the spine: a solid step by step workthough on building and stress-testing a script.
Naturally, this list is by no-means exhaustive. I imagine more will come out in the future and that, some day, there will be that one towering voice. If you're more adventurous in book hunting, then the same criteria from feature guides applies here too:
  • 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 Hannibal or snagged a BAFTA, 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 'secret'-style books, though they are, currently, less common in TV. 'Write a Great Pilot in 10 Days', 'Write An Awesome Series in 30 Days Or Less', 'The Secret Hollywood Formula: How you can write a Netflix hit', 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.
  • 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.

    Monday, 9 July 2018

    Writing for the Market - Screenwriters, Please Don't

    Trend chasers are nothing new in any artistic business. After all, if something made money, why not just make more of the same? When The Matrix was a hit, cue all the big effects-heavy sci-fi duds in the early 00s that tried to mimic its success. Lethal Weapon? Hello The Last Boyscout and all those buddy cop movies that populated the 90s. Disney hit it big with Little Mermaid? Let's see Warner Bros. humiliate themselves with Quest For Camelot and The King & I in a vain effort to catch up.


    At the level of the studio and big pro-cos, this is understandable. It's on the newbie screenwriting level, however, where it's a surefire way to mess up first impressions. Anyone who has worked as a reader (myself very much included) knows exactly what I'm talking about: oh joy, ANOTHER Tarantino wannabe with more 'Melon Farming' than you can shake a Royale with Cheese at; ANOTHER pilot about a secret government agency that fights supernatural phenomena; ANOTHER romantic comedy about a dweeby loser who gets a girl well out of his league, despite being a moron?

    It's easy enough to see how this happens: we're all fans and have particular movies we love and would like to make ourselves. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all. You love stories about the gangster with the heart of gold who protects his kid? Write your own! With so many being made and smashing the box office or the ratings, and a common bit of advice being to pitch to companies who make that content, surely this is foolproof, right?

    And yes, I know of Scott Kirkpatrick, his book and interviews on Film Courage. There's some interesting stuff in there, but it's important to bear in mind what industry level he's aiming at. Namely, TV movies and VOD content in the American market, where low cost, fast turnaround and a flashy title are the norm.

    What companies and producers are looking for, with small variations depending on who's in charge, boils down to a marriage of concept and talent. 'Same but different' is something you've heard thrown around and it's true: familiar enough to be marketable to an audience, but also different enough to justify its own existence. What's special about YOUR giant robots script, YOUR girls-night-out-goes-wrong script, YOUR vampire script, and how is it different to the one they just made?


    Budget also plays a role: if it's a drama or comedy with few locations and a small cast, or a horror set in the woods, you're better off just raising some cash and shooting it yourself, rather than speccing it. Projects like that were tailor-made for indie and don't really make sense to try and pitch to guys with bigger resources. With crewing resources like Facebook film groups, ShootingPeople or Stage32, as well as Indiegogo and Kickstarter for cash generation, these are now more doable then ever.

    Furthermore, what's special about how YOU tell it? How good of a read is your script? Does it move at a good pace? Are the characters all distinct? Does it have strong conflict that a reader can get invested in? Does it have a compelling theme or worldview? In short: why THIS, why NOW? When I went about, pitching my kids superhero pilot, those were questions I had to answer. By doing so, I landed myself a few notable contacts, who saw I was serious, and got talking on some pretty cool stuff.

    But if you can't answer that question, don't bother continuing (and for the love of all things, don't just say 'well it's fun'. It might be to you, but A) everyone's idea of fun is relative and B) it doesn't really give a meaningful justification for the time that will be spent on it). Remember, you're asking these people to commit several thousand to several million pounds to make your script a reality: don't you have the courtesy to at least send something good, if not great?

    However, it must be stressed copying the market is not the same as knowing it: A smart writer is aware of it and keeps an eye on things: mainly, to know where gaps exist for you to pitch your own ideas. More importantly, it helps with what NOT to pitch if it died in the ratings or at the box office recently. 2011's Outcasts, written by Ben Richards and produced by Kudos, was a noted sci-fi flop that stalled homegrown, non-Doctor Who sci-fi TV for several years until Humans came along in 2015, with the help of AMC, to restart the engine. It was a total dead zone.


    But wait Abel, you say, what about TV Specs, like in the States? Those are about as 'for the market' as you can get, as they're potential episodes of a produced TV series.  Well, I already did a whole piece on the value of American-style specs and fellowships before here, so read that if you want to know more.  In short, different country, different system and it's for a very specific reason: selling your writing ability, not getting it made.

    How can you stay up with the market? Read the trades: Deadline, Hollywood Reporter, Screen International (for film) and Broadcast (for TV), all releasing regularly with the latest developments, partnerships and deals. 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 in this line.

    And if after all that, you're still not convinced that market copying is folly, look up the story of the now defunct Amazon Studios. It was a nice dream, opening the floodgates for writers around the world to pitch to a juggernaut and see their scripts become movies and TV. However, the tidal wave of copycats, knock-offs and remakes-in-all-but-name destroyed that beautiful dream and now, wannbe screenwriters have one less powerful ally. Please don't be that.