“Transmedia” is the latest buzzword in the industry, but many Bang2writers still aren’t really sure what it means! Luke is talking to the team behind Loves Of A Cyclops this week to shed some light on this great opportunity to get your work out there and create a following for your project … Enjoy!

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Loves Of A Cyclops is a short film project … sort of. It’s also a photograph collection, a series of audio snippets, an immersive experience in web design and modern aesthetics, and a ball of quirky fun. it’s a great example of what Transmedia can be.

If you wanted, you could simply watch the film HERE.

But that would be missing the point. To truly get the most out of the project you should go to the main website HERE. There’s no right way or wrong way to experience this project. Explore the depths of it all. Lose yourself in The Pearson Photo Archive, read up on the science behind the Cyclopticals, or peruse The Francis Collection – a catalog of items from the story.

I caught up with Director, Nathan Punwar to talk about the project:

Q: With a lot of young creative teams focusing on short films and trying to raise their profile that way, what made you take the approach you did with this project?

A: Honestly, the project we set out to make ended up spilling beyond the film itself, and the longer we worked on it, the more ideas there were to explore and have fun with. That was the nature of the script – packed with detail that blows by in a second. But what if you stopped and examined one of those details? Since it was a pet project with no fixed timeline, we had the freedom to keep creating and building the world of this story. If you’re an independent filmmaker, you should take advantage of those freedoms while you have them. So really, taking this approach just seemed like it
would be fun.

LESSON 1: LET THE BOUNDARIES OF THE PROJECT CREEP UPWARDS AND OUTWARDS

Q: I approached you guys, because your project was so vastly different from other projects out there at the minute. Have you found much interest from the media? Was this part of the intention when developing something so remarkable?

A: When we started, it was all about making this film. And by the end, I really wanted people to more fully explore the world of the film because I lived in it with my friends and we had such a good time in there. So that gradually became the intention in releasing it. I don’t think there are many short form projects that could do this, just because the story is usually too brief, but we already had this story that was long and winding and weird, which lent itself to this experiment.

LESSON 2: CREATE SOMETHING REMARKABLE

Q: One of the fundamental elements of this project is the design and the aesthetics. How did the design and the look of the site fit into your overall vision for the project?

I wanted the site to feel separate from our world, and separate from anything else online, like you enter Francis’ cycloptic vision in this vortex and spend some time swimming around in that pool. That’s why there are as little references to external real-world things as possible. Even the links to social media are somewhat disguised, which probably makes it really hard for anyone to share this with their friends, but that’s fine. Even the border around the frame of the site is meant to prime you to feel like you’re inside this other layer of the internet that no one can touch.

LESSON 3: USE THE TOOLS AVAILABLE TO FURTHER THE STORY

transmedia-2nd-2x3-copyQ: Do you feel going forward, we’re going to get more projects lik this? Maybe in the form of ongoing online web series’s? Or as feature films?

It definitely depends entirely on the project. We’re developing a series concept where I could see us creating some funny content outside the box of the show. At the same time, we’re writing a script where we purposefully wouldn’t want to know anything outside of that because it would detract from the illusion. But no matter what, my mind is always going to go there and wonder what we can create beyond the rectangular frame. Stories don’t feel confined like that when you create them, watch them, or read them. You’re always imagining it as if it’s real and around you.

LESSON 4: IT’S ALL ABOUT WHAT’S RIGHT FOR THE PROJECT

Q: How could a younger artist, looking to recreate some of the magic you’ve created, get started with something like this?

The only reason any of this was created was because of the initial story, or even the initial seed of the story. As far as I can tell, and I’m definitely no expert, all of the magic comes from exploring and researching your source of inspiration as fully and deeply as possible. You keep hunting around whatever the one thing is that really got you interested or excited in the first place, and there’s no limit to what you can pull out of that single resource, budget or no budget.

LESSON 5: THE MAGIC COMES FROM EXPLORATION

Thanks Luke and Nathan – fascinating stuff!

LINKS

What is Transmedia? on the @BFLAgency blog

Why Writers Should Consider A Transmedia Project by Dylan Spicer

6 Ways To Build An Audience by Dave Turner

9 Ways Of Creating A Following For Your Project Online on Script Angel’s blog

Transmedia Strategies on Tom Kerevan’s blog

TEDx: “Embrace Transmedia, don’t fight it.”

All the articles tagged “Transmedia” on this blog

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BIO: Luke Kondor writes stories and make films and stuff. Underdog style. When he’s not interviewing storytellers on his podcast, he’s working on his book of short stories. He blogs at lukekondor.com. He tumbles at lukeofkondor.tumblr.com. He tweets at @lukeofkondor.

Please press the buttons at the bottom to share the page on your social media profiles and/or check out my books. Thanks!

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Click the pic for more writing resources

NEWSFLASH: there are more screenplays & manuscripts doing the rounds than anyone can read, EVER. A lot of script readers are interns, or submissions are farmed out to readers like B2W. This means your submission **could** be in the hands of someone just starting out, or it could be someone more experienced.

But whatever the case, your work may well be read by someone with just a transient connection to the place you’ve submitted to. What’s more, outsourced readers like B2W may never have met the companies/people they’re reading for AT ALL! So this means the reader is actually not a “gate keeper” in real terms. It’s true: s/he COULD be marking time … OR s/he could actually WANT to find a great story!!

Script reading is an entry level job. This means it’s often something people do because they *have* to. But script readers don’t want to impress their bosses (quite frankly, if that prodco or agent doesn’t like their script reports?? With more submissions than can ever be read = PLENTY MORE WHERE THOSE CAME FROM!!), but ‘cos most people want to take pride in their work.

You can see this as depressing or liberating … So, what’s it to be?

Finished and polished a draft? Wondering what to do with it now?? Click here –> “I’ve written a screenplay. Now what?”

Please press the buttons at the bottom to share the page on your social media profiles and/or check out my books. Thanks!

Congratulations and HELLO to the new B2W intern, Luke Kondor!!! As well as sounding like a character from Game of Thrones, Luke will be blogging on the main site each week, plus sourcing links and facilitating chat for you on the Facebook page. Luke’s specialty is Transmedia, which I think will prove a real education to many of us. Please give him a warm welcome! Follow Luke on Twitter HERE or click his rather dapper pic at the bottom of this post.

BTW, If you’re missing MY #scriptchat post this sunday, never fear – my witterings have moved over to the B2W newsletter, which you can sign up for on the right hand sidebar (if you haven’t already), or click on the pic below – this week I’m talking about how Stereotypes and Archetypes are often confused in critiques, which muddies the waters further in the representation debate. You’ll also find a whopping SIX script, novel and writing leads on the newsletter too. GET IT NOW.

SO, Luke Of Kondor – I annoint thee knight of the B2W realm!! Over to you …

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Stop confusing “stereotype” & “archetype” – click the pic to find out how

It’s 05:43am and I’m tired.

I’m sitting at my desk, wrapped in my dressing gown. Sleep on my eyes. My hands are warming against a fresh cup of coffee. The smell wakes me more then the taste. I think about getting back into bed, snuggling into the covers and getting some more sleep before heading off to work. I don’t do that, because that’s a luxury I can’t afford.

I can’t afford it, because I’m a writer. Worse then that, I got inspiration … I’m riddled with it. I have stories to write, films to make, projects to produce, podcasts to record, and because I work in an office Monday to Friday, I have to do my real work in the hours around my job.

I write therefore I am. I also work in IT, so I guess I’m that too. And sometimes I eat. We verb, therefore we noun.

Lucy has given me the opportunity to talk to you guys through this wonderful platform called Bang2Write. I’m going to spend some time talking to you about storytelling in the modern world … for the most part anyway.

Before all of that, it’s customary for interns to introduce themselves, so here’s ten parts that make the whole of me.

1. I wrote and performed a stand up comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was average at best, badly reviewed, and due to a strict diet of 10p noodles and an asthma attack, it almost killed me.

2. I got a 2:2 in Interactive Media Production. I wanted to make a film for my final project, to which my teachers sighed and said you need to make something interactive. I made an interactive film.

3. I believe that the key to any success I’ve had in the past few years is due to finding a partner in crime who makes me tea, cuddles me, and calms my mind.

4. I also believe that modern storytellers are post-medium. We’re allowed to jump between writing films, comics, novels, and still maintain a clear consistent voice.

5. I grew up in a house of dogs. An army of border collies, who I’d spend more time with then people. At one time I convinced myself that I had a psychic connection to one of them.

6. Humans are a unique mess of ideas, experiences, and feelings. Occasionally we find something that resonates – a story, a poem, a song, a picture. Whatever it is, I believe we should do whatever we can to make more of it.

7. I believe that we’re in a new age of storytelling. One where artists can find their audiences, source their funds, and ship their art direct to the customer.

8. I’m skeptical about everything and anything, but at the same time I’m desperate to find some sort of faith or magic in the world. This is the basis for everything I do.

9. I go through bouts of hyper activity and fungus-like idleness. I’m sure there’s a balance in there somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet.

10. With every story I write or film I make I find a little more of myself. One day, with a bit of luck, I’ll know who I am.

