Always Be Prepared

It’s nearly mid June. Say you’ve got something coming up. Perhaps something like the London Screenwriters’ Festival. Say it’s coming up at the end of October this year. There is a fantastic opportunity for you to pitch something there, to talk about your work, to get yourself out there. But NOW is the really crucial time for you as a writer or filmmaker.

You need to decide now what projects you’re going to take in with you. To be your answer when people ask you what you’re working on at the moment (they always do). To have something ready when they say ‘What’s it about?’ so you don’t end up rambling about your story and they end up getting confused or overwhelmed by your rough pitch.

You need to decide now what you start to work on before you get there, so that you’ve got something to show for it. Even if you aren’t pitching (if you are pitching, you definitely need to do this around now), you need to know what your strongest projects are to talk about with other writers.

Honestly, start thinking about it now. Put in the development time to get it to a readable place if it comes to that. If people want you to send them something, make sure you’ve got something to send. Give yourself the best possible shot to get something up and running out of it. I’ve lost count of the amount of stories I’ve heard of people saying ‘I pitched last year and got a lot of interest in my idea but I didn’t have anything ready so I never sent anything through.’ Don’t be that person this year. Be the person who has a strong idea, a solid pitch, a one page outline ready to send (or give out on the day – but ONLY IF THEY ASK).

Consider what you want to get out of the festival. Then arm yourself with the tools to get it. You wouldn’t go into battle with just an idea of how it’s going to go and hope you’d win. You’d have weapons and strategies and concepts to give yourself the best possible chance of winning. Do the same at your festival and event. But start planning NOW.

If you aren’t sure about your project or know it’s not prepared enough to pitch at whichever event you’re headed to, I run a script reading service and would love to help you out with your script. Find out more here.

Thoughts: Into The Woods, John Yorke

I recently stumbled across a tweet during a EURO scriptchat session about a month ago that I had the foresight to favourite to investigate later. It was a tweet that mentioned a book called Into The Woods by John Yorke (who has an impressive collection of credits – just Google him for a proper rundown, but he knows what he’s talking about!) and that every writer should read it. Two weeks later, I was battling with restructuring my feature and at a bit of a loss as to how to approach it as the beat sheets I was working with weren’t helping me as much as I needed them to be. So I went to Amazon and fished out the Kindle preview of Into The Woods and started reading.

I have to admit, the beginning did take me awhile to get into it. But it was enough for me to buy it and start reading.

And, boy, am I glad I did.

What Yorke has put into this book is not only a breakdown of structure, but also the entire writing process. From script structure to character arcs, from dialogue to fractural beats, it’s a fantastic and informative resource on how stories work. Delving beneath Vogler’s Hero’s Journey and examining a five act structure, Into The Woods is exactly what I needed to help with my rewrite.

Yorke’s angle is a five act structure. I found this infinitely interesting as this is definitely what I lean towards as a writer, even though it was always masked as three act structure. That doesn’t mean that one is right and one is wrong – think of it like a paintbrush. Every artist prefers a different style of brush but you can still use them to get a beautiful painting at the end of it. You might not use five act structure, but I think that the book has the ability to help every writer strengthen their skills and hone their craft – particularly in the beats of the second act where a lot of films often lose their steam.

The way Yorke breaks down the five act structure has helped me immensely with restructuring my film – making sure the beats are right and on point for the story. He talks about mirrored beats in each act and how they compliment each other as the story goes on, which kind of blew my mind when I read it. It works so incredibly well and it’s gobsmackingly simple but so effective.

The book discusses so many things: structure of television shows as well as films, which I found useful for a different project of mine. It talks about story at its core, the function of story in society and what stories mean to us as people. Characters, dialogue, subtext – there’s everything jam-packed into this iPad sized eBook (I bought the Kindle edition for immediate access, but the paperback is really handsome and I’m hanging out to get that one soon too). The only thing it doesn’t touch on is subplots, but I think you can apply the same theories to subplots on a more simplified level.

