Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An emotional rollercoaster

As you may have gathered from my last post, I was feeling somewhat down after my two hour script session last week. I’m not quite sure why… okay, that was an outright lie. The fragile writer’s psyche that craves recognition and praise baulked at the first sign of resistance. But the points raised were all valid and put across in a constructive and amicable way. I suspect what I thought I heard in the dark recesses of my brain was, “oh no, I’m going to have to start all over again!”

Thankfully, two things happened that disabused me of this notion. One was the two hour recording of the session was made available and - once I got over the inherent awkwardness of listening to myself - it proved very useful. Secondly, that recording was circulated to my producers and director who told me I had, in fact, not descended into a babbling wreck and did fine in the back and forth.

I had typed up the notes I took during the session but when I reviewed the recording I became much more enthused as there were nuances and aspects I had missed. All the positive stuff! Funny how the mind gravitates to the negatives first and foremost. I was then listening with a ‘problem solving’ mindset and not a ‘defensive’ one. And a pathway of possibilities emerged using the existing elements.

One of the most interesting questions was: what are the elements that are sacrosanct? This made me assess aspects that have never seriously been challenged even from the earlier iterations by other writer(s). For example, the main character has always been Chinese-Australian and related to the antagonist. Why? Can we explore questions of culture and acceptance in different ways that frees up the genre aspects of the plot? Yes, of course we can!

So when it came time to meet with my producers and director yesterday to do a debrief, the whole project began to open up in ways we had never really explored. Which is really exciting!

But it’s that emotional rollercoaster you go through as you take in feedback, process it, knuckle down and work out solutions then emerge re-enthused about different pathways for your story. The trick is trying to stay on an even keel and not get despondent – script development is, in fact, hard. That’s where supportive collaborators are so vital and an attitude that embraces problem-solving as a vital part of your screenwriting armoury. Having expert feedback helps as well!

I now return to the trenches with a plan and the enthusiasm to carry out that plan. After all, nobody ever said rewriting can’t be fun!

ps I don’t think I’ll be getting a Spoken Word Grammy nomination just yet… but there’s always the next session!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Development Part 2: Welcome to the Majors!

I'm a big fan of US professional sport, particularly the NBA (Go Lakers!) and the NFL (whatever happened to the 49ers?) so I listen to quite a few sports themed podcasts including the Tony Kornheiser Show (of PTI fame). 

A story he recently told resonates with me after my first script session with Michael Hauge. It was about a young baseball phenom who was renowned as a fast ball hitter. There are big wraps on this kid but he'd never faced Major League pitching before. In particular, he'd never faced a curve-ball thrown by a pro. Fast ball straight down the middle? No problem. Wicked curve-ball? Absolutely no idea. The point of the story? If he is dedicated and talented enough, he will learn to adjust and thrive.

Well, today it felt like I faced a curve-ball for the first time. Didn't even swing the bat... Stttttttttttttttttttrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrike!!! 

But that's alright. There will be plenty more at bats before this thing is done. So like the young phenom, I have to lick my wounds, regroup and learn from the experience. Which is the whole point of going through this process with a top notch script consultant. 

Also means things are getting real serious now which is where the dedication part comes in.

If you're looking for me I'll be in the 'batting cage' practising my swing... 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Development aka The Long Hard Slog

Tomorrow morning I am scheduled to have the first Skype session with Michael Hauge on my script The Red Bride. I am excited and, I confess, a little nervous. It will be interesting to get his thoughts on the latest draft and a sense of how we will proceed. I was down on the South Perth foreshore today listening to his audiobook “Screenwriting for Hollywood”. Six pages of notes later, I have a rough idea of what I may need to focus on using Michael’s key principles.

Then it was off to a meeting at ScreenWest to discuss an upcoming development round for another project. Before that, feedback from the director on the treatment and submission material. More feedback from the SW Development Manager. New things to consider, more changes to be made, questions to be answered.

For some reason I felt a little down after this. But then I reminded myself, this is development and development is HARD.

It took three drafts of The Red Bride over the course of a year to overcome earlier objections – female lead, too complex, not marketable – to the point where we secured a development grant and now get to work with a US script consultant. For it all to start again.

The other project, In Total Unity, will go through the same sort of cycle as we break the story. The trick is to remind yourself that this is normal - the development of a feature film script is a process of evolution (and in my experience, the odd mutation that leads you in new directions).

I was a little disheartened because I was getting notes on: submission notes, the treatment, short supporting documents. Namely every damn aspect. But I know this level of interrogation is going to save me a lot of grief later. It can be meticulous, painstaking and frustrating… but absolutely essential.

Tonight I’ll re-read the TRB script then get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow morning I’ll embark on the next step of that script’s journey. For ITU it’s back to the drawing board on the next iteration of the treatment… but with a clear idea of what changes need to be made.

To me, script development is a lot like a shark – if it stops moving forward it dies.

So back to the trenches I go!

