London Screenwriters Festival
And so comes the next challenge……..
A few things I learnt from my recent weekend at the London Screenwriters Festival
- It is okay to be on facebook and twitter
- I know more about the structure and the theory of screenwriting than I thought I did
- If you travel on the 6am train from Manchester, you will be too exhausted for the last session so next time arrive the night before
- My writing so far has lacked really interesting characters
- Don’t stand on the left side of the underground escalators or you will get pushed over
- I won’t get attacked just because I am sleeping alone in a hotel room
- Life on Mars took nine years to be commissioned
- Don’t be embarrassed about sharing my blog with people
- If a writer wants to write crime stories then spend time with the real life cops and criminals
- There is a snobbery among writers if you are a writer on a soap opera
- When in London it is expected that you walk around quickly and push into people – you don’t need to apologise to dogs when you bump into them
- The snobbery hasn’t put me off wanting to write for Hollyoaks
- Writing Mad Men is the best gig a female writer can have
- Get to Madame Tussaud’s early if you want to pay on the day – those queues go on for miles
- I am piss poor at networking
The last point was detrimental to my weekend. I should have spoken to more delegates than I did. Yes, piss poor at networking is the sad conclusion to a somewhat inspiring weekend for me. I anticipated that I would find it problematic, and had I have stayed for the bar session on the Friday night it may have helped the nerves, and got me a few contacts. However, there is no hiding from the fact that I seriously suck at networking. And, if I want to get anything commissioned on the radio or TV in the future then I am going to have to expose my inner soul and show these people who I am.
I was always shy as a child, would never approach any of the cool kids in the playground. I always waited to be invited into friendships and can recall standing at the side of the playground on my own many times. I’m not the sort of person who hung around in large groups, it would always be myself and one or two other friends. This has pretty much carried on into adulthood.
Don’t get me wrong I am not completely mute. I can hold my own at work, have managed staff, chaired big meetings and sung (badly) in karaoke. The problem arises when I am in a situation which I haven’t been in before, such as this big weekend of gathering with other like-minded individuals. I find it alien to start a conversation with a complete stranger and have no idea how to go about it.
So, I have set a goal for myself. Learn how to network and try to get at least five business cards at the LSF next year. As I write that, I can feel the fear already. I like to write – there’s a reason for that right? I do it because I prefer to communicate by the written language instead of the verbal, that’s just me. I also thought every other writer would be like me, so was not ready to witness during break times how friendly and talkative the other delegates actually were. This is what knocked my confidence at the LSF and why I retreated to the park bench in the Regents Park.
People who know me are always surprised by that revelation. The truth is that I am shy, it takes me ages to make friends but once I do then they are friends for life.
Okay, so I have admitted that I have a fear that I need to overcome. Now onto how I go about changing that?
I have looked at courses online, but unless I can blag work to pay for it then I am not going to be able to afford the kind of prices that they charge (I have next years LSF ticket to fund and that ain’t cheap).
So, instead I have purchased Brilliant Networking – What the best networkers know, do and say by Steven D’Souza. It got a five star rating on Amazon so I am hoping it will be a useful tool in helping me overcome my social sickness.
It only arrived the other day so I will be reading it very carefully over the next couple of weeks and making notes in the margin.
If anybody has any tips they wish to share with me – they will be most gratefully received.
After an exciting first day at the festival I wondered what the second day would have in store for me. The schedule for Saturday was jam packed with industry professionals that I wished to see, but could only be in one place at a time. Luckily, most sessions were being filmed to be uploaded onto the website so all was not lost if two sessions collided.
People who know me well, also know how completely useless I am at getting up in the morning. It takes me all my time to get to work on time, so weekends are generally a struggle. But, if anybody was going to get me up and arriving at 9am at the Regents College it was going to be Julie Gray! Thank goodness the LSF decided to schedule her session first, that way I was guaranteed to get my money’s worth on the Saturday.
JULIE GRAY – Character and Structure : Separated at Birth
Another really informative session by Ms Gray, which again reinforced my knowledge that I have gained whilst undertaking my masters degree in Television and Radio Scriptwriting. Julie used examples from Rain Man and Legally Blonde to demonstrate to the group how the craft of structuring a film works. I must admit at that session I hadn’t seen either of those movies, but I still managed to follow it. I know, I know how can I call myself a movie fan when I haven’t seen Rain Man, the simple answer is that when that movie came out I was really into my 80s action films so the film never appealed to me (not being a Tom Cruise fan either).
Julie went into much more depth than in the previous days session and focused on character’s general and specific wants, inner needs and active flaws which will then let the character “wreak havoc in their world” She talked about the difference between ourselves and our characters which is something I personally will take away from the session.
