December 16, 2016 · 7:05 pm
Ever got into an argument about a film you thought was great and everyone else in the pub thought was rubbish? And you couldn’t defend your opinion? When I first started thinking about writing for the screen, I’d watch loads of films but couldn’t understand why some of them worked and others didn’t. And you need to understand because pub debates are fuelled by alcohol but also mainly emotion that’s been aroused by what you’ve seen.
When I’m trying to discover why something doesn’t work in a film, I follow Paula Milne’s advice:
“Take a bad film and a good film – in your own estimation, not anyone else’s – and apply this to both. Watch the first 10 to 15 minutes, then switch if off and think: What do I know? What have I been told? What’s the agenda of the film,? What’s at stake? Who are the characters? Do I care? And do that every 15 minutes or half an hour until the end of the film …”
You’re going to watch films you’ve already seen so you have to stay focused but you’ll enjoy the good ones even more and understand why they work and the bad ones don’t.
The rest of Paula Milne’s advice is at http://www.ideastap.com/IdeasMag/the-knowledge/paula-milne-screenwriter
November 7, 2015 · 5:01 pm
There I was at the bus station in Amsterdam, checking out the times, 10 pm and this homeless poet approaches me. I know he was a homeless poet because he introduced himself but unfortunately I forgot his name, so only the poet bit stuck
It was an original way to beg money, one, he was offering a service, helping you find the right bus and as a bonus reciting a poem from his anthology, for which if you felt generous, you could reward him with a small contribution to the arts i.e. the homeless poet.
I didn’t need his expertise with timetables as my husband had already worked out which bus and stop we needed but this didn’t deter the homeless poet. He was into free verse and after a quick check of his little black book, he recited a poem about souls flying up to the moon. It wasn’t the sort of poetry I’m into – I prefer rhymes, they seem to stick in your head better and the recitation was interrupted when he had to answer his mobile but I felt he deserved a euro because his poem did paint powerful pictures. He wasn’t impressed however and I felt guilty but only for a few minutes when I heard him narrating the same poem to another unsuspecting traveller at an adjacent bus stop.
Talking to strangers can be fruitful especially if they want to reply – it’s more rewarding than eavesdropping on one sided mobile conversations on the train or the bus – you get to see people’s faces, read the expressions in their eyes, and connect, even if it’s only for two minutes and that’s all it takes to make an indelible imprint on your writer’s soul.
Or, if you can’t get away from the computer to linger round bus stops, tune into The Listening Project on BBC Radio 4, for some of the most amazingly conversations you’ll ever hear: humorous, honest and often humbling – prepare for an imprint on your soul.
September 4, 2015 · 8:07 pm
So there you are chained to the laptop, terrified if you move an inch you’ll disconnect from the creativity flowing down from the great lump of inspiration in your right brain. That’s where your next chapter or scene is safely stored ready to download itself to your fingers and you keep telling yourself you’ll lose the muse if you move.
Sounds like you need to relax but you can’t spare the time; got to keep typing – yet it’s not working and the muse isn’t co-operating.
But writing’s organic – it grows and changes with everything that’s happened to you in the seconds when you’re not facing the screen, you know – like nipping out for a pint of milk or the paper or walking the cat round the block! The necessary stuff just to keep life ticking, but not think too deeply about ‘cos you’re a right brain person and you can’t handle any of this left brain stuff while you’re creating. Right?
Wrong – all these years we’ve been categorising ourselves. At school, I didn’t mind not being in the top stream with all those clever girls who could do Physics and Maths while I was doing Biology and Art, because you had to have a left brain to do them and I wanted to write and draw and you needed a right brain for them. Simplistic – just waiting to be disproved, like all the myths we believe in. That’s what science is for, what all those kids in the top stream were doing.
If you scan the brain when it’s dealing with creative tasks, it’s not just the right brain that’s employed but areas on both sides of the corpus callosum, which possibly explains why the greatest scientist in history said “Imagination is more important than knowledge” and Einstein’s not exactly famous for great Art, so was he recognising that imagination used many more parts of the brain than we’ve come to believe?
If you go back even further than Einstein, you realise that people didn’t separate science from art in the way in which education and society has done since the Industrial Revolution. Michael Faraday who discovered electricity did so by observing and imagining and isn’t that what writers do? Leonardo da Vinci, known mostly for the Mona Lisa, was a serial experimenter in just about any field possible. His inventions, which were mostly impossible to produce in his time, exist today or were quietly subsumed in the Industrial Revolution. This was a man who used just about every possible part of his brain.
Okay so this must seem all really left field, so time to go back to the first paragraph and why you need to get out and see what’s going on elsewhere. Nuggets of information acquired out there in the real world have a habit of suddenly popping into your head when you’re stuck for an idea. Take the writer, Diana Wynne Jones who wrote Howl’s Moving Castle. She might never have come up with that idea if she hadn’t gone to a school to talk about writing. A young boy asked her if she could write about a castle that moved. I wonder how long it took her to come up with the whole story. And if she hadn’t got away from her laptop, would she have got that idea on her own? Studio Ghibli were very pleased she did when they made it into an animation in 2005.
And my cycling pianists and flying orcas – yes I did actually see them when my husband prised me from my laptop. The cycling pianist came round a corner at the Fleetwood Transport Festival and nearly knocked me over. His piano was attached to a bicycle and he was wearing a top hat. It was a very strange thing to see a man sitting side saddle on a bicycle and playing a piano at the same time. Now there’s an imagination to applaud. And the flying orca – a bit of a cheat – it was a twenty foot inflatable kite at the St. Anne’s Kite Festival but the image against a clear blue sky above a Northern beach keeps teasing me. Borrow either of them if you like because what you might do with them will be completely different to what I will, because we’ll all be using different parts of our brain with different experiences.
