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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Did You Know? B2W Has Moved!

For posts on writing, screenwriting, novels, networking, blogging and more, please visit the new site.

For writing tips, links and scriptchat, plus to link up with fellow writers, please join Bang2writers on Facebook or LinkedIn.

For writing tips every day, please follow me on Twitter and save search #8AMtip.

German speakers - buy my novel, BAUCH-ENTSCHIEDUNG (Gut Decision) on Amazon, now.

Screenwriters - pre-order my book, WRITING AND SELLING THRILLER SCREENPLAYS, from Creative Essentials, now (Out Sept 2013).


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Quick Question: How Do I Find A Paid Writing Gig?


Richard Standen asks on Twitter: 

I'm a writing graduate with 2 shorts I've written screening at festivals. Where should/can I look to find that first paid job?

Getting work AND getting paid for it is the Holy Grail for most writers - it's fair to say most of us dream of giving up our day jobs. In terms of finding your first paid job as a writer, I'd recommend following these steps:

WHAT do I want to do? Think first of your mega dream job. Don't worry if it's working for continuing drama or writing for huge Hollywood action epics, this is YOUR dream. Work on the basis anything is possible - because it is. You can be anything you want to be and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, least of all YOURSELF.

WHERE am I? Okay, now you go for the reality check. Richard has two shorts screening at festivals - this is a good start, but maybe you have only your scripts on paper. Whatever the case, you need to start BUILDING - contacts and experience. Don't let anything slide - but equally, don't stretch yourself so thin you can't do your best. Decide what you WILL and WON'T do, according to where you are on the "writing scale". 

WHEN do I send stuff out? Never send stuff out that's not ready - so ensure you know a) when your script is worth showing to people and b) when the "usual" opportunities come around (ie. agents with open door policies, London Screenwriters' Festival, Red Planet Prize, BBC Writers' Academy, American script contest deadlines etc) and c) make opportunities for yourself (following leads, creating DIY filmmaking opportunities, making contacts with indie prodcos etc). Look to the year ahead and make a STRATEGY, don't rely on a scattergun approach. If you've decided you want to write for television, find out who you should be approaching and when - and with what. Same for the Hollywood approach or anything else you want to do. Find out where the opportunities are. Plan accordingly. Make sure you have a great portfolio. Rinse and repeat.

Also - don't forget that sometimes you will deviate from your original course and this is a GOOD THING. I never knew five years ago I would become a novelist, rather than a scriptwriter and end up concentrating on script editing instead. 

Good luck!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Quick Question: Novel Writing


Bang2writer Erinmaochu asks via Twitter:

What software are people using to write novels on these days  or other examples, or simple pen and paper?

First up, I use Microsoft Word. It's what I started with, it came with the machine and it's got everything I need (for those wondering, format-wise that's 12point Times New Roman, double spaced. End of).

A straw poll of Bang2writers revealed MS Word to be the most popular choice, with Scrivener and Word Perfect close seconds. Writers' Cafe, CeltX, Write Way Pro and Final Draft also figured. Here is a great list of writing software to trawl through (free and paid for).

Another issue to remember with novels is how you save them, because agents, publishers and uploading to indie publishing sites etc means editing has to be easy. So whatever platform you use to write in, I'd recommend you make sure you can save in .doc or .docx formats to make this transition as problem-free as possible.

As for pen and paper, I hear there are fewer first drafts on paper now - certainly my novel BUT WHAT NEXT? exists solely on the Macbook. Here's an interesting article about why you should write free hand, first. Food for thought. 

Friday, May 04, 2012

Quick Question: Graphic Novels, Contracts & Collaborating



Bang2writer David asks:


"Hi - I've got a short story that could really suit a 'Graphic Novel' type approach. 1. How do i go about approaching an Agent or Publisher to get the ball rolling on that; and 2. As it will be a collaborative project with a graphic artist, is there a Contract thats in existence that they could sign so as not to pinch my idea?"


Scriptwriting is a collaborative medium, so recognising *what* your script is and which audience it would be suited to (ie. graphic novels) from the offset is really advantageous. An agent or publisher is unlikely to take you up on your own, you'd be best off finding an illustrator and getting the graphic novel either written in its entirety (or at least a good portion of it as a sample). I have no experience of writing graphic novels myself, but in terms of finding an artist I would imagine posting on the likes of Talent Circle or Shooting People would be a good start. 