Julie gave a great example of how to make sure that as writers, we understood about the flaw that our characters possessed. She asked the delegates to think about how greed would act at a dinner party? How would anger behave playing at sports and how does vanity behave queuing in a long queue? Those flaws will create conflict, and thus the adventures will write themselves! She passed out worksheets to the group and got us thinking about ourselves. The only downside to the session was that people were asking questions, and I wanted to just hear Julie speak!
I left the session thinking about my current project that I am working on with a group of students on my course. We are writing an eight part radio drama, where we each write our own episode. Several of us have to devise a character for the show, myself being one of those. I have decided to revisit my character as at the minute she has no obvious flaw, so once I get that right she will make a very interesting character to write.
Thinking about characters also makes you start to pay more attention to the people that you come across in everyday life. I have met and worked with some characters in my time. All of us have flaws don’t we? But the wonderful gift of being a writer is that we can build on these minor flaws to make such interesting characters that really do wreak havoc on their world.
Onto the next session with script consultant Mary Kate. With a few technical glitches at the start, Mary Kate delivered a really compelling session which broke down the three act structure. Beginning with a few wise words about being a storyteller, Mary Kate told us to take note of the following:
- 75% of people who do get a film made will not go on to get a second film made (that’s ok for me, I just want to write for television and radio).
- A great storyteller will create a tale about somebody wanting something very badly and having great difficulty getting it. The storyteller must play with the audiences emotions during the process – what do the audience hope for and what do they fear.
Mary Kate quoted from Aristotle that the protagonist is “a creature of necessity in a landscape of scarcity”. Interesting quote! She then went into more depth about what should be going on with characters during each of the acts. During which she would give us precise examples from a variety of European films such as Headhunters and Festen. We were then treat to a corker of a film with Pour Elle, which is a French film about a husband who plans to break his wife out of prison after she was wrongly incarcerated for the murder of her boss. During the film Mary would stop the sequences at the various scenes where dramatic tension was being cranked up, to show the group why certain actions were used. The session ran over into the coffee break, but nobody moved from their seats as we were all absolutely hooked into the story that was unravelling in front of us.
Another fantastic session where I took loads of notes – more than I can type up on here.
Clues for Success : Writing Detectives for Film and TV
I decided to go to this session as I am currently involved in a radio project where I have to create my own character for the series. I have decided to go with an undercover detective for my character, so naturally this session was intended to assist me with this work. Thinking about the types of shows that are on my planner I wouldn’t say that detective shows are ranked up there. My favourite is Scott and Bailey which I do watch religiously when it is on, but I hadn’t watched Silent Witness in years or Waking the Dead which are two shows which the panel write for.
The panel being Barbara Machin (created Waking the Dead), Tony McHale (Silent Witness and Waking the Dead amongst many others), Isabelle Grey (The Accused), Matthew Graham (Life on Mars)
and Tony Garnett (Cathy Come Home and The Cops).
The delegates in the room knew they were about to be treated to some industry knowledge with the combination of these five writers. I just sat in absolute awe, and listened to their stories about working on the different shows that I ended up not taking many notes. What they did all agree on, is that writing crime is a great drawing board for which to tell fantastic stories about people. You can tell most stories through a crime show, and there are opportunities to develop some complex characters during the content of the episode.
Tony Garnett stressed to everybody in the room that were thinking of writing for this genre, that it is extremely important to research and the best way to do this is to spend time with the cops and the villains. How great does that sound? Being allowed to follow the cops around. I am not sure my radio drama warrants that sort of research, but you never know in the future.
My favourite part of the session was listening to Matthew Graham talk about how he came up with the idea for Life on Mars. His childhood was in the 1970s and like me, he called friends of his parents uncle and auntie even though they were not related. He spoke of his “Uncle John” who wore cowboy boots, strutted around the place and was very loud and to the point. Matthew just wanted to write a show about Uncle John who in fact turned into Gene Hunt – so Matthews words of wisdom was for us all to write about our own “uncle John”. I really liked that story, because it was real and I think Gene Hunt is one of those larger than life characters that I just really love and wish I could write for, so to be told the story of where that inspiration for that character came from makes me see the character in a whole different light.
The Show Must Go On : Writing for Soaps
This was the session I had been waiting for ALL WEEKEND. The panel consisted of Yvonne Grace (former Eastenders), Damon Rochefort (current Coronation Street), Tony McHale (former Eastenders) and Tracy Brabin (former Hollyoaks and Shameless).
Now, I do believe there is a certain snobbery with some creative folk about people who write for soaps, or continuing drama as we are told in my course. That could have been the reason why the room was only half full of delegates. However, that suited me fine as I was able to get up at the front.
