Many thanks to Phil Gladwin for this GREAT insight into the Screenwriting Goldmine contest, which is open for submissions at the moment. Phil is a script editor and fab champion of writers, so make sure you check out his previous articles on B2W too before you submit:

Is Your Writing READY? AKA 12 Questions To Ask Of Your Writing

How To Beat The Gatekeepers – Terrifying Case Study From Screenwriting Goldmine

And if you enter the contest, GOOD LUCK! Over to you, Phil …

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It’s that time again. Scripts from new writers from around the UK are dropping into my inbox on a daily basis. I’ll probably end up with around 400 of them.

THEN I FIND 5 OF THE BEST

I’ll read them all over January and February, and the five I believe to be the strongest will be sent to over thirty script execs, producers, executive producers, heads of drama and literary agents.

All of these people have guaranteed to read and report back to me and vote on their favourite, all will read these scripts in the same four week period. And then the finalists will get to meet at least three of these judges each, face-to-face to pitch whatever they want.

And so in Spring 2017 all five of these finalists will receive a marketing push that is simply astounding.

I’m in awe of the fact this contest is up and rolling in this way, and I’m so grateful to these extremely high powered people who give up their time for free, purely to read scripts from new writers.

Let me make it clear – no fees exchange hands to the judges. They all join the contest for a number of reasons:

– Their presence on the panel is a massive motivator and focuser for new talent to finish scripts and get them out into the world.

– They are interested in what’s going on in the British writing scene outside the bubble of the main industry.

– They love to read good new writers, and every year Screenwriting Goldmine reliably delivers them five of the best.

HOW CAN I BE SO SURE I’M RIGHT?

It’s an opinion thing. But I have been at it for a long time. I started as a script editor in the 1990s. I did that for five years, then switched to writing. I made my living as a dramatist for the next ten or twelve years, then came back to script editing.

I’ve been working on scripts for over twenty years, and that has given me a certain amount of expertise.

Unlike most contests, who hire inexperienced readers to do the first pass or two, I read and personally assess every single entry.

So you know, that if you enter the Screenwriting Goldmine Awards, your script will be read by someone who has written or script edited over seventy episodes of broadcast TV, and worked with hundreds, if not thousands of writers.

That ensures that fewer mistakes are made, and that the scripts that get passed up are genuinely high quality, which brings the judges back, and so every year this panel gets bigger as existing judges stay and word of mouth spreads that this contest delivers.

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WHAT DO I LOOK FOR?

I could break it down mechanically for you.

It would be easy to give you a list of all sorts of things I “need” to see.

A strong, active protagonist, a smart, active antagonist, conflict on every page, surprises, a well-structured story, a feeling of freshness, characters that feel complex and vivid, dialogue that drives along and yet makes me laugh occasionally, etc, etc, on and on.

Then along comes a script that breaks lots of these ‘rules’ and yet is still brilliant

The closest I can get to it is by making a parallel to another experience we’ve probably all had.

LIVE MUSIC

You can watch a band get ready and start theorising all the way through that process. You can start to form opinions from the venue, the other people in the crowd, the equipment already on stage. When the band walk on, you can take more of a view. When they start to tune up, that gives you even more clues, based on your checklist of what a good band should look like.

But this is only ever theory.

It’s only when they actually start playing that you know, for good or for ill, how this next hour is going to go down. And what’s more, you know almost instantly. You just know.

And then seeing how they build, how they sustain, whether you feel it in your stomach or whether you’re looking at your watch, whether they leave you excited and a passionate fan, or cold and bored and disappointed.

Did they entertain you? In the end, that’s all that matters.

Joy Division and, oh, say Pharrell. Nina Simone and AC/DC. Take That and The Fall.

Can you imagine any more different experiences than listening to all these people live?

What do they have in common beyond the idea of reaching an audience with 3-5 minutes songs?

And yet they’ve all reached hundreds of millions of people.

THE END OF CHECKLISTS

I could give you so many checklists you have to hit with your script, so many rules about what goes where, and why.

There’s validity to all this, and I’ve written books, blog posts, tens of thousands of words on all that – but in recent years I’ve started to feel checklists are just a little besides the point.

Checklists can be helpful, when things are going wrong, without a doubt. I script edit using lots of checklists, and spreadsheets, and structure diagrams, and I do OK at that too – the last series I really script-edited was a children’s show called The Dumping Ground, and we’ve just had our second BAFTA nomination for the writing for that show show.