I’d love to hear more about you too. Who are you? What are you working on? Talk to me.

10361055_10152460612687682_4015069592468190677_nBIO: Luke Kondor writes stories and make films and stuff. Underdog style. When he’s not interviewing storytellers on his podcast, he’s working on his book of short stories. He blogs at lukekondor.com. He tumbles at lukeofkondor.tumblr.com. He tweets at @lukeofkondor.

Please press the buttons at the bottom to share the page on your social media profiles and/or check out my books. Thanks!

Twilight’s Last Gleaming

“So I’m the love interest for the female protagonist so I have to trail after her like a lost puppy …”

So US TV series The 100 started on E4 this week … Well, I say “US TV”, it’s almost entirely populated by Australian and British ex-soap actors playing Americans (but it’s all make-believe anyway, so I’ll let that one go).

Based on the dystopian YA books of the same name by Kass Morgan, the series is set 97 years after nuclear war killed everyone on Earth. Luckily, there were some stronauts floating about in space stations (or something) which they all combined to make “The Ark”, civilisation’s last stand. Now, four generations later, things suck on the Ark and supplies, including life support, is running out. Even the most small of crimes is punishable by death – unless the citizen is under 18. Cue THE 100!

Juvenile deliquent teens who have committed crimes are sent down to Earth, to see if it’s now habitable. Amongst them is Clarke, our teenage female protagonist, whose father was “floated” (executed, by being shot out The Ark’s airlock) for trying to tell the rest of the Ark citizens life support is running out and The Chancellor is thinking about culling some of the population. Clarke was a previously privileged member of The Ark and is pitched against a number of others, most notably Wells, The Chancellor’s own son who got himself arrested so he could put sent to the ground; plus power-hungry Bellamy, who has sinister plans of his own for The 100. (There’s some power play going on in The Ark between the adults too, but generally I found those bits a tad dull).

Overall, I enjoyed the pilot for THE 100 enough to plan on tuning in next week. It’s basically “Lord of the Flies”  set in the future and concept-wise, that’s pure gold. It’s nice to see female characters dominating the frame so much, even if the character names are mindcrushingly obvious Sci Fi homages, or the “battle of the sexes” element (especially between the adults: females = GOOD! Males = BAD!) is somewhat overplayed, not to mention the obligatory hottie strips down to her pants within about five seconds of arriving on Earth, LE SIGH:

The-100-3

“Hey guys, I could jump in with my clothes on, but then you can’t see my shapely arse!”

(That said, a Google search reveals whatsisface from Hollyoaks is going to turn up soon with no shirt on, so yeah … whatevs. WHAT?! :P)

Anyway, regardless of whether you liked THE 100 or thought it was dried-up bobbins, one thing its TV pilot does is especially well is exposition. As I’ve written countless times on this blog, I read a LOT of sci fi features, TV pilots, shorts and novels and writers often screw up their arenas or “world building”. In other words, they will give the reader TOO MUCH or TOO LITTLE background information in order to *understand* the story.

This is obviously a big deal – Science Fiction Arenas & Worlds NEED to be understood, that’s the whole point of the genre – so here are my tips to creating your arena in your screenplay, or worldbuilding in your novel, using THE 100 (TV pilot only) as a case study:

1) Do it quickly!

The obvious one. Whether you’re writing a screenplay or novel, your story and character have to be introduced TOGETHER. In THE 100, we start with our protagonist, Clarke, in prison. Within about 2 minutes, she’s been ordered out her cell, has said goodbye to her mother and is being packed off to Earth. In other words: super fast!

Now, many writers are finally getting the need to be fast like this in other genres, but the Sci Fi spec pile is frequently waaaay behind on this. Too often, a writer will fill the need to give us a horrible dump of information “up front” in the form of a completely extraneous prologue so we know “where” we are in terms of world, time and space. Oi, writers, no! Whether a screenplay or novel, science fiction prologues MUST offer something in terms of character and story and cannot be used simply as “hey, welcome to my world!”

MORE: What’s the Difference Between A Prologue And A Teaser? (screenplays), plus 6 Reasons NOT To Have A Prologue In Your Novel

2) Use Visuals As Introduction

As mentioned in my previous point, THE 100 starts with Clarke in her cell in The Ark, which could have been a very dull, very boring visual to open with. Instead, the pilot opens with Clarke drawing a forest on the floor of the cell, hinting at what is to come next (The 100 LAND in a forest, on Earth), plus the fact Clarke is a bit of a rebel (ie. she’s not supposed to do this). As an added bonus, the picture makes a good visual link between Clarke when she’s departed and her mother Abigail, who ends up in the same cell later on in the pilot.

So how could YOU use visuals? Well, Science Fiction script arenas in particular often use new technology, so a great way of introducing us to the new world is via “The Demonstration” scene. This is when one character shows others *how* something works, which usually fulfils three functions: i) it introduces us to the context of that SF arena (ie.”what’s possible”); plus ii) that new tech will often play some kind of part in the plot and iii) that demonstration will reveal the role function of the character doing it, plus the characters reacting *to* it. MORE: Top 5 Tips For Writing Science Fiction by Robert Grant

Yet Sci Novels need visuals too – something often under or over estimated by novelists. The best writers remember that their readers are more media literate than ever and demand a certain level of divergence between the media they consume – in other words, if your book is like a movie, visually? GREAT! MORE: 5 Top Tips On Visuals For Your Novel by RJ Mitchell

Bellamy in a later episode of THE 100, with a "Grounder" (tied)

“I’m the antagonist, BITCH!”

3) Have us find stuff out WITH the characters

In THE 100, the adults have no idea if Earth is safe or not – so the teens don’t either. The Chancellor makes an announcement to the teens via a screen in the shuttle, wishing them good luck and telling them there is a nuclear shelter in some mountain  near where the dropzone. When they hit the ground, they discover they’re on the wrong mountain and have a twenty mile trek ahead of them. This leads to arguments over whether they should all go, or whether a scouting party should. In the end, it is decided Bellamy and the others will stay at the dropzone and Clarke and a band of others – including Bellamy’s sister, Octavia, Miss Skimpy Pants – should go and try and retrieve supplies from the nuclear shelter. As Clarke and the others make their journey, they find the answers to various questions *anyone* would have landing on a planet after 97 years, such as “where are all the animals?” and “are we alone”. Crucially however, all of this happens not via talk, but via ACTION. The average science fiction screenplay be the other way around, so it feels very theatrical, like a play; in comparison, the average sci fi novel will pay too much attention to describing everything location-related in minute detail. MORE: Top 5 Ways Writers Screw Up Their Characters

4) Reveal what characters are like via their worldviews

When they land, Bellamy goes to open the door of the craft and Clarke tells him not to, in case radiation will kill everyone, but Bellamy, a fatalist, points out that if that’s the case, they’re all dead anyway. So they open up the doors and … don’t die straight away. Later on, Clarke frets that they may still be dying, just slowly, from radiation. In comparison, since he’s still alive, Bellamy is already making plans to take over the group, by recruiting others to his “side”. In other words then, Clarke may be a brave freedom fighter, but she’s already seen her father “floated”, so she doesn’t want to die: she wants to survive. Bellamy in comparison wants power. They have different motivations, thus this informs their actions accordingly – ie. what they DO in the story. Remember point 3 here, in particular! MORE: Your Character’s Motivation

5) Create group dynamics

In the pilot, lines are drawn in the sand between characters with abandon: the privileged versus the poor in particular, but also those who are “criminals” versus those who are not. This is a particularly interesting choice, because by Ark law ALL of the teens in THE 100 are designated criminals, but as with real life prisons, there is a heirarchy established – those whose “fault” it is they’re in prison; versus those whose heritage or even very existence contravene Ark Law. Finn, seen in the first picture on this post walking behind Clarke, is a “real criminal”, because he wasted a month’s worth of The Ark’s oxygen going on an illegal spacewalk when he was bored. Clarke too is essentially a “terrorist”, having aided and abetted her father. In contrast, Octavia, Bellamy’s sister is a criminal for “being born” (second children are  illegal on the Ark, so their mother hid Octavia under the floor until she was discovered and their mother was “floated”).

The great thing about group dynamics amongst characters then is it not only aids characterisation, but plotting as well. Bellamy is filled with resentment at his mother’s execution, which leads him to want to take The 100 for himself, so they never go back to The Ark. In other words, we’re back to this notion of motivation, as in point 4. Yet most Sci Fi screenplays and novels forget about group dynamics as they seek to splurge exposition on how the SF world works all over the place, instead. MORE: 11 Expositional Clichés That Will Kill Your Story

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“So we’re brother & sister? Are you SURE? ‘Cos He’s Australian”

6) Hint at backstory

It’s important to note there are no extraneous flashbacks in The 100 pilot. We never see Clarke’s father or Bellamy and Octavia’s mother getting arrested or floated – we don’t need to. Instead, we hear about these things, via dialogue.