It’s one of the best books on screenwriting I’ve read. Definitely in my top two (the other being Linda Aronson’s Screenwriting: Updated – the first book on screenwriting I ever read and I still think it’s the best one for a new screenwriter to read, before Snyder or McKee or Vogler) and I think everyone should read it, no matter what level of writer you are.

Brilliantly for anyone in London, the London Screenwriters’ Festival are holding a Breakfast Club with Yorke next week, on the 7th of June. I’d recommend everyone who can get there to go, mostly because I can’t as I’m on the other side of the world right now.

You can then all make me jealous by telling me all about it!


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?

Post Production Update!

Sorry for the delay on the blog post over the past fortnight. I could regale you with reasons why I haven’t managed to write anything but that would waste perfectly good time when I could be telling you about all sorts of fun stuff that’s been happening with the ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ edit!

We are getting much closer to a picture locked cut. We’ve got to a point where it’s cut to the script (and even cut a little shorter than that), but we’re concerned that the running time is too long (and, yes, you can call seven and a half minutes too long). So I’m waiting on feedback from a few more people and then really looking at what we can take out structurally that won’t hinder the overall story.

I’ve got a sound designer doing a mix on the sound – as we’re not putting anything back in and only taking things out from here on in, I don’t feel like this is a waste of time. I know that it sometimes can be, to send a sound designer an unlocked cut, but when he gets back to you and tells you he’s got two days to work his magic, you don’t say no.

The next step is colour grading, which I’m not one hundred percent sure how we’ll tackle yet and, obviously, getting the cut locked. It’s definitely not too far away at all and it’s been a fantastic learning curve – particularly in how hard comedy is to make! So much depends on timing and every single person in frame acting all the time (you’ll be surprised how often a joke falls flat because one extra in the background isn’t giving the right reaction. Luckily this didn’t happen for us as we couldn’t afford extras, but I have definitely seen it happen). And, of course, the timing of the jokes in the edit can effect it enormously.

In other news, I’ve been asked to read the entries for the London Screenwriters’ Festival’s free script and filmmaking competition: 50 Kisses. Write a two minute script or make a two minute film and you could have your film premiered in a London cinema on Valentine’s Day 2013!

Off to watch the edit again. What to cut?

Things I Learnt This Weekend – London Screenwriters’ Festival 2011

If any of you know me at all, you know that this is my favourite weekend of the year. The London Screenwriters’ Festival. This was the second festival that’s happened and I’ve been to both and I cannot even begin to try to explain to you how much I get out of this weekend. If you think you’re a writer, want to be a writer or an emerging filmmaker looking for writers and want to know what kind of cruel hell we go through when we write – GO TO IT.

In tradition of my other post-Festival blog posts (London Comedy Writers’ Festival, Guerilla Filmmakers’ Masterclass, Southern Script Festival), I thought I’d do the same thing with the London Screenwriters’ Festival. I was also asked to blog for LSF before the festival about ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ here if you’d like to read it.

Ten Things I Learnt At The London Screenwriters’ Festival

1. Know your ending and work towards it.
This pearl of wisdom came from David Reynolds, writer for Disney and Pixar (Finding Nemo, The Emperor’s New Groove, Mulan). He said that Disney always work toward the ‘Happy Ending‘, whereas Pixar work toward ‘Satisfying Conclusion‘. Either way, every beat of your story has to move itself toward that final note, whatever that beat may be.

2. Don’t be afraid to speak to the speakers.
Sure, there will be some people who will make a beeline for David Reynolds and Edgar Wright as soon as they’ve finished speaking (and, admittedly, I did have a great chat to David about The Emperor’s New Groove for about fifteen minutes as I completely love that movie) and it’s always really great to talk to people like that. But the speakers who are slightly less well known are worth talking to as well – perhaps even moreso because if you start chatting to them and are nice and civil and polite, you might end up becoming really great friends with them.

3. Buy Linda Aronson’s book.
That’s all I’m going to say on that one. Her books are here. If you want to read a great book on crafting a screenplay by someone who absolutely knows what they’re talking about, then do it. 