But if you start and finish by writing to a checklist, and you never let in the wild, surprising, flares of imagination, humanity, and truth, then you are DOOMED.

What you need to cut through in my competition is to be a writer. You need great craft without a doubt, but you mainly need to be able to throw yourself into your world, to tell a great story, to venture into new ground and to bring back something fantastic and fresh for us.

The fact that I find at least five such new writers every year is why our late stage judging panel is so strong, and why the contest can guarantee its finalists such extraordinary access to the upper levels of the TV industry.

WHY DON’T YOU JOIN US?

The fifth Screenwriting Goldmine Awards is accepting screenplays until the 31st January. Entries can be TV pilots or single dramas, or feature film specs, and must be from between 45 – 125 pages in length. More details at awards.screenwritinggoldmine.com.

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plot-hole

Whenever *anyone* discusses a movie or TV show online, it’s not long before someone in the thread laments apparent ‘plot holes’ in the narrative.

But what IS a plot hole?

This definition, from Wikipedia, is actually pretty good:

In fiction, a plot hole, plothole or plot error is a gap or inconsistency in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic established by the story’s plot. Such inconsistencies include such things as illogical or impossible events, and statements or events that contradict earlier events in the storyline.

This, from Urban Dictionary  is NOT good:

plot-hole

Here’s what you need to know about plot holes:

1) It’s always FIRST about the storyworld and what’s possible/has gone before within it

Note use of language in the first definition: a plot hole is described as ‘against the flow of logic established by the story’s plot’. In other words, you need to start as you mean to go on. Duh.

But it’s surprising how many spec screenplays flip-flop like this, especially when it comes to characterisation. A character will start off thinking or behaving in one way, then suddenly they’ll be doing the opposite, usually to serve the plot.

In other stories or genres – especially fantasy and science fiction – characters are suddenly able to certain things, especially when it comes to things like magical powers or gadgets that do things like time travel. This is fine as long as it was established within that story world from the offset … If it wasn’t, then it IS a plothole and sometimes even a dreaded Deus Ex Machina.

2) Non-writers consistently call things they don’t like ‘plot holes’

As with the second definition, it’s worth remembering that very often, people who don’t like a movie or TV show will insist it’s full of plot holes regardless of whether it actually is or not.

In the example above, JEEPERS CREEPERS’ inciting incident is placed under fire simply because the poster does not believe the two characters would go and investigate something strange like this.

Yet the notion of ‘curiosity killed the cat’ is part of our culture. There are many stories in which characters literally walk into the monster’s lair … And not always unwittingly, either. It’s possible to know something is a bad idea, yet do it anyway. We will all have done something dumb or risky because we’re curious. It’s a standard human *thing* and not inauthentic.

So, in real terms, the notion the inciting incident of this movie doesn’t ‘work’ simply does not stand up historically OR culturally.

Instead, I would suggest the person posting on Urban Dictionary simply didn’t like JEEPERS CREEPERS.

die-hard-every-time-john-mclane-should-have-died-in-die-hard

3) Always sacrifice facts for DRAMA

Whilst it’s always important to do your research and perform due diligence with your stories, facts often get in the way of GOOD DRAMA. That’s just the way it is.

This fun rundown, Survive Hard: All The Times John McClane Should Have Died In the DIE HARD Series illustrates ‘sacrifice facts for drama’ perfectly. As our hero, McClane can withstand just about anything: jumping off buildings, grenades, getting run over by planes, YOU NAME IT.

In the very least, he should have been horribly injured by at least one of these occurrences, but bar cuts and grazes, he’s fine. This is NOT a plot hole. This is writers – and filmmakers – sacrificing facts for drama. Because it’s a helluva more exciting to watch McClane running about defeating bad guys than worry about whether he ‘should’ survive or not.

That said, we COULD write a movie about John McClane breaking his back and having to learn to walk again … But that would be a different type of film! Yet even within a drama like this of struggle against the odds, we’d still end up sacrificing facts for drama somewhere, for some reason.

In short, fiction can only ever be a ROUGH facsimile of so-called reality. How rough it is will depend on many things, from audience expectation through to genre convention and many other things besides.

Concluding:

As long as you’ve exercised your due diligence in your research, plus worked out what’s possible and what’s not in your story world, you’re golden. And don’t bother listening to online armchair critics. You can bet your arse they wouldn’t like your movie, book or TV show written the way they apparently ‘prefer’, either!