“But WTF?” You say … “Characters are not what they say, but what they do!” Yep, you’re RIGHT. So you don’t SPLURGE it all in one go, but mete it out here and there, disguised wherever possible! For example:

The 100′s shuttle is very old and the teens are not even sure it’s going to make it to the ground at one point as they hurtle towards Earth. Thinking the vehicle is breaking up as it hits Earth’s atmosphere, Wells, sitting next to Clarke, turns to her and tells her that if they’re going to die, he doesn’t want to die with her hating him: please forgive him? She replies that he got her father killed, she DOES hate him and she WON’T forgive him!

This is a great bit of writing because now we understand that Wells and Clarke have “got previous”, but we’ve got the distraction of the (probable) shuttle crash going on around the characters, plus the believability that yes, if you think you might die, you probably WOULD want to get something off your chest like Wells does. In addition, we can also believe that someone like Clarke who values honesty – hence her being on board, even! – would answer like this if she thinks she’s going to die, too.

It’s the same with novels, too. When it comes to backstory, a sprinkling here and there, amidst various “distractions” and/or as the result of good characterisation is ALWAYS worth more than a big solid chunk of chewy exposition. MORE: 5 Ways To Beat Exposition by Jim Mercurio and How Does Exposition Work?

7) Don’t be obscure

This is the thing. Audiences will forgive a little bit of obviousness, but they never forgive even the smallest speck of obscurity. As I’ve already mentioned in this post, I felt certain elements of the story were overplayed like its gender politics, but because enough of the story and characterisation was intriguing, I will tune in again. But this is because The 100 knows exactly who its audience is: we’re talking people have read the books, sure, but also those who haven’t, but may have liked THE HUNGER GAMES or DIVERGENT films and/or novels. As a result, in THE 100 pilot there’s some violence, some threat, but generally it’s not OTT: there’s barely any swearing, though some thematic posturing over the nature of power (which secondary school kids cover in theory in History class). Miss Skimpy Pants might strip down to her knickers and vest, but we don’t even get any lurid close ups of her chest. In short, The 100 is the TV equivalent of a 12A and I’m guessing the novel was too, since it’s YA. whether writing a Sci Fi Screenplay or novel, you need to know too! MORE: Who is your Audience?

Concluding …

So, when attempting your Science Fiction screenplay or novel:

- Don’t be OTT on your SF arena or world’s detail, but be visual

- Introduce character & story “hand in hand”

- Don’t splurge backstory all over the place

- Remember your characters’ motivations

- Remember dialogue and dynamics have their place in good characterisation

- Remember your audience

OH would you look at that: Science Fiction is the same as ANY storytelling! Fancy. Good luck with your projects and don’t forget: all the B2W PDF downloads are now available together, via the main site HERE! I’ll be adding to it as well over the coming months, so make sure you bookmark it and if you like the downloads? Please  press the buttons at the bottom to share the page on your social media profiles and/or check out my books. Thanks!

Please press the buttons at the bottom to share the page on your social media profiles and/or check out my books. Thanks!

Many thanks to Lesley, who has boiled down Robert McKee’s STORY for us into ten handy bitesize chunks to help us write our screenplays AND novels! Enjoy …

McKee on world building in your story

McKee on world building in your story

“If the story you’re telling, is the story you’re telling, you’re in deep shit.” Robert McKee

The above quote sounds quite controversial, doesn’t it? But then, Robert McKee IS controversial. Many people call him a screenwriting guru, but why is he so popular?We can’t name anything extraordinary at once: he is a writing instructor, he travels a lot with his Story workshop, he teaches authors to write and he tells directors how to make movies.

“There are too many so-called gurus!” you might say. And you are right! However, McKee is a man who teaches Hollywood. They say the only celebrity who has never attended McKee’s seminar is Steven Spielberg … And all the others were either his followers or enemies!

But McKee is a writing expert worth your attention, if you dream of winning an Oscar for “Best Original Screenplay”. McKee will not teach you any mechanical aspects of writing (though they are important for every author to remember). This man will reveal secrets on making every aspect of your story hit the target, no matter what you write – a movie script, OR a novel:

1. Protagonist

There is one very important thing for you to remember and keep in mind while writing: the protagonist of your story should have A GOAL, as all the events that happen to him will influence the ways he chooses to achieve this goal. One event should be present in every scene of your script; do not write any additional scenes to tell a biography of your character, because it will make the audience bored. They should learn the protagonist from the events he takes part in. MORE: 9 Ways To Write Great Characters

2. Antagonist

Together with a protagonist, your antagonist plays a very important role in the story, and you should never underestimate him! The stronger and craftier your protagonist is, the more interesting it will be for your audience to observe his confrontation and struggle with the protagonist. MORE: Beyond “Goodies Vs. Baddies”

3. Obstacles

A protagonist should always overcome different obstacles to achieve his GOAL; so, if you do not have them in your story – create them! But remember: these obstacles must be clear and understandable for the audience, they should see how the protagonist risks and sacrifices something very important to reach his goal, plus how he demonstrates his will and spirit. MORE: Yves Lavandier’s Notion Of Climbing Walls, “Each Bigger Than The Last”

4. Turning point

Never write a scene where nothing important is gonna happen! Illustrate a protagonist’s deeds and actions in every scene of your story, make these actions a turning point of the story, let them demonstrate the protagonist’s motivation without creating any separate scenes for it. MORE: 20 Killer Errors In Scenes 

5. Dialogue

As we know, actions can provide much more information than words; that is why you should not write dialogue when you have an opportunity to illustrate something with characters’ actions instead. Dialogue should be clever, witty, and clear for the audience to understand and take enough information from them. Learn to say much with minimum words. MORE: Daniel Martin Eckhart, “An Ounce Of Behavior Is Worth A Pound Of Words”

6. Monologues

No one is interested in didactic stories where speech is similar to some kind of a sermon. Do not write long monologues to teach obvious things to the audience: they will understand the moral of your story without all those monotonous homilies we all hated to hear in school! MORE: 6 Reasons Dialogue Is Your Enemy

7. Your research

Being a writer, you clearly understand what a writer’s block is: it’s that unpleasant moment when you have no idea what to write about. The ugly truth is such a block usually appears because of a lack of information (not inspiration. So, read books and make your own research to use this information together with your imagination and personal experience. Often, imagination is not enough for a really epic scene’s creation. MORE: The Importance Of Research

8. Words you use

Scriptwriting differs a bit from writing a novel. When a person (an actor, a producer, a director) reads your script, they should have a clear picture of every scene; so, think carefully of the words you use. Try to name objects and describe actions clearly, using vivid words. MORE: Film Doctor, Tighten Your Writing 

9. Your fears

90% of your writings is trash. It’s sad… but true. It could be years before you succeed; so, get ready for a long and difficult road to success. Do not be afraid of failure; it is a natural part of achievement! If at least 10% of your writing ends up good, you may consider yourself a lucky guy already. MORE: Self Belief: Can Do Attitude

10. Your beliefs

Your readers are not idiots, and they will never believe the concept of your story if you do not believe it yourself. Remember, your story is your own vision of this life; so, be honest with your audience and write about your own beliefs to make others believe you. MORE: All About Your Writer’s “Voice”

What do you think of these tips from Robert McKee? Share your thoughts in comments!

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BIO: Lesley J. Vos is a novice writer. She works as a private educator of French language and a blog writer of Bid4Papers company. Lesley gets ready to publish her first e-book this year and you are always welcome to contact her via Google Plus.

Please press the buttons at the bottom to share the page on your social media profiles and/or check out my books. Thanks!

FYI – SPOILERS!

I’ve said only recently I don’t read enough reversals in spec screenplays, in ANY genre, so I thought it time to offer up some examples of those I’ve watched that I felt were effective. Obviously, if you Google “movie reversals” you’ll find various lists (on which many are duplicated), so I’ve put my thinking cap on to come up with some a little different from the norm.

Before we get going however, you may want to read THIS POST, which contains a definition of what a screenplay reversal is, as well as a breakdown of the multiple reversals present in the scene in DIE HARD when McClane and Hans Gruber unexpectedly meet in person, in a corridor.

Ready? Then let’s go …

6) “I am sister to the fates”

legend

LEGEND (1985) is an odd film and also available in two different cuts: I vastly prefer the version with the Tangerine Dream score, which seems to benefit from much tighter editing in particular. There were many fantasy movies of this ilk in the 1980s: we’ve never really seen the same variety again beyond CGI-made universes, which seems a shame. WILLOW, LABYRINTH, THE NEVERENDING STORY, KRULL, THE DARK CRYSTAL as well as two Ewok movies all brought live action worlds of distant planets and different realities to audiences.  Certainly as a child LEGEND scared the pants off me, but its imagery and breadth of imagination are masterly, even if its narrative is not entirely cohesive in my opinion.

As the picture suggests then, the reversal I think worth noting here is of Lily’s defiance to The Lord of Darkness about killing the unicorn. Gumpf demands Jack kills his one true love before she strikes and cuts the animal’s horn off, telling him “she is not your Lily anymore”, appealing to him to see with his own eyes what she has become: evil, like the Great Lord (don’t forget Lily has already given herself to evil via the dress and demanding she kills the last unicorn).

Yet as Jack prepares to kill Lily, she reveals that she is NOT completely evil after all, cutting the animal’s bonds, rather than its horn!! This act catapults the story into the resolution, reminding Jack AND us that people are NOT always what they appear.