4. Although the first ten pages of your script are important, don’t forget about the rest of it.
Sitting in the ‘Your Script and the 20 Common Pitfalls’, it was Danny Stack who pointed this out. There’s a lot of emphasis about crafting your first ten pages to hook the reader, but if it falls down after that, the reader’s excitement turns to intense disappointment. Don’t let them be disappointed! Make your script the best it can possibly be!

5. Write a project different to your regular genre and it will make you a stronger writer.
David Reynolds compared this to exercising a different writing muscle. If you can refine your skills in different genres, they can compliment each other. But be wary of spreading yourself too thin over multiple genres.

6. Follow the Twitter feed for updates.
The #LondonSWF hashtag was getting a massive workout over the weekend – myself included. I tweeted a heap of advice from Linda Aronson’s session (there’ll be a blog post of my collected tweets up soon) as well as intermittently throughout others. But it wasn’t just me, there was Leilani and Neal who were shouting information from the rooftops and a heap of others chipping in from their sessions as well. Even if you aren’t on Twitter, you can still search on it and I would highly recommend doing so because in the next week there will be an explosion of blog posts (like this one) that will talk about everyone’s experiences at LSF 2011.

7. Be more original than everyone else.
This one sounds tough, but remember that you’re unique and the stories you tell are unique so don’t be afraid to let that shine through. Broadcasters and producers aren’t looking for a carbon copy of another movie that was released six months ago, they want a new spin on an old theme or an original story that has an audience. Don’t make your audience too niche, but don’t be afraid to indulge in the individuality of your story.

8. Be someone that people will want to work with.
I think this is a fantastic piece of advice for LIFE. Think about it. Who are you going to want to work on a project with? A group of friends who you get along with really well and know that you are all working toward the same goal or a group of people who annoy the heck out of you, ask stupid questions and who you can’t wait to walk away from at the end of the day? It’s a journey – so make sure you enjoy the company of the people you’re bringing along for the ride and make sure they like spending time with you too.

9. Help others – be generous.
I think this is another wonderful piece of advice. Don’t think about what others can do for you, think about what you can do for them. I had a lot of people ask me if I would read their scripts and give them feedback, I offered to read a lot of scripts and give them feedback and I have every intention of doing so should anything hit my inbox. I love reading scripts and I love helping to try and strengthen the stories so why not? Speaking of being generous (as a deliberate tangent), have you had a look at our crowd-funding campaign yet? Jump on the bandwagon! There’s plenty of room! There’s also presents.

I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again. At the end of the day, nothing matters unless the story works. You can have the most unique characters/setting/actors/cinematography/editing in the world, but if the story doesn’t make any sense, it shatters the illusion. Spend time crafting your story. Get to know your characters. Give it the time it deserves to be the best it can possibly be and then it’ll (hopefully) shine.

I’ll stop banging on about LSF now, but it’s my favourite weekend of the year for a reason. Not only did I get to spend three and a half days with some of the most creative people in the UK and Europe and people who are going to join them, but I also made a whole heap of new friends and well as catching up with some old ones I hadn’t seen since the Festival last year. The staff did an amazing job and thank you to all their hard work over the past few months getting it all off the ground – I know 2012 is going to be even bigger and better!

Now, it’s back to reality and I have a list a mile long of things to get done this week before the next set of rehearsals for ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’. It’s thanks to LSF that this whole journey even started and I’m ready and raring to get going and make it the best that it can possibly be.


The London Screenwriters’ Festival
David Reynolds
Edgar Wright
Linda Aronson
Danny Stack

Follow Leilani on Twitter
Follow Neal on Twitter
#LondonSWF search on Twitter

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The Writing Of It: Restrictions

Most of the short film writing I’ve done of late has been for competitions. I’ve had a pretty good hit rate so far – out of the three I’ve entered, two have been shortlisted. No first place ribbons as yet, but in a backwards way, I’m kind of glad about it because it pushes me to work harder on my writing to make it better, to come up with a stronger story so that I can hit the first place spot and listen to the Australian National Anthem as I get the gold medal.

