Wednesday, July 09, 2008

SWF: Day Two, Part One

The Red Planet Prize launch is the first session of the day in the main tent, 9am, which is VERY early, especially as most of the delegates were partying hard the night before. I worry that no-one will show up.

I’m told to be at the tent at 8.15am to do a sound check or something but when I arrive, the grumpy sound man barely looks at me and says I’m too early. Fine. I hang around, seeing if Tony Jordan or Joanna Leigh have arrived (there’s a Q&A with Joanna over on the Red Planet Prize blog, click to read). I spot Tony first, looking like a writer rock star; crisp white shirt, Bono-like sunglasses. He needs caffeine and nicotine, stat, and promptly goes about getting his fix.

As ever, I am extremely nervous about the whole event. The first year of the competition was a great success but it all came together rather suddenly and I have to pinch myself sometimes how it all came about and how I’m involved. In many ways, I’m still a new writer making my way, just like the people who are beginning to assemble in the audience, but here I am sitting alongside Tony Jordan as if I’m some sort of big shot, which I’m most certainly am not. I calm myself with the knowledge that at least I have something to contribute about what the entries were like last year (as I read a good chunk of the scripts).

The session begins and me, Tony and Joanna take our seats in the centre of the stage. It’s set up like a panel talk but I have no idea what’s going to happen. Last year, it was pretty much a one-man stand up routine by Tony. He’s a natural born entertainer (his market stall charm and patter still serving him well). There are a handful of writers in the tent, bless you, and it doesn’t look too bad (I’m told later that it was packed but I reckoned it was about half full). Tony begins the session, explaining the different set-up this year, which favours TV pilot scripts rather than any old spec script, and Tony goes through the rules of entry.

Then, he asks Joanna about her experience of winning the competition and what’s happened to her script since. Tony asks me about what I look for in the first ten pages of a script (which is the first vital stage of entry for the comp), and I manage to blabber various tips like ‘starting the story on page one’, ‘establishing tone’, ‘something intriguing or dramatic’, ‘it doesn’t have to be an explosion or a race, it could be a scene full of subtext or something funny’ and that I don’t favour one genre over another, I just like good writing and a good story. Hopefully this doesn’t sound too generic or vague, and I check to see that I haven't slobbered all over the mic like a raving mad man.

Tony continues with his spiel and opens it up to the audience for a quick Q&A. Then, in what seems like a blink of an eye, the session is over. However, Tony is besieged by a swarm of writers who want more from the great man. Joanna and I wait for him in the wings as we’re told we have to get an official photo taken with him and sure enough, after about 15 minutes extra chat, Tony joins us for a few photos which are taken by the lake (which I haven’t seen yet but wouldn’t mind getting a copy).

And that’s it. It went well, I think, and I’m very excited about this year’s competition (better set-up, longer deadline) and am equally proud of the success it’s yielded so far. There’s no time to hang around though as Laura Mackie from ITV is giving a speech so everyone piles back into the main tent to hear her speak. For a more detailed break down of the Red Planet launch, check out Jason's magnificent review of the event.

Part two of Day Two to follow.

6 comments:

Will Snow said...

Your nervousness didn't show at all Danny! The microphone slobber was noticeable, though.

I loved it when someone was worried the September deadline was too short, and Tony basically said 'Get real. I had to do a Hustle episode in four days!'

Also, anyone know if podcasts of the festival will be available soon?

Sal said...

Well, you did look a bit big shottish if you ask me! It was a really good session and your 10 pages tips were so good, I rushed back to my hotel room that night and worked on my 10 pages. Okay, so I have no friends...
You're right about Tony. He has charisma by the bucketload and his passion for writing is infectious.
My first 10 pages didn't get me through to the next round last year - although they did get me a script invite from Writersroom, so fellow losers, all is not lost. I hope I have learnt enough in the last 12 months to at least get asked for the full sixty pages. Fingers-crossed.

Kevin Lehane said...

Would liked to have been there, but I'm being very frugal at the moment. *sigh*

Danny, I wanted to ask you what's your take on screenwriting competitions? In regards, do you feel there is a bias against genre writers?

I write pure entertainment. Not fluff. But entertainment. I work very hard on my characters, my plot and my writing but I am a genre writer . . . would I be wasting my time entering any of these competitions (based on your experience on both sides of the competition circuit)?

It just seems to me that if they have a script about something far fetched, versus something more intimate -- they will choose the "serious" screenplay over the other more imaginative script, despite the fact the writing, characters and story may be better in the "fluff" film. I have no facts to support this hunch, but that's how it seems or feels.

If Die Hard and Brokeback Mountain were competing in the same writing competition it seems to me Brokeback would win every time.

As a genre writer, are the odds even more against me?

Sorry for the longwinded comment. But I was curious and you seem to be the best authority on matters like this. Cheers, mate.

Danny Stack said...

Good question, Kevin. Worthy of a full post, so will have a proper think on it and answer soon...

Kevin Lehane said...

Thanks a million, Danny.

mattowski said...

Kevin, I can't speak generally about screenwriting contests (I'll leave that to Danny!), but I submitted a genre script (sci-fi concept, contemporary real world setting) to last year's Red Planet Prize and was one of the 20 or so runners-up to attend a workshop with Tony Jordan and receive mentoring from Red Planet. At the workshop with Tony, he said he wanted us to only send him "the scripts you would write if you were told you only had six months to live". So what I would say is that if you are a genre writer, don't pass up the chance of going for the RPP because I think (based on my own experiences and those of the other workshop attendees) they will go for the scripts that they like, that make an impression on them, that demonstrate you can write, regardless of genre. And if your stuff has a commercial sensibility about it, then that's probably all the better. Like I say, I am sure Danny can give a more objective view, but just thought I'd share my own experiences as a fellow genre writer myself!
Stephen