Breaking In The New Year

It’s the last day on January 2013. I know, where did the last four weeks go, am I right? There’s been loads of new years blogs, talking about resolutions and what you should aim to achieve this year – they go around like wildfires in the first two weeks of January. And now, on January 31st, 2013, let me ask you. How are your resolutions going?

 I never make resolutions. I never really needed to. I’m not the sort of person who loves having a clean slate for a new year. I understand people who do – it’s a great kicking off point, a point in time defined by society that everyone knows about. It certainly is a fantastic time to decide what you want to do over the next twelve months. But I think that if you want to do something, start immediately. If you want to write, write. You want to learn a language? Do it now. Don’t wait. Start exercising? Eat better? Why wait until the end of the month? Start right this second. That’s how I look at things, anyway.

 I know a lot of people aren’t like that. And that’s okay. I have a lot of respect for people who do make resolutions and even more for the people who manage to stick to them. I think it’s awesome to have a goal, a deadline, a drive to achieve something. What I get a little concerned about is when people aren’t realistic about their goals. At the beginning of a year, anything is possible. That doesn’t mean that you should expect yourself to achieve everything.

 ‘I’ll finish that script, start writing those other two, plus three short films and get one of them produced and maybe toss around ideas for a TV show.’

That sounds awesome. But it’s not a realistic goal, really. Maybe if you were writing full time and had no engagements anywhere else. If you have got enough drive to achieve that much, by all means, go for it! That’s awesome. But for the rest of us, that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself. And when you get to the end of the year and you’ve only finished that script and written two shorts, you might see that as a negative thing. That’s a brilliant thing! That is a fantastic effort and something you should absolutely be proud of.

The other thing I don’t like so much about resolutions is that you lose a bit of flexibility if you stuck to them 100%. If you want to finish your script before you do anything else, what opportunities are you closing yourself off to in the meantime? Life can throw anything at you – don’t shut them out because you think you should do something else in the meantime. If you’re substituting one project for another – excepting commissions and/or other work you’re being gloriously paid to do – ride it out. Go with it. You never know where it might take you.

This is my suggestion for an End of January Resolution. Keep it broad. Keep it simple. The only resolution that I would make this year would be ‘WRITE’. It doesn’t matter how much or how little. As long as I keep writing, that’s the key.

So what’s your End of January resolution for the rest of the year? Make it a verb. Choose something that will make you happy. Then go for it.

Last Blog Post of 2012

Hi all! I hope you’re not too swamped by the impending Christmas holiday and have allowed yourself plenty of time to get things sorted before the 25th. Ha, who actually does that? Christmas movies would be much less exciting if everything was all neat and tidily organised in time for Christmas Day.

I digress.

This will be my last post of 2012 and I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for reading the blog and sharing the posts if you found them useful. It’s been a pretty crazy year for me, both personally and professionally, and everyone who reads this blog has been a part of that.

‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ is very close to being finished. It has taken a little longer than anticipated but that’s the way it goes when you’re working around full time jobs and differing time zones. Look out for updates on how we’re getting along in 2013, when we start looking toward festivals and other little bits and pieces, like a behind the scenes video and the difficult task of selecting the cover of the DVD!

2012 also changed the way that I write my scripts. I went from writing completely alone, only consulting people once I had a physical script in my hand, to acquiring a co-writer for half of the projects I’m working on at the moment. It’s been challenging and incredibly rewarding to work with someone else – we’re lucky that the skills we have compliment one another’s weaknesses and we work wonderfully well together.

But that being said, I still have my own individual projects that I’m working on (as does he), which have really come into their own this year. I’m incredibly proud of the body of work that I’m building up and can’t help but feel that 2013 has great possibilities for where I go from here!

So to all of you – thank you for reading, I hope you’ve had a wonderful 2012 and I wish you an even better 2013.

Merry Christmas!

