Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Screenwriter's Digest #1

John The Animator Guy has an interesting and helpful piece on visual storytelling for newcomers.

Lucy V at Write Here, Write Now offers great advice on how to put together a Writer's CV for those looking to do so.

Scott at Go Into The Story has an excellent ten-part series on his scriptwriting process for the curious.

Michelle Goode of So Fluid: Confessions of a Screenwriter has some great info and resources on social networking and peer feedback for writers wanting to network and share work.

Brian at Screenplay Readers shares some golden advice on how to get a 'Recommend' on your script coverage for those wanting to improve their game.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Behind The Scenes | Project Spacebound

For the last month or so I have been working diligently on a new TV project: an animated adventure series for children.

Although this is the grand reveal, I'm afraid it'll be a no show as to specific details. You know the score. If it was Comic-Con then I would be happy to share all!

Instead I will offer a little insight on the origin of the idea, its rebirth and end with some notes on the early development for this.

Project Spacebound is not the actual title. Although, a rather cool one come to think of it. It's the codename for the show and a way to talk about it other than referring to it as the vague New Project 2012, New Project1, 011011100010011 or Animated Children's TV Series, or God forbid, to reveal its actual title before its time!

From Short Animation to Series 

The revival for this stems back to a chat with Danny Stack a few months back. The act of being able to share the story concept with him and have it received well was revitalising and encouraging. From then on I knew this was going to be my next project.

The truth was that I hadn't begun work on it as a television series. It was something I wanted to explore in the future and would see the expansion of an old short animation story I had, accompanied by ideas and development notes on a feature length narrative.

The idea itself was a conventional genre premise with a twist and remains unwritten. Although it's the components of this twist that has robust legs for further development on the short narrative and expansion of the story universe.

With the desire to explore a television series and the inspiration from the chat with Danny propelled me into adopting it as my next project. Otherwise I would be writing treatments for more contemporary dramas and would have lost the opportunity to seize the moment on this for another few years.

Now here I am in the midst of real beginnings on a story universe for television that has come a long way since the short animation story. To my excitement, I am finding more and more that there are no creative boundaries. Such is children's television and fiction.

Project Notes: 

Here is a brief but by no means complete list of early encounters and ideals reinforced on the project. We're talking very early into the process here, around the first two weeks or so.

Be Responsible 

Whether we write to entertain and/or to reach people we inherently have the power to influence. Therefore have a responsibility to do so in a positive and tasteful way.

With this adventure series for children, I knew I had a responsibility to be more considerate than when writing for adults. I knew that I had to work harder to deliver a show that offers its young audience a healthy way to express themselves, learn and be entertained.

Fortunately, the story premise and twist indicated to above, flips - in particular, animated violence on its head (and side, on occasions) and offers a fun alternative, which makes my duty a lot easier.

Flip That Cliché 

They exist. They're everywhere. But that doesn't mean our project has to be riddled with them.

I found myself writing in cliché mode on occasions in elements of story world and plot, which I soon realised was due to writing in a challenging new arena and genre combo. These by default I knew were temporary but were used to fill gaps until something better came along and/or after some research. However, as to be expected some did sneak through under the radar.

After realising this, I set out on a reconnaissance mission and swept through cliché components and flipped/inverted them until they became original elements and reflected the new storytelling world and fresh show that I wanted to create.

These breathed a new unified life into the story and taught me to never settle for what I think will work or see working but to keep pushing the elements to stay true to the story world and to offer a surprise and something original on every page. At least. 

Visual Engagement

We know screenplays are visual but nowhere more visually important than in children's animation.

So with this I was reminded and told myself that it's important to keep the visuals interesting, meaningful and suggestive, and related to plot, character and story world.

And if there is talking in scenes, have it on the go and tied to physical action and movement, to keep things visually moving forward. Something must always be going on within the elements: background, foreground, narrative, character.

Each scene should serve to reveal character or push plot forward and as quickly and visually engaging as possible.

