Sunday, March 17, 2013

Please Fasten Your Seatbelts – Turbulence Ahead

The Preamble 

I’ve posted about PAC Script Lab before, a wonderful initiative run by Annie Murtagh-Monks and supported by ScreenWest with many other sponsors involved. 

Held at the Subiaco Arts Centre every couple of months, the reading of local feature screenplays provides a unique opportunity to road test a script in development.

This Wednesday evening my thriller script, with director Tim Dean, is being read.  
An unprincipled lobbyist flies into Perth to close a multi-billion dollar deal. After a mix-up with a woman on the plane he ends up with the wrong briefcase. When he opens it he discovers a gun and a list of names with only one not crossed out. To complicate matters, his briefcase contains a folder that implicates him in fraud and corruption relating to the business deal. The lobbyist desperately wants the folder back but in return the woman demands that he find the last person on the list… and kill them.  

The Inciting Incident

There I was hidden away in my dark, damp, Goldman-esque pit doing all the things screenwriters do when they’re working on a script – checking my email; writing witty updates on facebook; researching obscure facts on the internet; re-cataloguing my DVD collect-- *ahem* - punching out page after page like a machine… when, well, damn it, it was time for a shot of actual and metaphorical Vitamin D!  

Yes, screenwriters need a little love too sometimes. What better way than to… 

…showcase a brand new script… 
     …to a room full of…  
 …complete strangers 
…and ask for their feedback. 
                                                            What have I done?! 
The Special World

Fast forward to early February and I‘m sitting in my customary spot - the back row of the Subiaco Arts Centre studio. Annie is making the usual introductions; I’m sipping a wine, relaxed, and waiting to hear Reg Cribb’s latest screenplay, safe in the knowledge my reading isn’t until 27 March. Plenty of time to work on the scr-- 

“… and the next Script Lab will be Richard’s Hyde’s Turbulence on the 20th of March.” 

My wine sputters all over the entire row of patrons in front of me and I possibly flap my arms in wild-eyed bewilderment as I want to scream: 

“That’s one whole less week to procrastinate!!!”  

There’s no turning back now though – the date has been announced; the project declared. Time to -- 

Get down to work 

One of the things I like about now working fulltime is the monthly paycheck. The part I don’t like so much is getting up at 6am and working fulltime… especially when you still keep writers’ hours at night. However; there’s a draft to punch out, the fear of impending public humiliation a powerful incentive.  

Some things to consider: this is a first draft; I no longer have the luxury of time what with that whole “going to work for a living” thing; I have an immovable deadline. That last fact is my saviour.   

As are these two - the structure is pretty solid as the director and I spent a lot of time getting the beat sheet right before I wrote a scripted word; and, praise be, I have a critical voice, my director! 

The writer-director relationship 

There’s probably an argument to be made that there are far too many writer-directors in this country but that’s a debate for another time. Other than to ask this, who is the critical voice that makes them strive to make the script better?  

In my case it is the director, Tim Dean, who was involved from the inception of the project and shares a story by credit. He gives very precise notes and won’t let me get away with being lazy or cheating or going off on tangents.   

For example, there is a scene early in the first act that he kept coming back at me over. It’s an important part of the setup but, for him, wasn’t quite working. Time was at a premium so I was giving him chunks of rewritten pages as I was working through the script. I was happy enough with the scene but he kept pulling me back to it. So I reworked it… and reworked it… and now it has a greater sense of urgency and is more revealing of character.  

Eventually two drafts were written in just over a month… PLUS a reading draft but we’ll get to that later. 

Time to Cast 

Tim and I go to Annie’s home one evening to discuss the casting of the reading. I have a few names in mind and, of course, Annie is, amongst other things, a casting director.  

She really likes the script and I get free script notes including a couple of logic holes that are subsequently addressed. Then it’s down to the fun part – who do we want to bring these characters to life.  

While it’s only a reading, every attempt is made to cast it as if we were filming. Preferred options are discussed and nominated; alternates also chosen if there are issues of availability.  

