Euroscript Goes To LSF 2013

“This is YOUR Festival!” Chris Jones’ rousing opening to LSF 2013 set the optimistic and energetic tone that would power through last weekend, inspiring over 700 people to be the best writers they can be!

As a regular partner of the London Screenwriters Festival, Euroscript is always delighted to play such a big part, and this year, that was bigger than ever, with 13 Script Doctors seeing over 100 people in one-to-one appointments.  To put on such a big operation, we called in help from some of our favourite and most insightful industry friends Merle Nygate, Gary Sutton, Jacqueline Haigh and Marcella Forster.  Together we each read the outlines, treatments and crucial first 10 pages of script for all of our “patients” before spending an hour on giving development advice and setting clear goals for next drafts.

script doc drop in

We always receive a massive range of material, covering every genre from fantasy epic to gentle rom com, and patients are also eager to practice their pitches before squaring up to producers and agents. There is a palpable rush of adrenaline from everyone in the room when appointments are in session, descending into a library-like calm in the snatched moments in between, as Script Doctors meditate on their next patient’s work.  While we were seeing more people than ever before, so the quality has also leapt up, and over the three days, all of the Doctors became caught-up in the excitement of reading an absolutely brilliant script!

seeing patients

With the intensity of feedback the Doctors give, and the level of attention-to-detail required, it is also crucial that everyone gets a little bit of downtime. Naturally the opportunity to sit in on as many of the exemplary sessions as possible is irresistible. As a group, we managed to vicariously enjoy some fantastic festival moments, as Doctors returned from breaks (caffeine in tow!) From listening to Joe Eszterhas’ no-nonsense charismatic drawl to the invaluable tips on maximising impact from Pilar Alessandra.

And because we’re a multi-talented bunch, a couple of us got our moments on the stage as well.

pbd sessions

Comedy guru and all around Zen legend Paul Bassett Davies caught up with friends Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton (in front of an audience of about 100!) and managed to put his signature on a few copies of his novel “Utter Folly” – (a book so hilarious it even made Jack Dee crack a smile!) before returning to Doctoring duties at the Script Clinic.

Meanwhile, it was my very first time presenting at London Screenwriters Festival, and I ran a case study about my first time as a producer on a short film I’d adapted the script for: Honest Lies. With actor / director Emma Croft, and some essential behind the scenes insight from editor (and fellow Euroscript Board Member) Fenella Greenfield, we laid bare the haphazard and exhilarating process of putting together a short film when your producer (that’d be me) doesn’t even know what camera lenses do! It was terrifying to show the film to industry peers, but receiving such positive feedback made it all worthwhile!

LSF tweet

We always enjoy seeing so many familiar faces each year: those of friends, people who have been on our courses and used our consultancy services, and those who have won our competition. Also, meeting vibrant new talent attending the festival for the first time demonstrates what a bright future there is for screenwriting, nurtured with care and positivity by the London Screenwriters Festival, and we’re honoured to play a part in it!

While there are so many standout moments from this year’s festival, and several invaluable pieces of advice I came away with, the final word must go to Mr Joe Eszterhas, who inscribed his book to me with perhaps THE coolest dedication a feminist female-character writing screenwriter could ever have!

JE dedication

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Television writing – getting into shape (part two)

In the first part of her article, experienced television drama script editor, Yvonne Grace discussed the importance of structure in the work of the television writer. We followed with her the progress of an episode of TV drama as it made its way from Story Conference (creating the stories) to Storylining (creating the story shape). Here, in the concluding part, Yvonne outlines two further stages: Script Writing (delivering the story shape) and Script Editing (polishing the story shape), revealing how the story, pitched at conference, is refined and made ready for production.

Script writing

The writer uses the Story Document to shape his/her episode and to give it the recognised format of that particular show.

This document keeps the writer on track in terms of at which point along the storylines this episode sits and also in terms of continuity of character development; bringing in their motivational/subtextual arc across the block of episodes.

Here the storylines finally make it into a script format.

