Monday, 31 October 2011

"Whatever you're gonna do, do it fast!"

Its as simple as that. Five minutes with a producer, agent or consultant, in which your one and only goal is HOOK. THEM. IN.

Normally, a pitch wouldn't be in a room full of other people doing the same thing, shouting over the top of each other - or would it? You could be in a pub, or at an event - You see Mr. Big-shot producer, and decide to go for it. 

BIG-SHOT: "What's it about?"
YOU: "Er...."

Ten minutes later (if Mr. big-shot hasn't run away screaming), you find yourself saying 'and then this happens, and then that happens...' Not the way to do it. So what does speed pitching teach you? 

Keep it simple. Seriously, don't over complicate it. Sure, have a decent hook, a character flaw, a challenge and a dash of irony, but that's it. If there's one thing I took away from all of this is, "If they want to know more, they will ask."

1st Pitch: Went brilliantly. My project suited them, and they want to know more. Fantastic! On top of this, I actually ENJOYED the conversation! A really warm and friendly producer.

2nd Pitch: I pitched more as a flavour of what I write, as I was pitching tv to a film producer, somewhat unfortunately. Yes, I could have pitched a film, but as I'm looking for a producer to create a new project with, I chanced my pitch. The Pitchee was lovely, but not interested, but tried to be helpful which was nice.

3rd Pitch: Same deal as my 2nd i.e. Film not TV, but he asked me to send some sci-fi pitches to him, which is great! Lovely guy, too.

I found it scary but great - in fact the hardest part for me was the buzz and noise in the room, and trying to remain focused above all that. But good fun, and I'd definitely do it again!

What it has taught me as a screenwriter is to write the pitch first. Then write the one-page pitch. Get all that stuff down first. And again, above all - KEEP IT SIMPLE. 

The biggest success that I had was pitching an idea that even I can readily admit isn't the most original. Certainly, the script content is, but the premise? Not really. But it made for a good pitch, most likely for this very reason. I added the dash of this-and dash of that once the pitch had ended (to pepper it up), playing off the producer's responses and questions, but it did work.

So when you're writing your script, always know the logline. It will keep you on track with your project, and save you having to figure it all out long after the first or tenth draft.

And remember: Its just a conversation.

The stuff that dreams are made of...

Over the past four days, I have been on what can only be described (in Chris Vogler terms) 'A Hero's Journey'.
Mr. Joe Cornish talking hoodies and Tintin
1.) The hero is introduced in his/her ORDINARY WORLD
Me, sat in my office, in my own little bubble, writing scripts.

Lots of e-mails since last January from Chris Jones.

3.) The hero is reluctant at first. (REFUSAL OF THE CALL.)
"I'm a poor, struggling writer! I can't spend 3 days at a screenwriting festival!"

4.) The hero is encouraged by the Wise Old Man or Woman. (MEET WITH THE MENTOR.)
AKA more e-mails from a very encouraging Chris.

5.)  The hero passes the first threshold.  (CROSSING THE THRESHOLD.)
I arrive at Regent's College, London.

6.) The hero encounters tests and helpers. (TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES.)
Meeting lots of new characters and wizened mentors like David Reynolds and Stuart Hazeldine. Plenty of pitching test-runs. Enemies in the form of tiredness and the voice in your head that says 'You will FAIL!'

7.)  The hero reaches the innermost cave.  (APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE.)
Sitting in the speed pitching waiting room, listening to 'Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me" from The Rocky Horror soundtrack, chanting to myself 'Its just a conversation, its just a conversation...'

8.) The hero endures the supreme ORDEAL.
Speed pitching!

9.) The hero seizes the sword. (SEIZING THE SWORD, REWARD)
Leaving the pitching room with a result - producers want to see scripts.

Surviving London Underground.

A small mountain of work to battle through for all the agents, producers, directors etc...

Back to the ordinary world a changed person.

The four days I spent at the London Screenwriter's festival was almost like being in a movie itself - Being introduced to so many different people from all walks of life. Following their journey and hearing their stories and experiences of the festival was fantastic - all this whilst I was experiencing my own unique journey; listening to talks from David 'Nemo Mother Killer' Reynolds (Finding Nemo), Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead), Joe Cornish (Attack The Block), the heads of drama for the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky, Ashley Pharaoh (Life Of Mars), Stuart Hazeldine (The Day The Earth Stood Still)... And that's just the speakers I saw! Talk about spoiled for choice.

On top of this, I had 50 minutes with a script doctor, which was an absolute blast - not to mention a pre-festival day of workshopping our pitches (an extra £15 for the day but a complete BARGAIN!)

So why weren't you there? Okay, fair enough if you've no interest in having a career as a screenwriter, producer or director, but if you do want this - WHY WEREN'T YOU THERE? Money? Next year, sign up sometime in January (probably) and pay about £24 per month until October. Consider it sacrificing a couple of nights out per month. Time? If you haven't got time for opportunity, then ask yourself why. No babysitter? Fair enough, but my wife had to take two days holiday to cover my absence, as I'm a stay-at-home-dad.

