Monday, June 13, 2011

A Paranoia of Screenwriters

I don't know if there is a collective noun for a group of screenwriters but if there isn't can I proffer 'A Paranoia of Screenwriters'?

Because (as every right thinking, decent, hard-working screenwriter knows) everybody is out to steal their ideas, screw them Toby Ziegler style with their pants on, and generally suck on the marrow of their creative genius like some vampiric nemesis writ large.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating... a little. I have come across those people and I am sure you have too. You just roll your eyes and head straight for the free wine.

So it was refreshing for two days to a) be in the presence of the redoubtable Simon van der Borgh who conducted his Genre Workshop in typical entertaining style and b) hear approximately 20 feature stories ideas as a result of Simon's devilishly simple writing exercises.

To those of you mailing copies of your scripts to yourself by registered post, yes I was recording every pitch on the iPhone 4 I don't have and I've been busily transcribing your genius as we, um, 'speak'.

Seriously though, I LOVE these sorts of workshops precisely because they are all about stories and creativity. Spending a couple of days discussing the history of genre, genre types and conventions, audience expectations, referencing films and watching clips, discussing character and story rather than templates. All brilliant stuff. And highly interactive.

It's always interesting listening to other people's story ideas and we had a wide range from horror, to supernatural, to a rom-com, action-adventures, family dramas, social justice, epic fantasy... and my little science fiction horror. You also get the benefit of feedback and thoughts from Simon and your screenwriting brethren which helps gauge if the story has potential.

Plus one key message that emerged from the workshop - the consistency of TONE. The knock on a lot of Australian films being that because they don't know what genre they want to be their tone is all over the place which alienates audiences as expectations are not met.

So thank you to Simon and kudos to all the talent in the room who contributed to making it an enjoyable and productive couple of days. Let's see how many of these ideas make it to the page and hopefully further...

Just don't tell anybody a group of screenwriters gathered together in the one place and freely gave of their time and ideas... we have a reputation to uphold!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What's It All About? aka Theme

Part 2 of the Professional Partnership Program with Filmbites last night and the evening was structured around THEME.

Through discussion of last week's improvised scenes; the (film school) director's suggestion of themes (such as "seize the day"); and reference to films like The Graduate and Dead Poet's Society, the group started to explore what resonates with them in their daily lives.

Many personal recollections and experiences were raised which is great fodder for a writer as it brings authenticity and emotion. It also helps me clue into the issue of relevance as I am of a different generation so my concerns and frames of reference of how the world works aren't necessarily the same. But talking thematically is a great way to bridge any real or perceived generation gap.

The actors did some warm-up exercises then we split into two groups with each writer working with 3-4 actors to do a mind-mapping exercise or what I would call brainstorming. The two strands that emerged from this were "sacrifice" and "epiphany". We swapped over and continued to explore what those themes meant and possible scenarios that could be utilised. It was also an opportunity for me to share some of my real life background, especially in regard to my "light bulb" moment (that led me to resigning from my corporate job in Sydney to come home to become a writer).

The actors were given time to come up with scenes based on either of the two themes and then present. Again, the results were very interesting - a woman waiting for her boyfriend at a restaurant on the night of their anniversary discovering she has more in common with the waitress; a sister discovering that she was adopted and deciding to leave to find her real family to the horror and anger of her brother and younger sister; and a delightfully gruesome scenario that took a literal look at sacrifice involving a pot, a baby and ingredients such as eye of newt!

Next up the writers gave one scenario each that the actors improvised leading to, from my colleague's suggestion, a very nuanced scene between male and female friends where one would like to be more. There was an honesty here that was compelling and during the debrief was considered something worth pursuing - that moment when something changes between two people and the domino effect of that change.

So it appears Romance and Epiphany might be on the mind!

But there is still that great scene from last week based on the key word "Darkness" that keeps beckoning.

Time for me to brainstorm the way I do best - I feel a rough draft coming on...