Tag: graham linehan
I got into screenwriting a few years ago and like anyone who hasn’t done a course I decided to read a few how-to books to get an idea of structure but in all honesty they didn’t really help. There is a some value in reading a couple of them but only to a certain degree and the one thing I really got from all the books that stick in my mind is listed right at the bottom..
The Robert Mckee seminars are probably better as you get the visual performance for educational purposes but the idea that you should read these books or you will end up with a 100-page mess is not necessarily true. I am near the end of the third book, Save the Cat, which everyone talks about after Syd Field’s Screenplay and don’t get me wrong, I have gleaned a few bits of helpful information but the only way I really learned to write is watching films (lots of films!) and reading screenplays (lots of screenplays!). Absorbing that much information gives you an idea on structure.
Oh, and write. Write all the time, rewrite and keep rewriting. You will get your own rhythm and believe me, you will get your own voice. I personally refer to screenplays rather than the how-to books when I get stuck and listening to established screenwriters, they pretty much do the same.
Learning the fundamentals is an important aspect to great screenwriting but take in the script books verbatim and you will invariably have run off the mill scripts that work through the motions. Look at the films you really like and ask yourself if they followed the rules to the letter? No, they learned the fundamentals and then added their own characteristics.
Also to be blunt, if you want to write “within the system” then go ahead and follow these books to the letter and then start counting the money but that’s not me, that’s not the style I am going for. The best how-to book on selling out and generally a really fun read is Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: by Garant and Lennon. This one is explicit for writing purely for money and thereby selling your soul.
Now, stop procrastinating, open that Final Draft and get going
The following is roughly the screenplay breakdown and most movies follow this model:
-page 1-10: we meet the character and the world they live in
-page 10: the incident happens
-page 25: your hero is launched into the story
-page 45-50: things get worse
-page 65-70: something even worse happens
-page 70-80: things get as bad as they can possibly get
-page 80-90: the winning is going to be harder than we thought it was
-page 90-100-ish: the climax, the hero wins
I was chatting to a guy I know and he was worried that with the advent of cheap digital cameras and edit suites, his skills in the professional world would be diminished. How can a filmmaker shine with so much content being made? What brought on all this paranoia? Well, we separately just watched the doc, Side by Side about the transition of the chemical film process to digital, which has polarized the film community.
My personal view is that it’s a great thing for a number of reasons. I started when you shot on film as “that was the way” and it was bloody expensive to get the film processed and this limited to how much you could shoot. You really needed some heavy cash behind you to afford such luxuries. In terms of editing, I also had the fortune back then to work for a post house that had invested in an Avid (retail: 80 grand!), which was an immense cost saver. Some filmmakers weren’t so lucky.
I still love the look of film and am more than happy that digital is now at a better quality compared to Spike Lee’s Bamboozled and Mike Figgis early digital efforts. Even though these filmmakers were pioneers their films still looked like digital video and hence flat and inferior. Now, Red and Arri have both closed the gap and for me the peak so far is the lush quality of Skyfall. It helps that people like Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher try to push the digital limits for quality so the audience benefits.
Starting on film is a great learning curve for me because you were physically have to splice the film (I cut on a Steenbeck!) so you had to really think about the cuts you were going to have to make otherwise you have to unpick the film and start again. Every film editor will also say that when you spool through a 500 foot roll you might catch something that you might use. On an NLE you tap a number and go to that scene. In digital editing you can make as many sequences and edits and to the undisciplined eye you can really get bogged down with too many options and lose sight of the film you envisioned. I have seen it with new editors when going through their bins.
The short film I recently did was a godsend due to a low budget and cheap gear! Also you have to note that just because everyone has access to cheap kit doesn’t mean it’s going to be good and there are some really dreadful shorts out there which also is good as it makes the great projects shine. The elitism of filmmaking is eroding and people like Shane Meadows get a chance to have a voice. Hell, even those from Black and Asian backgrounds can now create content which used to be the exclusivity of the middle class.
Take a look at this clip from Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse made in 1991. Francis Coppola had the same vision right there, one that I wholeheartedly share.