TIP: A well-placed reversal can take us from one act to the next; don’t forget that reversals are commonly used to reveal character, as well as push the plot forward.

5) “I bet that’s upsetting”

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I’ve written before that VAN HELSING (2004) is an insane film; it’s as if three movies got drunk and found themselves melted together in a load of celluloid gloop in the morning. But that’s half the fun! Read my previous thoughts HERE.

We’re introduced to Van Helsing in one of three ridiculously extended prologues: his comes in the middle, as he tackles Mr Hyde, Dr Jekyll’s worse half in the bell tower of a cathedral. Reversal-wise, during the (inevitable) fight that ensues, Van Helsing – packing two rotary blades crossed with ninja stars (!!) – finds himself trapped underneath a bell, placed on top of him by the much larger, much stronger Mr Hyde.

But wait, that’s not the end of it! When Mr. Hyde hears the rotary blades whirring underneath the bell, he picks it up again, to discover Van Helsing has (apparently) cut his way through the floor … Only for Van Helsing to have TRICKED Mr Hyde by hiding WITHIN the bell: he seizes his chance and severs Mr Hyde’s arm!

It is worth remembering that reversals DON’T have to relate ONLY to the protagonist’s aim in a scene: here we see Van Helsing’s aim reversed (the bell), then Mr Hyde’s (his arm). Played for laughs by both Hugh Jackman and a CGI Mr Hyde (Robbie Coltrane), the audience is left in no doubt as to what *kind* of  film this is: a hammy action/adventure that’s very, very silly but if you like that sort of thing, then it’s rollicking good ride.

TIP: Reversals don’t have to be plot devices or even reveal character; instead, they can illustrate tone, like they do here in VAN HELSING.

4) The Lift

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I do an in-depth breakdown of the character of Driver from DRIVE (2011) in my book, Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays, but what I don’t mention in the text is that it has an absolutely captivating reversal in the moment in the lift.

Though we understand intuitively that Driver finds his humanity via Irene and her son Benecio, we never see them in bed together and the only time we see them kiss on screen is in the lift. And that kiss! It’s a dream kiss, one of heroes and princesses, but also one of goodbye, for moments later Driver is the savage we already know he is, yet crucially, Irene does not (remember the previous section here – reversals don’t always relate ONLY to the protagonist!).

DRIVE is of course a highly stylised movie, so when Irene and Driver enter the lift with the “Other” Hitman, it’s hard to know how much time elapses between Driver kissing Irene and striking the first blow, thus isolating himself from her forever. Yet we are left feeling it couldn’t *be* any other way and Driver’s sacrificing of Irene’s love is because he loves her so much.

TIP: DRIVE is stylised and “hyper real”, but quite different to VAN HELSING, which takes its lead tone-wise from comedy. Instead, DRIVE is a dream-like arena, with many of its set pieces having a nightmarish quality, such as when Driver kills Nuno on the beach. On this basis then, it makes sense that Irene and Driver’s first kiss should be first wonderful, then terrible like this. The key is in consistency of tone for your reversals, otherwise such a massive change (especially when relating it to characterisation) will feel “inorganic” and put there for the sake of it.

3) “No silly, our OTHER daughter!”

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CRAZY, STUPID LOVE (2011) is one of my favourite Romantic Comedies of the last few years. There was an extended period in which Rom Coms were massively masculine via the Frat Pack and then Judd Apatow models, almost excluding the female POV entirely. CRAZY STUPID LOVE however shows it’s more than possible to meld the sometimes diametrically opposed, but also equally similar views men and women have about what makes relationships “successful” and how their own insecurities can sabotage their efforts.

CRAZY STUPID LOVE sets up like it’s two completely different stories: Cal’s divorce from Emily, juxtaposed against Hannah’s burgeoning relationship with previous womaniser Jacob. Jacob is present in both threads: he “advises” Cal on how to become a ladies’ man, just as he himself finds love with Hannah.

*Of course* Cal discovers his new life is hollow (in Rom Com land, everyone wants to be in a relationship, rather than happily single! Sigh) and Cal eventually wants Emily back, despite her infidelity with work colleague David Lindhagen. Cal tells Jacob this and how he’s going to try and win Emily back at a family gathering that afternoon; Jacob congratulates him on his realisation and tells Cal he’s made a few of his own regarding relationships. Jacob tells Cal he’s off to meet the parents of his girlfriend for the very first time. The two men part company.

That on its own would have provided the narrative with a nice dose of dramatic irony which could arguably have brought the movie to a neat, if predictable close. However, that’s where CRAZY STUPID LOVE throws all its cards up the air: it turns out the family gatherings Cal and Jacob are going to are ONE AND THE SAME, because Jacob’s girlfriend Hannah is none other than Cal and Emily’s eldest daughter!

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This is a masterly reversal which involves ALL the characters, that’s also very unexpected and very funny, catapulting us into an unexpected resolution. Considering Rom Coms are noted for their “inevitability”, how many of us can write something like THAT in our specs?

TIPS: Another function of a reversal is to bring the audience something completely unexpected. But we can’t just parachute randomness in; that’s cheating! CRAZY STUPID LOVE lulls us into a false sense of security with the juxtaposition of the two stories, seemingly linked by Jacob … then whips the rug from underneath us.

2) The Rubbish Furnace

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Nearly eleven and sixteen years respectively after its predecessors in the franchise, TOY STORY 3 (2010) was a long time coming; but it WAS worth waiting for. A fantastic plot, brilliant characterisation, emotionally resonant … What else can a movie fan want??

So when the toys end up in the rubbish heap, on their way to the furnace, I honestly thought their goose was cooked. Literally. They were completely painted into a corner, plot-wise; there is nothing they can do!! NOTHING. The toys even hold hands and brace themselves for what they think is to come!!! OMG. Skipping ahead in my mind, I “saw” the ending: Woody, Buzz and friends would get melted. We’d then follow the plastic into a recycling centre where it would get sorted, sent out into a factory … and then remade as more toys. No?? And nooooo!

But of course that doesn’t happen. Instead, in a homage a mile wide to the first movie, Woody and friends are saved by … THE CLAW! And who’s driving it, but the little green dudes. Magic.

TIP: If your character has to rely on an outside action to save him/her in or near the resolution, make sure your reversal is set up adequately in order to pay off at that moment, otherwise again, it feels like cheating. In TOY STORY’s case, the set up goes back a whopping sixteen years, but the average spec does not have that; just remember not to be *too* obvious with your set ups, audiences are smarter than they’ve ever been.

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1) Blocked Ahead

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ALIEN (1979) is a classic, so obviously many commentators have dissected its plotting over the decades, usually with reference to the surprise reversals of the chest burst scene; Dallas’ demise in the vents; Brett’s in the cargo hold; or the moment Ripley is confronted with the stowaway creature inside the shuttle itself in the resolution. So, needless to say, I’m going to look at something a little different.

My favourite reversal in this movie is when Ripley, now the sole survivor, takes Jones in the cat basket to the shuttle … only to discover her way is blocked: the creature is standing directly ahead of her in the corridor. Ripley freezes. The beast doesn’t see her. She shrinks away from the monster, brandishing the flamethrower, leaving the cat basket behind. As she races off, the alien rounds the corner and sees Jones in his cat basket. We figure the feline has had it as the beast checks him out – presumably as a light snack??

Meanwhile, now Ripley has a BIG problem: she can’t just wait for the alien to move, The Nostromo is about to blow up. She races back to Mother and attempts to override the system and stop the ship from detonating after all. She can’t. Now what? Well she could just get blown to smithereens, but Ripley’s proven herself a survivor: she’s not going down without a fight. So she goes back to the shuttle corridor … and discovers it EMPTY. Remarkably, Jones is still alive and unharmed by the alien. So she grabs the cat basket and boards the shuttle, escaping The Nostromo with moments to spare before the whole thing blows. Of course, as we know, the beast has WORKED OUT Ripley’s plan because it’s so smart, because she left the cat in its basket behind. 

This sequence is my fave of the whole movie because of a DOUBLE REVERSAL:

FIRST REVERSAL: The alien in the corridor

SECOND REVERSAL: The alien is NOT in the corridor

In other words, it takes something we DON’T expect, then moments later when we think Ripley can’t NOT clash with the creature on her way out of The Nostromo … it *seemingly* takes the threat away. This then adds to our shock LATER when we discover the threat has not gone away at all (because the beast has boarded the shuttle WITH her).

TIP: Sometimes juxtaposing two reversals quite close together or even within the same sequence or collection of scenes creates more of what you’re going for – whether that’s suspense, comedy or something else. But be sure to use reversals in this way wisely.

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One last thing … (NO SPOILERS)

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By the way, our movie DEVIATION (2012) has a MASSIVE reversal in it, just beyond the midpoint. I’m not going to tell you what it is if you haven’t seen it, but you can read the screenplay HERE and buy the movie HERE. Enjoy!

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On the day book 2 of The Decision Series, JASMINE’S STORY hits the virtual shelves, many thanks to @LizziesDecision ally and photographer/filmmaker Jendella Benson for this week’s excellent guest post about Diablo Cody’s Oscar-winning dramedy JUNO!