There are contracts available online to download I'm told, but rather than worrying about contracts, I would recommend agreeing who-does-what and what that person gets before starting any work. Basically, start from the same page so everyone knows what they're doing and why. Being upfront about what you can and can't offer (ie. money, exposure, etc) is the key here - be overt, rather than covert.


And finally, never worry about people nicking your idea - REALLY! Here's why.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Genre & Tone, A Case Study: BEETLEJUICE


This post is inspired by  two separate Twitter conversations over the last two weeks between myself and Michelle Goode & Claire Yeowart and then Hina Malik – so stand by for some serious musing.

Years ago I attended a conference held by The British Board of Film Classifcation (BBFC). It was a very interesting  - and of course the notion of film censorship reared its head. Since the majority of us in the room were students, many of us expressed outrage that censorship existed at all; we claimed that as artists we should be “trusted” to make the “right” stuff. The chap speaking – I’m afraid I don’t remember who it was – accepted our point with the weariness of someone who had had this point put to him OVER AND OVER again and made the very good counterpoint:

“Is it actually the makers or the audience who is important here?”

I didn’t know what he meant at the time, I just remember writing this, circling it and adding “WTF?” in bright neon pink letters next to it with the highlighter I had bought especially for the occasion. Then I promptly forgot all about it.

Fast forwards approximately a decade and I know EXACTLY what that guy from the BBFC whose name I cannot remember means:

It’s the audience that is important.

Without a shadow of a doubt. Here’s why: without an audience, nothing we write or make matters. NOTHING. And yes, this includes niche as well as mass audiences. Basically, as long as you have an audience, however small, what you do matters. Without an audience, we are shouting into the wind.

Well, durr: you say. That’s obvious. But is it? After all I have already written countless times on this blog about the specs that don’t have a discernible audience, thus lack an identity. I have also written about how Hollywood knows its audience very well and caters for them, despite being maligned for it (and the audience being maligned too). I have even written about how there are *obvious* elements that take movies out of various audiences’ reach, like excessive swearing.

What I have NOT written about is WHAT an audience wants can CHANGE and not only that, our RESPONSE changes to that AS WELL.

Let’s take a movie as a case study: BEETLEJUICE. This movie came out in 1988 when I was approximately 8 or 9 years old. The movie was rated 15, but my parents were liberal and besides, it looked pretty fun with a cartoonish Michael Keaton on the front, a house and a spooked Geena Davis and headless Alec Baldwin, where’s the harm?? 
 So I watched the film. And saw the following:

·      Geena and Alec dying
·      Multiple corpses
·      Creepy statues
·      Multiple depictions of suicide or murder (a hanged man, a woman with slit wrists, another woman with a slit throat)
·      Mulitple depictions of the occult, especially séance and voodoo
·      Depictions of brothels and prostitutes
·      Depictions of smoking
·      Monsters, particularly snake-like monsters
·      One instance of swearing (“Nice FUCKING model!”)
·      Michael Keaton grabs his crotch (“HONK HONK!”)
·      A 14 year old girl marries a monster

Perhaps I was an odd child, but I didn’t find any of this weird or scary. In fact, I loved it. I thought it was hilarious. So hilarious I went and fetched my Dad and told him he should watch it. He did and also thought it was hilarious (maybe that was where I got it from? SORRY DAD). I did however feel naughty for watching a 15 film and felt that, yes, 15 was the “right” classifaction for such risqué stuff on the list above.

Anyway, fast forward about twenty years (ahem) and I watched it again, expecting to feel the same way I did aged 8 or 9 in that “15” was the RIGHT classification.

I didn’t.

These days, BEETLEJUICE wouldn’t be a “15” – it would be a 12A. Hell, as long as it got rid of the  crotch-grabbing and depictions of suicide/murder (I’d bet no film would have as much smoking in nowadays, regardless of classification), it could be a 12, no “A” even. Why?