Music To My Ears

Music can make or break a film.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been watching a film and the perfect song has come on at the perfect moment. I might have never heard that pop song before but it exactly sums up the emotions of that moment. I then go out and buy the soundtrack and listen to the songs over and over again, forever associated with that film, that moment, that emotion. It happened to me with (500) Days of Summer. The soundtrack to that was fantastic. I now can’t hear ‘You Make My Dreams Come True’ by Hall and Oates without picturing most of this sequence.

Instrumental music is just as key. Every single time I hear this music, I get chills and I get immediately transported into the world of Harry Potter. It ebbs and flows, crescendos, crashes, builds, wanes, explodes – there is so much magic and emotion in the music that when I listen to the music, I can often quote lines of dialogue from the movies as I listen as it’s so completely tied in to one another.

Music is something that can be overlooked or underestimated, particularly in low budget films. But it’s astonishing how much music increases the overall production value. In much the same way that spending a little bit of time and money on cameras and sound equipment, finding the right music and having a composer who is willing to work on developing the sound with you is so crucial to the overall presentation of your film.

I was very lucky to have found Tzuriel Kastel via Twitter and he’s been fantastic to work with. There isn’t much that’s more exciting when you’re nearing the end of post-production and you slide some music under the picture locked cut to see it really come to life. Which is, actually, the point that we’re at now, excitingly enough. It’s taken a very long time to get here, but the end is in sight, which is incredibly liberating and (if I may say so) a big relief!

It won’t be too long, all things going well, before the short is finished. Which means that then we’ll have to start focusing on DVDs, festivals and all those fun things – as I think we have some money left in the budget!

Right, I’m going to stick on some music and get some more work done. Where should I go this time? Dancing with John Travolta in Grease/Saturday Night Fever/Pulp Fiction? Making pancakes with Mara Wilson in Matilda?

Oh, I know.

Saving the universe with The Doctor.

Links:

Rewriting.

This week, I’ve decided to continue on rewrites of a project of mine I haven’t touched in months. It’s interesting actually, because up until yesterday, I didn’t feel like I was ready to work on it. I was genuinely concerned that if I’d started working on it last week, or even two weeks ago, that I would manage destroy the good place the project was currently in.

I gave myself time (because at this moment, I’m lucky enough to HAVE time to give myself) and didn’t move on it before I was confident that I could do it justice. I waited an afternoon to give myself a little more distance on the project, rather than making a mess that I’d then have to unpick when I did the next rewrite and create a hell of a lot more work for me.

And these two days, I’ve been really happy with the way it’s coming together.

I remember when I started this rewrite, it was a real battle to get from scene to scene. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m back in a certain headspace or what, but what I’m writing at the moment seems to ebb and flow really well. And I’m discovering how tightly woven my earlier draft was. I’m trying to shave subplots out of it and realise that it links into something earlier or later. It’s frustrating but it’s great fun.

It’s also been a great chance to get back into the world and spend some time with the characters again. I’d forgotten how much fun they were – mostly because I’ve been working on other projects and hanging out with other characters instead – but it seems as though their voices are still ever present and clear in my mind, which is making each tweak easier to accomplish too.

So perhaps if you’re having trouble rewriting, perhaps give yourself a little more time away from it. Don’t be over critical of your work – get someone else to have a look over it and make sure they’re willing to tell you what works and what doesn’t. After all, in a rewrite, it’s just as crucial to identify what works as well as what’s broken.

After all, if you cut out a bunch of plot and character that works, it means the second draft will be a lot less strong and potentially more plot hole-y.

Sorry the post is short this week – but I really am eager to get back to it!

Happy writing!

P.S. Don’t forget, if you are rewriting, I run a script-reading service and am more than happy to help you to get from one stage of your script to the next!

The Scariest and Most Exhilarating Words In The English Language…

…Especially for a writer, are easily these.

The End.

