31 October 2011

London Screenwriters Festival

London Screenwriters Festival

What a fantastic experience, I was asked to be on the Producer’s panel for the Speed pitching sessions on Friday 29/10/11.
I turned up early in the morning not knowing what to expect when I ran into Rav whom I’d met at a Raindance networking session earlier in the year.
We started chatting and on our way to the first session encountered Rob Grant from Sci Fi Film Festival.
We all sat in Kate Ley’s talk in the morning which was my highlight of Friday talks.
I’ll rewrite all the important notes I took in point form. Please forgive me but it would take too long to tell the speech bit by bit!
¨               The average screenplay and novel is getting shorter and shorter. A novel is normally 80,000 wheras a feature film is 10,000
¨               Writing a screenplay for a feature is very very complicated process and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
¨               Remember “Only if it is brilliant on the page can it be brilliant on screen”.
A motto I’ve always kept to as a producer and actor.
¨                Every feature needs a great HOOK.  A hook is the story reduced to its bare essentials – which should still make it sound exciting.
Hook = Spine of the story.

A hook is not a tagline (usually seen on posters for the film and dreamt up by marketing people), and its not a logline (which is literally what production companies use to log scripts by describing them.)

¨               You can check out people competing with others to write great hooks on imdb
¨               Themes. Your themes will and should come up in the script over and over again. It should recur every scene, character, even in the props that you use.
¨               The more of your theme you put in and feel like its obvious the more subtle & complex the film becomes wheras if you try for subtlety the audience knows it a mile off. Dramatise the idea all the way through the script.
¨               BIG CHARACTERS – this has a short addition after a great discussion with Bob Portal (producer of many feature films incl. Lord of War with Nick Cage). Rob qualifies it as BIG & COOL.
¨               Kate says whatever the characters traits, they are OVERTLY that trait. And must be clear, well definted and strong personalities (not necessarily dominant). The audience must recognize them
¨               Your character must WANT SOMETHING and then DO SOMETHING.
Woe betide if you have a passive character, it is very very difficult.
¨               The COOL bit is because the audience wants to be like them, because the character is SO that way, eg. Ms Jolie in Tomb Raider is SO kickass we want to be like her, or the lead in Thank you for Smoking is SUCH an ass we kinda want to be like that sometimes. To certain people in our lives!
¨               Kates next tidbit of advice about character is that a lot of great films are about the ‘awkwardness’ characters feel. Mirroring our own journey – the “I know I should do something else but I don’t want to or I don’t know how” type characters.
¨               Stakes MUST BE HIGH. The stakes must matter. Even if to the world they are small.  A young boy prizes his toy trucks above everything in his life, they matter to him, but when a bulldozer drives over and smashes them his world is shattered and we the audience are affected by this.
¨               CONFLICT. If for any reason your script is not working 9/10 times its because its not enough conflict. Kate believes there is no middle act problem its just a lull because there is not enough conflict.
¨               Characters show their true colours under extreme life/death circumstances – just like us. We need to make more trouble to see this.
Film stories eat trouble”
No excuses come up with 50. You’ll see after about 30 some great ideas come up. This gives you a great resource of conflict and layers to use.
¨               Conflict shows us the character but also shows us what the character needs.
¨               Make sure the conflict is real and you cant think of a way out, because if you can so can the character. Write yourself into a brick wall and then the audience will love seeing how you get out. That’s exciting.
¨               Plot – this does not drive a story. What drives a story is what really matters.
¨               Rules for rewriting: Nothing is Sacred. Be prepared to let it all go.
¨               EXERCISE: Simple blocking out of story
¨               EXERCISE: Tell the story out loud
¨               Best advice is here are a few questions and if you are having trouble writing your script try answering these:
Who’s story is it?
What do they want?
How do they get it?
What do they need?
Why haven’t they got it?

Remember story starts on page 1. Don’t do exposition, we’ll pick up the world as we go along.
Q: Is my story too long? A: YES !
¨           Q: Is my story too long? A: YES !
¨           Microbudget scripts these days are around 83-84 pages long (shooting time=£).
¨           The end of your story is where you say what you’re going to say.
¨           EXERCISE: Hot seat. Take your central character and a smaller character from your script, then remove them from the world. Get them to say things they’d never say to eachother in the script. Let rip. And some interesting things will come out.
¨           Remember: Whatever is wrong with your central character has always been wrong throughout their lives. It just comes to a head in this story. Deep down – what is really really wrong?
¨           Keep asking why. She is sad, but why? Because she’s lonely.
Because no one ever looked after her
Her father was busy trying to look after others and she got left out
Because she had no place in his world.
Why does she feel like this?
She has to prove to him she does.

Wonderful session – truly inspiring!
After this I had  the pitching panel which was amazing and exciting, the writers had such varied ideas and ways of pitching. My advice on the speed pitch is hold someone’s attention by sticking to the story, no waffling, and sell the story on your passion for it.
One writer did this and I could see the film unfold before me, it was lovely. I never expected to like his story it was not my area at all but the way he pitched it I was entranced.

All up the London Screenwriters festival was a great experience and it was lovely to be surrounded by such great creativity!

Thank you to Vanessa Mayfield for inviting me, and to the organizers of the event. Thank you to Kate Ley’s for her inspiring talk and to Bob Portal for the discussions.

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