Wednesday 2 November 2011

LSWF - A Weekend to Remember

It’s been three days since the London Screenwriters’Festival wrapped and I still have a stupid grin on my face.

I was planning on writing a long review of the weekend, but all I really need to say is:
“Wow! That was amazing!” Yes, with all the exclamation marks included, and more!!!

Chris Jones

So thank you to Chris Jones and all members of staff and volunteers that worked incredibly hard; thank you to all the speakers and guests that made time to contribute to the festival; and thank you to all other delegates whether writer, producer, director, agent, other or sympathizer. The knowledge and confidence boost I gained from joining in on the sessions, the workshops, script chat, speedpitching, general yattering and controlled binging is invaluable.

In Conversation with David Reynolds

My highlight – Pitching Dead End Job to David Reynolds and have him brainstorm ideas on how I could develop the sitcom further. He even gave one of the characters 12 children. Most of all, he encouraged me to keep on working on the script and topped it all by adding that he really liked the setting.

My lowlight – Having to sneak out of the Joe Cornish session to make my way home very early due to other commitments. I definitely made up for it on the second and third days.

The main lesson learned this weekend is that you can make your own luck. Work hard, go for it, don’t stop at the first hurdle and just keep writing!

The festival may be over, but this is just the beginning.

Friday 28 October 2011

LSWF DAY 1 - A Mini Adventure

And so it begins! I'm home from a great 1st day at the London Screenwriters' Festival.

Today has been a short day for me, so I made the most of it. After walking around the building for half an hour, completely lost, I finally found my bearings and the main room where Chris Jones, the festival director, was saying a final word and welcome.

From that point on, there were about four sessions taking place at the same time, a tough choice at times. The first session I headed for was Cut! Cut! Cut! with Ellin Stein. It was an interesting session where we all got a chance to read a few pages of someone else's script and together understand what did or didn't work and why.

An hour later and I was headed to my script surgery session with The Doctor - Paul Gallagher. The Euroscript clinic set up at the festival was fantastic. Paul was really good at helping me view Dead End Job, the latest sitcom Taro and I have been writing together, from a different perspective. Together we talked about what worked, what didn't and all the different options, including a change in character gender. I have much work to do on it now and extra preparation for my speedpitching session on Sunday.

After lunch I had the luck of getting into the very popular session with Edgar Wright. That's right, Edgar Wright! A funny and inspiring man, who's making it happen. Not long after he had his 1st feature A Fistful of Fingers started showing at the Prince Charles cinema, he met Matt Lucas and David Walliams. After watching his movie, they asked him to work with them as director. He ended up directing TV and not long after got involved with Spaced. He started talks with Simon Pegg about Shaun of the Dead in 1999, and it took another 3 years after they wrapped on Spaced to get it made. Meanwhile, Danny Boyle made 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead was going to be re-made, a set-back but thankfully not a deterrent. I could go on and on. But let's just say, I'm a fan! Towards the end of his session Joe Cornish walked in to join the audience, and I caught a glimpse of the man I would be watching next.

Many of you may have heard of Joe Cornish from his appearances on TV and radio with Adam Buxton. Together they did The Adam and Joe Show which was always very funny. During his session, Joe talked mainly about his debut feature Attack the Block. Not being down with the kids, he had to do extensive research into how they spoke, acted, lived and also how they relate to others in different situations. He also talked about different type of monster movies and decided he wanted to do one where they scare you due to volume, rather than looks. It was interesting to hear about all the research that went into the movie before he even wrote it all down. We then got to hear a little about Tintin and his involvement in it as well as working with Stephen Spielberg. Overall Joe came across as a very humble person, which made him even more likeable and admirable.

Sadly I had to leave before the end of that session missing out on the rest of the day and the networking drinks, but that's ok, I'll be back for more tomorrow. For now I'll be carving some pumpkins.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Getting Ready for the LSWF

I am getting ready to attend the London Screenwriters’ Festival and intend to make the most of it. There are many things that can be done in advance of the Festival to make sure you are as prepared as possible.

Here is what I’ve done so far:

Private Network – The minute I purchased my ticket, I got invited to join a private network where I could interact and chat to other festival-goers months before the event. I joined the network, added my details, and most importantly made sure I added friends and got involved in some of the behind the scenes activities. New people join daily and it’s never too late to join. The network will keep on going after the festival, so it’s somewhere to catch up with all those new contacts you made and those you missed!