·      Swearing is no big deal when done for comedic effect (compare “Nice Fucking Model!” to Bruce Almighty’s (12A) “Over to you… FUCKERS!”)
·      Lydia might have to marry Beetlejuice but Geena Davis saves her from that fate and no sex is involved or even hinted at, Beetlejuice doesn’t even try and kiss Lydia or feel her up
·      Whilst the statues and corpses and monsters are indeed creepy/scary, they’re no creepier or scarier than anything The Moff has served up to kids in the recent DR WHO
·      Whilst there is a brothel in the model town with working girls blowing kisses to Beetlejuice, again there is nothing explicit here and could be kept in as a Simpsons-style joke only the adults would get: “Adam! Why did you build that?”/”I DIDN’T”

In 1988, BEETLEJUICE was a distinctly adult film. Yet by 2012, its tone had CHANGED. One of the reasons arguably could be this:

That’s right, kids today knew Beetlejuice first as a CARTOON, not a 15+ film. Except I’ve never watched the Beetlejuice cartoon, yet I feel the same  – its tone had changed, BEETLEJUICE should be a 12A maximum.

So … how come?

Let’s go back to the BBFC guy. It’s the audience that’s important … And if our expectations/beliefs of what’s “risqué” has CHANGED, ergo the tone of movies we previously found risqué has ALSO CHANGED. This is why we can watch ALIEN with one chestburst and call it an 18, yet by the time we get to ALIEN VERSUS PREDATOR, we need multiple chestbursts to feel even a hint of the same scariness… and yet call it a 15.

So this is why it’s so important to stay UP TO DATE with the notion of tone and what your audience finds risqué, horrifying, unacceptable, etc.

Another element to consider in terms of the tone of BEETLEJUICE is the relationship between its female characters Barbara (Geena Davis) and Lydia (Winona Ryder). Barbara is the mother figure Lydia craves and does not get in her *actual* stepmother Delia (Catherina O’ Hara). Lydia is a schoolgirl and rebels because she is otherwise not noticed by her larger-than-life stepmother and overly hen-pecked father: Barbara provides support and then love, summed up in her reticence to haunt the Deetzes out of her house “I just want to be with Lydia.” It’s also important to note it’s Barbara and NOT Adam who saves Lydia from Beetlejuice (and saves the day, in fact – it’s Barbara who is the hero).

So here is probably my most controversial point in suggesting BEETLEJUICE is now suitable for a much younger audience: Lydia is approximately fourteen years old, meaning there’s a strong chance young girls can identify with her (I know I did aged just eight or nine). Age is a great SHORT CUT in getting a similar-aged audience to identify with a character and thus a story (though not strictly necessary – check out the likes of DR WHO, THE SIMPSONS or indeed any cartoon you care to mention, as well as Superhero movies which all attract audiences of varied ages, proving age-of-character is greatly overrated on this point, tone goes way deeper. It’s worth remembering Lydia in BEETLEJUICE is the only child in a veritable SEA of adults in this movie).

Concluding then, BEETLEJUICE shows screenwriters how important tone is  in defining audience and that tone can change over the years for whatever reason, so we must strive to stay up to date in order to have our best chance of finding that audience for our films.

On a related note, I see that BEETLEJUICE is going to be remade. Do you think it will be a 15 and if so, what will be included? Or do you think it will be a 15, a 12A or even a 12? I will be watching with interest …


Saturday, April 28, 2012

How To Get An Agent

One question I get a lot is "How do I get an agent?" My first reply is usually, "Do you REALLY NEED one?" This is because, nine times out of ten, the writer asking the question is at the start of his or her writing journey and prizes getting an agent as his/her validation in STARTING that journey, when in reality, agents are not likely to be interested in writers who are just "beginning". If that is you, then my recommendation would be to a) write a selection of scripts so you have a portfolio and b) collaborate and network as much possible FIRST.


If however you have already done those first two steps, plus have any of the following:


1) Have produced credits (TV or Film, usually paid, rather than collaborations - though if your piece has done VERY well, especially commercially this may swing it for you on the latter. Note agents may not be interested in short film UNLESS it has done spectacularly well on the festival circuit and has won awards)


2) You may be a professional writer in another field (You may have done corporate work or journalism, or have a social media brand, or worked in theatre; you may have written novel tie-ins for existing, successful television franchises; you may have been involved in award winning advertisements or won awards for your newspaper pieces; you may have worked in the games and toys market; you may have a huge online following on Twitter or have a blog with many hits, usually about a fictional work but also about scriptwriting or associated content; you may have created a new media phenomenon or have toured theatres with your play)


3) Recommendations/referrals from producers, directors or other writers (They will have read your work and are prepared to stand by their word for you in this case)


4) Have won or placed highly (ie. Finalist) in any Big Name scriptwriting contests (ie. BlueCat, Scriptapolooza, Red Planet Prize, The Peter Ustinov Prize, Final Draft Big Break, you may have had your work showcased by The Rocliffe Forum or similar - do note UK agents *may* not be interested in contests on their own, but in conjunction in one of the other elements too). 


