On a Spring roll …

m2412

For novelists, November is a huge month, with a small endeavour known as  NaNoWriMo keeping them busy. It’s like the vomit draft I mentioned previously, aimed at getting some 50,000 words of a novel down on paper.

For screenwriters, the equivalent is Zero Draft Thirty – a month long attempt to bash out the first draft of your screenplay, or plan or rewrite – there are no rules. It fitted well with my three pages a day plan.

March was ZDT and I decided to adapt a thirty page short sci-fi story. I quickly realised that the twist at the end was really only the end of the first act and then came the hard part of upping the stakes.

I took vomit draft to a whole new level as I struggled to make sense of the story – and also struggled to not edit as I went along  – until finally, something clicked. It might only be 48 pages in total at present, as the 3 pages a day gave way to thrashing out the story, but it has a beginning, a middle and an end, and I’m pleased with the overall concept. My main character turned out to be fun too!

Although I found the rewriting process with the other two projects a lot of fun, I’ve parked this story for now – it was more of an experiment for my first ZDT – and am going to focus on another project that I feel more passionate about, one that has a beginning and an end but a higgledy-piggledy middle.  This one, a darkly comic crime caper, has been one of my main projects since I started to focus on screenplays and I’m itching to crack on with it.

Flitting between the two stories is a bit of luxury at present, as the two completed projects are now with a script consultant. The pilot I’m going to enter in Thousand Films competition, and the feature will be sent to Sheridan Smith’s production company, Barking Mad Productions – Sheridan very kindly put out a call for scripts and has promised to read all of them – I’m guessing she’s decided for forego sleep for a while!

All this is happening while putting together the next RLF Murderous Medway (21st September), for which we have some cracking authors already lined up. A pretty productive March, which has energised me for April!

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Do we have the right to tell true stories?

This was the question posed by filmmaker Vincent Lambe to justify his Oscar nominated film Detainment.

Subsequently, the overriding sentiment from most people was: Yes – provided you have permission from the victim’s family.

Detainment was made using the archived transcripts of interviews with the killers of James Bulger. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were just 10 years old at the time they kidnapped the two year old from a shopping centre and terrorised him before killing him. The transcripts are in the public domain so permission isn’t needed.

However, as many pointed out, common courtesy dictates that you’d at least contact the family and ask for their blessing before you went ahead. This Lambe did not do – and therein lies the main issue for most people.

As the mother of a two year old at the time, my sympathies lie entirely with Denise Bulger and what she went through then, and what she is going through again now.

Another Twitter user took umbrage that I’d dared to express my opinion on the matter and after a long conversation, pointed out that I’m a screenwriter and they hoped karma would get me, by way of a project I’d spent hundreds of hours on being withdrawn.

I pointed out that it wouldn’t happen* – because I would never even begin to write a screenplay about such a sensitive subject without having got the relevant parties on board.

I guess for those who don’t remember this case – too young, outside of the UK, perhaps – it’s hard to understand why there is such a backlash against this film. But I do. I can remember the atrocities that small innocent boy suffered without needing to look it up.

For me, this is the side of a true story that simply didn’t need telling again.

*Sadly, the nature of the film and TV  industry means there are many projects whose collaborators put in hundreds of hours of work for them never to appear. It doesn’t have to be controversial.

Writing daze

The Coffee Break Screenwriter by Pilar Alessandra

You know I said I’d be writing at least 3 pages a day? I actually have!

Therefore, as we near the end of January, I can look back on the month and be really proud that I’ve now two complete project drafts. And it’s thanks in part to the excellent book (see above) by Pilar Alessandra: The Coffee Break Screenwriter.

I was stuck at a rough 12 pages for the pilot episode of my TV series, so, since it was Pilar’s weekend TV writing course that set me on the journey with it last year, I revisited her book to jump start me again.

Going into the weekend last year with just the basic concept, I came away with the full template for all the elements of a mini series bible, which subsequently turned into a 5 page document that set a strong framework for me to work from.

But knowing my characters and where I want them to go turned out to be the easy bit. So using Pilar’s book, I’ve begun to work through the 10 minute exercises and concentrate on one part of the script at a time. Before I knew it, I’d hit 45 pages. And I’m still only at the beginnings of the rewrite processes!

Having already completed the vomit draft (as I’ve charmingly seen it called) of my feature – Pilar refers to it as the speed draft (as in you write it quickly, not while you’re high) – I’ve started the rewriting process on that and already it’s gained another 4 pages.

It helps that I’ve finally made the effort to make more, dedicated, time. I’d let too many distractions keep me away from the writing but a new approach has proven worthwhile. This is essentially not writing just on the computer – printing the drafts off and going through with a red pen (like in the olden days) clearly works for me. Pen and paper, you can’t beat it.

Yesterday I was at the second Rochester Write Then Socialise and basically sat quietly for 3 whole hours working through the script, with Pilar’s book becoming more and more thumbed as the day wore on. The beauty of this was that once I felt a break was in order, I could reward myself by chatting to fellow writers over a coffee, the importance of which can’t be underestimated.

Writing is a lonely, solitary business and it’s easy to become isolated. While we were all concentrating on our own projects, the sounds of low chatter, tapping on keyboards and the scratching of pens reminded me I’m not on my own.