September 24, 2014 · 7:41 pm
Yes it’s happened again, another summer has flown past and we’re rushing towards the end of the year. My time was divided between nose-to-laptop and a wonderful wedding. Family weddings are joyous things where you share the moment when someone you’ve known and loved all their life begins another life with someone they love. And then the day you’ve prepared for over many months is gone as quickly as the summer that you’re left remembering. But from that day you have a mosaic of memories of faces, glances, laughter, words whispered and declared, silhouettes on the dance floor, speeches you remember so clearly, they’re etched in the air, all of it your own private album, never dimmed by time, coloured by that unique moment, playing on a live, moving screen, unmatched by anything in the world.
You could lift them complete and slot them into your latest screenplay, novel or story and wonder why they don’t work or we could plunder them as writers do, though never the things that are closest to our hearts. But the more you relive and remember, you’ll sift the essence and distilled, it will filter into your writing, though you must be careful with your own emotions, if you want your characters to be as individually pure as they can.
When I first started writing I was given a list of things you should know about your character which included what size shoes and colour socks they would wear and, okay, so maybe it was meant as a guide from which you could build a picture but there was nothing on that list about emotions. Even the most bloodless, boring person has those and the reason they appear so sanguine could be just as valuable to the writer as what lies behind a life and soul of the party person. Our greatest fears influence everything we do and every character has a colossal fear that drives and restricts them. Find that fear and work out what is stopping them from overcoming it. The best piece of advice I ever had from a script editor was “dig deep”. But first dig into yourself and find out what your greatest fear is, and it will hurt, but only if you’re completely honest.
Some resources I’ve found valuable on character: favourite screenplays, The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri and Laurie Hutzler’s Emotional Toolbox Character Map.
December 28, 2013 · 4:57 pm
Feedback is what I dread receiving and dread giving but I keep on asking for it and saying “yes” when someone asks me.
Anyone who doesn’t write won’t understand that gut wrenching, stomach falling, palpitation inducing moment when you realise your next draft isn’t going to be a few tweaks away from winning the Booker Prize or grabbing you an Oscar. Instead you’ll be back at square one or at least that’s what your self-defense mechanism is telling you – well it would do, that’s its job – to stop you from getting hurt by sitting back down at the computer and starting again and failing again. Your self-defense mechanism doesn’t want you to get hurt so it tells you success is so far away, you’ll never get there. Why not give up now? But who’s in charge here and why did you ask for feedback in the first place? Hopefully because you wanted to get better at this thing you’re driven to do every day and get withdrawal symptoms when you can’t. However, in that complicated cocktail of desperation, insecurity and expectation we call our egos, we’ll be satisfied with nothing less than praise and success.
If you want to avoid the mistake I made the first time I asked for feedback, don’t tell that person the story of your script. It’s what I did when I asked my husband to read my first screenplay. I steeled myself for what I knew would be fair, accurate, analytical criticism and received a puzzled response. “Are you sure you’ve given me the right script? ” He was looking for everything the natural storyteller in me thought was on the page, but wasn’t there at all. When you read your own work, you ‘re seeing the characters as you created them moving in that fabulous world that exists somewhere in your head. Don’t tell anyone your story if you want feed back from them. Their job is to tell you what they’ve read, which is how you’re going to work out how to make your script better. If they don’t understand anything, they should be asking you questions. It may well be the brilliant sub plot that’s overshadowing the main plot or that subtle reference to a key part of the story that’s so subtle, no-one notices it.
It helps if the unfortunate friend, colleague or acquaintance you’ve picked on, has some knowledge of the accepted structure and format of the genre you’ve given them. It’s vital that they should ask questions like “Whose story is it?”; “Who’s the intended audience?” or even if it’s a film script, “What size budget did you have in mind?” ; because if they can’t or don’t, then the feedback they’re giving you is unlikely to be helpful. And if you don’t know the answers, then you’ve learnt something very useful straight away.
Even if you pay for your feedback, buyer beware, check out the C.V.s of the professionals giving it and try to find someone who has experience of the genre in which you’re writing. It’s not unknown for professional script readers to give contradictory advice but if more than one person is telling you that something isn’t working, you should be looking at it with an objective eye. However, if there’s one lone voice criticising something that your gut feeling tells you is right, go with your gut. You haven’t the experience to do anything else at that moment and it was your gut that likely gave you the inspiration in the first place.
People will tell you that the first draft is always “s**t” – which isn’t exactly fair and does nothing for the self-esteem of the writer or any artist for that matter. Remember you’re the person who started with the blank page; the one who burnt the midnight oil; who ran into imaginary brick walls and had eureka moments in unlikely places like the supermarket queue and then lost your flash of inspiration scrawled on the back of the weekly shopping list in a windy car park. You’ve sacrificed a great deal to come this far so read the feedback, decide what you believe and start the next draft. And forget the Booker and the Oscar – they’re just prizes that people receive. Far more valuable is the one within your own gift – to produce the best writing you can.
Filed under Constructive Criticism, Film writing, Rewriting, Writing and rejection
Tagged as Analysis, Arts, Constructive Criticism, Criticism, Feedback, Leadership, Oscar, Question, Redrafting, Screenplay, Screenwriting, Script consultants, Script readers, Writers Resources