Pace & Transitions

Naturally these must feature well and serve to bring to life and enhance a story experience.

Upon reviewing a totally linear and cinematic Rough Outline for this, casually going from scene to scene playing everything out, I had a eureka moment, well: realised it was time to critique and review what I had, reinforced by the following thought:

This is not a contemporary drama for television or a cinematic feature film. It's not for adults (although, I'm sure they would enjoy it) and has to run so much quicker and smarter than it does between scenes and sequences at the moment. 

Shortly after, through re-working and by knowing what I didn't want I made a breakthrough and found the ideal story pace, that then effectively wrote the rule book for scene transitions in this.

From then the outline practically re-arranged and wrote itself. All from the momentum set by the new quick cuts of the first two opening scenes and their relation to story and character.

Know Your Conflict/Opposing Force

A critical element to any story and protagonist's journey.

Early on the pilot story went through a few changes in regards to the force behind the conflict, as I explored different ways of kicking things off for the series. I knew I wanted to rev up the opposing force but hadn't found exactly what I was looking for. After all, like some of the characters, I was still relatively new to this particular story universe.

In the meantime, a cliché element was the stand in and as a means to a temporary end. However, once I had the opposing element it made everything much easier to reconsider and re-plot, as finally the main character was going against something real and challenging, as well as the opposing force doing the same.

Now the story was going somewhere.

Back to Earth

It has been a controlled and focused blast these last six weeks and the project has taught me a lot. Too much to document really. Everything just goes by so quickly but as I wake each morning I know I am a better, more aware and resourceful writer than I was the day before. That's a great feeling to behold.

Feel free to share any experiences, writing tips or criteria you may have on writing for children in this context.


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

"You Do What You Love, And **** The Rest"

Being miserable or happy is a choice and the latter starts by doing what you love and forgetting the rest.

Enjoy the moment and learn to seize the day. Work towards a better more knowledgeable self, a body of work and a positive network. Only that way will your ambitions and goals be attainable.

Who knows you may even find they may shift a little but as long as you love what you are doing it doesn't matter.

Enjoy the experience. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity.

It's your life.

Have the courage to live it.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Story & Form (Or When An Idea Has More Than One Set of Legs)

Have you ever had an idea for a story or character journey and could not only picture its existence as a film but could also see it expanded as a television series?

Maybe an idea began as a comedy series for television but would work well as a radio series with less budget and more chance of being commissioned?

Alternatively, it may have began as a short film but has the potential to work as a feature with expanded development and more characters?

But ultimately were put off by the amount of work and wrote it in one format - while dreaming of the other. Or could not decide and left them both.

It can sometimes be troubling and a killjoy to visualise an exciting story concept in another form to then reach a deadlock. However, the important thing is to keep moving forward regardless.

Passion Vs. Logic 

From experience the more insight and knowledge I've gained into what would work and fit into a particular form the more my instincts are attuned to what will work best. Naturally it becomes easier. But on the other hand, it also tunes your skills of transference and adapting a story to another medium and format because you are aware of the pieces involved and how they must work.

It becomes a process of weighing up the pros and cons as to which medium and form to tell a story in. It's a task and conflict that consists of passion versus logic. Passion wants you to tell a story in the format you initially experienced it in (when it burst into life) because it's what got you fired up about it in the first place. But logic tells you that it may work best in a different format, may be more commercial, entertaining and appealing, or even as a stepping stone to its ideal and preferred format.

All Roads Lead to Rome 

It's a tough situation and one I don't think should be a question of one or the other unless you reach an informed decision. It should be a matter of them both. Follow your heart on the one format then follow your logic with another. Increase its chances. Once you have drafts (or outlines/treatments) written down then you (and others) can compare and contrast and see which works best for a particular medium.

Even if you don't use or pursue one format's work, at least you would have gained further insight into the characters and the story, what works and doesn't work, as well as experience with the formats themselves, which would have informed whichever final form it takes on in the future.