Note: The above blog post was approved after copious notes, 14 drafts, 3 polishes and a page one rewrite, by a panel of three industry professionals, a local Government body, and extensive review by an independent Ombudsman…argggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Critics and Spoilers

It appears that a well known Australian critic has gone out of his way to include a major spoiler (in the first line) of his review of Scre4m. Namely, the identity of the killer. Given that a strong component of the Scream franchise is the “whoddunit” aspect this would seem to be bloody-minded and disrespectful of both the film-makers and the intended audience. The critic clearly didn’t like the film but is that any excuse to ruin it for others by revealing such a major twist? No, absolutely not.

Social media has already started stirring with the early swell of a backlash and it’s interesting that many leading the charge are local film critics. I’m not surprised. Such an egregious review has the potential to besmirch their reputation by association.

So what is the responsibility of a film reviewer? Who ultimately are they accountable to? What damage can such a revelation cause a film or is something like Scre4m “critic proof”? What if it was an Australian film?

I know there is a stream of thought that says film critics are the natural enemy of the film-maker. But on listening to a sudden plethora of podcasts by professional film reviewers, my impression is that most are conscientious in their approach and considerate of the audience in regard to things like plot spoilers.

I was listening to a local podcast today where spoiler alerts were being given for films 30-40 years old! Okay, that may be extreme but it indicated an acknowledgement of a certain responsibility to the listener, a courtesy I am sure is extended in other media formats.

I may not always agree with critics’ thoughts on a film but I can at least acknowledge a well argued opinion. Deliberately spoiling a film, however, is inexcusable.

Do you pay any attention to film reviews? Does it influence your decision on what to see? What do you think of the inclusion of spoilers in reviews?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Quid pro… que? or I’ll show you mine if you show me yours?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately – a variety of stories in different formats: an original science fiction script from a person I’ve never met who added me on Facebook; a novel from a friend (I swear, I’m getting to it Anna!) and a feature treatment from a local writer-director. Various other scripts, both produced and not, are waiting for my eyeballs (and hopefully brain). Then, of course, there’s the review of my own work as notes start to trickle in.

During the Treatment Workshop, when the writers bonded through adrenaline and a positive, shared experience ‘under fire’, everyone agreed to stay in touch and share their work. Deciding to forgo my Goldmanesque pit for once, I took this on board and offered to send out my treatment to anyone who was interested and, in return, read and give feedback on other people’s work.

The response was a little disappointing. To date I have exchanged treatments with the above mentioned writer-director (who was in the other group) and sent mine to two people from my group. There was one other person who expressed interest… when he finished his treatment!

Nevermind. The feedback I received from two of the three has been excellent (thank you Alex, thank you Helen) with little gems from perspectives I had not considered. Which is exactly what you’re after – an insight to how to make the work better. Is the story clear? Are the characters interesting? Is there conflict in every scene? Is the ending satisfying? Does the structure work?

I also enjoy reading other people’s work as it’s a way to hone your own craft skills. As Paul said during the workshop, we now share a common language for discussing and analysing scripts and treatments. So I was pleased when I pretty much hit the 7 structure points in Alex’s treatment correctly. He also seemed pleased with my notes and suggestions. A win-win outcome.

Why the reticence then from other writers?

I’ve been to writing groups and workshops before where people promise to stay in touch and, from my experience, it rarely happens. There are notable exceptions – I met the above parenthetically mentioned Anna in a workshop circa 2000 and we have been friends and occasional collaborators ever since.

Is it that writers are notoriously insular? Is it because we are all ultimately competitors for a finite slice of funding pie? Or is it simply that once you’re out of the cauldron of insane deadlines and intensive feedback, life and other things get in the way? Surely it’s not the old bugbear about people “stealing your ideas.”

One constraint I do have is where I don’t have ultimate control of a script – for example, with The Red Bride, the producers determine the readers it goes to which is perfectly fine. My natural inclination would be to send it to out wider.

With the In Total Unity treatment though, there is no producer as yet, so Tim (director) and I are keen to get feedback as the story is developing at a rapid rate.

Do you have a set of readers you always use? Do you circulate your work? Participate in writers’ groups?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Script Consultant for The Red Bride – Michael Hauge

One of the benefits of successfully going through ScreenWest’s Feature Navigator initiative is the allocation of funds for further script development. The producers have now confirmed that US story and script consultant Michael Hauge will be working with me on the next draft of the supernatural thriller, The Red Bride. This will be over Skype and the initial meeting is scheduled in less than three weeks time. An exciting prospect!

Michael is the best selling author of Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read and of Writing Screenplays That Sell. From his biography, “Michael… works extensively with Hollywood executives, producers, agents and managers, helping them sharpen their story and development skills, and improving their companies’ abilities to recognize powerful material, employ advanced principles of structure, character arc and theme, skilfully communicate a story’s strengths and weaknesses, and work effectively with writers to achieve a commercially successful screenplay.”

I haven’t read either of his books but found a 3 hour audiobook on iTunes called Screenwriting for Hollywood which includes selections from his “award winning workshops”. So guess what I’ll be listening to as I walk along the South Perth foreshore?!

I will be very interested to hear his views on the current draft and eager to get a sense of his process. I have had some notes back - from ScreenWest and one of the FN consultants - but haven’t formed any concrete views as yet to how I want to approach the next draft.

I’m really looking forward to our first meeting and submerging myself back into the world of hungry ghosts and demons!