Speedpitching – I filled in the form and signed up, so hopefully I’ll get a chance to pitch my TV Comedy to three different producers, agents, and commissioners. In anticipation of the event, many people have shared their knowledge and links towards pitching best practice, so there’s no excuse not to be prepared.

Euroscript Clinic – I have signed up and have booked a free session where my script (the same TV Comedy) will be thoroughly analysed by a script doctor. The surgery is a 50minutes one-on-one session with your own script doctor who can either talk to you about an existing project or even just about your writing career – so get booking!

Business Cards – All ordered in good time, just anxiously waiting for the postman to bring them. From what I’ve read numerous times, these are a must, so make sure you have some!

So now what? Yes, practice that pitch over and over and over and some more.

If you haven’t got your ticket yet, they are almost gone, so hurry up! You can click here for a £30 off discount code.

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

The Unknown Beast - Writing Horror for the First Time

Horror is a genre I’ve never thought of writing before. I’m easily scared and often close my eyes whilst watching a horror movie.

Recently though, the London Screenwriters’ Festival announced a logline competition. The objective was to write a logline for a Horror film in 140 characters on Twitter and the winner would get a ticket to the festival.
A free ticket is always welcome, so I thought I’d give it a go. Each person could enter up to three loglines, and boy did I find it HARD. Most of the ones I thought of either already existed or just sounded funny rather than scary. In the end, I just about managed to come up with two, and much to my surprise, one of them made it to the 25 shortlisted loglines!

This was it: When a magic lamp is discovered in a small town, all of their deepest wishes are about to come true with deadly consequences

This was my other entry (a rather gory one): When a legless man due for surgery discovers his Doctor's secret toy collection, he must escape or become Jack in the Box”

In order to come up with the loglines, I thought of entire stories and characters. So even though all I have for now is a logline, a little voice inside is considering developing it into an outline and treatment and take it from there.

Following on from that, another competition came up. This time it was the chance to write a “Campfire Story”, in other words, a scary tale. I thought I’d give it a go. Even though it’s not a genre I’m used to, it sounded like it could be fun and exciting to write it up. But I was stuck. I came up with many ideas, wrote a couple of outlines, but nothing seemed to be working too well.

I decided to think of the films I’ve seen and what’s generally the story. Many of them seem to have the same ‘idea’ – Victim is stuck somewhere with no escape and is trying to find a way out (a house/ a room/ a forest/ a spaceship…) besides that there is something or someone threatening them within, hindering their escape. Here are some examples:
  • The Descent – stuck in a cave, trying to find a way out, to make things worse, something is after them.
  • Blair Witch/ Predator – lost in a forest, trying to find a way out, to make things worse, something is after them.
  • Alien / Jason X – stuck on a spacecraft, trying to find a way out, to make things worse, something is after them.
  • Evil Dead / Panic Room – stuck in a house, trying to find a way out, to make things worse, something is after them.

There are many variations of the above and it’s not true for every horror, but it works for me as a first time horror writer. It seemed like a good place to start.

Next, I had to figure out, who or what is the threat:
  • Alien
  • Animal
  • Mutation
  • Supernatural
  • Human Being

Again, the above isn’t an exhaustive list and the “monster” could be a combination of some. As you’ve probably realised by now, I am no expert in horror.

Trying to figure out which one to go with, I was asked what scares me the most, and after some thought, I concluded that people do.

The above alone was not enough, I kept thinking of stories that already exist, and then I remembered reading again and again that many ideas are the same, you just need to re-invent them. When I first read this, I started to imagine various fairy tales from different perspectives, and in fact, that’s exactly what’s been done in movies such as Shrek and The Hunter.

I was suddenly on a roll and started to re-imagine several fairy tales and nursery rhymes. I had my story.

It still wasn’t enough though and again I was stuck. I knew the beginning and the end, but how to get from A to B? After writing about three different versions, none of which were quite working, I realised I was forgetting to set my limits. As Linda Aronson (writer of the 21stCentury Screenwriter) suggests, find the restrictions of the assignment.

So I started over. I looked back at what I had and why they didn’t work and started from scratch. I limited my location, number of characters and props. Suddenly it fell into place. With one contained location, rather than several, it all became neater and more focused. I could focus on the characters and the story rather than the action. Not only was the end result a tighter, punchier script, it is now also a low-budget script.