Folk consider writing for soaps as not really being creative as the characters are already in the show and storylines come and go. Not me – I know which soap I would want to write for. The ultimate would be Coronation Street, because it is watched by millions and I have watched it from being a little girl, although not an avid fan nowadays, but I do pop in every now and again. But, for me it is Hollyoaks. I started watching it last year after a representative from Lime Pictures came to give a masterclass to my scriptwriting group. I thought it would be a good way to get into writing for soaps so I started to watch it. Well – it took approximately a couple of weeks to get to know the characters, but I can honestly say 18 months on that I am a massive fan of the show. Even my kids and husband watch it with me, and I would really love to be able to write for those characters eventually (especially Brendan Brady, Jackie and Joel).
Anyway, I am going off track here. So, as a massive fan of Hollyoaks you can imagine my excitement at having a real scriptwriter from the show on the panel in the form of the wonderful Tracy Brabin. Tracy has also written for Shameless (another of my favourite shows) and was famous for playing Trisha in Coronation Street some years previous. Tracy was like a breath of fresh air, she started off saying that she didn’t feel like she deserved to be sharing the panel alongside the others. As an actress she decided to retrain and was able to be funded for a masters degree in Screenwriting, which she then used to get on at Hollyoaks as a writer. This immediately made me prick my ears up as she is doing what I am hoping to do in the future, in the same way that I am doing it. There could be hope for me? Tracy spoke of how she was able to land a spot on the Hollyoaks writing team, she talked about how the writers attend storylining conference and have to pitch stories for the characters etc.
From this the writers from Eastenders and Coronation Street stated that a similar process was in operation at those shows. Story conferencing consists of two to three days of sitting in a room with other writers and staff from the shows, when stories are pitched. If the story goes on the board then the writer pretty much knows that they will receive a commission to write one of the episodes. So, that process alone shows that the writers do get involved in the show in a creative manner.
The session was a great insight into the world of the soap opera. The panel were kind enough to continue the discussion into the script chat which followed. The only time over the weekend that I suddenly asserted myself was to sit next to Tracy Brabin as I desperately wanted to ask her a question away from the rest of the group – you can see me on the photograph of the script chat. The panel continued to advise the delegates into how to break into soap writing – a common theme over the weekend was that nothing would happen to our writing careers without the backing of an agent.
So, coming away from that session I have two things to tackle over the next twelve months. Firstly, the most important task for me is to finish and pass my masters degree, and secondly to start the process of finding an agent.
Finally, I did get to ask Tracy my question away from everybody else. She is such a nice, lovely person and I am grateful that she spared me a few extra minutes.
For the remainder of the day I also attended the Should you write for radio session and the Social Media session. Again, both really useful. Radio is the other medium I would like to write for, depending on how I cope with my current radio project at university. As for social media? Well I felt more relieved after that session that I should use it even more than I currently do (which is a lot). For my homework I will be having a look at googleplus and following a few more twitter folk.
So, that rounds up my second day at the festival. It was my favourite day by far, and although the ticket is arguably expensive, I would state that I got my moneys worth on Saturday. I can’t state how motivating it is to even be in the same room as these geniuses of their craft. Normal people like myself who have worked hard, never given up when they received rejection and are proof that people can get their lucky break. Matthew Graham spent nine years trying to get a commission for Life on Mars and that was initially just a story about his uncle John.
Walking towards the prestigious Regents College I felt the anticipation of excitement, creativity and impending inspiration. The objective of the weekend was to be inspired again, but with the packed timetable and variety of sessions and speakers I wasn’t quite sure what form that would come in.
Once I got my festival accreditation I made my way into Tuke Hall where it was standing room only. However, I spied a vacant aisle seat midway down and parked my suitcase, my iPad and my grinning face down. After an excitable opening speech by festival director Chris Jones, we were on our way to our first session.
The Creative Screenwriter which combined a taught session and a book launch was my first encounter. Led by Zara Waldeback and Craig Batty, they combined both the theory behind the craft of screenwriting with techniques to improve creativity. These were very simple techniques which as a writer you do forget, and in my case get very lazy with the written language. They reminded us as writers that we need to train the craft, establish a creative practice and write regularly. I also came away with notes on not settling for my first idea, thinking about the verbs I use in my scripts and general day to day writing. We also discussed plotting, working with worlds, scene writing and using valuable objects. There was a lot to get through in the dedicated time given that their book was a decent length.
I had never been to a book launch before so was new to how it worked. I did end up counting how many times they managed to plug ‘The Creative Screenwriter’. It was a book launch after all so I shouldn’t really have been put off by that, in the end I decided to purchase a copy and even got it signed by both of them. They were both passionate about their topic so spending a tender on a book was a worthwhile purchase for me – even though I swore earlier this year that I would only buy kindle books due to my house being turned into one giant bookcase.
