Sunday, 30 November 2008

Residential 3: Market Assessment

It's easy for a new writer to forget about the development, production and distribution side of the business. And on one level, that's fine; at this stage of my development, I need to worry about writing a great spec that will open doors and lead to other things, though it will probably never get made. But it doesn't hurt to have some idea how development executives and distributors think.

Bear with me now, I'm outside my comfort zone as I write up my notes from a lecture we had on...(shocking chord) Project Assessment.

We had a talk from Tom Strudwick, who has worked in development and distribution for many years. He introduced us to some basic concepts which could be useful to bear in mind, especially when you come to try and sell a spec.

The first of these is marketability vs. playability. Marketability refers to how easy the idea is to sell to an audience. A new Harry Potter film is automatically marketable. There is huge existing audience who will go and see a Harry Potter (or Bond or Star Wars...) no matter what. Or a film might be marketable because it has a great premise (Snakes on a Plane, 40-Year-Old Virgin...) or top acting talent. Playability is about the audience's viewing experience. If it's good, they spread the word, and the audience grows. Shawshank Redemption and Sideways are examples of less obviously marketable films that were playable. A marketable film, even if it's not very playable, can still get a release. These films typically have a huge first weekend box-office take, which then slowly drops off as the reviews and poor word-of-mouth circulate. Ideally, of course, a film is both marketable and playable, but marketable comes first. Marketable films make money in the long run, because the premise, talent, or franchise hooks people in.

The second basic distribution concept is upscale vs. downscale. Upscale films are review-driven. People who see upscale films typically read reviews and take notice of Sundance, Cannes, etc. Guardian didn't like it? Independent didn't like it? No Palme d'Or? Your film, Rasputin's Piano Teacher, is dead in the water. Downscale films don't need good reviews. Does anyone care what Time Out thought of Kickboxer III?

Is your film mainstream or arthouse?
Does it entertain or aspire to culture? Does it make the audience think or
feel? Will it do well at a festival? Is it intellectual? Are the stakes high or
low? Is it "feel-good" or "feel-bad"?

Next, you need to understand your core and secondary audience, mainly in terms of gender and age-group. Women tend to like romance, comedy and crime; Men go more for sci-fi and action. Comedy appeals to both sexes, as does horror, but horror attracts a younger crowd. The biggest group of movie-goers are the 16-25 year olds. A cross-genre film that appeals to this group, and was marketable and playable would make lots and lots of money. Titanic, anyone? Scary Movie?

Next up: Script Assessment.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Red Planet

Big congrats to all the several bloggers through to the Red Planet final, and heartfelt commiserations to those who didn't make the cut.

Me? I failed in the worst possible way - I failed to enter. I meant to. Had something I thought might be good for it, but...forgot to send it.

Not much else to say at the moment. Got my head down writing though, which is great.

Onwards! As Mr. Bishop says.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Residential 2: Apprenticeship

Novelist and playwright Nell Leyshon gave a talk at the residential. She told the story of how she got started writing, how as she puts it, she served her apprenticeship. Nell cut her writing teeth as her baby was cutting real ones. She just did it; she wrote with a baby on her knee. She wrote novels and stories and kept working at them until they were good. She describes her apprenticeship as the 'long, lonely time.' I think we all know what she means. No one asks you or even particularly wants to you start writing stories. It feels pretentious, presumptuous; anyone who starts out writing has ideas above their station. What the hell gets into us? It can't just be a simple craving for status and recognition. If that's all you have, you'll soon give up, because you ain't going to get it until you've paid your dues. There has to be something more to sustain you through the long, lonely time. A need to communicate? The joy of imagining? The pride of a job well done?

Sometimes I give myself the mountain-climbing lecture. It's like this: if you want to climb mountains, you have to enjoy the climb. Mountain-tops are cold, barren, inhospitable places; the goal can't be simply to reach the top. You have to be in it for the climb itself too. It's hard, sometimes scary, and no one can climb it for you. So, getting to the top is the goal, but there's no point doing it unless you like climbing.