I am not convinced the result is a true horror, or if it’s at all scary, but it is definitely dark and there is something very creepy about the ‘monster’.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

London SWF

In a month's time I'll be getting ready to set off to Regent's College to attend the 2nd London Screenwriters' Festival. I have heard nothing but praise by the people who attended last year and can't wait to attend.

The event takes place from the 28th-30th of October, three days packed with over 100 speakers and 70 sessions, not to mention 400 writers and producers.

I am really looking forward to listening to industry experts from all areas, but more than anything, it'll be an amazing opportunity to network with other fellow writers at all different levels. Not to mention that I might get the chance to pitch my comedy to agents and producers at a free Speed Pitching session!

Meanwhile, my writing partner and husband, Taro Russell, will be on baby sitting duty. I think he'll need all of our thoughts to get through the weekend :-)

If you haven't bought your ticket yet, you can sign up here. For £30 off, used discount code: 2385127 in the discount box.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Georgia On My Mind

This week I have Horror on my mind.

My post was in fact going to be about writing Horror scripts, the different types of Horror movies and the different “monsters”. In trying to figure out a story, my husband Taro Russell told me to think of what scares me the most. After some thought, I concluded that people do. To me, my biggest fear is that of what is concrete. Most horror stories I hear or read don’t involve aliens, beasts, the supernatural; it involves a monster in the shape and form of another person.

This has been re-enforced this morning when I woke up to find that the State of Georgia, in the US, supported by the Supreme Court, has executed a man, Troy Davis, despite the lax evidence against his supposed crime.

Watching my children growing up, I fear the day when I’ll have to let go, allow them their independence, to walk along the streets alone. Stories of people being abducted, innocents being killed daily, victims of a lost bullet, a psycho on a joyride; victims of abuse, of despair, evil. The cities have become a scary place to live in and we live our lives never knowing if this is the day we’ll be the next victims. But all this has always been part of life in the big cities, sad as it may be.

But when a government takes it into its own hands to promote justice, and by doing so end the life of another man, any sense of safety seizes to exist. When those sworn to protect you against evil become the ones to fear, who will we turn to for justice? To me, Troy Davis was just a man I heard of for the first time last night when the world called for mercy; to others, he was a son, a brother, a friend. Today we mourn; not just the loss of a citizen, but the loss of human rights.

That to me is the scariest of all horrors.

Friday 16 September 2011

Competition Time of Year

Wednesday was a good day. Sitting in my sons’ room before 5am my mind started to float between dream and consciousness. That’s when the idea came.

By 6 a.m. I was ready to write and the thought of having to wait was killing me.

At 8 a.m. I could wait no longer. I left the kids playing with their dad and went to have a “shower”. As I sat in the bedroom, not taking a shower, I wrote. Thankfully, for my husband and the kids, it was a one-page script.

I have now typed it up and re-written.

This is my entry for a competition for the upcoming London Screenwriters’ Festival.

It is just one of many writing opportunities that I have come across in the last couple of weeks, so I thought I’d list a few here:

Deadline: September 30th

Deadline: October 4th

Deadline: October 3rd

Deadline: Early Bird September 26th / Final Entry October 6th

Deadline: Early Bird January 25th/ Final Entry January 31st

Deadline: November 1st

If you know of any other current opportunities, please leave a note in the comment section and I'll add it to the list.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Two to Watch - Screenwriting Documentaries

In the past year I have watched two fantastic documentaries on Screenwriting and wanted to share them with every screenwriter out there.

The first one, is Tales from the Script. This is an account of struggles and successes from a variety of Produced writers, including some very big names. If you need further convincing, here is a trailer:

The second is Dreams on Spec. The documentary follows three screenwriters as they try to break into the industry. It is available for free and you can watch it right now.

                                               Watch more free documentaries

I hope you enjoy these as much as I did. If there are others you have watched/ heard of, please leave the details in the comment below.

Thursday 18 August 2011

New Distractions

I’ve done it again! I have found a new distraction, a new project to immerse myself into and spend hours thinking about rather than going to bed or interacting with those around me. Wait! Make that two!

The first is #Scriptchat, an online weekly gathering of scriptwriters, from beginners to seasoned writers, who share their thoughts and experiences. The chat takes place on Twitter every Sunday night for an hour. I joined it just over a year ago and it’s something I always look forward to: an hour chatting to people who like me, love to torture themselves. OK, that’s just me then. As of this coming Sunday I will be one of the new EURO co-moderators of scriptchat, in conjunction with my writing partner and husband Taro. We will be joining Alli Parker and have the honour of replacing the Euro scriptchat founder Mina Zaher. So if you already follow #scriptchat and everything suddenly goes weird and incomprehensible, that’s why.
Although if you're in the USA you need not worry as it's moderated by a great team.