Jendella has been taking pictures of young mums and their kids for her visual project on the subject, which included me and the Male Spawn. I was honoured to be part of the project and Jendella’s currently crowdfunding so she can set up her own exhibition and workshops on the theme of Young Motherhood. This is of course very dear to my heart, so please do check out Jendella’s links and follow her on Twitter as @JENDELLA and @YMotherhood_UK. Enjoy the great article!

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“Let’s do a film about a sixteen-year-old girl from Minnesota who gets pregnant and wants to give the baby up for adoption – and it’s a comedy!”

Sounds like a great idea, right?

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Not really. It sounds like a terrible lowest-common-denominator comedy that will offend almost every demographic on the face on the earth (except of course the all-reigning white straight male contingency).

So how did Juno manage to spin such a yarn into an international win scoring over $231million in revenue and an Oscar in the process?

1) Central Character

First of all there’s the character of Juno herself. She’s not the misguided waif who uses sex and other vices to block out her troubled past, nor is she the usual suspect who we’re told gets pregnant as part of a grander scheme of treachery. She’s a pretty confident, tomboyish girl whose wit and kick-ass attitude alongside her youthful naivety and idealism is endearing to us all.

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This layered portrayal of a teenage girl doesn’t succumb to falling into the bimbo/calculating temptress or madonna/whore binary categories and this is seriously refreshing! Also, the fact alone that she’s a teen girl who is “sexually active” but isn’t at any point sexualised or objectified deserves all four of the film’s Oscar nominations!

2) Realism

Juno is not a sentimental retelling of what is often a difficult time for many young women and their families, and in the place of sickening sentimentality is a realistic portrayal of some of the issues that many young pregnant women face: in particular the reactions that Juno receives from both her peers and the adults in her life.

Juno’s parents’ shock, disappointment and occasional mildly disparaging comment is eclipsed by their stoic support of their daughter, with particularly amazing moments that come in the face of the judgmental and negative reaction of strangers:

Ultrasound Technician: I just see a lot of teenage mothers come through here and it’s obviously a poisonous environment to raise a baby in.

Juno: How do you know I’m so poisonous? What if these adoptive parents turn out to be, like, evil molesters?

Leah: Or, like, stage parents.

Bren: They could be utterly negligent. Maybe they’ll do a far shittier job of raising a kid than my dumbass step-daughter would. Have you considered that?

Ultrasound Technician: I guess not.

Bren: What is your job title exactly?

Ultrasound Technician: I’m an ultrasound technician, ma’am.

Bren: Well, I’m a nail technician and I think we both ought to just stick to what we know.

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3) Emotional Content

This film manages to address some of the emotional conflicts present powerfully but subtly – no resorting to the shoving of tears or melodrama down your throat. From Juno’s trip to the abortion clinic to the breakdown of Mark and Vanessa’s marriage and how Juno digests this in the context of her own parent’s divorce and remarriages, the film shows this intersection in Juno’s life, when adult issues and youthful idealism come to confront each other, in a way that is both touching, funny but in no way patronising or simplistic.

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So how is this achieved? It goes back to the characters. Characters and stories rooted in real human experience instead of caricatures and lazy stereotypes leaves room for a writer to really explore issues of the human condition with an authenticity that an audience can connect with – whether they can directly identify with the characters’ experiences or not. This is how even touchy subjects such as teen sexuality and shame can be addressed in a way that doesn’t make the audience want to vomit or gouge out their eyeballs.

BONUS POINTS !!! *prize winner bell rings frantically*

4) The Grey Area

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Is Juno a pro-life or a pro-choice film? Well, it’s a film showing the complexities and nuances of pregnancy and the possibilities of adulthood in the life of a sixteen year old girl… So I’d say neither! Because if there’s one thing that Juno does in both character and story it is communicate that life is never as straight forward as being black or white and that there is plenty of value to be found in the grey areas. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we all know that those are often the best bits!

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BIO: Jendella Benson recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to support her project Young Motherhood. The project addresses the stereotypes and harmful misconceptions about young mothers in the British media through photography and film. More information about the project and campaign can be found HERE. Check out Jendella’s own website, HERE.

Please press the buttons at the bottom to share the page on your social media profiles and/or check out my books. Thanks!

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TRIGGER WARNING for rage-inducing smack talk (and I’m not even talking about *me* for once!). So don’t come crying to me about what a cow I am for telling you the truth!

So, yet again, I’ve run into various writers on various social media sites, forums, bulletins etc telling ME how they “can’t” advance because of “[insert reason here]”.

Look. No one said this writing stuff was going to be easy. First you sweat blood getting the story and characters on the page, then you find you have ANOTHER journey ahead of you getting it out there??? I know. It’s super industrial-flavoured shit. I was peeved too. It’s like getting to the top of Everest, only to discover God or Mother Nature or Fate fancied a change, so put an extension on it like Madonna’s bra. I GET IT.

So here’s the top “reasons” why some writers apparently “can’t” advance … if none of these apply to you? CONGRATULATIONS, you’re ready for a CAREER in this writing malarkey …Otherwise, read it and weep, B2W Brethren:

1) You’re writing too little or too much

This is the thing: writers write. We know this. It’s no good just to say it; you gotta do it. And more than that, you have to have shedloads of IDEAS and be excited about all this, otherwise what’s the point?

On the flipside: spend all your time writing and all you do is end up procrastinating. As I always say, your best writing is done by thinking, but more than that: to be a great writer, you have to LIVE LIFE. Do not be too concerned with what Joe Eszterhas calls “reel life”. MORE: Writing Might Be Hard Work, But That’s Not The Same As Being Hard 

2) You think it’s about luck

We all need a little luck, it’s true … though the harder we work, the luckier we get. Of course, sometimes we get totally crappy luck and projects upend through no fault of our own. It’s terrible when that happens, but there’s only one thing to do in that situation. Guess what it is? Yeah, you’re right: KEEP GOING. MORE: All About “Good Luck”

3) You think it’s ‘cos you’re poor

Here’s the facts. You don’t need to be rich to have writing talent and you definitely don’t have to be rich to be able make contacts! You just have to be NOT WEIRD. Of course this is an issue for some of us, but that is usually not to do with how much money you have in your bank account, but giving yourself a slap! MORE: Connecting With Agents, Producers & Filmmakers Online

4) You think it’s about geography

“There’s no industry where I live!” DUDES. The industry *they* speak of is an illusion. You know why? Because THIS is “The Industry”:

People + people = writing, developing & making stuff

That’s it. You can do this ANYWHERE. Also, thanks to the internet, you can do this with ANYONE. Geography is no boundary. You can do what you want, with whomever you want (oooh Matron) – so why are you complaining?? There’s more opportunities than EVER before! MORE: 7 Reasons YOU’RE Screwing With Your Own Writing Chances

5) You think it’s ‘cos you’re not a middle-aged white dude

There’s no question the media is subject to institutional sexism and racism, BUT – and there’s always a BUT with me (snarf) – there’s also something else: the industry follows the money, especially Hollywood. So that means if your concept is red hot, they couldn’t care less WHO you are or WHERE you’re from. 100% true fact. So forget about those two things and write the best genre-busting, money-making screenplay EVER. MORE: What Is A “Genre Busting” Screenplay?

6) You see exploitation everywhere

There’s more FREE advice, resources and help on the internet about screenwriting and filmmaking than ever before. More is being added all the time. Some of it’s bad. But some of it is good, even GREAT! And yes, you have to sort through it all to get the good stuff (OMG what a problem!). But my point is this: if you don’t like paying for seminars, books, services, SCRIPT READS etc, then it’s simple – DON’T. Use what is at your disposal and stop whining. MORE: Frauds & Parasites!

As for the whole “working for free” argument – can we PLEASE put this one to bed, now? Yes, yes, BIG companies should not expect their writers to work for free. Obviously that is bad. But there is a DIFFERENCE between exploitation and COLLABORATION and if you don’t know what is, then seriously you really aren’t read for working with anyone, free or not. MORE: 7 Writing “Debates” To Avoid

7) You think it’s about art

I love art. It rocks. But mainstream movies and TV are not art *first*. They are commerce-led. They have to be. That doesn’t mean writers can’t slip in a nod here and there and make them “arty” – why not? – but ultimately, those prodcos making the screenplays HAVE to balance the books. Not because they’re evil capitalists, but generally ‘cos like most people, they have mortgages, childcare and psychiatry bills to pay for. Duh. MORE: 6 Ways To Avoid Being A Keyboard Warrior

8) You’re a snob

If I had a quid for every time I saw or heard writers dissing a screenwriter, filmmaker, genre or type of work and insisting they’d “never” do their creative work that way, it’d be too soon. But what these snobs don’t realise is often, their own harsh judgements paralyse them and STOP them from progressing, as they overthink everything *because of* the fear of people like them potentially dissing the finished project! Shame. MORE: Don’t Be A Backseat Driver

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9) You think it’s “who you know”

Let’s get this straight. If you write a brilliant screenplay? It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, as I mentioned in point 4. So it is NOT who you know. But yes, it does help to know some people too, because the media is all about RELATIONSHIPS. So make some! Again, it’s never been easier, thanks to the internet, as mentioned in point 3. Make a team. Make some stuff. Grow together. What have you got to lose? MORE: All About Building Relationships & Teamwork 

10) You think it’s just about your craft

Craft is great and certainly, screenplays LOOK better on the page format-wise than they did ten years ago. But unfortunately, most spec screenplays have the same issues they always did with structure and characterisation, because many new writers believe erroneously “craft = good format”. It doesn’t. Know what craft REALLY means and know how to nail structure and character, however? You might find yourself catapulted to success. MORE: Have Script Levels Improved In The Last Decade?