This is the first draft stage. There will most likely be only one more of these. Some shows manage three drafts (even, in drama heaven, a fourth) but in most soaps, due to the turnaround factor, most scripts have two drafts before they are expected to be at rehearsal stage and the production get their hands on them.

There will be an A (or main/central) storyline identified in the Story Document, a B (supporting/serialised) storyline, and a C (usually a comedic, or lighter-toned) storyline, adding texture to the episode as a whole. This is not set in stone, some shows have more storylines per episode.

Each storyline will have been broken down by the Storyliner, into scenes for the purpose of the Story Document. A rule of thumb: each paragraph is a scene in the document. This again is not set in stone.

The writer gets to make this script their own by adding texture, tone, visuals, subtext, and hopefully a creative, engaging energy that transforms this structure-heavy document into a fully fledged dramatic episode, which packs a narrative punch, but is held together by a solid framework; sensitive to the pace and tone of each storyline.

The storylines (via the talents of Storyliner) have been shaped by the Story Document to fit the script, and thanks to the Writer, the script finally anchors the storylines into their specific place within the series as a whole.

First draft complete.

Now it’s time to get the script into the production process…

Script editing

The talents of a good Script Editor should never be taken for granted. Here the script, with its allocation of storylines, must be taken from what is normally a serviceable, but often forgettable first draft, into second draft, which not only delivers on a structural level, but also on a narrative, dramatic level.

There are production issues to address at this point: set allocation, the exterior to interior scene ratio, and also editorial issues to get right: length, number of ad breaks, pick up points, cliffs, story beats per scene, and storyline progression across the episode as a whole.

It may transpire at this point, that a script is story-light, or that a script has too much story. Care is obviously taken at Story Conference to get the distribution right, but often it is not until the writer gets to grips with each storyline on the page, that the overall ‘story weight’ can be truly ascertained. If necessary, the Script Editor will engage in a spot of ‘story bartering’ to re-balance the story distribution across the block of episodes as a whole.

Storytelling in long-running series is strangely flexible, albeit within a very structured, restrictive episode shape and length. The format is key, but the process of sharing story across those formatted scripts is a fluid process that only stops when the script has made it to rehearsal stage.

Which, for the sake of this blog, ours has.

The script is complete. The storylines are in the right place; they have been created, developed, shaped and polished. Now the production starts in earnest and the visual takes over from the written word.

Time to tune in!

Yvonne Grace helps writers write better scripts for television.
Visit her website: http://scriptadvice.co.uk/
follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/YVONNEGRACE1
or join her Facebook group: Script Advice Writer’s Room

Television writing – getting into shape

Are you a Jackson Pollock sort of writer? Do you like to chuck words on the page, smear them about a bit, roll your storylines around and hurl characters at the screen until something sticks?

Matthew Graham, clever, talented writer of tons of television, but most notably co-creator of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, refers to writing as being akin to sloshing paint around and having fun and I don’t disagree.  Of course, writing should be fun.

It is good to slosh; to splash your ideas around and see what starts to emerge as a good idea, but sooner rather than later in my view, the hard structural work must begin.

The job of writing well for television demands a two-fold approach:
Creative flair (the Jackson Pollock stage)
Structural detail (the architect stage)

Never dismiss the power of a good story structure. With the framework in place even the simplest story – possessing perhaps only one decent dramatic moment and several smaller story beats – can be delivered with flair and impact by a writer who knows how to present a story from the page to the screen.

Here for you then, mapped out in four stages, is the journey of a story and how it is shaped by the process of series drama production:

The story conference – (creating the stories)
Storylining – (creating the story shape)
Script writing – (delivering the story shape)
Script editing – (polishing the story shape)

The story conference

Most long running shows have story conferences every three months. These are essential in long-running drama production in order to generate as many long and shorter run storylines as possible in the allotted time. Most series are planned at least three months ahead of production, so the story machine has to keep churning out the good stuff.