5) Favourable coverage from any big name script reading company (ie. "Consider" or above.)


6) Options or interest from big name companies (note: not free options)


6) Any other deal on the table (ie. a place on the BBC Writers' Academy; a successful trial script at another soap; a publishing contract; a super successful self published eBook selling many, many copies a week, etc)


Then CONGRATULATIONS! You're definitely in the market for an agent. Note none of the above GUARANTEES you one! That's right - with so many writers around, the average agent can afford to be picky. Harsh but true. And of course, you don't necessarily HAVE to have one don't forget, I know several very successful professional writers without an agent.


If you DO want an agent, then here are my recommendations for getting one:


i) Meeting as many agents as possible. I've had two agents now and I met both in a "real life" capacity before they represented me. The first I script read for; the second (my current agent) I met many times at various events and stayed in touch with over a five year period before he represented me. That's right! FIVE YEARS. Making really useful contacts in the agent world means playing the long game. Of course, it's now never been easier to meet agents - there are tons at events like London Screenwriters Festival and of course most are on Twitter. NOTE OF CAUTION: don't be weird or demanding


The above is my preferred method of getting an agent because it's what I did and I know it works. However, other Bang2writers have reported the following to work:


ii) Getting to know agents' assistants or junior agents. Agents' assistants are more often than not going to become agents themselves, so getting to know agents' assistants is a great idea. Junior agents are one step up and "agents in training" starting out at a company and looking to create their own slate of writers, who they will then take with them when they get an agent's post either within that company or another one. The reason these people are good to know is because they are looking ACTIVELY for writers, in comparison to agents who already have their own writers (ie. why would they be looking, when they have a stable of writers already who are earning them money?). Finding agents' assistants and junior agents is slightly trickier as they don't get invited to events as often as the actual agents. That said, they sometimes accompany them - so next time you see someone *with* an agent at an event, why not introduce yourself to them? Or why not ring the agency and ask to speak to 'the assistant of [Agent's Name]" or the Junior Agent? You can usually check these details out fairly easily on the website first. And yes, DO CALL ON THE TELEPHONE. Most writers hide behind email. Write a phone script if you must. Oh and don't be weird or demanding, don't forget


So, let's say you've attracted the interest of an agent, junior agent or agent's assistant. Now what?


a) Write an EXCELLENT, non-weird letter detailing your recommendations from showbiz types/wins/corporate work/favourable coverage/deal on the table (but be concise, half to three quarters of a page ONLY) 


b) Include your best feature or TV script, plus a one page pitch for it


c) Include some brief pitches for other work in your portfolio (ie. loglines or VERY short synopses, one page for all)


d) Include a detailed CV with your wins, options, etc (one page). 


e) NOTHING ELSE - that's right! Do not include CDs, DVDs, flowers, sweets, (even jokey) death threats and DEFINITELY do not include a non-disclosure agreement or release form!


Remember the following:


f) Send all this via MAIL, not email (unless they specify not to). Enclose an SAE and make sure your contact details are on the front page of your script and on accompanying material. Nothing drives agents' assistants more crazy then not knowing who-wrote-what.


g) Make sure you draft the letter and CV METICULOUSLY - most letters and CV agents get are RUBBISH and/or insane.


h) Wait 6-12 weeks and then call said agent by TELEPHONE and follow up, asking politely if they've had chance to read your material. If they haven't, ask politely when you may call back again and note the date they tell you in your diary and call back, again via telephone. If they dodge your call or tell you they're not sure when they can read your stuff by, wait until they contact you (if they don't again, there is your answer). 


i) If you receive a rejection, email them with "Thanks" in the subject line so they know you're not freaking out on them and ask politely if you may send another work. You'd be surprised how many writers get a "yes" to this question! If they say "no" but tell you they liked your work, ask if you could come in and meet them or buy them a coffee. Again, you will be surprised how many writers get a "yes" to this, too! 


j) And obviously, if they ask you to come in themselves or send more work, then DO SO, but DO NOT PANIC. 


