Category Archives: screenwriting

What I took home from the LSF 2014

It’s already been a week since the fantastic London Screenwriters Festival 2014, but after this week back in the “real life” of job and family I can still feel that faint but insistent feeling that something in me, something in the way I see myself as a writer and want to see my writing produced in some form or another, has changed.

I no longer think “big (and therefore unlikely)” but “small is possible”. Let me explain.

LSF CJ 01

I love big ideas. Big stories. High concept and all that. Which is what many of my stories are, either set in 15th century Venice or in the future, rarely something below let’s-change-history / save-the-planet level. I have always admired small or intimate films, but I never thought I could write those stories. And that’s what seems to have changed.

Wherever I looked and listened during these three mad and inspiring days at Regent’s College, I got a sense of “I can”. Certainly in Chris Jones’ “Ignition” session and in general whenever he spoke. But also in many conversations with other writers – asking “so what do you do, have you got something produced?” and hearing of many small-scale successes. Just to quote one example, a guy I met in June during Pilar Alessandra’s “First Draft” workshop and who was really very much a noobie without a business card – now he has his own little production company (here’s looking at you, Kris Bealing J).

So many writers who pitched and got reading requests. So many writers who encouraged each other, who committed to goals. And somehow, that worked on me. I can’t put my finger on what has changed. I still love big stories, always will. But now I feel that small is possible. I look at my story ideas differently, trying to see how I can make them micro-budget and possibly even produce myself locally. I no longer dream of selling the blockbuster and telling myself it won’t happen. I dream of making my own films possible. And that feels good.

Thank you LSF. Thanks for the love and the inspiration.

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Film Review: Still Walking

Scott Myers of Go Into The Story, the Official Screenwriting Blog of the Black List, is not only very generous in sharing his vast knowledge about writing for film, this month he also opened his blog to guest posts, film reviews of hidden movie gems. I wrote about the wonderful Japanese film “Still Walking” – you can read it here.

Thanks, Scott!

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Why Are Writers So Generous?

When I timidly ventured forth into the world of writing a few years ago, I was immediately and very pleasantly surprised by how welcoming and generous other writers, including established ones, were to share their wisdom and advice.

I am usually too shy to approach people I don’t know. When I attended my first screenwriters festival, the concept of “networking” was completely unknown to me. Within ten minutes of the opening meet’n’drinks I found myself happily chatting away, drifting from one group to the next. I was networking like a pro. What had happened?

The other writers were friendly and welcoming, that’s what had happened. Those who had been around for a while introduced me to others. Those who hadn’t, like me, were happy to have found another newbie. And everybody was happy to talk about their craft.

Duh, you say, obviously a writer loves talking about his or her writing. But my point is about the craft and business of writing, not about the stories. As at the festival, so many people in various online communities and blogs I started following are incredibly generous with advice, tips and links, information, their own experiences. Bang2Write, Go Into The Story, Scriptangel, to name just a few: here’s a competition,  there’s a workshop, fifty scripts to download and study, the five to-do’s and don’ts of submitting to an agent, watch out for this kind of clause before signing on the dotted line, that production company is accepting unsolicited queries… Aren’t these people just increasing the chances of their own competition when they tell you about all these things?! So why do they do it?

Sure, one of the cardinal rules of networking is “do to others what you want them to do unto you, and best before they do it”. Be generous, it’ll pay back. But I’m sure that no investment banker will share his business secrets for the sake of good networking. Lots of money involved, you don’t want the competitor to get the deal. But again… film certainly is a big money business, and yet screenwriters (at least all the ones I know) still share. Is it because most of “us” are at the bottom rung of the financial ladder in this industry? Notoriously mistreated and deprived of credits? Underdogs must stick together? Undervaluation of self creeping in as we think, “In this weird and wonderful film biz, we get paid least, so what we do apparently isn’t worth much and then there is no need to guard our trade secrets”? (Bollocks, that one, by the way. We provide the element without which no film would exist.)

Perhaps the shared underdog-ness is one reason. But I like to think that writers are mostly motivated to be generous by their love for storytelling and the desire to enable great stories to be heard and read and seen. The appreciation of the creative process, the knowledge of what it feels like when there’s a story inside you clamouring to be let out.