The second is HitRECord. This is a collaborative project set up by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who likes to refer to himself as Regular Joe. HitRECord is in some ways a production company, but it’s a lot more than that, it’s a place to let your imagination run free, like a big brainstorm room where you contribute with ideas and these are picked up and merged with other thoughts and bounced back and picked up again and remixed once again and so forth. So just a simple image or a couple of words could become a symphony. This is perfect for anyone who like me has too many thoughts and ideas roaming around with no real home, and definitely for those who are happy to share and collaborate.

While Scriptchat is extra work, it’s very relevant to my writing. It’s the very important networking side, getting to know people with similar interests and also learning so much about this craft in a fun and interactive way. We all share and are willing to help selflessly.
HitRECord will hopefully not take up too much time either as to me it will be a place to share those extra curricular thoughts, doodles, videos and photos that are already part of my daily life.

Fear not though, I have still been writing my scripts. I have realised that I can’t write every time I have a spare minute as my brain isn’t always in the right mood. Yes, I have a moody brain. I can still fit in the above activities when my spare time is too short to get into writing mode, or I am too tired to focused on anything other than doodling or tweeting.

Everything in moderation ;-)

Friday 5 August 2011

I'll Write Tomorrow, and that's OK

As writers, we love nothing more than to, well, write. Just sit down and let our imagination run wild getting all those thoughts and conversations that we have between our characters in our mind on to paper. As playwright Edward Albee said “A writer is a controlled schizophrenic”. In fact, one of my favourite movies is Girl, Interrupted. The protagonist is a writer who doesn’t conform, and because she is different, she is logically insane and needs to be committed.

We also have to realise though that writing isn’t everything and that we have other needs and responsibilities; and I’m not just talking about the bills that need paying, but mostly about the real characters, not the ones in our minds, but the ones in our lives. They too need love and attention.

Remember when I wrote a script in a month for Scriptfrenzy? Somehow then I managed to juggle a very busy life with writing, and for that month it worked out better than planned, but life isn’t always straight forward and sometimes routine just won’t cut it.

I concluded that if I persisted on writing this week, I would eventually set my house on fire. Fact! Twice in the space of one week I’ve added oil to a pot and left it on the fire for 2secs while checking on the kids. A whole five minutes later I’d either remember or smell it and have to rescue the burnt pot and set it aside knowing that I had been lucky that nothing worse happened. I’ve just done too many silly mistakes this week, things I would normally never do. I have been very distracted and it is as simple as I haven’t had enough sleep.

It’s beautiful outside, but it’s almost too hot, it makes one slow and tired and brain dead. Sun is lethal! Besides that, my children do not like sleeping and at any moment between 4-6am they are wide-awake and ready for the day. By 9am we just need to get out of the house. So this week there’s been splashing, walking, boat rides, scooting, ball kicking, painting, drawing, cleaning, feeding, fighting, crying, watching, splashing, cleaning, reading, playing, laughing. When all calms down and there’s finally sleeping, I sit down and try to write, or end up reading. So when does my brain rest? I suppose it hasn’t and it’s the reason I can’t focus on simple things.

I have finally accepted that this is the only writing happening this week. I’m taking a little coffee break whilst Wall-E entertains my eldest. The princess castle cake I’m making for my niece patiently waits for me to mold it into a castle rather than the big blob it is right now (I took so long to post this the cake is almost ready).

Princess Castle Cake - almost done

The pressure to write is one I have imposed upon myself and have now declared that it will have to wait until Monday rather than trying to fit in around the busy weekend.
So there you go, tomorrow I’ll write, today I’m going to sleep – and that is absolutely fine!

Wait a minute, I hear cries, nevermind sleep for now.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

I'm Writing it My Way

Everyone is an expert. Really. The moment you announce you’re a writer, for example, you’ll be recommended several must read books, you will be introduced to many different writing blogs, and everyone will have an opinion on how best to write a screenplay, even those who have yet to write one. You’ll end up confused, with a lot of conflicting information to sieve through. When it all gets a bit too much you’ll just slip away and form your own opinions of what style suits you best.