More about this on B2W:

Top 5 Research Mistakes Writers Make

6 Reasons Writers May Need To Sacrifice Facts For Drama

4 Reasons **That Moment You Don’t Like** Is NOT A Deus Ex Machina

5 Times It’s Okay To Sacrifice Facts For Drama

Tropes Versus Clichés: A Storyteller’s Guide

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So, as a script reader and script editor I help writers with their drafts … and these are the 5 issues I see just about EVERYONE struggling with and some time or another. Yes, even pro writers!! Enjoy — and pass it on!

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1) Overdoing symbolism/ theme

Every writer has a ‘message’, because writing is in itself a communication. I’d argue all of us want to SAY something, or PROVE something. It’s an innate part of being a writer. I’d bet real actual money on it.

However, that message (or whatever you want to call it) should never bypass the entertainment value of your screenplay or novel. Audiences do not sign up for messages, they sign up to be entertained. An obvious point perhaps, but one screenwriters and novelists consistently seem to MISS.

Think of your story as having ‘layers’, like an onion. The top layer is entertainment value. People should ENJOY your work, whatever that means. The second layer is the story AS IT APPEARS (ie. the logline version). The third layer, hidden inside? That’s theme layer, where symbolism (and all that other fancy stuff) is. MORE: All About Symbolism In ALIEN (1979).

2) Mistaking plot for concept

When I ask writers what their concept is, I’m asking for the premise, the central idea, the ‘seed of the story’ – that all-important logline version again. Instead, those writers will regale me with the various events of their story, “S/he does this … and then … and then … and then …” Noooooooooooo!

Look, if I’m boring you telling you how you’ve got NOTHING without a great concept, trust me: I’m boring MYSELF. This is a non-negotiable of screenwriting, so it’s really a hella lot easier if you just invest in this shit before you go to draft, okay?? Okay. MORE: 7 Steps To Road Testing Your Concept

3) Thinking character motivation = role function

These two things are inextricably linked but are NOT THE SAME:

Character motivation = WHAT a character wants/needs & WHY.

Role function = WHAT the character does in the story & WHY.

You need to know the difference in order to make sure you’re actually identifying what needs to be done with your characters and your story! MORE: The ONLY Two Things You Need To Know About Characterisation

4) Rehashing stories we already know

Writers frequently tell me they’re doing an ‘updated version of [X Movie]’ or ‘a fresh take on [this genre or idea]‘. Yet when I ask HOW it’s been updated, or WHY it’s a ‘fresh take’, they just describe what I’ve already seen and read.

Let’s get this straight. Writers SIMPLY CANNOT update or do a fresh take on ANYTHING – story, genre, subgenre, myth, character, WHATEVER – without first immersing themselves in what’s gone before.

I mean read the books. Watch the movies. The TV shows. But also talk to writers, filmmakers, novelists what they were trying to achieve in those original stories. Also, talk to the readers and viewers about what they LIKED and DISLIKED about those original stories.

Do. Not. Skimp! Or fail miserably to do what you set out to. You have been warned. MORE: Top 5 Genre Mistakes 

5) Not knowing what their HOOK is

Closely related to number 4 on this list, one of the reasons writers fail to get off the starting blocks with their work is because they don’t have a HOOK in their work – that *thing* that acts as a PULL for readers or viewers to *want* to consume your work.

Do not underestimate the power of the HOOK. Every single produced or published writer has created one in their work. Yes, even the ones whose work you hate and/or think is over-hyped. 

In my book, Writing And Selling Thriller Screenplays, I break down the hook into two categories:

1) Dramatic Hook – this feeling of ‘what would YOU do [in this situation]?’ This doesn’t have to be ONLY part of the Thriller genre, but works brilliantly here because it gives a VISCERAL pull to reader or viewer by asking them to imagine themselves in the protagonist’s place.

One of the most popular books and movies of the past few years is The Girl On The Train for this very reason – we’ve all been on trains and we’ve all seen *stuff happening* through said train windows. So, what would we all do in Rachel’s place??? THAT’S THE DRAMATIC HOOK.

2) Commercial Hook  – is often based on cultural FEAR. As we’ve all seen lately, there’s a huge fear of clowns in our culture, so it’s no accident Stephen King’s IT is so popular and there’s apparently going to be a remake.

However, commercial hooks don’t have to be about fear; they’re just as often about a cultural DESIRE. This is why we see so many stories about giant robots, or giant monsters. A huuuuuuuuuge amount of people worldwide literally *love* both of these things … so graphic novels, games or movies about them like PACIFIC RIM are basically inevitable.

The reason knowing your hook is so important? Because then you can answer the question ‘Why this story?’ WITH EASE when producers, agents and publishers ask it … or one of these other pesky writing questions.

