Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 - A Year in Rear View

Well, what a year 2011 turned out to be on the writing front.

It started with a bang when The Red Bride successfully picked up a Feature Navigator grant from ScreenWest. I confess I was somewhat pleased to receive that call. Dancing may have been involved.

Since then there have been, I’m going to say, three to four drafts and many script meetings, discussions, existential crises, false starts, bouts of inspiration, moments of teeth gritting agony… in what is generally known as feature development. It was also an opportunity to work with a top notch script consultant from L.A. in Michael Hauge. Thank goodness for Skype!

There is a full line-by-line script session scheduled with the producers a few days after Christmas which will lock off the script… or 2011’s iteration leastways. It remains the best thing I have written and hopefully next year will see serious market interest.

Speaking of script consultants, 2011 was a year where I was exposed to several other top notch practitioners – from Karel Segers’ seminar on The Hero’s Journey to Paul Chitlik’s intensive five day treatment workshop to Simon van der Borgh’s entertaining (as always) exploration of genre. I love this level of hands on interaction with people who really know their screenwriting lore.

Not only does it keep you sharp on craft skills it actually generates content – there is a 28 page treatment from Paul’s workshop for a feature project that currently has a pitch document sitting with an eastern states production company; and a one page synopsis from Simon’s ‘invitation’ to come up with, over lunch no less, a feature film idea. There is a local producer interested in the subsequent one page synopsis but I simply haven’t had time to do anything further with it… yet. That’s on 2012’s To Do List.

I also had the opportunity to listen to writers such as Andrew Bovell (Lantana, Edge of Darkness), Ron Osborn (The West Wing, Moonlighting) and David Stevens (Oscar nominated for Breaker Morant) share their experiences and insights. Many thanks to the WA Branch of the Australian Writers’ Guild, ScreenWest and the Perth Actors Collective for organising such events.  

My focus throughout the year has been predominantly on developing feature projects but I was delighted to be asked to participate in the Professional Partnership Program run by the Filmbites Youth Film School. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience which now sees two short film scripts I’ve written about to go into production next month.

Feature development can be a hard slog so the opportunity to work with a talented group of young actors and the genuinely supportive staff has been a revelation. The next few days will see a workshop of one script and a table read of the other. It looks like I will also be invited to rehearsals and the shoots so from that perspective it’s as much a learning experience for me as the ‘students’.

It may have been a contributing factor to me shopping three of my short scripts once a producer released two of them recently. I have had some very interesting people respond and will be meeting with a director after the workshop tomorrow to discuss one of those screenplays. Another director is checking their eligibility for the funding round I have in mind and I’m waiting to hear back from others who have requested scripts. 

The end of the year has been incredibly busy. Suddenly I seem to be in demand as people seek me out to work with on a variety of different projects. Of the two directors attached to the Filmbites’ scripts, one has asked me to co-write his feature and the other had already approached me about writing a short that could subsequently be developed into a feature. The former will technically be an adaptation as it’s based on a real life Australian political event but it’s up to others to make announcements about the specifics. Suffice to say there is plenty of reading and research ahead of me over the summer.

I continue to enjoy reading other people’s scripts and offering feedback. I apologise that sometimes it takes me longer than I would like but it is dependent on how swamped I am with writing commitments. I have read some very interesting stories this year from a genre piece set on an oil rig in the North Sea to the debut effort of an actor turned writer to a funky web series aimed at young adults. I find the passion of other writers quite invigorating and discussing scripts is always fun.

One thing I have learnt during the year is that sometimes projects stall despite the best intentions of all involved. Directors withdraw due to unavoidable personal circumstances; priorities may change for producers; projects may simply be past their shelf life; funding bodies may not share your vision. I am always striving to better handle those sorts of disappointments.

Finally, thank you to all my major collaborators and supporters throughout the year – David Revill & Jocelyn Quioc at Tin Can Films (formerly Forgeworks); directors Chris Richards-Scully & Tim Dean; Hallie Mckeig and all the gang at Filmbites; producer Michael Facey; true hyphenate Anna Bennetts; Rikki Lea Bestall at ScreenWest; and all the recent additions to my circle of talented colleagues.

Have a great Christmas and see you all in 2012! 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Short film scripts available

T'is the season for giving. In that spirit, I have three short film scripts that I'm looking for (Perth-based) producers and directors to come on board with. Ideally with Link funding in mind (deadline 29 March 2012) but ultimately to have words on the page turn into moving images on screen by whatever alchemy is available.

Lucky Bamboo: A withdrawn office worker, still traumatised by a random bashing, is given a Lucky Bamboo plant by an older free spirit and told to care for it... or he will die. A story about overcoming your fears and reconnecting with life.

Immortal: As a grieving teenager struggles to deal with her mother's unexpected death from a rare blood disease, she comes to believe she is a vampire leading to tragic consequences.

The Fifth Quarter: Recently retired star footballer Brett Keys is thrust into the cut-throat world of corporate politics where it will take more than his celebrity name to survive.

If you're interested in any of these log lines, please email me on for the script(s). If you could also please include some information about yourself and your film-making background.

From there, if you like the script(s), we can haggle over details!

Richard Hyde

Friday, December 9, 2011

Which came first – the script or the audition?

I had the opportunity to sit in on auditions yesterday for one of the short films I’ve written. I found it most instructive for several reasons.

Firstly, some background:

The script is based on improvisations. It is a nice little ghost story.

The auditions were only for members of the youth film school who conducted the improvisations. In other words, the actors were already familiar with the material.