11) You think it’s ‘cos you don’t write “the usual”

Yes, the gatekeepers don’t want to find derivative stuff, but equally they don’t want stuff that’s totally wack EITHER. This is never more apparent than with characterisation and story. If you’re going to write an unusual character in a story that’s original and fresh, it needs to be “left of the middle”, not completely out of the left field. It’s all about balance! LE DUH. MORE: 4 Tips On Writing An Unusual Character

 12) You think it’s all “obvious”

Every time I publish an article – especially on screenwriting craft – some Whack-A-Mole pops up somewhere on social media, sneering about how all my points are apparently “obvious”. Yet if that’s the case, how come there’s so many writers out there confused about all this stuff / NOT doing these things? How come writers CAN improve on their crafts, their attitudes, their abilities to make contacts by listening to advice from industry pros? I’ll tell you – because there’s KNOWING it … and actually DOING it.

 13) You’re writing the WRONG THING

This is the thing. There’s a SHORTAGE not only of well-written feature length screenplays, but there’s a shortage of feature script WRITERS too. Especially in the UK. Especially genre. Especially women. Especially BAME writers. Plus it’s actually EASIER to get into feature film writing with a great feature length screenplay because no one cares if you have credits or not. AND TV people will read feature screenplays as samples. In other words: YOU SHOULD BE WRITING FEATURE SCRIPTS.

Yet new writers are writing spec TV projects. Constantly, at the expense of everything else. Why? Because apparently TV runs initiatives, schemes, etc and “feels welcoming”, was a reason I read on Twitter this week.

Okay … Let’s work out how many places on said schemes, initiatives etc are available in the UK each year … let’s say 50 (and that’s being generous). How many writers are going for each of those 50 places do you think? 500? At least, I’d wager. Those are astronomical odds.

Hey, you gotta be in it to win it. I get that. And if you genuinely love TV, then by all means go for it. But if you think that TV is any “easier” to get into than film? You’re out of your MIND! Especially as film IS so much easier to get into than TV anyway! MORE: Feature Length FEAR

14) You’re telling industry pros **how it is**

“There must be loads of great screenplays out there not getting made.”

There really aren’t. Do you know how I know this? Because I not only read stacks of screenplays every single year, I also talk to other readers, producers, filmmakers and agents. Absolutely everyone I know says THIS:

“There are NOT loads of great screenplays out there not getting made.”

Seriously, get it out of your head that there’s this black hole that sucks up great screenplays. There isn’t. What’s more, this is GREAT NEWS. Why? Because it means that if you come up with a fantastic script IT WILL GET MADE because we are desperate – yes, desperate!!! – to find them!!! There are FAR TOO MANY derivative scripts out there, written by writers who either 1) have no clue what they’re writing is derivative or 2) believe (again, erroneously) that the industry only makes derivative shite. MORE: 4 Reasons Samey Stories Happen – and 1 Tip To Avoid Them

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15) You think you can’t get read

Here’s another one that drives me batshit crazy: “It’s so hard to get read.”

Is it?? Let’s break this down. There are more contests, initiatives, schemes, listing sites, querying services, script call sites, film festivals, writing festivals, bulletins, Facebook pages, twitter calls, information sites, podcasts, videoblogs and other resources than there have EVER BEEN. More are being added all the time. Some are paid-for, sure; but a huuuuuge amount are 100% FREE.

Now, you’re trying to tell me you can’t get read? Seriously? Because I got read way back when there wasn’t all this stuff, when I DIDN’T have an agent, when I wasn’t @Bang2write and there was hardly anything writing-related on the web. Do you know how I did it? I rang people up from the The Writers’ And Artists Yearbook pretending to be “Producer X’s Assistant”.

Guess how many times I got busted? 0. I still use many of those email addresses I got, all these years later. (Of course, now I’ve busted myself, sorry! #notsorry).

My point is, if you want to get read? Figure out how to do it. It can be done. You don’t have to sleep your way to the top (though be my guest if that’s your bag) or even do cheeky phone scams, either. MORE: Can’t Get Read? Yes You Can

 16) You don’t have a strategy

This is very simple: figure out what you want to do, how you’re going to do it – and by when. Set goals. Revisit them. Your priorities may change and that’s fine; it’s not time wasted. But the scattergun approach does not work (or if it does, you ARE one lucky sod). MORE: 5 Career Strategies For Writers

17) You think it’s a “closed shop”

It comes down to this. It’s not a closed shop. I keep telling you all it’s not. But I keep hearing that it is, probably because people believe in the tired myth of being “plucked from obscurity”. NEWSFLASH: no one is plucked from obscurity. If The Industry is a bunch of people working together – and it is, as outlined in point 4 – then you have to create some relationships. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it is the only way forward. MORE: Making Connections, Self Promotion & Building Relationships

18) You’re not querying

See, “No unsolicited submissions” everywhere? Oh boo hoo. Query everyone, regardless. But what is querying? MORE: How To Query Via Email

19) You’re not making your submissions properly

If you get a script request? Send them what they want, the WAY they ask for it. I can’t stress this enough. If they don’t mention a specific way, send PDF files; your script; and a one page pitch. Make your accompanying email short, to the point and pleasant (ie. not weird, but not too formal either).

Oh and btw – you need to submit that script ASAP. Don’t make them wait weeks, or even months for it! MORE: Script Submissions Checklist

 20) You’re crossing your fingers and hoping for the best

So many writers tell me, “THIS will be the one!” And it’s great that they have so much confidence; they absolutely should BUT – again, that but (fnar) – but they inevitably find it ISN’T and then they’re CRUSHED. They’ll come to me later and say, “WHY am I not advancing?” And the answer to that is, they’re not doing enough to get themselves out there. So, ask yourselves honestly: ARE you doing enough *beyond* your writing? Do you even know what you’re SUPPOSED to be doing *beyond* writing stuff? MORE: Questions To Ask Yourself

 21) You’re not making your own opportunities

This is the thing. All this is in YOUR OWN hands … if you can just create those all-important relationships. But to do that, you have to meet people. If you help them, they help you. It’s not rocket science.

Networking is a stress many writers don’t like or want to do, but it IS necessary, I’m afraid. If you can’t afford the big events, then go to the ones with nominal charges or those that are free. If you live outside London, set up your own. In other words: MEET PEOPLE, however you can. Remember points 3, 4, 8 & 9! MORE: Questions to ask when networking in real life

Also: following writers, agents, producers and filmmakers on Twitter is a great start but you need to make those relationships with them as well. This can be done online if you can’t make it to “real life” events, but tread carefully. Remote communication can go hideously wrong very quickly. If you fuck up, apologise. If you get burned, let it go and move on. Don’t crusade on behalf of “all writers” or make weird proclamations. MORE: Congratulations! You’ve Totally Just Shot Yourself In The Foot

22) You really want someone else to do it for you

Every day writers ask me questions and that’s cool, I like helping writers. But too often, I’ll find myself stuck in someone ELSE’S view of the industry. You know how it goes:

“No one wants to help anyone, least of all you.”

Sounds like me, doesn’t it?

This is the thing: if you want something, then YOU have to go get it. You have to figure it out. If you can’t be bothered, or are too daunted, or too confused (or whatever), then maybe you didn’t want it that much to begin with. All of us start with nothing. If we want something, we have to CREATE it. It’s gruelling and painful and sometimes even boring (really!), but again: it’s the only thing you can do. MORE: Creating Your Career

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 23) You think it’s about paying ALL the bills from writing

Get this. Very few professionals writers are able to pay ALL their bills/ living costs from writing alone (especially in film). Even if they could, they might do something else as well because frankly, writing / freelancing is a lonely business! Most of us want to get out there and/ or do other stuff – ‘cos of the “reel life” issue mentioned in point 1.

To be a professional in this business doesn’t necessarily stack up in terms of £ or $. It’s about ATTITUDE and it’s about creating that career, as mentioned in the previous section. MORE: How Do I Become A Professional Scriptwriter?

24) You’re not giving producers or agents what they WANT

What do you mean, you don’t know what they want? It’s never been easier to find out … SO FIND OUT. MORE: What Is A Marketable Screenplay?

25) You just don’t know how this shit works!

You have to. Doesn’t matter what it is: structure? Make it your bitch (link). Genre? Know how it all goes. Budgets? Know what it is low, medium, high. Know what a producer DOES. Know the differences between PASS or CONSIDER and RECOMMEND. Know which are the good production companies or agents; talk to everyone. Know what deals are being done. And for Christ’s sake, WATCH THE STUFF YOU WANNA MAKE. I’m so tired of talking to people (who apparently love films as much as I do) who say “I haven’t watched that one”! Sure, I get it, going to the cinema is expensive and maybe your local doesn’t get a great selection; ours doesn’t either. It’s also not possible to watch every single film in the known universe. But if you want to write a Thriller, A Horror, A Drama, A Comedy, you should be IMMERSED in what has gone before – or you just don’t look professional.