The words The End represent hours, days, weeks, months, even years of work that have been leading up to that moment. Most people don’t even reach them half the time. But to get there is one of the best feelings in the world. You’ve accomplished your goal. You’ve finished that draft! It’s a great achievement to even get to that stage.
But once you’ve eaten your celebratory chocolate and given yourself a well deserved break, reality begins to set in.
What happens next?
It’s an intimidating thought. All the work you’ve done, all the things you’ve planned up until this moment are finished. Everything is ticked off your to do list. Sure, you have one or two notes about this draft, things you wrote but knew at the time you were going to change in the future, but what about the rest of it? All the problems you know are there but don’t know how to fix. Those clanging lines of dialogue amongst the ones that really sing. The character inconsistencies that don’t seem to ever change, no matter what you do.
Taking the next step in your project can sometimes feel like you’re back at the beginning. Particularly with a redraft. But don’t let it overawe you. The End is an incredibly powerful stage to get to, regardless of what draft you’re currently at. If it’s the end of your first draft, you’ve managed to get to the end of your first draft! They can be (and usually are) messy, hideous things that seem to have not a lot of direction and a whole lot of waffle. But you got there. And that means that the second draft will be all the better for a pudgy first draft – more to cut, more to shape and craft, more to streamline.
And the best part about hitting The End? You’re more likely to get there again in your second draft. Or the third one. Or the fourth. And yes, it takes time and effort and work to get to those six letters, but every time you reach them, you’re a step closer to typing them on that project for the last time. For me, that’s such an exciting idea – even if I don’t have any hope of making the film ever. It marks the completion of another stage of me as a writer and (hopefully) becoming even better.
It’s different for everyone, of course, but one fact still remains the same.
The End are the scariest and most elating words you will ever type onto your script.
Or blog post.
The End.

Come Together.

Sorry for the silence on the blog for the last month. It’s been completely manic and I’ve spent most of it in London, where I headed to attend the London Screenwriters’ Festival. Yep, all the way from Melbourne, Australia, to the other side of the world for a screenwriters’ festival. One of the best in the world (although I’m biased as I haven’t been to any others as yet).

The main aim of the festival for me was to shop around a sitcom idea I’ve been working on with my writing partner, Anton. We’ve gotten it to a point where we were both happy enough to put the feelers out to gauge interest on the idea – if you think that’s hard enough when you’re one writer, it becomes even harder when there’s two of you!

One thing that I noticed was that a lot of other writers were fascinated that we wrote together. Some asked why we did it, most asked how we did it and I began to realise that a lot of newer writers wouldn’t even think of writing with someone else. It’s interesting to think about, actually, because I’m not sure that I would choose anyone else to write with – I’m perfectly content writing on my own. I think one of the things that really works between Anton and I is that we still have our own individual projects that we work on alongside our group projects. This helps us to keep our independence so that we don’t have to rely on each other to write.

As for why we did it – I don’t remember ever consciously making the decision to be ‘co-writers’. The two of us were so used to working alongside each other on other projects: shorts, sketches, feature spec scripts – that as we discussed the merits of a sitcom idea, it really began to blaze into life and suddenly we realised that we were writing it together. We fell into it, really, which might be the best way of finding a writing partner. There was no pressure to write something together, no panic about whether we would work well together – we both knew and respected each other’s work, loved each other’s style of writing (which is so important – you really need to be each other’s biggest fan) and knew each other well enough that we could pull each other up on weak writing or mistakes. We just started writing together and that was it!

We’re still figuring out how we do it. After spending the best part of two weeks in each other’s company, we’ve really broken the back of it. Along the way, we quizzed everyone we met who mentioned that they had a co-writer as to how they did it. We met the lovely Ry Russo-Young at Sundance London, who told us about her process writing with Lena Dunham on their film Nobody Walks. Their process complimented each other as Ry also works as a director and Lena as an actress. We also managed to catch up with Sally Phillips at the London Screenwriters’ Festival who was happy to chat about the way she writes with others. And Ralf Little didn’t mind telling us about writing with Michelle Terry on The Cafe.