Can’t wait for the upcoming London Screenwriters Festival and lots of writerly love and generosity.

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Next month I will…

Final day of the #wpad blog challenge!

This one is easy. Next month I will:

1.            Enjoy sunny Italy for two weeks. Actually, I am already there!

2.            When I get back, start posting at least once a week in this blog about all things writer. I also intend to revive  my sneezeblog – do check it out if you have a mind. I haven’t posted there for a while but am determined to change that.

3.            Endeavour to translate my blog challenge-induced writing discipline to some “real” writing – finish the re-write of one script and start investigating some of the ideas triggered by the Writesofluid logline challenge.

4.            Get VERY serious about preparing for the London Screenwriters Festival in October.

Hope to see you around!

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Social Media

Day 26 of the Writesofluid #wpad July blog challenge.

Social media? I don’t get them.

Well, perhaps I should qualify that statement a little. True, I am a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to technology.  “A bit?” I hear my teenage daughter snort. And I apologize if in the following I confuse my readers by using the wrong terminology! But I am using social media as much as I can. And here is the dinosaur gap: as much as I can seems rather little compared to what others accomplish.

1.            Which ones?

Here are three I can sort of handle: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. About two years ago, I created a profile on Skillpages  because I prefer their approach to LinkedIn – it’s more about what you can do rather than what your diploma or other “official” papers say, but it does seem that LinkedIn just gets taken more seriously.

I’m on Google+ but have never used it. I see it as just yet another distraction that syphons off my time. But perhaps that is more because I don’t know how to manage my social media-ness – guess I should investigate hootsuite or bitly for bundling. It’s just that I don’t want to spend time on that – posting or reading or even organizing so I can save time in future – because I’d rather do some real writing! But I’m afraid that if you want to be out there, as an author, you have to know how and where to be present online.

One note on the evil nature of Facebook & Co. Is it plain wrong that they share data with government agencies? Yes. Am I disgusted that they support GOP climate change deniers? Yes. Am I not betraying my own principles if I continue to use them instead of, I don’t know, bing? Yes. But that, and what I could be doing differently, is currently beyond me and beyond this blog post.

Political moment over, let’s move on.

2.            What for?

I do use Facebook for staying in touch with friends all over the world and for news about issues that matter to me. I also find more and more groups that help me in my writery professional development, such as the Script Advice Writers Room or the London Screenwriters Festival.

I do find Facebook easier too use in one particular way – that is, I usually see at a glance whether the link will interest me. It’s the way it’s set up, with headline and picture. On  Twitter I actually have to read (and often decipher) each tweet  before deciding whether  to click on the link. On the other hand, I find Twitter more focused – or perhaps I use it in a more focused manner – for business purposes.

And that’s the point, I think. You can waste endless hours especially on Facebook looking at funny cat pictures or playing stupid games. It requires discipline to go only for the useful information.

3.            How do they do it?!

Here’s one thing that totally amazes me: even if I am disciplined, even if I follow only half of the interesting and useful links, I can easily spend hours every day. And there are people out there who not only read all the stuff and comment on it and retweet and link to fifteen interesting articles a day, they also get their own writing done and sometimes have a day job! How on earth do they do it?

If you know, please tell me. In the meantime, I’ll try to have a bit of an online presence, follow a limited number of links and for the rest, get some writing done.

PS I am on holiday and have pre-scheduled this so I won’t respond to any comments until late August.

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What motivates me?

#wpad blog challenge, day 20.

Where do I find motivation to write?  I obviously want to write so what would be stopping me? Why do I need motivation to do something I enjoy?

The “what would be stopping me” is easy to answer – lack of confidence. The thought that I am not good enough and should be doing something useful to justify my existence, not just sit there and scribble. So I need motivation to overcome this lack of confidence.

For me, motivation comes in two basic categories: internal and external. What can I find inside myself that nudges me to write, and which events or people or stories make me want to lock myself up in my study with my laptop?

Internal factors

I’m not talking about inspiration here, about ideas for stories. It’s more about an urge to put words on paper or screen. So partly this is about stories that are inside me wanting to get out – see also yesterday’s post. And partly motivation comes from the creative challenge of finding the right words to fit the thought, the scene, the atmosphere I have in mind.