I forget why the mountain climbing lecture helps. Somehow it does.

Nell had her break when she sent a radio play into BBC Writer's Room. It was good, and they took her onto a scheme with a commission at the end. Good old Writer's Room. Then she sent a story in to a competition, and it made it into a prestigious Picador anthology, and on the back of that, her first novel was published. Needless to say, her 'first' novel was actually her third or fourth.

So that's it. If you want to be a writer, you have to serve your apprenticeship. The more you write, the more you can write. And, if you really work at it, you can get good enough that people will want to come with you, and it's not so lonely anymore.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Residential 1 - honesty

I'm knackered and buzzing from the residential at Bournemouth. My memory and notebook are overflowing with ideas, plans, goals, lists and assignments. So much to say, so little active brain capacity. Sorry about that; it's going to be a ramble.

First things first: the tutorial. My tutor, a novelist, playwright, radio-writer and screenwriter, is a firm believer in organic story-telling and emotional truth. She asked me to name the aspect of the story that got me going; not the observational research or the terms of the assignment, but the spark that fired my imagination. I told her what I thought it was. So we took that and started again. It was quite a challenge to be confronted by such an honest, poetic writer. In her eyes, my script has problems of tone and conviction. To solve them, we're back to page 1, and the father-daughter relationship.

She also encouraged me to write it in a timeless, universal setting and tone. She wasn't being dogmatic about what's good, but a responding to the kind of story I want to tell, and the arena I've chosen. That means I've got to redo the dialogue and remove some of the slang and references to pop-culture, but still keep it contemporary. Contemporary yet timeless, if that makes any sense. The characters are going to be archetypal people like us.

What an exciting challenge! Write a totally convincing drama and turn it in to a professional dramatist. As ever, It's up to me. Oh shit.

Meanwhile, on the home-front, my play has taken another step forward. I'll be organising a reading in the near future, then rewriting it based on that for a performance in March.

Hmm. Short ramble. G'night.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Moon, Deadline Rabbits, Flashbacks and Tempo

Under the influence of a full moon and a looming deadline, I rewrote fifteen pages from scratch. Finished in the wee hours and emailed it, feeling very happy with the improvements. The Deadline Rabbit had made its appearance. Nice bunny. Why won't he show up any earlier? I check my several hats all the time, but can't seem to yoink a rabbit without a lunatic clock driving me.

Had feedback from my tutor on the first script. Interesting points made about tempo, and how it can be used to lend more or less emphasis to scenes and other units of story. Hadn't really thought about that much. I suppose I feel it, sometimes; just a sense that you want this bit to play out at length, and that bit needs just a flash. This script had quite an even rhythm, which made it feel flat.

My use of flashbacks was somewhat 'clunky and old-fashioned' in the way I had them play out as little scenes in their own right. The tutor would have liked more intercutting.

That said, the feedback was really good and encouraging overall, but I will be adding 'pace and tempo' to the list of drafts.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Well, that was fun. So close. I went into Pitch Up thinking it was an excercise, a learning experience. This was pitch practice, not the real thing.

Then it turned real.

Then it fell apart.

And now I'm left with a strange mix of disappointment and relief. And, just a bit of affirmation. Nothing yet has changed my view that if I just come up with a good enough story, and execute it well enough, it will be realised as a film. People will sit in the dark, or on their sofas, and get caught up into one of my stories.

And then, after the ups and downs of pitching and getting a nibble, there was last night's electoral euphoria. What a wonderful speech Obama made. So much hope, so much promise. I love the way he takes you back into history, makes you feel part of it, then turns and points to the future. I wonder who wrote it.

This next week, my main task will be to rewrite my 30 minute drama, based on the observational research I did in September. It's had a good rest. Time to work through the drafts.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Taking It Further

Looks like Pitch Up's still playing out for me!

Don't want to blog too much now, but just register my excitement.

Something to the tune of: Aaahh! Woo Hoo!

Quickly followed by sober reflections, list-making (lots to do), and writing outlines and/or proposals.