I thoroughly recommend watching Side by Side to see how much of a revolution is taking place
The Post Production Phase
So, the main shoot was a slight disaster in getting what I wanted on screen, a situation that Christopher Nolan never had to go through but then again he had money, lots of money! I just had third party camera insurance and some travel expenses.
I have a background in editing and always enjoy the challenges of cutting but this is way beyond what I expected or signed up for AND THIS WAS MY FILM. Why? Most of the projects I have worked on have a decent budget and big crew and pretty much the entire script filmed from various angles over multiple days. My film didn’t. Also I wasn’t as prepared to deal with everything like that little nugget called continuity.
After the first viewing of the rushes I noticed the lack of continuity of the scenes involved as we had to rush through the script due to the extreme cold which would depress any mere mortal. I have all the shots that I need to build something but it’s not the vision I had in my head but hey nobody really gets everything they need, do they?
Now, if had to farm out this material to an editor I would have plainly been screwed as working for peanuts, one expects at a minimum, footage that looks good (which it was) acted well (which it was) and cuts together easily (ermmm….). Nobody wants do be bogged down in fixing something unless you are getting full pay or you have that Steve Jobs style of enthusiasm of saying magic is in there. Coppola was great at keeping his post staff motivated during his darkest moments of Apocalypse Now and he did well out of it. I can now watch Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse and say I lived the dream!
Luckily as I am editing this I can find ways around the footage and even better I am going in an eccentric direction, which is putting my film in an interesting position. If all went well during the shoot it would have been a nicely edited film like so many other shorts but I have a chance of being different. I allow myself the chance to experiment in my darkened room.
I am back on track and enjoying the problem solving, as that is what I do best.
I met a commissioning editor the other day….
I went to the RTS sponsored Speed Date The Comedy Gurus where you get a 3 minute session to pitch an idea to the actual heads of the channels. To people like me who have sent shorts and ideas to the established companies that sit on piles of other people’s genius ideas it is a revelation to actually see how they operate when it comes to what they want for their relevant strand.
My first 3 min speed chat was with Robert Popper and foolishly I tried to pitch two ideas whereas I should have concentrated on one. I came across like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now with my stream of consciousness speed talk, which was ultimately didn’t win anyone over but he did give me pointed notes on where I was going wrong.
My first pitch, Microphone Fiends, is a semi autobiographical story of 2 people in dead end jobs who decide to try stand-up on a whim and suddenly get drawn into the comedy world. If I were a commissioner I wouldn’t find that unique as comedy and stand-up ideas are everywhere and I realise that people will think that I’m jumping on the currently trendy bandwagon. To be clear for my conscience, it is an ensemble character piece I have been writing for a year and a half and not riding on any trends. The stand-up is just a backdrop to propel the two people’s friendship and the comics they meet. It’s about the eccentrics and the seediness of London’s nightlife. Also I know Ben Miller did a film called Huge which people would unfairly bundle together. My idea (as I kept saying) is a modern Nashville. These people don’t have time to sift through a script (life is too short) so I really should have summarised it to stand out which I have learned.
The second idea was a 6 part show called Fear and Loathing in IT, about an ex-pat American hedonist living in London and working for a large nebulous IT industry. Instantly I was told that was a bad idea as it has the words IT in it and easy connotations to the popular channel 4 series. Again my idea is poles apart from The IT Crowd but in terms of the pitch it could have been better to distance it from a popular brand.
Needless to say for the next two pitches I concentrated on one idea and sounded less demented (i could be wrong).
Three minutes feels like a short time to pitch your idea and one main thing I learned is to get to the point of the idea as a unique logline. Also be aware everyone has to do the quick pitch. I know heavyweight producers who trundle up to the commissioners and do the speed pitch so don’t feel that you are an lesser exception.
In the end just to get access to the talent and feel what goes into a pitch is priceless and good luck to all the people that attended. RTS needs to do more of these and find the undiscovered talent and bypass the development divisions (for an evening at least!).
And for me? I will carry on trying to convince people to realise my idea. I believe in it and hopefully someone will too but that’s another story!