Good luck!

me-in-front-of-bisr-powerpointLike this post? Then check out my course, Breaking Into Script Reading, in association with LondonSWF (11-12th Feb, 2017). Join us for this intensive 2 day workshop that breaks down the art and craft of reading scripts to help improve your own writing, to also improve your feedback for other writers and most importantly, to earn you money as a professional reader. FULL DETAILS HERE.

 

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historical-fiction

I’ve always considered myself a history buff and have written quite a few historical fiction novels requiring exhaustive amounts of research. Creating believable historical fiction means getting facts straight and making sure that your research and imaginative input inspires the most plausible, complex plots and characters you can possibly bring to life.

Here I lay out the top 5 mistakes authors make when writing historical stories and how they can be avoided:

1) Not Enough Research

Writing historical fiction can be intimidating and you might feel either overwhelmed by the amount of research that is required or constrained by the time period, in turn making your writing flat and boring. If you haven’t done enough research for your novel then it will be evident to readers — the environment you create just won’t have that pull.

Doing enough research doesn’t just mean reading up on dates and public figures, but delving completely into the historical period you’re writing about. My most popular historical fiction novel, Target Churchill, centres around a fictionalized Soviet conspiracy to assassinate Churchill in order to prevent him from delivering his “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, Mo., in 1946. I co-authored the novel with the Pulitzer-Prize nominated Churchill Biographer James C. Humes and spent months reading Winston Churchill’s memoirs, facts about Soviet spies, the Cold War, and much, much more; my research ended up leading to new characters and sub-plots.

Top Tip: Research, Research, Research! MORE: Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make With Research

2) Creating Flat, Two-Dimensional Characters

Sometimes writers are so caught up in the research and factual elements of their writing, that they become fettered by it, creating flat characters. My novels deal primarily with intimate human relationships on all levels, which is a universal theme across cultures. When writing historical fiction you should always be sure to paint the emotional landscape of your characters within the realities of their specific historical time periods, but most importantly, never lose sight of the fact that the figures you are writing about are human beings plagued with the very same range of complicated human emotions we experience today. Beyond facts, having the sensitivity to imagine characters in a realistic, emotionally authentic way goes far.

Top Tip: Create full, nuanced characters who have dreams and desires. MORE: Top 8 Questions For Kickass Characterisation

3) You’re Not Interested Enough In The Time Period

It’s hard to write about something you’re not passionate about, no matter the genre. Don’t pick a time period or historical character you’re indifferent about. What made writing Target Churchill so enjoyable for me is the fact that I am truly a fan of Winston Churchill. I have indelible memories of his speeches, particularly the “Blood, Toil, Sweat and Tears” speech that I heard sitting in my grandparents’ back porch in 1940 after the British retreat on the mainland of Europe. I also remember listening to the Iron Curtain Speech he made in Missouri in 1946.

Churchill is a hero of mine and my biggest goal in rendering his character for that novel was to make him a thoroughly relatable character to readers of today, bringing the more abstract aspects of his humanity to the forefront.

Top Tip: Make sure you feel a strong connection to the subject matter, whether it is positive or negative. MORE: 5 Problems With Characterisation

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4) Everything Is Too Vague

It feels safer to be vague when writing about historical environments, but this is where your extensive research comes in handy again. Evoking the right ambiance in your story means the world when you’re attempting to transport readers into a particular historical period. The more minute the detail, the stronger the impact. Take, for example, the description of Cairo in the following passage from Mother Nile:

Gas fumes permeated everything, and a saffron-coated chickpea stink laced with vague odors of human waste larded the air. A single inhalation, and it could be tasted like some noxious medicinal brew. He was now digesting Cairo, and it lay like lead in his gut.

Top Tip: Research the geography, agriculture, and climate of that location and time period. MORE: 8 Ways To Jump Start Your Novel’s Description

5) You’re Distracting Readers From the Core Plot of the Novel

Although research is paramount to writing high-calibre historical fiction, one of the most insidious risks you run is unconsciously allowing the smalls details to overtake the imaginary plot at the heart of your story.

I wrote Trans-Siberian Express way before the advent of Google and at that time I had haunted the Library of Congress learning as much as I possibly could about Russian train engineering. I had a great time feverishly researching everything I could for that novel but ended up in a situation with my then editor who decided it was best to cut out the majority of the facts I believed to be necessary to the story. Although I was furious at the time, in retrospect, he may well have been right in doing what he did. Make sure you’re thinking about your work as objectively as possible.