From chatting to others about how they co-wrote, we started to feel our way into it. It’s a process that needs a bit of patience, especially at the beginning when you’re still getting used to each other. We have definitely found our rhythm as writers and now it’s a matter of getting the words on the page, which we are managing to do a lot faster than we used to. Now that we’ve got that equilibrium, it’s really starting to flow, which is filling each of us with more confidence. And because there are two people working on a comedy script, it really opens up the opportunities for more laughs.

I really recommend working with other writers to strengthen your own work. That doesn’t necessarily mean co-writing, but at least consulting on other writers’ projects. I can’t think of a single project I’ve written in the past two years that I haven’t had someone else read and the best part of having a co-writer is that you can send them your stuff and they have to read it! It also helps build a community of writers around you which is never a bad thing. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who understand why you spend most of your day in front of your computer is one of the best decisions you could ever make.

And when you find someone who is the same level of crazy as you, it’s amazing the kind of stuff you can come up with.

What To Do At Your First London Screenwriters’ Festival

It’s that time of year again. We’re two weeks out from the biggest screenwriting festival in Britain (I heard a rumour that it’s now the biggest one in the world).

The London Screenwriters Festival.

If any of you know me at all, you’ll know that I love this festival. To bits. Maybe a little bit more than chocolate. I know, right? But when I hit London in mid 2010 and knew I wanted to focus on my writing a little more, this was the first ticket I bought and I reckon it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a huge investment. Especially if you’re not based in London and have to travel to attend – like I am this year, flying back to London from Melbourne (yes, I’ll be there, you should come and say hello!). But, I do think it’s a great way to spend your cold hard cash (they do take card as well) if you’re willing to get the most out of the festival.

‘How do I do that?’ I hear you ask.

For me, the biggest thing I’ve gotten out of the festival for the past two years has been the people I’ve met. That’s the big names – like script consultant royalty Linda Aronson and Disney/Pixar Royalty David Reynolds – as well as other delegates who have become co-writers, consultants and amazing friends.

Proof – Totes me and Dave Reynolds. BFFs.

So, by that logic, the first thing I’d suggest to anyone going to LSF this year is to talk to EVERYONE.

I know the majority of you heading there will be British. Don’t let that stop you! The thing is that you’ll have two main groups of people there. The people who are there for the first time and the people who have been there several times. The people who are there for the first time will ALWAYS want someone to talk to for fear of looking like they’re eating lunch alone. The people who have been there before know that the easiest way to make friends is to talk to everyone. You will never not be welcomed into a conversation – unless you plan on leaping on the stage when David Yates is talking about Harry Potter and interrupting the session (which I definitely was not thinking about ever). It’s so easy to talk to people and you’ve got an instant topic of conversation:

‘How brilliant is this festival?!’

Whilst you talk to people, make sure you talk about them AND yourself. What are your projects? What are theirs? What are you hoping to get out of the festival? You never know who you’re talking to. You never know who might be able to help you out or give you that nugget of information that completely turns your life around. Don’t be afraid to talk about your work either – you might be speaking to a writer about the horror film you’re working on and turns out they know a producer who happens to be looking for horror scripts but they write comedy and so promise to put you in touch. You never know and you have NOTHING to lose by talking to people!

Business cards are also a must. But don’t forget social etiquette when you hand them out. Don’t thrust yourself into a conversation of five people, hand around your business cards without introducing yourself then disappear to the next group of five. I know when that happens to me, I ditch the card as soon as. If you’re not willing to stop and chat to me for five minutes, why would I stop for five minutes to send you an email after the festival? Especially when I have no idea who you are other than the name on your business card. Always have a conversation first, then ask to swap business cards. It doesn’t have to be fifteen minutes long – just long enough that you’ve broken the ice and know a little more about each other.

Be flexible. Plan your days around the flipping amazing speakers they have this year but don’t be afraid to swap at the last minute or stick around to continue that conversation you’re having over lunch. Most of the sessions get filmed and go up on the delegate network after the festival so you can catch up on what you missed later.

If you’re worried about being alone on the first day, use the delegates network or Twitter to find people before you go. There is a really amazing and accessible network of writers and filmmakers out there who are attending the festival so why not suss them out beforehand?