Photo by Taro Russell

Like me, you might decide there isn’t a right way or a wrong way, just your way and my way. My way of course, being the very complicated, long-winded way of doing things.

I did it my way.

I listened, I read and then I ignored it all. Well, I didn’t purposely ignore it all, I just didn’t understand why I needed so much preparation, I just wanted to write. I did not need a logline, an outline, a treatment or any preparation. The story was in my head, so why write it twice? Armed with a pen and paper, I sat down and wrote my first short. I put it aside and life happened. Ten years later, I re-read it and then I tore it. It was that bad. The story was still in my head but what I read on paper made absolutely no sense. There were so many flashbacks, and the story was so non-linear, I simply could not understand any of it. Thinking back, I think I was trying to make it Pulp Fiction-esque. Big Mistake. The dialogue wasn’t bad though; I’ll give myself that.

A year after that revealing moment, and a few scripts later, it’s incredible to look back and see how much I’ve changed my way and my beliefs. It’s gone from an all over the place unstructured mess to a more formulaic process in which I question the plot and characters in depth before jumping into the writing process. Although I have to admit, this really is a very recent development.

To err is human.

Going into anything for the first time we’re bound to get some things wrong, and it’s in an attempt to help prevent other writer’s from constantly going through the same mistakes, falling into the same traps, that there are so many experts out there. They all mean well, but who likes to be told what to do and how to do it? We are stubborn creatures, and learn best when we stumble and have to pick ourselves back up. I am of course generalising, when I say we, I just mean me – although, if it sounds like you too, then I mean we.

I’m sure that in a few years time I’ll be preaching to first timers about the rules of scriptwriting, and most of them will nod their head and then go learn for themselves. I’ve still got much to learn and one day will realise that I follow all the basic rules that I’ve steered away from, not for arrogance but ignorance – a need to learn for myself, whilst hopefully still remaining true to my voice, which I will have found by then. Repeat 100 times.

Had I maybe spent a little more time paying attention to those willing to share, rather than rushing into it, I would have a stronger selection of scripts to showcase my writing. As it stands though, I might just about have a couple.

It is all without regret though, as I am now more equipped and experienced to truly understand why certain aspects of the process, such as the preparation are so important. I am now happy that all the literature is out there, easier than ever to access.

In the words of Dr Seuss “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Thursday 7 July 2011

Write from the Heart

"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader."
Robert Frost

When you write with your heart, allowing all your emotions to run free into your characters, it will show. I am an emotional person, have always been, but for some reason I have never been the type to display my real feelings. I don't do hugs, cries and passionate kisses in public.

From the day I conceived my 1st born, my senses seemed heightened. Everything I felt became tenfold. When I experience fear, it is scarier than ever; when I experience worry, it has me on edge; when I experience love it is unconditional. What a gift, to be able to experience all these emotions with such intensity. Yet I still have trouble allowing them to roam free. It is in my nature to control them, to hide them away like a shameful secret.

Reading back what I've written, reading the life I've created for my characters I came to realise that they carry the same shield I do. Their emotions just lightly touch the surface of their being, not allowing them to fully embrace their passions, desires, fears. So while I am fully aware that I should be writing from my heart, opening my soul to my work, I think that in better understanding who I am and my own emotions, I will be able to better translate them to the character.

I have recently read the script to Thelma & Louise. From the start we understand why Thelma has to get away, also understanding how hard it is for her. Every step of the way we see her vulnerability, naïvety, but we also see her getting stronger, believing more in herself. Louise is almost the opposite; she is the strong one, the wise one and her defensive nature isn't quite clear at first. As the story unfolds though, she becomes more vulnerable as her mask starts to come off. That is in my humble opinion, why it's such a good story, the protagonists have such a strong emotional baggage. Neither of them is perfect, yet they are very likeable. Their fear of becoming trapped leads them to their own self-destruction, and the end is the only way to achieve the freedom they've been seeking for all along.

It is characters like Thelma & Louise that I aspire to write. Characters filled with flaws and compassion that makes them so real.

As an exercise to myself, I will attempt to re-create moments that have marked me throughout my life. I aim to write every emotion that I felt at key moments that have helped define me so far, from the little girl who was ashamed of being a foreigner, even in her own country, to the excitement and frustration of first loves, to the stress and confusion faced with in the job market.

Unfortunately, as is my nature, I am not yet ready to share those publicly, either out of shame or fear. Somethings should remain private, but my writing it out, accepting it, understanding those feelings. I'll be able to write stronger and more complex characters.

