Monday, June 05, 2023

Three-Act Structure in 11 min episode

A typical length of a children's TV episode (animation) is 11 minutes. Some shows are 7 minutes or 5 minutes, but 11 minutes is the standard. Over the years, I've learned to adopt the three-act structure within this episodic time frame. It's served as a useful checkpoint when a story isn't working, or as a springboard for brainstorming plot. Anyway, here's how it breaks down (as a general guide, not any kind of rule or join-the-dot storytelling):

Act One:
Premise set-up. Pages 1-3.
  • One or two scenes that quickly set-up the premise of the episode.
  • Premise of the episode should contain a clear character goal for the protagonist.
  • Bonus: establish any stakes.
  • By no later than page 3, certainly not past page 4, the protagonist should be ready to tackle the premise of the episode.
  • The protagonist's decision to tackle the premise of the episode helps to facilitate the end of act one moment, and pushes the action forward into act two.

Act Two: 
Turning Point One. Pages 4-5. 
  • The action develops into a significant turning point.
  • It follows the protagonist's efforts to take on the premise of the ep but things backfire or don't go as planned.
  • It prompts a different course of action or re-think.
  • 'Turning point one' is a significant story beat but it's not necessarily one scene.
  • A couple of scenes or mini-story beats should lead us to 'turning point one' no later than page 5.
Turning Point Two. Pages 6-8.
  • The stakes and jeopardy are raised.
  • A midpoint, if you like.
  • All story turning points are generally led by the protagonist. They drive the story with their character goal and objectives.
  • A lot of fun and action will be occurring around this section. The height of audience engagement.
  • But things are increasingly getting worse in the story. And 'turning point two' occurs no later than page 8. 
Turning Point Three. Pages 9-10.
  • This is the action that leads us to the end of act two.
  • Everything develops to a seeming defeat or disaster. The 'all is lost' moment, if you like.
  • It doesn't look like the protagonist will achieve or overcome the premise of the ep. 
  • This key moment should be despite the protagonist's best efforts. They should ideally never be passive in the story. 
  • The end of act two is no later than page 10, as a guide (page 11 at a stretch). The protagonist will probably get an idea that there may be a way to resolve the story after all.

Act Three:
Resolution. Pages 11-13.
  • A swift resolution of the story as the protagonist finally achieves or overcomes the premise of the ep.
  • But not without a twist or fun bit of action. It shouldn't be too straightforward or a quick fix. 
  • The protagonist gets the outcome they need, not necessarily wants. But it can be both!
  • The theme or moral of the episode should play out here. But not in a sickly preachy way, no sir.
  • A comic coda or button to end on is always welcome.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

No Matter What

If you're dead-set on becoming a screenwriter, or achieving anything in the biz, then here's a useful mantra to embrace - or add to your existing objectives: "no matter what". 

"I'm going to write a feature script... no matter what."

"I'm going to get an agent... no matter what."

"I'm going to make a film... no matter what."

OK, it may sound a bit twee and Instagram-inspirational. But let's face it, achieving success as a screenwriter is difficult. The odds are stacked against you. The competition is both large and fierce. It's not going to be enough to 'give things a good go'. If you adopt a more focused and determined attitude - no matter what - then you've got an extra fighting chance to make a significant breakthrough. 

But what does this 'no matter what' mantra mean exactly? What's the practical way(s) you can put it into practice? 

Well, when I was starting out, back in 2000, my objective was simple: get paid to write scripts. To do this,  I gave up my day job and went for it, no matter what! But agh, how was I going to pay the bills? What was I going to do to make sure my writing work was of a good standard, and I could get paying gigs? 

I convinced myself that if I could cover the absolute minimum I needed for rent and food, then that was fine. I hustled some script reading gigs, which occasionally led to some script editing, and I also did part-time screenwriting teaching. That was enough to ensure the bills were paid but also helped me to remain focused on scripts, and the wonderful world of story. (Another mantra I made up for myself: If you can't write every day, at least be in the world of story every day.)

The routine of script reading, and writing synopses/reports, gave me valuable insights into what makes a good script tick, as well as providing me with a decent routine to get work done, i.e. get my ass on a chair and write. I pored over screenwriting books, but also self-analysed lots of films and TV shows to further my own individual insights into what works and why. All the while, I tried to write my own scripts, and slowly improved my style and consistency. 

In 2004, I won a BBC new writing award, got my first agent as well as my first TV writing gig. My 'no matter what' approach had paid off, four years later. But that was just the beginning. I had to reassert all my effort and energy to maintain momentum, and start building my career in earnest.

Thousands of script reports (and many hours of produced TV/film) later, I'm grateful of the 'no matter what' attitude. It's helped me to be completely devoted and committed to the cause. Beware, there's downsides: mental health challenges, crushing lows/rejections, and life getting in the way! But in many ways, that's the inevitable price you have to pay if you're going to make it, and continue a career.