Of course, there's always some lucky so-and-so who approaches an agent who has none of the above but has written a something so AMAZING and so COMMERCIAL an agent will bite their hand off despite nothing nothing else about them. However, for every writer this happens to, I'd wager another 99 have to follow the steps here and have a strategy for netting one. So best of luck in your agent hunt! 


ON THIS BLOG BEFORE ABOUT AGENTS AND MAKING CONTACTS:


Agents, Pt 1: Not The Destination


Agents, Pt 2: What Do They Do?


Agents, Pt 3: When An Agent Is Not Really An Agent


When Is A Rejection A Rejection If I Don't Hear Anything?


Putting Together A Writer's CV/Resume 


Cover Letters: The Write Way & The Wrong Way


How do I Make New Contacts?


How Do I Become A Professional Scriptwriter?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Self Publishing & Ebooks by Lucy V Morgan (Part 2)


If you're still thinking about self publishing:

Good Reasons to Self Publish

1) You can handle all of the previous post without breaking out in a cold sweat.

2) Your other options are small presses with low sales (i.e. you've decided against traditional publishing, or you've exhausted all other venues). Personally, I'd go through a publisher at least once before self publishing, just so you can get a grip on the numerous processes involved.

3) You can't find a suitable publisher/your book doesn't fit neatly into one "box" (you still need to know how to market it, mind). E.g. I'm self publishing OLLY HARRIS: WEDDING WRECKER because it's a 40k chick lit book with a male narrator, and no primary romantic storyline. Show me a publisher with good sales who would have taken that on? I don't know any who specialise in that kind of book, but since I have a few titles under my belt now, I have a little freedom to experiment.

4) You write romance, erotica, women's fiction or young adult fiction. These genres are the easiest to market online by FAR. Thrillers/mysteries are probably next on the list.

5) You're writing a specific book for a specific market, which you have access to. E.g. if you're a plumber, and you want to write a non-fiction book about a plumbing issue. Or you are a meerkat and want to write a manifesto for the Small Mammals' Working Conditions Union.

6) You're prepared to sink. This does happen for a good number of self publishers, and even if you do all of the above, it could still happen (though the probability is lower). This is the reality of publishing, sadly, but you'll have no publisher to organise extra publicity, and no advance to sustain you while you write the next book.

Bad reasons to self publish

1) You think it's the best way to make money. It might be, it might not: Nathan Brandsford explains this better than me.

2) You're impatient to get your work out there. Time constraints should not be the sole reason for picking a publishing method; for all you know, your book could do better with a traditional publisher, if you can stand the wait.

3) You think you can "do things better" than people who have trained for years in the industry. Chances are, you probably can't, and there will be a stiff learning curve involved or a fair amount of cash to pay out to professionals.

4) You think it's the gateway to traditional publishing. Occasionally, a really successful self published book gets picked up by an agent and traditional publisher, but we're talking sales of tens of thousands. If you self publish badly, it will certainly affect an agent's decision to take you on in the future.

5) You have little knowledge of the genre you're writing in, and don't know how to market and package your book. This is more common than people think. Research! Read! Read some more! Do not decide to write YA just because everyone else is doing it! The meerkats will KNOW.

6) You want to walk into a book store and see your book. It's probably not going to happen with self publishing. (Cue wail of detractors: "Soon, there will be no more book stores left anyway!")

So...there you have it. Good luck in your publishing adventures, and above all: enjoy yourself. (You're a writer, so that's probably hard without gin. Think of the gin). 

Thanks Lucy! Some great pointers and things to think on ...

ON THIS BLOG BEFORE ABOUT BOOKS & SELF PUBLISHING:








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Lucy V. Morgan writes contemporary fiction. She has two novels with a publisher, and has self published two others. She's also lucky enough to be developing her first television script with producers. Lucy spent 2011 in a haze of caffeine as a publishing intern and has since surfaced as an editor of young adult fiction for Etopia Press. You can find her at her website and on Twitter, where she is mostly very professional. Mostly.