Just a thought.

Thursday 30 June 2011

Have you Laughed Today yet?

I recently watched 5minutes of Lead Balloon and found myself laughing a lot. How have I never heard of this programme before? Since I started writing comedy I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the different sitcoms and comedies around.

Apparently an adult laughs on average 17 times a day, it might not be much, but to me it seems like a healthy amount of times; but if someone does laugh that much then why is it so hard to make one laugh deliberately?

There is an art to writing comedy and like any genre, there will be people who either love it or hate it.

I remember watching Married with Children when I was younger. We would all sit and watch it with my Dad and he would laugh out loud (yes, he would lol) from beginning to end, my mum on the other hand didn’t find any of the characters likeable. I am sure she would approve of the more recent take on family comedy, Modern Family, also staring Ed O’Neil.

I know some people of a certain generation who didn't like Friends. A group of youngsters all ‘living in sin’ just didn’t fit in with their values. If they gave it a chance they would realise it wasn’t about whether or not they had sex, it was about the interactions. Although having said that, sex is funny! It is always a recurring theme in many comedies, why? Because it’s awkward, it’s clumsy, it can be taboo and is rarely sexy. As Lucy V Hay writes in her blog, you can tell a lot about people and their relationship through sex.

I digress; this is a post about comedy, not SEX.

Over the years I’ve come across a few people who think Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is one of the funniest films they have ever seen. I personally don’t get it and after watching it, I could not watch any films that Jim Carrey starred in. For me, his exaggerated facial expressions were just trying too hard to be funny.

That leads me to question how comedy on paper translates to screen? It is as much about the story and gags as it is about the performance. An average performance without all the right pauses could leave a lot to be desired; likewise, an excellent delivery of a mediocre comedy script will just be mediocre. How many times have we watched a comedy because of its cast, only to be disappointed? I can think of a few.

I’m now on a mission to read the script for Ace Ventura simply to find out whether or not I would like it better. Unfortunately, it seems that whenever I read a script of a film or TV series that I have already watched, I can’t help but imagine the characters as played by the respective actors, so reading Ace Ventura without imagining Jim Carey playing the lead role could be a challenge.

Whether it makes you laugh or not, a comedy should still read as a comedy, that is, one should be able to identify its genre without much thought to it. So if you have to think too much about the genre, or even worse, if you’ve written a comedy and someone mistakes it for a horror, then it’s time for a re-write.

It is hard to make everyone laugh at a comedy, so I try to at least write something that I find funny. If you can get just one person to laugh, then hopefully you’re on a roll. Do you know what? Laughter is infectious; the more people who laugh at something, the more other people will laugh too. Notice next time you are in a movie theatre watching a comedy. The minute someone laughs out loud at something, others will join in, and the more people laugh, the more others will realise it’s ok to laugh and will join in. 

Thursday 16 June 2011

Child's Play: Write What You Know?

As some of you may have noticed, I’m a sucker for competitions. I work best to deadlines and therefore jump at the opportunity of entering one more comp. It is also a welcome distraction from all those re-writes that I should be doing instead.

When CBeebies therefore announced their script competition Get A Squiggle On I was very excited. This is certainly something I know about.  I am a mother of two under the age of 4 and children’s TV is probably watched more than any other channel in this house. Having also worked on the promo team for Cbeebies I decided that I knew enough about the channel to write a twenty-minute script for an original live action programme.

I started to think about the various kids’ programmes and their content, which ones my son liked the best and why. It seems that no matter what the message is, the main characters are all very lively and exaggerated caricatures being mostly grown ups or older children. In Grandpa in my Pocket for example, the characters’ names tend to reflect their personality, such as Mr Whoops, Mr Liker Biker and Captain Shipshape amongst others. The characters in Balamory are equally all exaggerations of real people who live in a charming village with houses all painted in a different colour – being the use of primary colours another characteristic of kids’ programmes.

Music is key and whether it’s just the opening/ closing sequence or throughout, it is important to have a catchy tune with memorable and easy to learn lyrics. When they get it right, the children will be singing it over and over and over. This is great for the programme makers, not so good for the parents’ ears.

Finally, there is a formula that all episodes will follow. In Something Special, for example, there are intercut sequences between Mr Tumble and Justin as well as the use of Makaton signs. The viewer knows that no matter what the theme is, it will always start and end with Mr Tumble.