As a writer, this is the time to be both imaginative and market savvy. The story conference in the series’ production calendar is both a creative and a selling event. You need to come to the table prepared to pitch your best stories, to contribute to the overall discussion of other stories and expect to see parts, or all of your contributions, fall by the wayside as the best stories for that particular show, at that particular time, reveal themselves.

It is the Producer’s and Story Editor’s job to identify the best stories coming through and it is also important that the available cast is kept busy to keep to the terms of their contracts, so at Conference, storylines must be created for individuals or character groupings.

Pitching your story at Conference like this, makes a television writer adept at recognising a good storyline for the dramatic potential it contains. You soon get good at pinpointing the major drama beats, seeing the opportunity for linking to other storylines, and become practised at using story to reveal the subtext/motivation of a character.

The story conference has two levels: the splashing-about stage, where there is a lot of (healthy!) argument; and out of this creative melee, comes the structural stage, where as many storylines as possible are identified across the episode blocks, for specific characters.

All storylines going forward must best suit the show, be character appropriate and have the best dramatic potential. There will be at this stage, obvious drama highs and lows within the storyline; a shape will have begun to emerge.

Storylining

Next in the shaping process of our story comes the storylining and this is where that rare, specific and talented creature, the Storyliner comes into their own.
Storylining demands a relatively rare combination of skills: creative thinking and logical application. To control numerous storylines across several blocks of episodes demands an organised mind as well as an instinctive one. The Storyliner must take each storyline and stretch it across the allocated episodes, adding and refining the drama beats and plot twists and turns along the way.

At the beginning of the storylining process, there will be an empty whiteboard on the wall. At the end of an extremely busy few weeks, there (hopefully) won’t be any white gaps left on the board and all episodes will have the maximum amount of story in them – all peaks and troughs identified, cross references with other storylines achieved, and within each episode, a clear picking-up point from the episode before, and a clear cliffhanger at the end. Advert breaks also will be identified at this point: the Storyliner will use these to aid the drama progression of the storyline through the episode.

This shaping, refining, stretching of storylines is the proving part of the story process. This is where a storyline will be polished until it is the best it can be and then stitched into the Story Document that pertains to each episode within the block in question.

Here the Storyliner writes in a clear, pithy, witty, attractive, engaging way, the outline of each episode. Episode allocation has been worked out from the contents of the whiteboard on the Storyliners’ wall so now, their creative skill comes into play.

Each episode will have an A, B and C storyline and be presented in as interesting a way as possible to inspire the writer to get their creative skills working.

And so the story baton is passed on another stage…

Yvonne Grace

Yvonne Grace helps writers write better scripts for television.
Visit her website: http://scriptadvice.co.uk/
follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/YVONNEGRACE1
or join her Facebook group: Script Advice Writer’s Room


Next time – Yvonne discusses the writing and editing stages of the story’s journey in series drama.

The blessing of limited resources

Quote

The more technology develops, the more opportunity it The Adventures of Baron Munchausenoffers for bigger and better mistakes, otherwise known as Terry Gilliam. I think he’s a genius, but he really does seem to be like the kid who’s happier playing with the box than the present inside it, and he’s always best when he makes his own toys. He pretty much invented, or re-invented, the animation techniques he used for his Monty Python work.

In both Time Bandits (1981) and Brazil (1985) he created something fresh and unique out of relatively limited resources, and told wonderful stories. The Fisher King (1991) was a rare foray into naturalism, but it was speedy and nerve-jangling, and watching it gave me an urge to scratch an itch I couldn’t reach, like having psoriasis of the brain.

The way he’s used new technology in his other films has seemed as much a curse as a blessing. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) offered many delights but every frame was crowded with manic activity, and the viewing experience was like having your eyeballs bashed in with a digital baseball bat. The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus (2009), seemed to forget that it was a film at all, and looked at times like a collection of special effects waiting for someone to give them a reason to exist.

Perhaps Terry Gilliam should be locked in a room for six months with some crayons, paper, scissors, a lump of clay and an old bolex camera. He’d produce a masterpiece.