But most of all, ENJOY IT. It’s crazy, overwhelming, manic and inspirational. It’s often the most hectic three days of a screenwriters’ calendar and you have a stonking hangover at the end of it (both literal and metaphorical, depending on how much you drink). I’d urge anyone who’s on the fence to take the plunge – there are discount codes available for tickets and they’re running a fab logline competition on Twitter to win your ticket so GO FOR IT.

Plus, like I said, I’m going to be there. Why wouldn’t you want to come?

When All Else Fails

I thought it was time for an update on With A Little Help From Our Friends and how it’s going in post production. I’ve had a couple of people ask me about it, so thought I’d give you guys some updates on where we’re at.

The cut is picture locked. This means that there will be no more edits to…well…the pictures. It was a bit long so I, with a slightly heavy heart, cut a few sections and the running time is down to around six minutes, which I think is a good length for a comedy short film. The sound is locked too, I just need to track down some credit music to run over the end of the film. I’ve been trying to hunt out a colour grader for the past few months and, after a couple have fallen through, I’m going to try to do a basic colour grade myself. If anyone knows anyone else who might be interested in helping out, any suggestions would be much appreciated!

It is tough going when you don’t have much incentive for people other than a great project and showreel material. It’s even tougher when you have to rely on other people to get your film finished and they don’t come through so that things drag for months and months. It is, unfortunately, the nature of the beast in some ways when you’re working with friends of friends on a favour.

So, when all else fails, it’s good to have the skills to do the job yourself.

I’m not suggesting that you become an expert in every single aspect of filmmaking. But I’ve found that a small amount of knowledge of the other areas of the job really helps for cohesion when you’re working together. I’ve worked in lighting departments before, so I know the simple things like don’t ever touch the lights. EVER. I’ve had great DOPs who were willing to teach me little bits and pieces about white balancing and focus pulling. I’ve cut several projects before so I know that sometimes the best way to get things done is to give your editor an idea and a deadline and let them work themselves.

That’s not to say if my DOP pulled out, I’d immediately step behind the camera. Not at all. But if his camera assistant was still there and wanted to have a shot, I’d be happy to let them try and work closely with them to make sure they were across everything (which they usually are. Camera assistants generally rock).

So, with slight trepidation, I’m going to attempt to do a basic grade on the film this week to get it properly locked before going on to hunt out music.

Wish me luck!

(Seriously though, if you know someone who might be interested in helping out, I’d love to have a chat.)

Why Writing Is Like Bowling

I went bowling yesterday. I haven’t been bowling for absolutely ages and, as a result, I have a couple of little muscle niggles because muscles I forgot I had had been neglected for so long. But that being said, I had a pretty good run. Started off okay. Got a handful of spares in my first game, occasionally missed the whole lot on the second bowl, but was relatively happy with it. My second game was a cracker – two strikes in two frames, two spares and a strike to round it out.

And it occurred to me that writing is like bowling.

Just go with me here.

I promise there’ll be no metaphorical ‘strike’ jokes either.

It’s often said that writing is like a muscle. If you don’t write for absolutely ages, your characters might not feel right, your plot points formulaic and rusty. But even if you don’t write for awhile and sit down to have a session, you can still manage to get a decent result. Not a great one, but something that you’ll feel reasonably happy with. You’ll come up with some good ideas, some unique twists and turns for plot and character, occasionally you’ll hit something that’s completely out there or entirely wrong on so many levels for your project, but you’ll have something.

The more you keep writing, the more likely you are to stumble onto the golden moments more often. The more time you spend with your characters, the more easily you’re going to realise the honest moments, the moments that make you gasp/cry/cackle hysterically in delight. The more time you spend in your world, the more opportunities for stories you’ll find, the more hidden characters you’ll discover and the more running themes you’ll uncover. Your writing brain won’t be clinging to the first cliché it hits in your mind because it’s already miles past it, having been regularly exercised.