Two directors had previously been attached – the first, along with his producing partner, withdrew when they remembered they had two funded shorts already in production; the second director ended up getting offers on another continent. Both sets of circumstances outside of my control.

The third (and final!) director – Paul Komadina - had recently approached me to write a short for him (which we will still do) and in those discussions this project came up. We have never worked together though we did go through an online Skype course with an American consultant last year after both being shortlisted for a screenwriting award. Yes, he also writes.

With a new director comes script changes. Also working out storytelling sensibilities and something I bang on about a fair bit, tone.

So we had discussed changes but for the purposes of the audition the two scenes chosen were left unchanged. Mainly because any alterations will be minor (they are the first two scenes of the film and it’s the ending Paul has a deliciously wicked plan for) and the timeframe for the actors to learn new pages would have been pretty tight.

I should also mention, as part of this process, the two male characters felt the writer’s malevolent backspace key and are no more (sorry guys, I was under instructions!).

For the audition Paul asked the actors to learn all four roles. They were auditioned in pairs running the actual scenes then swapping, taking a minute or so to “reset” and come back in. This was done for three pairings.

In effect, for me, it was a mini-workshop knowing that script changes needed to be made. I could see the characters and scenes come to life with differing interpretations from the actors – what worked, what may need to be rethought in the writing, new ways to play those two scenes and what that may mean for subsequent scenes.

Paul’s re-directs were interesting as well, opening up possibilities but also getting an insight into what he’s thinking as we start the process of working out the writer-director relationship. Things like asking an actor to play a scene a certain way that deliberately contradicted what the text suggested was fascinating to observe. Again, especially for tone.

Everything was filmed and it was all very relaxed as the actors were encouraged to try different things and, in many ways, play with the material. I had obviously worked with them before during the improvisation and workshopping phase but they were seeing Paul for the first time. The feedback was that they were impressed, particularly with the clarity of the re-directs.

I have now finished the next draft moving towards Paul’s ideas for the story. That still requires work but it was great to be able to witness the auditions and use them as a jumping off point for the changes required.

It also means things are getting closer to production which is exciting!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Script Readings - Pros and Cons

My first 'by request' post. A new writer who has finished the third draft (a good sign) of their first feature screenplay asked me to write about the pros and cons of script readings.

My main experience in this regard has been with PAC Script Lab, an initiative I am an ardent supporter of as one of the few writer-centric events in the local film industry. I have written about Script Lab before but let’s do a quick recap of the pros before looking at a few cons:

Profile: The evening puts screenwriters and scripts front and centre, now with local media publicity and a presence in social media. Anything that shines a light on and celebrates the craft of screenwriting is a good thing. Audience numbers are consistently strong with a nice cross section of industry members and the general public.

Support: Never underestimate the impact on a writer who has slaved away on a script for months, fielding the inevitable questions asking what it’s about and explaining their anti-social behaviour (especially when deadlines loom). Having family, friends and colleagues at a reading is good for the writer’s soul! So THAT is what you’ve been doing…

Feedback: This comes in various forms and is absolutely invaluable. Firstly from the actors who are doing the reading. You have a chance to hear the script twice – the initial read through and the evening itself. Actors, being very perceptive creatures, will offer thoughts on their characters and story points.

Script Lab uses feedback forms and asks the audience, in exchange for free wine and nibbles, to fill these out. Questions usually revolve around characters and development of the plot but you can add specific questions if there are certain areas you want to focus on. At my last reading I had about 30 of these forms – makes for very interesting reading, especially when trends appear. One off comments are harder to process.

Then there is the post reading feedback. People will come up and talk to you about the script, ask questions, outline what they enjoyed, what they didn’t. These conversations are perhaps best of all as you get the opportunity to probe for the real reason for ‘negative’ reactions to aspects of the script. By that I mean, people may not like something but not know why.

Intangibles: You get to hear the script AND the audience. At my first reading I was so traumatised I wasn’t relaxed enough to just listen. The second one, I had a producer and director attached so I could chill out, sit up the back, drink my wine and listen. To when people laughed, when they shuffled their feet, when the room went quiet, when actors stumbled over dialogue, when the pace flagged, when the tone shifted, when plot mechanics took over from character etc.

I see now the readings are recorded which didn’t occur when mine were read. That would be fascinating to listen back to – for pace and tone in particular.

While the readings are overwhelmingly a positive experience there are some cons to be mindful of. As Ross Hutchens, one of the original co-founders of PAC, explained to me once, a reading is, in many ways, live theatre. What may work well in that context may not be a good film script and a good script may not work well as a performance piece. For example, for my second script, I was asked to trim the big print to make for an “easier read”. But that was a very visual story.

Very good actors are invariably used and charismatic and engaging “performances” may mask deficiencies, most notably in structure.

You also have people giving feedback who aren’t necessarily conversant with structure and the myriad other aspects of screenwriting. They will have an intuitive feel for story but I’ve seen many a time effusive praise given for poorly structured and badly written scripts that were carried by engaging performances. Of course, the writer has to filter the useful from the irrelevant, the same as any notes. The danger is the inexperienced writer who takes such praise as gospel.

It’s always good to see though, that quite a few of the notable writing talent in Perth regularly attend. I always try to, to support my colleagues but it’s also a good way to keep up your own craft skills by analysing other people’s work.

So, on balance, if you have a script that you believe is at a standard to withstand public scrutiny then I would recommend you organise a reading. Script Lab is one avenue but you always have the option of getting together actors who are prepared to donate their time and do it yourself. The feedback is priceless for the rewrite process.