So, if you’ve not “made it” yet, THIS is the reality:

Your screenplay is not good enough.

Of course, “good” is a relative term; yours might be ace and that’s great, but if there is no market for it, then it’s still not good enough. But this is the real point: do you even know if there’s no market for it, or are you just randomly throwing spaghetti at the wall??

If you want to make a sale and/or get serious attention for your writing via an agent or writer for hire opportunity (or similar), you have to invest in CONCEPT. It’s non negotiable. If I sound like I’m repeating myself here, it’s because I AM. I’m literally boring myself. But not as much as the writers are boring ME with the apparent “reasons” listed in this article as to why they haven’t “made it”.

It’s hard for everybody, regardless of background; geography; even start in life. I know a guy whose mother was a famous singer/actress back in the day, but she said to him: “You gotta make it on your own boyo, you’re not riding on my coattails.” So he’s getting out there with his scripts, alone, same as you.

Yes, she’s harsh and so am I. But it IS out there: you have wo/man up and get yourself out there regardless, with a great screenplay and a great attitude: “Why NOT me?” Seriously, why not?If you’ve got the talent and the persistence, it CAN be doneand I’m assuming you wouldn’t have started if you didn’t think you had the former, so now you gotta focus on the latter!

So it’s really as simple – AND as difficult! – as all the above. So stop whining and get going. See you on the other side!

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With the premiere of his self-funded, micro-budget feature-length comedy fast approaching, American ex-pat and director of The Stagg Do, James DeMarco, considers the pros and cons of making an indie comedy with no money. Enjoy! Click HERE for tickets for the world premiere of the movie TOMORROW (26/06/14) or click on the pic below.

5e21d51e4fa99c69f01d3954b674318fef681b9f.700.300.195.506.844.362To make it or not to make it? That is the question? The only question. It’s as simple as that. Either continue to wait for that elusive investment to arrive or to find a way to make the freakin’ thing. We just got tired of waiting.

And now, nearly three years since principle photography, I’m left to reflect on what was at times an arduous, unforgiving and nightmarish endeavor which left me humbled and heavily in debt. I sincerely hope that my experience may benefit other filmmakers who may be contemplating a similar DIY strategy.

In no particular order, here are TEN of the many lessons I’ve learned from The Stagg Do.

1. ALWAYS CHECK CVS AND REFERENCES – we’re living in the amazing time of the internet and social networks where you have access to almost anything, including like-minded aspirants who are more than willing to go out of their way to help you. This is a great thing. But it also has a downside. You never really know the person you’re dealing with via Twitter. So before you invite them to join your team, take a few minutes to check their references. Phone previous employers. Find out how they perform under pressure, because on a micro-budget film those are the conditions that everybody will be working under. Check references. We didn’t. And it cost us dearly. MORE: 10 Reasons Writers Should Put Down Their Pens & Pick Up A Camera By Adriel Leff 

2. YOU DON’T REALLY NEED A LARGE CREW – less is more when it comes to a micro-budget shoot. And if you can source crew members who can multi-task, all the better. You will work more quickly and efficiently using less crew – and it will also reduce your overhead. The important thing is to hire the best people possible, especially in key crew positions, e.g., DP, AD, sound recordist and a PMD (if possible). MORE: 10 Most Profitable Low Budget Movies of All Time 

3. HIRE RUNNERS WHO CAN DRIVE (if possible). Beggars can’t be choosy, but none of our runners had cars or drivers licenses, so often the producer was forced to leave the set for various errands. Not the ideal situation, especially when some of the visiting crew are pondering a mutiny. MORE: The Writer Is King (Or Queen) … IF You’re In Ultra-Low-Budget Film 

4. AVOID SHOOTING IN THE BOONDOCKS AT NIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF SUMMER - the UK summers are great, but for a night shoot, not so much. Besides having to endure the normal vagaries of North East weather, we wound up with about five hours of darkness each night in which to shoot. Night shoot. In a field. In English summer. Stupid idea. MORE: 5 Weird Things We’ve Done To “Kickstart” Our Film Off The Page by Tim Clague

5. THE SCRIPT SUPERVISOR IS IMPORTANT TO YOUR SHOOT – enough said. MORE: 10 Ways To Scupper That Micro Budget Film by Matt White 

6. SCHEDULE YOUR SHOOT IN PHASES – our initial shoot was 8 days (ludicrous, I know) with the knowledge that we would be shooting other scenes, sequences, pick ups and possible reshoots a few months down the road. By operating in this manner, we were able to pick up scenes that we hadn’t had time to shoot, as well as reshoot a key scene that we had cocked up on principal photography, while also adding a new set piece which the editor, producer and I came up with in the edit. As it so happens, it’s my favourite scene in the entire film. MORE: 10 Routes To Finance Your Movie, from @Raindance

7. REHEARSAL TIME IS IMPERATIVE - this probably goes without saying, but in no-budget reality you probably won’t have the money to afford the amount of rehearsal time you’ll need. Knowing that I’d have limited time to work with the actors before the shoot, the producer, AD and I decided to reserve a couple of hours for rehearsal each day before the shoot. For the most part this plan was successful, but none of us could’ve anticipated that one of the leads, a non-actor, would show up on set without having read the script. Yes, that really did happen. MORE: 5 Reasons Why Compromising Can Lead To Creativity As A Writer by Lance Nielsen 

8. BEWARE OF CLIQUES - Disgruntled crew members can easily disrupt the morale of a shoot (see lesson number one). With three other productions filming in the North East simultaneously, experienced crew were a rare commodity, forcing us to look out of the region or abandon the shoot. Using Twitter, we were able to source HOD production roles that really saved our skin. On the downside, we had created two factions: our local, inexperienced crew, and the out-of-town, more experienced crew, which led to minor conflicts which at times undermined the production. MORE: 5 Tips On Making Your Crowd Funding Campaign Stand Out 

9. NEVER RELY ON CAST MEMBERS TO SUPPY YOU WITH IMPORTANT PROPS - to be more specific, a car – the actor’s car which we had scheduled to use for a green screen shoot on the first day of principle photography was commandeered by his wife to go shopping, forcing us to completely reschedule our shoot. MORE: Money Talks: All About Film Budgets 

10. AND FINALLY, TRY TO HAVE FUN! - remember that no matter what you do, there will always be some people, they may even be working on your film, who will secretly hope that you fail. But before you pull all the hair out of your head trying to understand this curious and illogical behaviour, it’s probably wise to remember the old saying: what other people think about you is none of your business. MORE: How To Write Your Script To A Microbudget And Not Make It Look Microbudget On Screen by Ross Aitken

So we made a feature film. Was it worth it? Yes. If I had the chance to do it all again, knowing what I now know, would I still do it? Probably not. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind and seize the moment. In these days of affordable equipment, social networks and the internet, there’s really no reason why anyone can’t write, shoot, edit and distribute his/her own film. Stop waiting around – you’re a filmmaker – go and make a bloody film!

For more information, visit The Stagg Do website and to buy tickets to the WORLD PREMIERE in Newcastle on 26.06.2014, CLICK HERE.

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I’ve been working my way through a GIGANTIC pile of Bang2writers’ screenplays of late and noticed a common theme between most of them: their scenes needed work (as well as overarching story & characterisation). Since screenplays are the sum of ALL their parts, I thought I would compose a complete rundown of all the potential issues scenes can have individually to shed some light on the matter for interested parties. So, ready?? It’s a LOOOOOOONG list! Let’s go …

chopping-block

1) Starting too early

The classic. Every time you write a scene – and I mean every single time – ask yourself: *should* it start here? What if … it started five minutes later in this character’s timeline? Five hours? FIVE DAYS LATER? And so on. Never just write a scene simply because it feels like it “ought” to start at that point. Chop, chop! MORE:  7 On Structure: The Top Heavy Draft

2) Letting scenes go on too long

This happens when a writer has not set him/herself a PERIMETER for how long their scenes “should” be. Now, this will depend on the story being told (such as genre, tone, pace, etc – ie. a weepy psychological drama will have longer scenes than say, a Bourne-style Thriller) but a general rule of thumb is:

upto 1 page = “ordinary” scenes

up to 3 pages = “extraordinary” scenes

Yes, yes obviously you may well end up writing longer scenes … but try not to. Seriously. Why? Because EVERY SPEC SCREENWRITER writes long scenes! Again, we’re back to this notion of differentiating from the crowd. How? Well, note use of the word “up to”. Yes, you CAN write scenes shorter than a page!!! Yet I hardly ever see them in spec screenplays. In professional screenplays via prodcos? All the time. I rest my case. MORE: All About Scene “Focus”

3) Cutting scenes off

This is an affliction that often happens to more seasoned writers, who’ve perhaps got what I call “Rewriting Fatigue”. They can’t see the woods for the trees any more, because they’ve spent far too long on a project. You MUST rest your brain and yes, get away from the keyboard! As I always say: most of your best writing will be done by THINKING, honest guvnor! So leave your spec, live your life … and return to it with FRESH EYES. MORE: Rewriting & Feedback

4) Too much black on the page

Another classic. Obviously, we don’t want TOO MUCH scene description, but we also want your writer’s voice to shine through … REALLY. So it’s not a case of chucking out every little thing, we want those elements that show only YOU can write this story! But you also work out what’s necessary and what’s not. As ever, it’s a question of BALANCE. Never forget this. MORE: All About Your Writer’s Voice

5) Too much white on the page

This frequently happens when a writer swings from too MUCH description to too LITTLE … As a result, we may lose that writer’s sense of “unique-ness”, especially as the script itself will end up as a number 10 (see that section). MORE: 10 Ways To Revitalise Your Scene Description.