In the least, it would count as development work. It may even be called upon someday after a brief mention and interest from a fellow writer, producer or exec and re-surface once again, and with the bulk of the work already done.

Nothing that's developed and worked on then discarded is ever wasted material or a waste of time. It all has its place and helps you and your story to develop. It should never be discarded without appreciation and understanding.

"Well done is better than well said."

- Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, 5 February 2012

How To Write Scripts For Children

I have recently found this great eHow video on script writing for children in both an animated and live-action context.

It's an essential video and sound advice, if like me you're starting out writing your first major children's animated project or even if your live-action script has a child character or two in there, or a whole main cast of them.

It's a useful insight on what's important when writing for children that can be easily forgotten when writing, as we tend to write and appeal to the child within us first.

But the longer we ignore our audience the more we run the risk of damaging our script, characters' voices, credibility and will bore. The last thing we want to do is disrespect them and convey a lack of professionalism and talent to a script reader and/or producer.

Step out of the story for a moment and watch the video to be reminded of the fundamentals on writing for children.

Children are smart, imaginative and can be extremely witty. The world to them is a playground of fantastical opportunity and imaginative exploration in an infinite number of connections and combinations that adds up to a whole load of fun. And while learning in the process. Naturally when they watch television or a film they hand that responsibility over to the programme channel and filmmakers to play the role of Creator and are expected to be taken on a fun journey. However, not to sit back in passive mode but to be mentally active and engaged in the narrative as it develops. They've certainly set the bar but by knowing our audience and market early on we have a chance to at least meet it. At the same time it's essential that they watch only the best material that engages them on a healthy and positive level for their own continual learning and development needs. This means it's up to screenwriters, directors, producers and programme controllers to deliver that. As we know it generally all starts with us: let's make sure we get our bit right first. As the children are the future, it's wise to entertain and teach them well. Good luck with your projects and don't forget the most fundamental thing of all: HAVE FUN! "You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults, only better."

- Maxim Gorky

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Script Project Management: Stack Not Rotate

I read this morning on my beloved iPhone, an excellent piece of project management advice from Go Into The Story that will change my writing life forever.

This promptly made its way to ScriptSense.

It arrived in the last minute of the eleventh hour to prevent me going any further with my proposed Rotating Triangle Approach to Screenwriting and Project Management.

After four weeks on the preliminary work on the Primary Project (Codename: Spacebound). I was set to rotate and start the prelim-work on Secondary Project today. As well as share the initial idea on the approach.

If you wish, you can read the unpublished post on the abandoned approach here.

What it shows is that I was on the right lines searching for a solution to managing and progressing with three projects at once. Although, last night did spot weaknesses in the approach which were going to led to modifications and to include the overlapping of projects. But I needn't do any more on it now.

The First Hour 

I have no doubt that project stacking as outlined by Scott Myers (K9, Trojan War) from Go Into The Story is the way to go. As mentioned, it may not work for everyone, as we are all wired differently. But I am excited to have a solution to get on with and a roadmap to managing and progressing with my three projects for the year.

I know there may come a time when I'll prefer to focus on one project, for instance, when rewriting WWII Drama Screenplay and/or Angels & Ashes. But for now, while I have three exciting story concepts to be written and others waiting, it makes sense to find the most efficient way to work.

As I've mentioned before, it's all about going through the motions and figuring out things for ourselves. Even if it means going down the wrong path and making a mistake or two. Mistakes are there to redirect us.

However, along the way there is a wealth of advice: some of it to ignore, as it may not apply yet, but other advice that may be just right for you at your stage of development. It's these gems at unexpected times to pay attention to because they send up a beacon and help light the way.

As of today, Project A aka Codename: Spacebound is still in prep mode.

How do you approach your own script projects? Are you working at your best on one project at a time? Do you stack projects? Maybe thinking of trying it? 

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