The duration of 20 minutes is a challenge but if you have a good strong formula to set the pace with characters and topics that the child can relate to, then hopefully it will keep the child engaged.

Taking all of the above into consideration, I started to brainstorm. Many different ideas later it seemed that it had either already been done, or it wasn’t really something I would want to watch myself. Eventually, Taro suggested we adapt a short he had been writing. It would have to be changed from dark comedy to a more colourful and child friendly version, but it could work and should be fun.

After a week or two of talking about it, we came up with a workable outline that could be adapted to any episode and I started writing. Five pages in I got stuck and I got bored. As Taro pointed out, even though we watch unhealthy amounts of children’s TV, it doesn’t mean that we can write for it or even that we would want to; and he’s right. I could spend another 2-3weeks on this project but I’ve found it very hard not to get distracted.

They say write what you know, but they also say love what you write. What was I thinking? I spend all day with children; my life has become a child’s programme, why would I also want to write about it? Writing dark murderous comedy as a contrast is definitely a lot more fun.

For those of you entering this competition, here is an interesting article by Ben Faulks, creator, writer and star of Mr Bloom's Nursery. He talks about the writing and development process of his show.

Friday 10 June 2011

Donkey Tails and other Random Facts

It was a breezy summer morning and we strolled along the beach. My husband and I walked hand in hand as the children ran ahead leaving footprints in the damp sand – the right kind of sand for building sand castles.

The seagulls squawked their squawky melodies rudely breaking the silence of that very quiet morning. As I looked around, I soon came to realise we were alone, there was no one in sight, not even a donkey, not a single one.

Something was wrong. It was a popular resort, the weather was reasonable, the seagulls were inviting and the sand was perfect for sculpting; so where were all the people, and most importantly, where were the donkeys?

I looked at my husband and squeezed his hand. He gave me a smile and assured me all was well. It was Friday after all. We might have been on Holiday but for others it was work as usual, the children were at school and as for the donkeys, well, the donkeys were having a day off.

There are about 400 working donkeys in the UK, of which 200 reside in Blackpool. It is therefore no surprise that there are regulations seeking to protect the animals from exploitation. They have a day off each week, on a Friday, a one hour lunch break and can only carry up to 51kgs.

I have never been to Blackpool, nor have I ever ridden a donkey. This is just one of the many pieces of trivia I've heard around the Production office as a shoot was being re-scheduled and scripts re-written to fit the real world. Writing and filmmaking can sometimes be a source of accidental knowledge, you become an expert at something you previously had little or no interest in.

Here is a list of a few of the things I have learned over the years:

·      When hiring a Drag Queen for a shoot, allow at least an hour for make-up

·      If someone asks you for a Paracetamol on set always say no, especially when there’s a nurse present.

·      Using a starting pistol for a shoot requires an armourer on set, even if it’s decommissioned. There should always be two people present when transporting the weapon, the armourer and a supervising armourer. The police need to be informed too!

·      It is possible to flip pancakes whilst running a marathon.

·    I now know how to make fake blood – the edible version

·      Filming with animals is expensive

·      If you plan on filming at Cannes do not book your flight and accommodation last minute unless you want to end up out of town or somewhere really really expensive

·      There is a small island north of Scotland called Shetland. They farm cod fish.

·      Travelling to a location for 48hrs with little or no sleep is not recommended

·      Thorpe Park is closed for maintenance on Tuesdays – and therefore perfect for filming without the added hazard and noise of crowds. On the other hand, having 12 turns in a row on a rollercoaster is not for everyone.

·      Haggis really is just a lamb sausage made with more spices, although I’m still not convinced about trying it. Incidentally, you can’t get it through customs into the US

·      With a few props a meeting room/ office space can double up as almost anything. The corridors around the offices at Elstree for example are painted like hospital corridors so they can be easily used for filming Holby City.

·      When at the BBC, if you get asked about the positioning of a DOG on screen, you do not search for a four-legged animal wagging its tail

·      If you work for/at the BBC you are required to do an extensive Health and Safety course and after that you never ever breathe again without filling in a form detailing the type of breathing, where and how you will be breathing, what risks are present in breathing and what measures you will be taking to prevent any of the risks. You are also fully aware of who gets blamed if you breathe in the wrong way. Oh and you get to see Anthea Turner on fire.

What facts have you come across accidentally or as part of your job, which you haven't actively sought out?