Top Tip: Go back and ask yourself these questions – ‘Do I really need this? What does it bring to my story?’ MORE: Check out Warren’s last post on B2W  Top 10 (Normal) Struggles When Writing A Novel

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BIO: Warren Adler is the acclaimed author of The War of the Roses, a masterpiece of macabre divorce adapted into the BAFTA and Golden Globe-nominated hit film starring Danny DeVito, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Adler has also optioned and sold film rights for a number of his works, including Random Hearts and Private Lies. Adler’s works have been translated into more than 25 languages, including his staged version of The War of the Roses, which has opened to spectacular reviews worldwide. Adler has taught creative writing seminars at New York University and has lectured on creative writing, film and television adaptation, and electronic publishing. He currently has a number of film/TV adaptations in various stages of development with Grey Eagle Films including The Children of the Roses. His novels are now available as audiobooks through Audible. His latest historical-thriller release, Mother Nile, has been received with spectacular reviews from critics and readers alike. Get your copy here.

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Listen very carefully, Bang2writers. Here is when you use CAPS – aka capital letters – in your spec screenplay:

When we are introduced to a character for the first time only.

Like this:character-name-capsThat’s it. Seriously. You do not *need* caps in any other place in your spec.

You *can* however use caps for these things:

  • An object that’s going to be important in the story (ie. a plot point)
  • An animal that’s not named, but IS a character (ie. not for a random animal)
  • A sudden noise – ie. BOOM! SNAP! KA-BLAM!
  • To indicate a character is reading a screen (ie. PHONE, COMPUTER, TEXT MESSAGE, etc)
  • To indicate the frame or a POV without actually saying it (ie. THROUGH THE WINDOW, DOWN THE HOLE, UP THE TREE, etc – though these often work ‘best’ as mini slugs, IMHO).

I get questions on the above all the time. As with most things writing-related, as long as it’s sparing, it’ll be okay.

DO NOT however ever use caps in dialogue for emphasis* (you’re telling the actors *how* to say the lines) or for SOUNDS GENERALLY (that’s shooting scripts only). *Yes, yes I know.

More on Format on B2W:

Top 5 Screenplay Format Mistakes

The B2W Format 1 Stop Shop 

All About Scene Headings/Headers

The 5 Biggest Format Mistakes Screenplays Make

Download a 1 page Format Ref Guide (PDF)

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So, I’ve written A LOT on this blog about how writers obsess over their dialogue and why they shouldn’t. This is because too often, writers fall in love with their dialogue and end up telling the story via talk alone. Nooooooooooo!

However, if you writers *are* going to obsess on dialogue, then you could do a lot worse than finding out exactly what dialogue really IS. Shockingly, many writers don’t differentiate their characters’ speech patterns enough, so what they *think* is cool and interesting, is actually samey and boring to read.

If we consider a book like The Maze Runner by James Dashner, this writer actually created a whole new dialect for The Gladers. He’s not the only writer to do this and really add that ‘je ne se quois’ to his writing, too. Could you do the same?

So, take a look at this great periodic table of figures of speech – understanding what language truly IS can only help you craft great dialogue for your screenplay or novel.  It also can’t hurt for your writing in general, too. Download & pass it on!

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No, this is not a post about killing off ‘actual’ slugs (mini or not), but rather sluglines, which some of you may also know as scene headings or scene headers.

In recent years (and undoubtedly because of the internet), it’s become popular here in the UK to follow the American practice of NOT writing a ‘full’ scene heading IF characters are going, say into another room, within the same timeframe (whatever that means, literal or metaphorical):sluglines-vs-mini-slugI think so-called mini slugs are great. Sluglines aka scene headings should always be as plain as possible so as to not ‘draw’ the reader’s eye anyway, plus they give more of a sense of ‘movement’ or ‘pace’ to a scene.

So it’s a definite thumbs up from me but do note, there are no rules or guidelines on this, you CAN use traditional sluglines too.

More on Format on B2W:

Top 5 Screenplay Format Mistakes

The B2W Format 1 Stop Shop 

All About Scene Headings/Headers

The 5 Biggest Format Mistakes Screenplays Make

Download a 1 page Format Ref Guide (PDF)

For B2W offers and free stuff first, join my EMAIL LIST

dinosaur-2

Every year, some big pro writer blasts the frauds and parasites that make up the ‘cottage industry’ that surrounds writers.

