5-4-3-2-1 Talent Campers are GO!

Like most writers, I’ve done my fair share of courses – short and long, online and offline – to help improve my writing. I’ve attended events and seminars to glean nuggets of info from those who’ve been there and done it, and signed up to numerous writing websites’ newsletters .

And now, I’ve finally taken myself by the scruff of the neck and gone for the Big One: Talent Campus, the London Screenwriters’ Festival’s rocket-fuelled 7 day, 4 week intensive workout.

I’ll openly admit, I thought it was too soon for me to take full advantage of it. But then I thought, what the hell? I’ve either got talent or I haven’t and it’s probably best to find out sooner rather than later, right?

I was still unconvinced though, and my application contained 10 pages of an incomplete script which was pretty much a raw first draft, where I teed up ideas to explore further along. I figured, if they accept that, I know I’m on the right tracks.

So here I am. The intense activity away at Ealing Studios starts on June 26, but we’re in the Pre-Ignition phase and they’ve already set a first homework assignment, a 2 page script for their Impact 50 project.

It’s something I looked at briefly before, but couldn’t come up with a good idea, mainly I think, because I was concentrating on my TV pilot for a competition. So I let it go – and then slightly panicked when the assignment came through.

Don’t settle on your first idea, it said, and eventually the snippets I’d been jotting down previously formed themselves into a workable plot: An elderly lady decides to protect her canine best friend from suffering the impact.

I decided to give her a cantankerous husband to play off, then decided to give him dementia – we lost my dad to the condition, and I’m involved in the local dementia action alliance, so I’m confident including it in my stories.

But then a funny thing happened. Having only two pages to play with, I ran out of room for the dog. So the story became: A woman whose husband lives with dementia shields him from the present by recreating a date from their past. Which hadn’t been in my notes at all!

On a Spring roll …

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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!

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.

Continuing personal development …

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My ambition is to write a screenplay. A full length film. I’ve got the whole film playing out in my head – interrupted occasionally by the TV series I want to do. And chocolate adverts.

So I’m dabbling in online courses for film making and screenwriting, through the brilliant Future Learn portal – masses of free online courses you can do in your own time, or alongside potentially thousands of others. Do check them out.

The one I’m currently engaged in is ‘Explore Film’ and it’s pretty awesome – I’ve already watched some brilliant short films and am feeling inspired. Into Week 2 and there was the opportunity for some practical work. Today found me on location (at the ever welcoming Cafe @172/Dot Cafe in Rochester) with the lovely Sam Rapp, The Dyslexic Poet, and the also lovely Penny from the cafe (who didn’t need too much persuasion, since she’s another crafty creative we’ve found).

The brief was to write a 30 second script on the premise on someone in a room giving something to someone else coming into the room. I then had to storyboard it (you can see that on my Creative Arts Pinterest page. A must if you like stick men work) and then rope in some unsuspecting victims to film it with me (see above).

And this was the result. I still haven’t discovered the techy tricks that will make the video look as good on YouTube as it does on the iPad, which is annoying – but hopefully that’s something we’ll cover as we progress.