Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Free Online Script Workshops*

*Or 'Online Rejection is Worth It'

As I occupy myself with boring, mundane but essential household tasks, here’s a guest post from Sam Morrison, an award-winning animator who I’m lucky to call my co-writer on a few projects.

Sam’s animation is great – you can check out his stuff at Nexus Productions’ website (follow the links to directors’ showreels) – but it’s his writing that I particularly became attached with when I met him in 2000. We share a similar style but I admire (read: envy) Sam’s subtlety of character, his natural comic touch and his easy-gong attitude towards collaboration. Together we make a good writing team which I see going from strength to strength. But enough of that, here’s Sam:

“Danny is packing up things into boxes for his move and asked me to step in with some random warblings on any aspect of writing. I paraphrase a little, but not as much as I’d like. Anyway, here they are.

I don’t have Danny’s experience of script reading or writing, though we write a lot together and are making some headway. My writing career thus far has been a series of near misses and what-ifs – a familiar story I’m sure, and not one to wallow pedantically in now, much as I feel I deserve to.

For us writers yet to get a TV credit under our belt (your own spec scripts don’t count, as you basically hired yourself to write them) I just wanted to say a few words about the helpfulness of online screenwriting communities like American Zoetrope, Trigger Street etc.

These get quite a bad rep sometimes - and sometimes for good reason - but for me they’ve been pretty helpful. For anyone not familiar with the set-up, the idea is that you can submit a script as soon as you’ve joined – but can only access other people’s reviews of your work after you have reviewed four other scripts yourself.

Reviews are rated to prevent people from abusing the system, and most of the time it works pretty well, although reviews vary as greatly in quality as the scripts do. Your feeling for the site tends to rest on the latest review or script you’ve read, so at times the place feels amateurish and competitive, and at times you get a sense of what a great idea it was and how helpful it can be.

That’s the rub – it can be, it often isn’t. The population of these sites isn’t policed, and occasionally reviews can feel like someone is getting something off their chest. I’ve had people refuse to read a script because it had a disclaimer about its use of science and a review that corrected almost every line of dialogue to be stiffly, syntactically correct.

But if you swallow these and avoid getting into a virtual dogfight with the perpetrators there are genuine writers and reviewers to be found. And what is most helpful about these sites, much more so than any ringing endorsement of your own work, is the process you go through as a reviewer, which mirrors to a certain degree what Danny does as a reader.

From the most comprehensively realised story to the most cliché ridden claptrap, you have to define what you think does and doesn’t work in a script, what are its strengths (for it helps to compliment) and weaknesses, whether the dialogue is up to scratch, is it original, do you empathise with the main characters, etc, etc.

In turn, you naturally find yourself thinking in the same way about your own work… a little, because it’s hard to be truly objective, but a little can be enough when you start identifying why it might not be the tour de force you thought – and how you can make it better. It gets the ball rolling, and past the point where you simply re-read your script and think how great it is. Or is that just me?

Anyway, if you have the required thick skin for reviews - and considered manner to supply some of your own, then places like American Zoetrope can be useful tool in pushing your writing on a little bit."


Anonymous said...

Sound advice, thanks!

Anonymous said...

If you are joining Zoetrope, ask for a key to the RUUK office, which is for UK writers looking at the UK market.

It's a chance to network with fellow UK writers...and they don't bite!

Anonymous said...

Be afraid! Be very afraid!