He’ll argue – and in my experience, it’s always a he – that paying for script notes is a big fat rip off. He’ll insist script consultants are selling snake oil: they’re opportunists who are simply looking to get their talons on vulnerable writers’ cash. What’s more, he’ll say smugly, these consultants were not around when *he* started. So, we all receive the message loud and clear:

He’s never needed to pay for notes and nor should we. 

Privilege

What these pro writers don’t realise is they’re nearly always coming from a place of privilege. They’re pro writers, of course they don’t pay for script notes. They’ve got agents, managers and pro writer BFFs for that. Duh.

And good for them. Sure, they’ve worked hard to get their due – no one doubts that – but most of us work equally hard. Yet we may not have agents, managers or pro writer BFFs. Supersadface.

So, paying for notes is an ‘obvious’ solution. But of course, not all paid-for readers are created equal. Some are bloody awful. Some are middle of the road, or just starting out. Some are good, but you don’t get along with them. These things happen.

But you know what: sometimes paying for script notes WON’T help either. But not just because the giver is no good … but because the writer or project is no good, or simply not ready to hear those notes. Contrary to popular belief, feedback is not a one way street.

Dinosaurs go extinct

Every time a pro writer blows a gasket about paying for script notes or the so-called ‘cottage industry’ surrounding screenwriting, he is marking himself out as a dinosaur. The internet won’t have been around when he started either, but I’ll bet every quid I have he’d rather work in an industry that makes it easier than ever to connect with his peers and his potential audience.

That’s why you see pro screenwriters talking to one another on Twitter, making podcasts, doing crowdfunds, sharing reviews and all the rest of it — just like the rest of us.

dinosaur-1

But okay, don’t pay for script notes

There’s actually no need to ever pay for script notes, just like there’s no need to ever pay for writing advice in books, courses, events and so on. The internet is here and a huge chunk of is it free. If you want to sort the wheat from the chaff yourself and try and find your own writer BFFs for feedback, you can.

That’s the beauty of the internet. It’ll probably take you at least twice as long to find everything and everyone yourself, but it can be done. I won’t deny it.

So, I’ll echo the naysayers and DON’T pay for script advice … At least, NOT until you have done the following: 

  • Your research. Whether you’re writing genre or drama, IMMERSE yourself in the versions of your story that have come before … Or all a script reader or editor like B2W is going to say is, ‘Have you seen [MOVIE/TV SHOW]?’ and you’re going to say ‘No’. Whilst you can’t watch everything in the known universe, you should know all the obvious ones, plus a few obscure ones … it can only AID in telling your own story, plus help you avoid any obvious pitfalls.
  • Got connected, especially online. Getting connected and finding out who-is-who-and-doing-what is non-negotiable. It’s easier than ever, thanks to the internet and social media, but also try and read about your industry. Know what is going on. Again, it can only help you.
  • Done peer review. I always say to Bang2writers there is no point paying good money to a script reader until you’ve gone as far as you can with peer review. Why have me going through all the ‘obvious’ stuff when your friends can for free (as you can for them in return)??? Join The B2W FB Group and post a peer review shout-out.
  • Made plans / got a strategy.  It comes down to this: if you’ve set goals and have a strategy for your writing career, then you’re more likely to achieve it. Sure, you can throw spaghetti at the wall and some of it might stick – but it will be by accident, rather than DESIGN. Get real and get there, on purpose by planning and paying for notes when this fits in with your writing goals.

Concluding:

Sure, don’t pay for notes if you don’t want to — but if you do, to get the best value make sure you’ve taken your draft as far as it can go … Whether that means in terms of your own research; your connections and peers; or with reference to your overall strategy and/or writing goals.

If you ARE ready for script notes?

b2w-has-read-forB2W has read for a huge variety of scripty people including literary agents, indie prodcos, screen agencies and investment schemes plus individual writers, producers and directors. So why not check out B2W’s rate and service card HERE or click on the pic on the left. NB. Book ASAP if you want notes before Christmas!

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Would be screenwriters hear about the American Film Market  (AFM) and wonder what is is and whether they should attend. Stephen Potts wondered in 2015  then attended in 2016, and now shares what he learnt.

afm-american-film-market-jonathan-wolf-international-film-festivals-los-angeles-film-industry-hollywood-films-beverly-hills-magazine

1) What AFM is not:

AFM is not a gathering of screenwriters, directors and other creatives (go to the London Screenwriters’ Festival for that).  Nor is it a festival with premieres, high-profile screenings, retrospectives or Q&A sessions with directors (go to Berlin, Cannes, Edinburgh or Toronto for that).