This daily blog challenge prompts me to write. To work my way through the month, day after day even after it has become a question of stamina. I look forward to looking back at the end of the month and thinking, you did it. You achieved something. It doesn’t actually matter so much how many people read it – although of course it’s nice to think some of these posts are entertaining to others – but it’s the concept of achievement. So it’s the idea of reaching the goal that motivates me. And, yes, also the hope that this raises my profile just a little and therefore eventually further my career as a writer.

These are internal motivation factors. But they are personal, and often difficult to handle. Thankfully, there are also external ones.

External nudges

Despite what I just said about the relative unimportance of other people reading my blurbs, getting responses to my writing is a great motivation. Positive responses, of course, but hopefully negative or critical remarks will also always motivate me – to become better, or to defend my writing.

I also find motivation in other people’s life stories, how they juggle difficult job and/or family situations and manage to do whatever they do against the odds, at night after a two day jobs, in between caring for an ageing parent, despite an abusive husband etc. They Cope With Life, they don’t give up, sometimes they write about their experiences, sometimes they just write – J.K. Rowling is a good example. But the point that motivates me is not whether they write, and even less so whether they are successful. It’s that they cope against the odds. That makes me look at my own cushy life and tell myself to do something creative with it, to use what I hope is my talent.

Most important: other writers!

This really is another external factor but a very special one. So special that I will add a third category for them – for all those fellow writers out there.

I often have the feeling that “nobody understands me.” This isn’t me whining; if you are a writer you will know what I mean. Non-writers just can’t seem to understand why I get so excited about a certain plot twist, a character, an unusual structure and so on – whether it’s in my own writing or in something I read or watch. They don’t understand the agony of writer’s block or even just how important it is for me to write. They don’t take me seriously!!! And that, in the best case scenario, deflates me, in the worst case, demotivates me.

The best solution for this is to mix with other writers. Online is good, face to face is better. Other writers understand what you struggle with. They have suffered from writer’s block. They speak the same language. You usually don’t even have to finish your sentence, they will do it for you and put their own spin on it. And they will have tips to share – actually, in my experience being with other writers is all about sharing. Perhaps I am lucky, but all the writers I know are extremely generous. And because they understand and share to help me improve, they boost my confidence.

For me, spending time with other writers is the best motivation. Which is why I can’t wait for the London Screenwriters’ Festival.

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Can writing be taught?

#wpad blog challenge, day 19.

Can writing be taught? Yes.

But storytellers are born.

What can – and indeed ought to – be taught?

There is a lot that aspiring writers ought to learn about structure, plot and character development. Going back to Aristotle: beginning, middle and end including reversal. The basic categories and their elements – comedy, tragedy, satire etc. Know your format and its rules – this goes especially for screenwriting (yes yes, once you know them, you can break them). Do I have to mention good grammar and orthography?

You can learn – at least to a degree – to write good dialogue. You can learn about George Polti’s 36 dramatic situations or the seven basic plots (or three, or eleven, whichever taxonomy suits your writing). You can read (and hear film people talk forever) about “The Quest” or “The Journey” – and by the way, I do recommend Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” as essential storytelling wisdom.

Born to tell stories

But if you know all of the above, if you have mastered various tools and techniques, you still need the one basic ingredient without which there are no books, films, plays etc. You need to be a storyteller. And that, I believe, cannot be taught. You have to be born that way.

This is more than a knack for telling funny or enthralling stories to entertain your listeners / readers. It is not just a question of “talent” or a certain “gift”. To be a true storyteller means you want to tell stories. It means there are stories inside you clamouring to be let out.

It does not necessarily mean you want to offer your stories to the world at large. And without the skills and knowledge described above you may be too shy or embarrassed to tell them. But they are inside you and want out. Even if “out” is a folder stashed away in the depths of your computer, or a piece of scrap paper in the bottom desk drawer. I have met people who would never consider themselves “writers” but oh how I wished they would apply pen and paper to their stories!

So this is my humble opinion: writing can be taught. But storytellers are born.

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