The Adam Hills version, of course.

All metaphors and highly unlikely renditions of patriotism aside, I thought it might be interesting to write a post about the actual writing of ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’. The script came about because of a competition. Actually, it was the first competition I ever wrote a script for, run by the London Screenwriters’ Festival. I was working on redrafting a feature to take with me as work to the Festival and realised that there was a short film competition running too. Figuring I had nothing to lose by writing something and entering it, I looked at the criteria.

Here are the key details:
1) Write a great screenplay that is under ten pages.
2) It must be set at a college as we will be shooting the film at the LSWF2010 venue, Regents College, in Regent’s Park. See pictures on the festival website.
3) The screenplay can be any genre but it must feature no more than five characters (three of which must be student age, given that it’s set at a university.)

The idea was the the film was going to be shot and edited over the three days of the Festival and screened on the closing night – a) to create a great film and b) to show writers (many of whom have never been anywhere near a set) how a film actually comes together.

To be perfectly honest, I always feel I write better with something to guide me. I relish the challenge of restrictions. Under ten pages? No worries. Set at a college? Too easy. No more than five characters and three must be student age? Consider it done. I had a brainstorming session, came up with a bunch of ideas, didn’t like a lot of them, went to bed, woke up the next morning and my subconscious told my conscious of this plot it’d been working on whilst I’d been dreaming about Harry Potter: a girl who’s trying to convince her best friend not to date someone. But it’s a comedy. There’s nothing dangerous about him, but she becomes more and more determined to talk her friend out of it.

I was intrigued. I sat down and nutted out the story – adding in a pair of boys who are going through the same thing. I had small mountains of potential scenes to happen, picked out the ones I liked the most, sculpted the characters a little bit, opened Celtx to start writing when I paused.

What if I placed one last restriction on myself? Something that would be like a private little in-joke for me? Something that people might pick up on and giggle at themselves but wouldn’t be missing out if they didn’t? Amused by this idea of a secret within the script, I decided I would do it. I’d slip as many references to The Beatles in this script as I could.

Character names were sorted. Song lyrics as dialogue wound their way in. All the characters were English – perhaps one could be from Liverpool? So I wrote the script. And polished it. And rewrote it. And got my friends to read it to give me feedback (film-making friends as well as writer friends, don’t panic). And at the end of it, I had this little film that made me giggle at the jokes in it and made me giggle a little more at The Beatles’ references.

A little self indulgent, perhaps. But Hitchcock always had a cameo in his films – not that I’m comparing myself to Hitch – which is always a moment of ‘There he is!‘ to people watching. I’m hoping that people say ‘Wait, Max, Lucy…Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds…‘ but it takes nothing away from the story. It’s simply an extra layer of delight to the film. Besides, only one person who’s read it (out of about fifteen or so people who have) has actually turned around and said ‘Are all the characters out of Beatles’ songs?‘ The script loses nothing but gains another layer of comedy – even if it entertained no-one but me.

Plus, the hardest part of writing the whole thing was taken care of – the title. Once I’d written the script, the title was easy. I borrowed it from the Lonely Hearts’ Club Band and gave it one minor tweak:

‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’.

You can still get tickets for the Guerilla Filmmakers’ Masterclass! It runs on the evening of Friday the 3rd of June, all day Saturday the 4th of June and all day Sunday the 5th. Make sure you use my discount code (PARKER) and you’ll get the price knocked down from £119 to £65!

I’ll be there too! You should come up and say hi and we can sing heaps of Beatles’ songs together.*

*We don’t have to sing Beatles’ songs together. This is not a guaranteed occurrence over the course of the weekend.

London Screenwriters’ Festival
Celtx – FREE screenwriting and production organising software! If you can’t afford Final Draft but want to use a proper writing template, grab this! Covers templates for your entire production – it’s a wicked little programme.