Tip 1. AFM is neither a conference nor a festival.

2) What AFM is:

The clue is in the title. It is a market where the business of the film business gets done, and films are bought and sold for distribution. It is one of three global markets in the calendar, the other two being the European Film Market in February and the Marche du Film in May. The other two run in parallel with major festivals (Berlinale and Cannes respectively) but AFM stands alone, unattached to any festival, and it is big – with 8,000 or so participants from 80-odd countries

Tip 2. AFM is  a large market where films are bought and sold

3) How does it work?

For a week in early November each year the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica is taken over by AFM. All the beds are moved out and every room, over 8 floors, is given over to production and sales companies seeking to sell the films on their slate.  At back-to-back meetings, often arranged well in advance, buyers for different media and different territories cut deals. DVD distribution for Japan? Deal. Theatrical release in North America? Deal. Video on Demand?  Deal.

A lot  of these deals are for finished films,  some of which can be seen at screening rooms around the town. But many are preselling arrangements, where a company will cut deals on the strength of a package (script plus any underlying intellectual property, plus director, plus key cast)

Companies go to market primarily to sell, not to buy new projects: so cold calling at their office door to pitch your latest Aliens in Elizabethan England story is unlikely to get you signed up.

But it’s not impossible: just as a farmer might take his sheep to sell at market, and pick up some seeds to take back and cultivate for the next market, you never know. Just don’t set your expectations too high.

Tip 3. AFM is primarily for production and sales companies to sell finished films or pre-sell film packages.  They might look at scripts to buy later, but that’s not why they attend.

afm-header-welcome

4) AFM is expensive

Flights to LA from the UK aren’t cheap .  The hotels tend to be heavily booked  and prices are jacked up during AFM. A modest room close by will cost more than $200/night. Prices drop if you are prepared to go further afield in Santa Monica or down to Venice Beach but in my view it’s worth the extra cost to stay centrally.

You can buy badges for 1,  4 or 7  days, which give you access to the event and a series of round table discussions. Specific half day conference sessions are extra.

There is little point going all that way for less than four days, so factoring in flight, hotel and a 4-day badge you are  looking at $2000+. You may be able to get support form your local screen agency — but you have to submit a detailed plan in good time.  I left it too late for Creative Scotland to consider support.

Tip 4. It costs. You can get support but you must apply in good time.

5) AFM requires work

You  stop you can’t just show up, knock on doors and hope to get signed. You have to plan, make approaches in advance, and do the legwork when you are there. The AFM director, Jonathan Wolff has produced a very useful guide on how to work the AFM. He repeats some of the advice in seminars on day 1 (Wed) and day 4 (Sat) — but if you leave it until then to act you have left it too late. It’s also worth listening to Pilar Alessandra’s podcast in which she interviews him about AFM (On The Page: episode 473).

When you sign up for a badge you get access to a comprehensive database about the 400+ companies attending,  which details their activities, genres covered, likely budgets, territories etc, and gives names and contact details for the executives attending. There is also a linked catalogue of films being sold. It is intended mainly for buyers – but this can be useful for writers wanting to know who is selling the kind of films they want to write.

Doing your homework can save you a lot of time, effort and disappointment. There is no point pitching Aliens in Elizabethan England (budget $25 million) as a script  for development to a company whose profile tells you they don’t do sci-fi or history films, whose budget cap is $10 million — and who don’t do development. There is no point booking a meeting with an executive whose role is the marketing of finished films, when you want t meet someone in acquisitions or development to get one started. You can find all this information easily — once you are signed up — but it still takes time to go through it and identify who you want to approach.

Tip 5. Preparation is crucial. Begin several months in advance.

6) The pitch conference is a must

An optional extra at $95 dollars is a half day pitch conference on the Saturday morning. Pilar Alessandra  (a  star at London’s Screenwriter’s festival) moderates a  session where 20+ hopefuls (including some picked from a hat) deliver two-minute pitches live on stage to a pair of very experienced producers,  in front of an audience of hundreds.

Participants are selected from video pitches  submitted in advance.  The selection rate is about one in three, but even if you are not one of the chosen (I wasn’t) it is very instructive to watch your peers being put through the mill.  You can see for yourself what works,  and what doesn’t, and hear from the producers and from Pilar about the reasons why.

Tip 6.  Don’t miss the Pitch Conference!

7) When to go

At the minimum you need a  well-developed script, ideally packaged with director and perhaps some key cast, or a script developed from a pre-existing piece of intellectual property to which you have the rights (book, previous film, stage play, true story etc). Have the logline absolutely nailed, and various versions of your pitch to suit different circumstances.