Paul Bassett Davies

Special effects? Not particularly

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindLike the character in Moliere’s play who was delighted to learn that he’d been speaking prose all his life, I am astonished to discover that I’ve been living in 3D all this time. I only realized this because of all the 3D films I’ve seen recently, but now I find that everything looks more solid, sharper, and more defined. It’s almost as if I’m right here in the room with myself.

This is an extraordinary experience, and I’m naturally anxious to exploit it, which is what experiences are for when you’re a writer. Should I try to write a 3D film? To answer this question I have to ask other questions about the way 3D, or any other kind of visual technology, is used in film. How much should a writer concern themselves with what we may as well call special effects?

  The director’s job

Screenwriters are always being reminded that “film is a visual medium,” and it bears repeating. However, another piece of advice we often give ourselves is to refrain from trying to do the director’s job when we write a screenplay. Keep the visual directions to a minimum. Okay, but what if we’re writing a special-effects-heavy script, or one that involves 3D? What about a script for a film that’s based on – or destined to become – a comic book, graphic novel, or video game? What about interactive media?

The questions are inextricably linked because new technology is blurring the distinction between what we used to think of as film, and what we increasingly treat as participatory multimedia experiences. But no matter how fancy the technology gets, people are still going to ask the same question they’ve always asked about the product: is it any good? A turkey is a turkey, and if multimillion dollar technical wizardry can create the illusion that the turkey is leaping out of the screen and squawking in your face while its hot, corn-fed breath makes your eyes water and its wattles dangle against your nose, all that does is make it an even more realistic one. In other words, more of a turkey.

Better technology doesn’t automatically produce better films and it never has. When spectacle is an end in itself, it can function as an elaborate barrier between the audience and any kind of meaningful experience. But surely there’s a sector of the market that isn’t interested in meaningful experience? What does the young male demographic want? Don’t answer that question if you have a teenage son, as even thinking about it may increase your risk of having a stroke. But when it comes to movies, they just want mindless spectacle, don’t they?

I don’t think so. No audience is entirely mindless (or, more importantly, heartless) and every viewer is looking for meaning, even if they don’t know it and can’t articulate it. But good film makers know it, even if Hollywood can’t quite figure out the difference between a good film that happens to use special effects and the experience of watching gigantic sacks of money exploding repeatedly.

So, the gift of limitless visual possibility comes with equally limitless ways to misuse it. Where does this leave writers? Should we ignore the whole dimension of special effects when we’re writing, and leave it up to the director and designer to risk wasting a vast budget? Far from it. In fact, we should be so aware of the way that technology can enhance the film we’re working on that it’s embedded into the way we write. That’s what we’ve always done. We’ve assimilated the technique and grammar of film, consciously or not, and we’ve always written with that knowledge in our minds.

  More to play with

Twenty years ago we might have held back from writing scenes like some of those in Inception, for example, where whole layers of reality are peeled away, because we knew it would be almost impossible to actualize the vision in a convincing way. Now, however, we have more to play with and we’ll use our knowledge of the available technology when we write, and our writing is automatically shaped by it. What’s changed recently is the pace of development, and as a result perhaps we’re being forced to become aware of cinematic grammar and technical vocabulary that we haven’t learned yet, and until we do it won’t be second nature.

It may take a while for that to happen, but we shouldn’t let that stop us taking advantage of what new technology can do. We shouldn’t be afraid to offer producers and directors what we’ve always had plenty of: imagination.

  Some kind of accessory

Write with the knowledge that amazing new technology can achieve astonishing visual effects, use that knowledge to free your imagination, and if what you write can’t be done, they’ll tell you soon enough. You won’t get fired for being too imaginative, but you might get fired for not using craft and discipline to shape your imagination into engaging, coherent stories. That’s always been the case, regardless of how special the screen effects are.

Meanwhile, maybe we should reconsider the way we think about the whole idea of special effects. They’ve never been simply some kind of accessory that’s added to a movie to enhance it (or not). The very earliest films used special effects, and in the work of the Lumiere brothers and Georges Melies the effects were the whole point. The films were special effects; film itself was a special effect and in some ways it still is.