Even when you’re on a roll, you’ll still hit the bad ideas. The catastrophically awful ideas. The ones that make no sense to plot or character. But keep them in your back pocket. You might find a way to turn them into something awesome (like I did, when I had to get a spare on my last frame in my second game to win, missed everything then managed to score a strike on my second bowl…then missed everything on my third. Wait, I think I’m mixing metaphors).

But if I was to start bowling every day, I reckon I’d become pretty good at it. Continually exercising and strengthening the muscles in my arms and legs I need to throw a bowling ball at a bunch of pins. Yeah, I’m still probably going to throw one or two balls that go slightly awry, but the majority of the times I’ll be on the money. Give myself the best possible chance to get a perfect game when it counts. It makes sense to do the same for writing. To write every day – it doesn’t have to be scriptwriting, it can be development writing, to spend time with your characters, in their world, to give yourself the best possible chance to write the best story for them.

Why wouldn’t you?

You never know which script is going to be your opportunity for the perfect game. May as well perfect your technique for when the chance arises.

Kill Your Babies

The phrase ‘kill your babies’ is one that often gets thrown around in writing and filmmaking. It basically means that you shouldn’t get too attached to your ideas because every once in awhile, you’ll have the best idea you’ve ever had in your life – your career, even – and you’ll want to keep it. But it doesn’t work for the story. And so, you’ll need to let it go, even though you’ll never come up with an idea that’s better.

That’s the theory anyway. Some people take it in different ways – some people say that once you’ve finished the first draft of your script your should go back and cut your best scene out entirely. Or cut your best idea. Your best line of dialogue. I never really understood that way of thinking – surely you would keep developing your ideas so that they matched your very best one, not cut your best one to match the calibre of the rest? But everyone writes differently, so if that’s what works for you as a writer, then knock yourself out.

I’m working on a sitcom at the moment with my partner in crime, Anton. We’re developing the plotline of the episode that we’ll end up writing as our pilot. We spent weeks putting all the storylines into context of the first series, making sure all the characters had arcs and often throwing old ideas out because we’d discover something even better that was borne out of story and character in the context of the episode instead of spontaneous inspiration. We’d slaved over this one particular episode and had some really strong ideas for it, we knew what needed to happen but it wasn’t coming together. There was something that wasn’t flowing naturally and neither of us wanted to try to force the episode into a shape it wasn’t going to fit into.

So we took a breather to try and figure it out and I suggested throwing everything out and figuring out what the function of the episode needed to be at its very core. Not surprisingly, Anton was slightly skeptical of doing that, considering how hard we’d been working on it. I probably would’ve reacted the same way if he’d suggested it to me. But, as I explained to him, we were just going to use it as an exercise to see if we could find what wasn’t working. It didn’t mean that we were binning everything to never look at it again. It was just about getting back to the core of the episode to see what we were trying to do and if there were better ways of doing it than what we were working with.

We did that. We got it back to the core function of story and character. We straightened out the kinks in the skeleton, laid all the groundwork properly, then went back and talked about the best possible way to hit all the beats and make the characters do exactly what they needed to do for the episode. And we came up with some amazing new ideas  out of that (some of which have been overtaken already by others).

But we also realised that the main idea we were working with for the episode still worked. Really really well. We weren’t so stubborn that we’d ‘killed’ it, then refused to bring it back into the story because it was too much of a good idea. What was the point of that if the idea was still working? We brought it back in, surrounded by other, newer ideas which were stronger and better (and funnier) and the whole episode sprung into new life.

That’s why I don’t really agree with the term ‘kill your babies’. In my eyes, it’s kind of like shooting yourself in the foot. If it’s not working with the rest of the story, then yes, you should probably put it aside and save it for something else. But if it still can play a strong enough role in terms of story and character in your script, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to revive that baby and bring it back to life.

So maybe the phrase should be ‘Knock Your Babies Out With A Sedative Until You Can Figure Out If They’re Working Or Not’?

Too long? Yeah, I think so too. I’ll work on it.