In short, I am very happy with the reading cast, most of whom I know in person or by reputation and are fabulously talented. It’s also important to note that they are volunteering their time not only for the reading but a rehearsal read as well. For that I am extremely appreciative and grateful. 
Cast from

The Reading Draft
In many ways Script Lab is live theatre so there is a request to keep the Big Print (scene descriptions) to a minimum. I do another pass to take out what amounts to three pages of description, mainly to allow dialogue to flow without the Narrator having to intrude. This is a rhythm thing for this exercise only. Those descriptions would be important for filming but here might slow down the read. It makes the script look a little funny in places to my eyes but it's a specific document for a specific purpose.
Tell all your friends! 

PAC Script Lab is quite the slick operation now – social media; press releases; a radio interview that you can listen to here; promo poster and tag line; the finalising of the feedback form for the audience to fill out after the reading; volunteers on the night; a sound recording of the read; even a Q&A that you can read here - all masterfully coordinated by Annie.  

Thank you also to Cathy Prastides for designing the poster which has had a very positive response. 

Now all that’s left is to sit back, sip my wine and be open to all the feedback that is about to come my way. This is an important part of the development cycle for our story and my sincere hope is that all this scrutiny will enable Tim and I to make the script even better. 

I look forward to seeing you there. You can RSVP to if you wish to attend. If you do, make sure to come up and say hello.  

Richard Hyde  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Q&A... on writing

As part of the upcoming PAC Script Lab (more of that in a later post) I was asked some questions by co-founder of the Perth Actors Collective, the indefatigable Annie Murtagh-Monks:

Many people are intrigued as to how writers get their inspiration for stories/scripts.

What triggers your ideas?

This is perhaps the hardest question of all for a screenwriter – where do ideas come from?  For me it could be an obscure news item or a snippet of overheard conversation or simply the question all screenwriters ask, “What if…?” The hardest one to explain is when I see a scene fully formed in my head. If it keeps reappearing I try and figure out what it means and what the greater story around it is. The greatest trick is to trust that you know a good idea when it comes to you, no matter how that happens!

What was it in this story that came to you first?

There were three main aspects. Firstly, Tim and I wanted to make a straight forward, low budget genre thriller as a reaction to not getting any traction (yet) on our big, sprawling conspiracy thriller. We explored a few scenarios but the one that stuck was, “what would you do if you found a gun and a list of names in a briefcase?” The other element came from a bizarre, real life news story that felt like it was straight out of a movie script.

Are you the kind of writer who writes only when the ‘inspiration’ fires? Up till all hours burning the night oil OR do you set aside allotted time each day or week to write in?

I consider myself an ill-disciplined writer yet I manage to write a lot of pages. When I’m “in the zone” I write prolifically. When I’m not I procrastinate like crazy. How to find that magic place where time slows and creativity reigns? If only I knew.

I’m certainly not someone who has set times every day to write. I admire people who can do that. Deadlines help me enormously. I think the hardest part is beginning – once you dive into the world of your story you get immersed in it. It’s getting to the keyboard that’s the killer – the usual self-doubts most creative people have. “Will it be good enough?”

Screenwriting is difficult at the best of times. You’re juggling story, character, tone, theme, pace, structure, a myriad of different elements. That can be daunting. When you get it anywhere near “right”, however, it is exhilarating.

What do you find easiest about writing film scripts?

The collaboration. Working with smart, creative people such as directors who share your sense of storytelling style and who you trust and respect. Script meetings, brainstorming, problem solving, working with actors on improvisations or workshopping scenes. Basically bouncing ideas off people to make the script better.

What most challenging?

After all the meetings and discussions, the reality is that screenwriting is very much an anti-social activity. You have to lock yourself away and write, for hours, for days, for months, in some cases for years. That can be really difficult and maybe is another reason beginning each day is so scary. You have to cut yourself off from the real world to some measure and lose yourself in your imagination and the world you have created. That’s why rainy, stormy days are my favourite writing days – less excuses to be out “doing things”!

Where do you get your ideas from?

What are your writing habits?