Monday, June 16, 2008

Getting Ahead?

A few questions that kind of tie into the same answer: Without an agent and a production credit, what would you say is the best chance that I have to break into scritpwriting? I've been working on some spec script but mostly in splendid isolation. I want to get out there. Where should I be going? Who should I be seeing? What should I be doing next? And how?

Well, first the obvious cliché: keep on writing, keep on sending your stuff out to production companies, agents and producers. Something might break and eventually, if you're any good, it probably will.

Now, to get ahead: have you considered writing a short film and getting it made? Or, even better, writing & directing the short film yourself. You can make a film for very cheap nowadays, and you could do it over a weekend. I made a no-budget short this way. It didn't cost any money at all and it turned out well (I think. See for yourself here).

Radio is a good way to get a credit and raise your profile. Research/be aware of when the commissioning rounds come up, and get your proposal in on time. Even better, try to get your script attached to a radio producer first. Have them submit it on your behalf, and that gives it a better chance. Jane Purcell, a playwright, has some tips on the process, here.

Alternatively, write a stage play. Send it around London or wherever you live, and all the theatre groups, local or otherwise. Stage it yourself. Hire a venue (a room above a pub, that kind of thing), get some actors, invite your friends and you have your first staged production. A modern or comedic spin on a familiar idea/story (that isn't copyright) is a good way to get the punters in. Even better, write to the original author and get their permission to adapt their script/book/film into your play. They might say ‘yes’, they probably will say ‘no’. When I was a researcher/assistant in TV, the golden rule was: always ask, otherwise you’ll never know. Invite a local journalist to your play/performance: get a review. Now you’re official!

Or, instead of a short film or a stage play, you could film a comedy sketch (all the rave on the net) or get a group of comedy writers together to write a sketch show, and perform it above the pub (very common, and TV peeps always keep an eye on these). The film/play/sketch route involves spending a bit of money but probably not as much as you think, so it's worth exploring.

If you can't film or perform something, then organise a private read-through of your script. All you need is a room with a table and actors to read your script. Actors are everywhere and keen to do stuff like this. You won't have to pay them. Just be nice and give them some drinks/snacks as they regale you with valuable feedback on what works, and what doesn't, in your script. This is proactive development rather than sitting at your computer, wondering what to do.

Network. Network like a crazy wild cat. Festivals, screenings, courses, talks. Attend. Chat to other writers. Say hello to the guest speaker. Be nice. Be proactive, always be doing something. Don't get stuck in a rut. It's nice to get out of the house every once in a while. Blogging has become a useful way to network with fellow writers and like-minded individuals. Sure, they may be people who won’t advance your career (hey, y’never know!) but it’s nice to make some friends and not feel so isolated.

Use your common sense. Think laterally. Read the trade magazines (Broadcast and Screen International). Swot up on who the movers and the shakers really are. Keep an eye on upcoming events/courses/talks etc. Someone from Working Title may be doing a Q&A or attending a pitching event, so mark it down on your calendar, go along and network. Try to introduce yourself to the main person but be just as nice and interested in everyone else, including the coatroom guy. Someone from the Film Council could be at a Bafta talk or screening. Go up and say hello. Get them to agree to read your stuff (solicited script) or, if not, they might remember your name when your unsolicited script comes across their desk.

Basically, use your noggin’. Common sense, a practical approach and an easy going manner will get you a long way and probably make you some friends, too.

And finally… the seven songs thingy, as memed by Sheiky.

1. Burns Inside - Puressence (no-one talks, or indeed, seems to know about this band, which is why I probably like them. They won't change the world but good quality indie pop).
2. After Hours - We Are Scientists (catchy tune, like it).
3. Serpent Sky - JJ72 (fairly sparse and raw but energetic and grabbing riff).
4. Jigsaw Falling Into Place - Radiohead (really like the video too, which was directed by Adam Buxton, I believe).
5. America - Razorlight (classy song).
6. Trophy - Bat For Lashes (listen once, try to hum it out of your head for days).
7. Boys of Summer - Don Henley (a classic favourite which I finally found to download t'other day).

I tag anyone on the list who hasn't been tagged yet.


terraling said...


who'd a thunk Mr Stack had his finger so much on the musical pulse, with an all-time classic for good measure.

Oh yeah,and the writing stuff too...

Colin Donald said...

Hi Danny,

All great tips. Worth pointing out that putting a short film or sketch comedy on YouTube really should be for promotional purposes – and not for income.

YT make a big deal out of paying contributors, but when a friend asked for hard figures this morning, I sent her to this cautionary tale:

And there’s more useful commentary on the Kent (Ask A Ninja) Nichols blog

Danny Stack said...

You flatter me Terraling. I have friends and relatives who walk away from my music collection in disgust.

Colin: thanks. Yep, the above tips are purely for promotional purposes. Don't expect to make any money, for god's sake! Here's the direct links to Colin's recommended sites:

Gawker's web celebrity

Kent Nichols's reaction

Stephen Gallagher said...

