Friday 15 April 2011

Someone Hasn't Done Their Research

Earlier this week I got half-way through my current feature and realised I didn’t know what to write next. I knew what the plot was but wasn’t quite certain of the location. Was my 15yr old character going to Juvi for his crimes or would he be tried as an adult? In my outline he was going to juvi but I then realised that maybe that wasn’t the case. I hadn’t actually done my research.

That wasn’t the first time I got to a point in the script where I was uncertain of the details, but had previously felt that I could get away with lines such as “add more relevant description here” or during a dialogue “they talk about blah”. Open notes: do research.

So I found myself taking a break from writing and did some research. I came across some real life examples, some of which were heartbreaking - it's a Drama afterall, and suddenly my script had an extra supporting character. Oh and in case you are wondering, he’s going to be tried as an adult.

This small set-back and the fact that my script is full of holes made me realise that research before writing is important. The story itself of course supersedes this, but with a solid story and a good and detailed outline the need for research (if any) will present itself at this early stage. Needless to say, my outline was poor. 

I've done a common rookie mistake. I was so eager to jump in and start writing that I didn't do the necessary preparation. As much as outlines and treatments seem like a task, they exist for a reason, and will generally end up saving you time rather than being time consuming. Capiche?

Further research for my story (which again should have been made in advance) will be to watch certain movies and read some scripts and books that could help set the right tone and mood for the story. Spot the odd one out: 

Curious to watch Arronofsky's vision on this adaptation

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Seen the movie, read the novel, will read again for the tone

The Shawshank Redemption
Interested in the script more than anything due to the continuous use of voice over
I've only ever seen the play, with Christian Slatter, but I remember the very dark humour in it. Ken Kesey wrote this book whilst under the influence of mescaline.

The above list is purely for specific research. In general I make sure I always have a script and/or a book on the go. The most recent book I read was Fall of Giants by Ken Follett. He spent about 10years doing extensive research and consulting a historian for this book! Note to self: never write anything about World War I.

Friday 8 April 2011

Working Title

Before embarking in the process of writing a new script, and even before having an outline or a more concrete idea of what the story is, I name it. By giving the next project a name, I’m able to file any research, notes, treatment under the same file name.

I don’t get too hooked on the title, as it generally is a working title and not set in stone. There is no reason why it can’t change; although from past experience at times the working title will still be the best fit.

Getting the script done is of course more important as you’ll have nothing if you have a cleverly thought of title but nothing actually written.

Even if the title is the last thing you think of, even if it changes many times, it is still a very important part of a script. People will form whole ideas of what your movie (or other) is about before they even watch it, and that could be bad if your movie does not meet the expectations created by its title.

The long running English soap, Coronation Street was originally pitched as Florizel Street, thankfully someone pointed out that it sounded like detergent and the name was changed. 

Screenwriter Don Coscarelli has a movie currently in post-production with the best title ever: John Dies at the End. Yes, it's giving the ending away, at least I sure do hope so, but I still want to watch it to find out the how and why. The fact that you know the ending only makes you expectant of it.

Don Coscarelli is best known as director and co-writer of Bubba Ho-Tep. Now that’s a mouthful! The name to me says comedy – which it is – and Ho-Tep tells me mummy, right again; but in a million years I could not have guessed from the title that it takes place in a retirement home where Elvis Presley and JFK (now dyed black) are both old and very much alive. Yet, the name is so odd it's memorable.

In keeping with the Bruce Campbell theme, the latest movie I watched with him in was called My Name is Bruce. I would have loved to be there when they came up with the title.

What's the film about? Bruce Campbell
Who's in it? Bruce Campbell
What's it called? Errr, Bruce Campbell?
Nah, too John Malkovich. Well, my name is Bruce.
Perfect! What?
We’ll call it My name is Bruce. Genius!

So that’s totally not how it happened, and the movie isn’t biographical, but is instead Bruce Campbell playing a fictitious version of himself. The title still works really well and is just as self-indulgent as Bruce Campbell’s character.

However, as much as we might put some thought into finding that perfect title, once the script is out of our hands, just like the spec can be re-written, the title could be changed, and this may be in fact more common than I might think.

Titles are also generally changed when a movie is sold to a different country; often to that country’s native language and will usually not be a direct translation. On occasions, even same language countries will change the titles, as was famously done with Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, known in the US as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Nevertheless, I would still like to put some thought and care into the title of my scripts and know that I have tried to choose a name that best represents it and could possibly help spark interest and sales of said script.

For now, I have provisionally called my current spec “Dear Life”, but every once in a while I think of alternative titles. Unfortunately all that comes to mind are song titles such as:
  • Who Will Save Your Soul - Jewel
  • Don't Look Back in Anger - Oasis
  • Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney (uhm yes, ok it is a James Bond movie too)

I then remember an article on Titles by scriptreader Lucy V Hay and realise that song titles aren’t such a great idea. In fact, it's a great piece on what does or doesn't work in general and within different genres. 

So at the moment I'm stuck with Dear Life, which to be honest I'm not thrilled about although I might end up never changing this title, just wasting a lot of writing time thinking about alternatives and creating this blog entry all about it.

I now leave you with a cool little montage on Titles by Art of the Title, some food for thought.

It would be interesting to see how other people come up with titles, at which stage of the project and how often, if at all, it gets changed. And whilst we’re on the subject of titles, what is your favourite and worst film title of all times?

Friday 1 April 2011

Writing and Cupcakes

Last night I finally got a chance to pop by the NFT cafe on the London South Bank to meet a group of writers. This was the fourth time the group got together since Christmas. It's all an extension to what started as a script chatting group on Twitter,  known as #scriptchat. After virtually meeting and chatting for the last two years about writing and filmmaking, the group decided to meet in real life. There are already groups who meet in the US, so it was nice to finally have a London tweetup, organised by the Europe scriptchat host Mina Zaher; cupcakes included (courtesy of Alli Parker).

I was nicely surprised by the amount of people who showed up. There must have been about 20 of us at one point. Some who I already 'knew' through twitter, others that I got to meet, and unfortunately some that I didn't but hope to at a further meet. The group consisted of writers from different walks of life, working on different genres and formats; some get paid to write, some would pay to write. Then there was me. I suppose if I was there, then I must be a writer too, or at least anyone who was there might think so.

I have screenwriting books that I bought about ten years ago, a short that I wrote even longer ago, and an ancient notebook filled with script ideas. That was it really. I've wanted to be a screenwriter for a while, but all I ever did was jot down ideas, read books, but never really dare to just forget about all that and sit down and write. I always had brilliant excuses to not write.

Last year this all changed simply because it had to. I was always saying that I would focus on writing once I went on maternity leave and even though it didn't happen when I had my first child, I finally took that step just weeks after conceiving my second son. Since the middle of last year I have been writing more and more. Alone and in partnership I have written a couple of shorts, a couple of spec pilots, some other bits and pieces and as of today have started that one feature I've been pondering about for a while.

Even though there are writers out there who started their writing careers whilst quite young, I don't regret not having started sooner. I didn't just sit by and watch life happen, I was enjoying it, experimenting, inventing, creating and, well, making life. So I got derailed but found so much knowledge and richness that I am now ready to incorporate it all into what I hope will be a writing and film making career.

Without further ado, hi. My name is Teenie and I'm a screenwriter.

(Interested in screenwriting? Why not join #scriptchat online on Twitter and real life. Details here.)