The next session was by Peter Thornton – the creative head of comedy called “How can you play a part in British Comedy”. Again some good tips were given to the delegates.
By this time of the day though I was starting to feel the effect of getting up at 5am after only three hours sleep. Strong coffee and a break were definitely needed. Sitting in that session I made the conscious choice that next year I would suck up the extra nights accommodation cost and stay in London the night before.
There is plenty of networking opportunities to do in the breaks. I also wandered around the book stall, Writers Guild table and was constantly checking the LSF app which was so informative over the weekend.
The next session brought me fully awake due to the enthusiasm of the speaker and the content of the discussion which was Julie Gray’s “You are the HERO of the journey”.
Wow – I think the way that Julie projects her voice, her knowledge and her enthusiasm she could make the dullest topics seem excitable. If I was lagging in the tired stakes at this point of the day she brought me back to life like a shot of expresso! This was a pivotal moment for me in terms of my masters studies too. I have read lots of the theory books, listened to various lectures but for some reason Julie made it all click for me – at last I understood how important it is to take the protagonist on a certain pathway with my writing. Yes…that’s why X did this in that film, that is why Y was there when X did this… it was all making sense now. Sitting in Tuke Hall I felt like I was Jake Blues when he is in the church and he receives a “message from God” to put the band back together. I understood what I need to do with my characters from now on. It’s not about liking them at the start of my story, its about making sure they are flawed, with an inner need etc etc.
Key aspects I have taken from this session.
- – The protagonist must learn lessons and be in great pain
- – Characters are not about me, it’s about we
- – There should be something about that character that makes me feel uncomfortable
- – It should make me dig deeply and explore what makes me feel uncomfortable
- – Fall in love with the character on page 100, not on page 1
Okay now two things happened! The first thing is I started to think about the scripts that I have written so far, and how I hadn’t developed my characters as fully as I should. I didn’t know them inside out and as a result my storyline was weak. Okay, no worries as that is what re-writing is for.
The second thing is something that my poor husband is going to moan like hell about. I am going to be super-critical every single time I watch a TV show or a film with him as I will be looking for those elements that should be happening. If it was bad enough with my limited knowledge of the craft of scriptwriting (in that I have now either turned a film off or left the room as I cannot face spending time watching stories where I don’t care about the character, therefore the writing is weak) – well it’s about to become even more of a problem.
So, Julie gave me creative high during that session. I then went into the “Writing for Young Audiences” session with Rob Spackling, Chris Hill, Tim Bain and Tony Cooke. I quickly realised I hadn’t read the brief fully and this wasn’t the session for me. My stamina was shot for the day and I had to retreat back to my hotel which was a tube ride away. Sleep was important as Julie Gray was scheduled for a 9am class on the Saturday and I thought if anyone is worth getting up early for – it is definitely that woman! I think I may have developed a little student crush on her, she is a teaching gem!
It seems a long time ago that I cashed in the early bird offer from the London Screenwriters Festival 2012. Having just completed my semester one script on my MA, I really thought it would be a useful event to attend.
But it certainly came round quickly. Now into the second year of my masters degree, before I knew it I was having to book train tickets, a hotel and start making choices as to which session I would attend.
My remit for this festival from the start was purely just to experience the whole event. I wouldn’t be pitching, I wanted to be inspired, meet other people like me and have some quality time in the writing world. In my “ordinary world” I mix with many people, and thankfully due to the job that I do and where I do it, I quite often meet writers every now and again. However, the draw of spending a full weekend with storytellers like me is as appealing as a cake shop to Roseanne.
At the same time I also started to feel a bit nervous about being on my own in a big city – London! Previously I have visited it a handful of times, and each of those I was with somebody. Never really thought about that in February when I was booking my early birdticket! Sounds silly but realising that was a bit nerve wracking but thankfully there is always a wind taker who will feed any negative thoughts.
So, the person who judged me by overhearing me communicating my fear of being alone in the city and laughed at me because I had never lived alone – well they just made me want to get on that train and show them. Yes I have lived with my husband from age 19, yes I haven’t lived alone but damn you it doesn’t mean I am not a brave person in my own right! I just love those wind takers…….they keep me wanting to strive!
Being the tight arse that I am I decided I would travel on the morning of the opening day, and save on an extra night hotel bill. Note to self – next year I will not be tight as being exhausted and falling asleep mid first day is not big, it’s not clever and it’s absolutely disrespectful to the speakers.
So, I spent the night before wide awake – couldn’t sleep as I was worried that I would sleep through the 5am alarm. I think I finally got to sleep at 3am, up at 5am – woke my husband up to give me a lift to the train station and so my adventure begins………