I thought about going in 2015 and after initial research decided against, as it was clear I wasn’t ready.  I continued to research and resolved to go in 2016, but even with a lot of preparation my project was a little undercooked. It was still definitely worth attending, not least because I was able to take meetings outside the context of AFM, with US partners I knew would be there, and I returned with one signed contract and a few handshake deals.  In this  sense AFM acts as a catalyst for other meetings that might not otherwise happen.

Tip 7. Don’t go without a viable project.

Thanks, Stephen!

BIO: Stephen Potts is a screenwriter based in Scotland who specialises in historically set adaptations.  All the projects he discussed at AFM were in this category. There is more information via his website, and you’ll find him on Twitter. He wrote a newbie’s guide to Berlinale for B2W – and is looking for other events to attend as a newbie

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‘How to write comedy’ is a VERY popular search term via Google to this site, so when Peter and Jon from The Comedy Crowd offered their expertise in the genre for the Bang2writers, I snapped their hands off! What’s more, keep your eyes peeled for the special offer at the bottom of the post, especially for you guys. Enjoy! 
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There is a perception that it’s harder than ever to get into comedy. Established writers have bemoaned the shift of scheduling and budgets away from sitcoms and towards drama, or the oft-maligned ‘comedy-drama’ genre.

If you’re aiming for that primetime BBC slot and you aren’t an arena stand-up those established writers are probably right – it is tough to get into comedy.

But in so many more ways, it is a GREAT time for the aspiring comedy writer!

If you’re looking to see your script performed and find an audience, comedy is now more accessible than ever.To take advantage, writers need to embrace a new world where successful shows grow from short-form content, and avoid these 5 mistakes that will slow you down:

1) Dive straight into writing a sitcom!

Andy Riley (Veep, Black Books) equates taking on a sitcom early on in your comedy journey to walking into your first gym induction and tackling the heftiest dumbbell.  Our view is that sitcoms should be the final product for an idea that has already got traction.

Sketches are a great way to start, because each can be a mini-sitcom in its own right. You can try out characters, tighten up your writing and not invest too much time before learning if an idea has potential. MORE: Spotlight On Structure – Sitcoms (Simpsons Case Study)

2) Focusing on anything but characters in the beginning

If you take the advice above, your focus is simple. Create great characters.

Your idea might revolve around a particular premise or situation, but that isn’t going to get anyone’s attention, engaging characters will.

Characters are what producers and commissioners are looking for, so don’t disappoint.  Work on building rich, interesting characters and showing them off in short-form pieces such as sketches or monologues.  They are the foundation of your comedy, the rest you can build later.

3) Not getting early feedback

There are many reasons not to seek feedback. It’s scary, it feels personal, and it could result in the realisation that an idea isn’t as good as we thought.

Comedy is the most subjective genre of all though, and one in which our opinion of our own work is least reliable. So get your work out there early.  It will save you time and give you confidence that you’re pursuing an idea with potential. We’ve been running a scheme where writers exchange feedback early on which has proved extremely valuable for those prepared to take the plunge. MORE: 5 Ways To Use Feedback Effectively

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4) Not editing ruthlessly

Learning to cut material that doesn’t quite hit the mark makes a huge difference to the quality of the overall piece.

Getting feedback will also help you edit. It’s really difficult to cut funny lines, and that is the problem – much of the material you take out will be good (stick it in the drawer for later).  But the impact of making the whole piece tighter is far greater than the effect of those individual sections. MORE: 5 Questions To Help You Edit Your Work

5) Working Alone

You may have noticed a theme.

Many writers embrace solitude, and we aren’t suggesting that all your writing should be collaborative, but to make an impact writing comedy now you need to reach out. Find people with the skills to bring your script to life through performance, feedback and motivation!

Online channels now allow writers to test and evidence the quality of their ideas. If you can bring original ideas, a willingness to embrace short-form and find other comedy creators to support you, then a world of comedy opportunities await! MORE: 8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Comedy Screenplay DEAD

What are you waiting for? Good luck!

BIO: Jon and Peter have founded The Comedy Crowd, a community that supports comedy creators to learn, collaborate, get feedback and find opportunities to make an impact in comedy.  To see what they offer visit them here and follow them on Twitter as @thecomedycrowd.

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As a Bang2write reader, you can get a whopping 33% OFF monthly membership to The Comedy Crowd! JUST CLICK HERE. Pass it on!

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