I’d go further, and say all representation – all visual art – is a special effect. Art uses technique and technology, paint or pixel, to create something unnatural. It’s not really Whistler’s Mother hanging on your wall, it’s a trick created by the manipulation of effects, and if you think the old dame is a real person then it’s time to have a serious talk with Mr Medication.

How do you write for the new technology? The same way as you wrote for the old technology: watch a lot of movies, read a lot of scripts, think carefully, observe meticulously, analyze rigorously, dream, and work hard. Oh, and have fun. If you’re writing a film with a lot of visual fireworks in it, make sure the special effects aren’t the only thing that people are going to remember after the film, like the audience that leaves a stage musical whistling the set.

And if you eschew all this technical jiggerypokery, and want to write an austere human drama about two people getting depressed in a darkened room, maybe throw in a dream sequence for the rest of us, or at least open a window at the end. Or blow the room up.

Create an effect.

Paul Bassett Davies

Three disasters and an ending

Do you find it difficult to structure a treatment so that it grips the reader as strongly as the full script? Join the club.

I don’t think any writer enjoys distilling their exquisitely crafted scripts down to just a few paragraphs, but there are some techniques that can help you get the essential shape, flow, style, emotional intensity and personal voice that you need.

Today’s simple, practical tip comes courtesy of Randy Ingermanson who uses it in his Snowflake Method for writing novels.

Disaster to disaster

Borgen

Disaster One – At the end of the first paragraph, a disaster hits the protagonist and forces her to make a crucial decision – to fight for her goal.

Disaster Two – End of para 2, another disaster forces her to rethink, regroup and learn.

Disaster Three – Three paragraphs in, things are getting seriously grim, the third disaster forces her to face the final denouement or else.

Ending – Kind of speaks for itself. She wins, she loses, she wins a bit and loses a bit… your choice.

There are variations.

For example one disaster could take place shortly after the start (or even flash back to before the start!) leaving room for more thoughtful middle.

Each paragraph could be two paragraphs, or three, or a page.

And of course, you need to make adjustments if you’re writing in 2 Acts, 7 Acts, or No Acts, TV drama series or sitcom!

But the basic shape will build you a strong structure, whether you are writing straight to DVD or arthouse drama, cinema or TV – Enter The Dragon (1973) or Amour (2012), Django Unchained (2013) or Hamlet (1996), Lincoln (2012) or All About My Mother (1999), Juno (2007), Shameless, Borgen or The New Normal

You can read more in Randy’s book Writing Fiction For Dummies.

Which leaves flow, style, intensity, unusual structures and personal voice – but those are for another day.

Charles Harris

What do you do next? Proscastinate?

Last Monday I talked about finishing. So after you’ve finished – what do you do next?

Do you push on straight to your next project, or what?

Time to pause?

I once invited psychologist Andrea Perry to come to talk to our writers at ScreenLab about procrastination. Andrea has written one of the best books on how we procrastinate and how not to – Isn’t it About Time?

And yes, I’ve heard all the jokes, and yes I did get round to reading it…

Andrea made one point that really struck home for me. She says there are five stages in any piece of work – and thus five places you can procrastinate. I knew the first four: Becoming Aware; Exploring and Experimenting; Choosing and Getting Involved; and of course Finishing.

I’ll talk more about these in the future.

But equally important, she says, is the fifth: Pausing and Reflecting.

I realised immediately that this was a big one for me. It was always my habit to rush forwards. No sooner had I finished one script than I started the next.

The problem is, if you put off pausing, you give yourself no chance to look back and consider what you have achieved and what you have learned. You risk, as I did, rushing off and making the same mistakes, failing to advance or improve as fast as you could.

If you stop and reflect, you give yourself a chance to deepen that learning, to celebrate the good things you’ve done and – yes – accept the parts that maybe weren’t as good as you’d hoped. You let go fully. And allow yourself to develop and move forwards.

So don’t procrastinate about pausing. Start pausing this very moment.

Charles Harris