The last four days did have a cost for me financially. It took its toll on my wife (our daughter suddenly stopped sleeping at night two weeks leading up to the festival, and was pretty much in a constant state of tiredness, being sick and stressing out my wife completely). I was tired (hardly any sleep leading up to the festival, long days, averaging about 5-6 hours sleep at night) and I missed my family. All hard stuff.

But it was worth it. In fact, its an experience I honestly can't put a monetary value on. The friendships, insight, connections, possibilities, empowerment... Simply put, its a game-changer. Again, if you're serious about what it is that you want to do, you cannot afford to miss this event next year.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Just because you're paranoid, don't mean they aint after you...

Plagiarism: Its the scurge of the creative realm, according to some paranoid folk.

But are they paranoid?

Lucy V Hay believes that no one is stealing your idea . So in a bid to prove her wrong, I'm stealing her idea for a blog post about this very subject - see, plagiarism in action!

Alright, alright... Generally, on the whole, 99.999999999% of ideas are NOT ripped off. Just because you came up with this great idea, it doesn't mean somebody else isn't thinking exactly the same thought right at this very minute.

Many a time have I experienced that pang of 'THAT'S MY RUDDY IDEA!!!!!! THIEF!' whilst watching movies. So far, I can lay claim to being the original creator of such concepts as 'The Usual Suspects',  'In Time' and parts of 'Natural Born Killers'. I can lay claim, but I would be wrong-diddly-wrong. I hit on an idea - so did somebody else.

Avatar: Not Dances With Wolves.
Dances With Wolves: Not Avatar. 

I recently entered the LSF's "Four Nights In August" competition. Whilst my script was heavily critical and political, the ultimate execution of the story (at least, the ending) was apparently similar to a few other submissions. Whilst I did feel a pang of 'I'm utterly unoriginal!', I actually read a couple of the entries with similar endings. Yes, we had a similar 'twist', but the scripts themselves were completely different in tone, style, voice, and commentary.

So how do we stop ourselves from being 'ripped off'? Do we just write for ourselves and refrain from showing the fruits of our labour? Of course not. A wise person once said to me (whilst stealing a quote from Freddie Mercury, I believe), 'Its no good being the greatest piano player if nobody hears you play.'

I do believe that producers, script readers and such like may read a script which subconsciously remains in their memory, only to be 'discovered' at a later point and turned into their own creation. But its in the execution where it really counts. There are plenty of films out there with GREAT ideas, but translated incredibly poorly or in an unsatisfying style.

In fact, if your idea is similar to another film, but the content is completely different, then why not tweak it and use it? I would never suggest serving up re-heated seconds, but there are some strong ideas which will run and run. It all rides on how YOU choose to expand on the idea. If its good enough, it will find its audience. Or simply say 'Fair enough, time to move on'. Use these moments of frustration to drive your desire for originality and creativity!

So send out your scripts, keep a paper trail of your ideas and various drafts, but STOP BEING PARANOID. Got it? Good.

I'll end with a story (true) about my experience with plagiarism. In 1996, I was chummy with a small-time producers who, in turn, was friends with a couple of small-to-medium sized producers. I was invited to pitch some ideas to my producer friend, and I reeled off all I could in a desperate bid to gain employment. He loved all my ideas, and was going to chat about them to his producers friends.

Weeks past, and I received a call to come in and chat. The meeting was the complete opposite of our first upbeat, friendly, excitable meeting. I sat there whilst my producer 'friend' fed-back his friends comments about my ideas. 'Rubbish'. 'Unoriginal' (see?). 'Nobody will EVER make a tv series about zombies! (HA!).

Wondering what just happened, I went home with my tail between my legs.

About a year or so later, I met up with my producer 'friend' again, as I needed to borrow a Mini DV camera for a friend. We chatted about what projects we were involved with, and I asked him about his producer friends. He said they had just made a tv pilot, and then went on to describe the idea in full, which sounded incredibly similar to an idea I had pitched him a year ago.

Even then, I was willing to accept that it could have been a coincidence. So I said to my 'friend' "That sounds very similar to an idea I pitched you a year ago..." I wasn't accusing or criticising him or his friends; simply remarking...

But my 'friend' responded in such a way that I KNEW he had stolen my idea -

"If you even THINK about suing us I will ruin your career before its even begun! Got it?"

And he was being deadly serious. And he used more F-words and a threatening tone of voice that befits a sentence such as that. BUT: The pilot didn't sell. However they chose to adapt the concept didn't work.

So there ya go: Plagiarism doesn't exist. The moral of this story is - Choose your friends wisely, stay away from coke-heads and be certain of whom you are (possibly) working with.

Lets close with two hilarious tales about plagiarism accusations gone made. Ta-Ta!

Monday, 3 October 2011

My Entry for the London Screenwriters Festival Competition 2011

Recently I wrote a one-page script called "What's Really Happening" for a competition run by the London Screenwriters Festival, based upon the riots which took place in London (and other parts of the country) in August.
I plucked for a 'commentary' as opposed to a story with twists and turns (how many can you cram into one page, anyway? Probably loads, but that's not me!), looking at probable causes; what motivated the riots, but also the stereotypes of 'urban youth' served up by the media throughout the riots. 
It makes a few observations which represent how I feel about the riots, as well as community.
Anyway - read it here!  *Filed under 'short films*