So, roll up your sleeves, get down to work, and start making things happen... no matter what.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Old Blog New Blog!

Hey, it's been 9 years since this blog was updated. Back in 2014, I shifted over to a new fancy website. But it got spectacularly hacked, and it was razed to the ground. Around that time, a lot of experienced writers came online and started to share their screenwriting wisdom. It felt less pertinent to plug my blogging wares. But lo, 9 years later, the current social media landscape is a miserable mess. All the joy and discovery of blogs, plus the fun of being online, has savagely diminished. So I'm dusting off this corner of the internet to see if there's any life left in trusty Blogger, and any more fun to be had just shooting the screenwriting breeze. 


What a great question, so glad you asked. Well, in 2014, I teamed up with the mighty Tim Clague to make an original live-action children's film called Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg. We wrote, produced and directed this together, Coen Brothers style, managing to scrape together a lucky bag budget and convincing Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley) to be our star name overseeing our core cast of kids. It was an absolute blast; the film had its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival only a year later. 

Filming Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg?

The collab with Tim went so well, we decided to keep it going, while I also continued to write for a lot of children's TV - getting to work on some family favourites like the new Thunderbirds, Hey Duggee, PJ Masks, Octonauts, and many more! Writing for animation has probably taught me more about screenwriting than my previous primetime or grownup attempts. The storytelling demands can be very sharp, specific and sophisticated. 

Tim and I got to work on our next indie family film, Future TX, a sci-fi adventure, this time starring Griff Rhys Jones overseeing our core cast of kids. We shot this in 2018, but the film only came out recently (delayed 'cos of long VFX post, cashflow, and Covid) - it enjoyed a UK cinema release in October 2022, and a US cinema release in March 2023, wahey. 

In 2019, while we were still in delayed Future TX post-production, we decided to make our own live-action children's TV show (as you do). We set up our own studio in a warehouse in Poole, and managed to shoot 10 x 7mins episodes, all about a dog growing up with his oddball human family. You can now watch the show on Amazon Prime, and various other streaming outlets around the world!

These snapshot summaries might make it seem everything simply slotted into place, but we could not have done it with the producing support of the amazing Jan Caston (Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg and Dog Years), and Lyndon Baldock (for Future TX). In the past year, Tim and I have made two TV movies - as directors for hire for Reel One Entertainment - having fun a with a summer romance and a Christmas movie, coming soon to a TV/streamer near you. 

Phew, almost 10 years have whizzed by! It's been a lot of work and hustle, with the usual ups and downs of life thrown in for good measure. Plus, I turned 50 (whaaat? Danny no, you look way younger. Aw, bless you, thankyou). I've learned and discovered many more things about screenwriting, filmmaking and myself, so if this blog does have any life left, I can dig into everything a bit more and share any insights. Or reach out, ask anything you like, or just say hello!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Monday, November 11, 2013

Red Planet Prize 2013/2014

This is just a reminder to redirect to my new site really, especially in the wake of the news that the Red Planet Prize is back for 2013/2014. You can get the full details on my new blog and/or Red Planet's website (where you can submit your script).

This blog is kaput, still accessible for handy reference, but my new site is where it's at.

Friday, November 01, 2013

New site!

If you subscribe to the blog (thank you!) then you might have noticed that the latest blog updates have been coming to you via my shiny new website. This has been me testing the waters, slowly building the site prior to launch. Well, I think it's about ready, so you can head on over and check it out now!
This means that the blog is retiring from Blogspot and relocating to the new website. A few email subscribers were lost in the transfer (flagged up for spam and so on) so if you are a subscriber and haven't received any update in a while, then you may need to resubscribe over on the new site.

Anyways, service will continue as normal, not a major change of blog procedure, just a different site. This blog is going nowhere but will remain static, although the download/blog archive section on the new site is easier to navigate than here.

So, come on over, have a nose around and let me know what you think. Hope to see you over there, and thanks for all the support over the years on Blogger.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

10 Writing Observations

(image found here)

Here are 10 quick writing observations, a mixture of my own experience and what fellow writers often tell me:

- Fridays are always very quiet for emails (just me?).

- the worse you think you're getting as a writer, you're actually getting better.

- those feelings of writing insecurity get bigger the more your career develops.

- achieving a reliable (and admirable) professional quality to your work is great but sometimes not enough; making a script read well is not always the same as telling a good story.

- sometimes commissions will go awry, despite best intentions from all concerned (writer, producer, script editor, etc).

- getting fired from a script sucks balls.

- rejection will always feel personal no matter how much you're told the opposite is true.

- rejection is rarely personal.

- having an online profile as a writer is essential. Everybody Googles, so be in control of what comes up in the search results.

- you don't need an online profile as a writer; just write. Google schmoogle.

How about you? Any interesting observations/quirks?