Also worth pointing out that the making (and in particular the editing) of a short film is probably the most concentrated education you can give yourself. It doesn't have to be a gem. It'll still influence the way you write script for ever after.

Ron Aberdeen said...

Making that Breakthrough

Yep, without saying it that’s what most of us are looking for.

But how do you get your foot in the door?

Marketing, yes the one area that many writers don’t think about when they first start to write.

Who will read my wonderful screenplay, who will buy my original script?

Whether your ambition is to act, write, direct, produce or be a different part of the collective of people that make films, it’s not easy.

Of course it’s not.

If it was, you would have achieved nothing, even if you just get through the door, come second in a competition or get your script in front of a major producer. If it was easy, what would you have accomplished?

The first thing to realise is that you get out what you put in. All energy has an equal force and the more energy you put into your shoulder the easier the door will open.

Many people sit back at home and dream of the phone call, or the email saying, I loved your script.

Or maybe a fax saying, “I saw your short at so and so, how would you like to direct my next feature”.

It ain’t gonna happen that way and the sooner you realise that the quicker you can make real progress.

We all know that famous line, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall? – Practice”.

Nobody is going to give you a break unless you earn it. Many of the big Stars in Hollywood were not the overnight successes although they may appear to be. Many did commercials, worked in Soaps, were extras; some even had small roles in Law and Order.

Most of the established writers worked for years before an assignment from a Studio, or an Indy feature placed them in the spot light.

Ridley Scott and Alan Parker made TV commercials for many years before moving into film.

But nearly all of the successful actors, writers and others became successful because of their own hard work, skill, knowledge and partly through a network of contacts.

There’s that network thing again.

You often hear of luck, but most of us know you make your own luck and part of making luck happens for you through a contact, by someone who is part of your network.

If no one knows of you or your work how can they ask you to do something.
Recently I received an email from a very successful HW producer, who is working on raising interest in three of my mid to large budget projects.

Ron, he asks, “what do you have in the way of Horror scripts that could be made for $1mil bucks or less, I’ve a friend looking for a couple.

If you like I will act as your agent and present them, if I like them”.

What more could I ask and I sent him three scripts. He emailed me and said, “ I’ve read one and liked it, will get to the other two as soon as I can.

Now, no deal is done, no promises made, no expectancy given, but through a contact who is part of my network the door opened slightly.

This guy use to run an agency before becoming a producer and became famous in the industry as the agent who identified scripts / projects such as Top Gun, Pretty Woman, Lethal Weapon, Basic Instinct and The Rock.

Getting that all important break will only happen if you are seen to be worthy of receiving it.

So you have to be out there, selling your skills or wares, as a writer submitting scripts and accepting rejections as part of the growth. No doubt it is the same for actors attending auditions and never hearing another word.

Directors submitting their short for a competition and finding it is not included in the programme.

Disappointments and rejections are part of the journey to success. What makes the difference is the commitment to succeed, the willingness to get involved, the professionalism projected and most of all the desire to be a winner.

If you want to be part of the winners programme get with the programme and set yourself targets, turn your dream into an ambition (there’s a big difference between the two), be prepared to take criticism and always keep moving forward.

Reviews on sites like Zoetrope and TriggerStreet can help, if you can get past your ego.

Believe in yourself and others will believe in you and don’t over stretch yourself, know what you can do and what you can’t.

When you over stretch you lose balance and then you are as likely to fall on your face rather than get the breakthrough.

If you seriously want to be in the movies in a serious way, get serious about it and make your breakthrough happen, don’t wait for it.

If you wait, it will never come. Breakthrough your own barriers to create your own breakthrough, it is worth the effort.

Sounds great and like most things on paper looks easy. I’ll just pop down to the mart and get myself a network.

Opps, they’re out of them.

So how do you buy a network, you don’t. You work at it everyday by marketing yourself, not your work but you. People buy from people they like, it is you that they will be dealing with.

Think product, your scripts are your product you are the Brand. So get yourself on the shelf, be seen on web sites, use your own name, attend functions and festivals, write, phone, email do what ever it takes for people to know of you and that YOU write screenplays.

Competitions, various methods such as Visual Pitches, web sites such as this one, all help, but in truth the person who moves your career forward the quickest is you, by marketing yourself.

When I first started just over three years ago I had no idea what to do with my first script. After searching the web for a couple of hours I finally decided to post a script on InkTip.

Four months and three more scripts later, I received my first assignment, then my second, quickly followed by my first option. Then an editing job.

Since then I have developed a network of over 300 contacts in the industry, through various web sites, attending festivals and generally being a pest on the phone.

Now my network keeps me busy and employed, but most importantly it gives me hope and confidence that I made the right decision in becoming a scriptwriter

wyndham said...

Thanks Danny, and thanks Ron.