6) Utilitarian or “static” scene description

Sometimes writers get hung up on the fact we’re supposed to “see” everything in a screenplay, so they end up writing what I call “False Movement” into a scene. You will have all read screenplays like this: we’re talking a raised eyebrow here; a walk over to the window there; a smile (and all its synonyms); sitting down and so on. Yes, yes all of those are FINE when used sparingly, but not at the expense of everything else. Don’t make your scenes “static” like this! MORE: 3 Tips For Getting Rid Of Static Scenes 

7) Novelistic Scene Description

Just recently, I’ve been working with a lot of novel writers adapting their own work. Some really obvious things came to the fore, such as them writing stuff that was too psychological, OR too reliant on clothes, but the one thing they ALL did? Very detailed, extraneous scene description. Always remember: your screenplay is NOT a novel! MORE: Novels Vs Screenplays

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8) Relying on technology

Writers commonly make the mistake of relying far too much on technology to “fill in gaps” for the audience. Whilst exposition can be delivered via, say, a well-timed internet search or text message (or so on), it is unwise to use them as information dumps. What’s more, if you have characters sitting in front of computers or answering phones too much, this is not VISUAL. MORE: Top 3 Ways Technology Screws Up Your Story (And How Not To Let It)

9) “Leading” dialogue

Leading dialogue happens when a writer places the emphasis in the scene ON what is said, rather than what is SEEN. The writer has to instead invest in his or her VISUALS and tell the story that way instead. MORE: How to make your screenplay visual 

10) Chains of dialogue

Chains of dialogue happen when writers get carried away (this happens a lot in drama screenplays, but also comedies); or the writer may believe erroneously that there is conflict within the dialogue, so that in itself is “enough” to carry the story. For example, arguments in spec screenplays will typically run for anything between 4-7 pages, yet just think of the last time YOU saw something on television or in film where two characters stand more or less stock still (as this one is often combined with point 6, as well!) and they proceed to yell at each other for between four and seven MINUTES … Can’t think of one? Me either. MORE: 6 Reasons Dialogue Is Your Enemy

11) Chit chat

Chit chat happens when writers believe what their characters are SAYING reveals more about them than their ACTIONS. REMEMBER: characters are not what they say, but what they DO. MORE: An Ounce Of Behaviour Is Worth A Pound Of Words by Daniel Martin Eckhart

12) “Monologue-ing”

Monologue-ing is frequently employed by writers for their antagonists, who must reveal the goal of their EVIL PLAN, though this can also happen as various characters (especially women!) tell others (usually men!) how terrible they are *for some reason*. This frequently happens in the resolution of screenplays, making the story rather Scooby Doo as everything gets “backended” (snarf). Yet the exposition should be paid off visually at the end, NOT with talk; this is only possible if you mete the exposition out across the ENTIRE narrative. MORE: 9 Common Exposition Questions

13) Not making characters pull their weight

Characters are often borne into being for NO reason by writers. We all do it. We like the idea of someone, so create them … and then find they end up literally standing around in most of the scenes! If you find a character is consistently doing this in your screenplay? I don’t care if s/he is based on your spouse or your dead dog, GET RID and/or merge with another. Pronto. MORE: 9 Ways to Write Great Characters

14) No discernible character role function

It comes down to the following at grass roots level -

Main characters: Protagonist & Antagonist (2)

Secondaries: Everyone else who either HELPS or HINDERS the protagonist (usually between 2-5 more)

Peripherals: walk on parts that usually have some sort of plot device (usually hindering the protagonist in some way)

That’s it. Seriously. Yes, there’s advanced characterisation techniques like dual protagonists; the protagonist/antagonists; the ensemble cast and more, but it’s ALL built on top of the basic model I outline above.

So, in your scene, your secondary character better have a really good STORY reason for taking over from the protagonist or antagonist at this point … otherwise it’ll just seem like you’re going off the beaten track, no? MORE: Don’t Let Your Secondary Characters Take Over 

15) No discernible character motivation

As Joss Whedon puts it, everyone has a reason to live in your story. The protagonist wants something; the antagonist wants the protagonist to not get it (or wants their own thing, which clashes with the protagonist’s goal … however you want to phrase it). But NO ONE in your storyworld wakes up and thinks, “Hey, I’m going to help/ not help the protagonist!” They ALL think the story is about them. So don’t reduce your characters in your scene to their role function, either!

Again – it’s BALANCE! MORE: Top 5 Ways Writers Screw Up Their Characters

16) Sudden character “About Face”

Characters need to be consistent, whatever that means … FOR THEM. Their actions have to make sense in the context of the storyworld they are in, too. And before you say it, YES: your characters can be paradoxes, that’s fine, but they gotta be CONSISTENT paradoxes. In other words, when it comes to characterisation, start as you mean to go on; DON’T stick a scene in that has your characters doing something out the left field, just because you want to mix it up a little. MORE: Is “Good” Characterisation REALLY About Change?

Axe on chopping block

17) Middle Montage

Regardless of story or genre, every good scene has to keep the momentum going. Drop one, you drop them all. But writers are predictable beasts and I always know when a writer feels like s/he is losing the plot – literally – because a montage will rear its ugly head and screw everything up. Usually it’s around the midpoint and often it will be because the writer feels s/he needs to “signify the passage of time”. No. JUST NO! Montages must be used sparingly, if at all; spec screenwriters need them ONLY to push the story forward, hardly ever stylistically (that’s a director’s thing). MORE: All About Montage

18) No Reversals

Reversals relate to surprising things that happen in the plot. That’s it. All stories (should) have them, because otherwise they become dull and pedestrian. Yet many writers have little clue how to use them or where. But a scene with an inspired reversal in is like GOLD DUST. They mark the (wo)men from the boyz. A spec screenwriter who can utilise reversals is destined to be in demand, because again: the industry simply does not see enough of them! So if you’re thinking to yourself now, “I’m not sure how to use them” or even “Oh I don’t need them”, believe me: you NEED to get cracking and working on them right now. MORE: All About Reversals 

19) Plot “Happenings”

Screenwriting is about plot CONSTRUCTION, but the average spec screenplay is a series of plot “happenings”. This is especially true of Act 2, or the “Conflict” of many of the spec screenplays I read. Individually, scenes might read well and be interesting; holistically, they’re a mess and simply don’t become cohesive. What can writers do about this? Study structure. Please. And I don’t mean read one or two books and decide which method makes the most sense to you; I mean READ ALL OF THEM. Talk about structure. Attend classes. Think about it in detail. Immerse yourself. Why? It comes down to this: the best screenwriters don’t have a good idea of structure and how to use it; they have it nailed down so tight they can plot even the most complicated of non linear screenplays in less time than it takes us to write a shopping list. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but get this: every single produced Hollywood screenwriter? Is a structure MASTER (or MISTRESS). Make structure your BITCH – and start with your scenes! MORE: The Structure Section of The B2W Required Reading List

20) No Opener

Most spec screenwriters do not use openers … even to open their screenplay!! Openers are that FIRST IMAGE we see at the beginning of a script that not only GRABS the reader, but tells them what this story *is*, so you need to CHOOSE WISELY. If you start with tears falling onto a mirror, you’re saying this is going to be a SAD story; if you start with a child’s rocking horse in a playroom, then this story is probably for kids; if you start at an ominous Halloween carnival, it’s probably going to be a Horror movie … and SO ON.

But equally, here’s another point on openers: EVERY scene in your spec screenplay should start with an image. I never, ever want to read another spec screenplay where someone simply STARTS TALKING RANDOMLY. I want visuals. I want them now. So does everyone else, ESPECIALLY filmmakers. Remember, there’s an awful lot of directors out there who wouldn’t write their own scripts IF THEY COULD FIND SUITABLE MATERIAL. This means they need to find stuff on budget (in the UK, that’s ultra low budget, £25-150K, typically), but also this means VISUAL. You want a director to take your script over his or her own? You gotta give them the goods! MORE: 5 Openers That Make Readers GROAN

So, recognise any of these errors in YOUR screenplay’s scenes right now? Then what are you waiting for … CHOP CHOP!!

Like what you see here? Then please check out my books and/or hit the buttons on the bottom of these pages and share them on your social media profiles. Thanks!

Please press the buttons at the bottom to share the page on your social media profiles and/or check out my books. Thanks!