Monday, 4 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.

Tuesday, 21 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.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

So, You Want To Be A Movie Critic? Guidelines To Being An Online Reviewer by Abel Diaz



My reviewing days may be behind me, but that doesn't mean I don't have some fun things in the pipeline that aren't just updates. Soon, I will be debuting a series on here that I think you'll get quite a kick out of. It's related to screenwriting, but from a different, and frankly often overlooked, perspective.

In the meantime, I'll delve into ThirdActFilm.com one final time, to give you my own tips and tricks as I explain how to start being a film critic on the internet (this is primarily about craft. You can found countless articles and videos about audience growth, video production rates and everything else. This is just about writing a good review/review script and what you should know before you try): http://thirdactfilm.com/guidelines-to-be-an-online-reviewer/

Here's a little teaser to whet your appetite:

So, you’re a young, fresh faced movie geek. You’ve just watched your first Kurosawa or Hitchcock film; you’ve memorised all sorts of random facts about your favourite franchise (Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Jem and the Holograms, etc.), from the names of the production staff to what kind of tape the gaffers used on the set; And, the biggest one of all, you don’t have an immediate circle of people with which to share your passion. For them, cinema is just for big explosion fests, cartoons and maybe the odd ‘serious’ movie around Oscar time.

So, what do you do?

Jump onto social media and become a film critic (or reviewer, depending on your influences and how you view your craft and dedication) of course! Maybe a Youtube channel, popping out a couple of 5-10 minute videos a month, or perhaps a blog that you update every few days. You might even go to Wix or WordPress and start up your own website. Either way, you want to start talking about and dissecting movies.

But how? What are some of the fundamentals you need to get right? Well, as someone with seven years of experience in the field, spanning written and video content, I have a few possible suggestions:

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Watch my commercial for Creative Access (29/10/17)

Hello, everyone in DA-land. Hope you're all keeping well. I've been quite busy with a number of things, I can assure, and hope to have some cool announcements in the coming months. (As always, follow me on Facebook:[link])

But anyway, let me show you something: Back in the summer, I wrote a recuitment drive short for Creative Access, a community organization that helps get BAME youth into the creative UK industries, like film and TV. I worked with some wonderful folks, like my director Juliana and producer Malick, and am very proud of what we did in such a short tiem frame (production was under three months).

Check it out here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRQ5msngDlk

And of course, check out the site here:
https://creativeaccess.org.uk/

Sunday, 8 October 2017

So, what's new with me? Projects update (8/10/17)

Alright, so with my reviewing career confined to the depths of internet history, what have I been filling the time with instead? As it turns out, several things.

First, I'm now in development on a short film for the Masters course. A post-apocalyptic drama about an age-divided society, in fact. Treatment's been signed off and now, I can get to work on actually writing a draft. Unlike the experience of writing Spider-Fly back in 2015, I feel there's been a greater understanding of time and budgetary limitations on the project, and a willingness to work within them.

Second, my own writing projects are progressing slowly but very steadily: my first children's TV pilot, Spring-Heeled Jack, has recieved feedback both from a development assistant as well as a professional screenwriter whose been gracious enough to give me his time for free, given he liked the premise enough (I'll talk more about it when it gains a little more traction). Work on a second, a swashbuckler set in 1840s Spain, has just completed its first draft, and I aim to have a second out by the end of the month. It's a love letter to properties like Three Musketeers and Zorro, and it has been quite fun to write. Especially the villain.


And third, I'm currently hammering out a treatment for a feature about the Spanish Civil War. An LGBT love story, in fact, set amidst the chaos of the conflict between Nationalists and Republicans. It was originally meant to be a miniseries, but feedback from trusted peers has advised otehrwise, feeling the core relationship is better suited to the shroter medium. Like with the pilots, once this gets more set, I'll let you know more.


And that's that for now. Thanks to everyone who wished me well when I announced retirement from reviews, and I hope to hear from you again soon.


Thursday, 14 September 2017

Ending an era of Reviews (2010-2017)

There comes a moment in life, and it's never once, where we have to stand up and say, 'Well, time to move on.' It hurts: us humans are a consevrative bunch, taking comfort and even pleasure in routines, schedules and a general sense of 'normalacy'. However, for the sake of development, knowledge and even just plain old survival, we have to change. Lose what isn't working or not pulling its weight, and instead, focus on what is.

To that end, I am declaring my retirement from active online film and television criticism, after seven years and multiple platforms, running from Youtube, Deviantart and Blogger, to professional media and news sites like ThirdActFilm.com, Viral Thread and Blasting News. Decisions like these are not made lightly, but the simple fact is, I can't justify it anymore. I'm not a teenage movie geek with loads of free time anymore: I'm an adult with studies and employment to worry about, using what time he has wisely and with a clear goal in mind.

Recent years have not been kind to online content producers who don't come with a complete team at their disposal: between dwindling traffic thanks to all the competition from bigger, more professional sites, the constant tinkering of search algorithms that mess with any type of content planning and the utter collapse of ad revenue (not that I ever made a real penny from it during 'better' times) have made it very hard to justify devoting time to what is little more than an overblown hobby.

My passions lie in writing film, television, just writing period, not writing ABOUT them: I'm working like crazy to set myself up as, at the very least, a working screenwriter exploring all and any avenues to the industry, Two eyars of poor professional judgements and career moves have forced me to really sit down and prioritize what I want form life and sadly, that's not with reviews anymore. The time devoted to them is needed elsewhere, and what's the point in doing it if I feel far less drive than I did before?

A big thanks to everyone who stuck with me for a near decade and seen me change and evolve.