…is now taking applications. If you are thinking about a career in screenwriting then this is the course for you. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Here are my notes from Screen Lab 2009: Day 1, Day2, Day3.
This year there will be a whole day on adaptations. I have a note scribbled in the margin of one of my notebooks saying that 80% of last year’s films were adaptations so it should be a very useful and informative course.
I moved back to Scotland in January after 3-and-a-bit years abroad. I never intended to stay here, I was just stopping by en route to London. Then I became aware of all the great opportunities for writers in Scotland and have been absolutely blown away. There was Screen Lab in February, Radio Lab is coming up, there is the Dundee Literary Festival this month and the Edinburgh Book Festival in August, both offering workshops for writers. It’s just far too exciting here for me to be able to leave now.
The most recent event to come to my attention is the launch of Scotland Writes on Thursday 25th June in Edinburgh. It is a FREE event (but you have to book a place) giving screenwriters based in Scotland the opportunity to take part in a question and answer session with Kate Rowland, Creative Director of New Writing at the BBC, and to be inspired by a panel of film and television industry professionals.
If you are in or around Edinburgh next Thursday, it might be worth looking into. I’ve booked my place, so if you can’t make it, you can read my notes here afterwards.
Sadly Screen Lab has come to an end. It’s hard to believe that only three days have passed since I first wandered into the Scottish Book Trust clutching my application script and hoping nobody would laugh at my efforts. Since that first morning I have met so many interesting and inspiring people, people who are generous with their encouragement and advice and who I hope to keep in contact with in the future. I have learned loads about screenwriting and had the opportunity to listen to industry professionals and get their advice.
The last day of the course gave us a completely new perspective on screenwriting. Scott Ward and Minttu Mäntynen showed us extracts of documentary, feature and short films and talked to us about the visual aspect of film making. Scott, a director of photography, said that he is attracted to scripts with strong visual ideas. He tries to work backwards from the script to get at the original, visual image that inspired the writer, then he works to bring that out in the film. Minttu, an award winning documentary maker, said that the first thing she asks when someone pitches a script to her is “why do you want to make this?” She wants to make sure that the writer has a story they want to tell and is not just making the film to get a course credit, for example. Scott and Minttu pointed out that a film is more than just dialogue. The visuals have to add to the story otherwise why not develop the script into a radio play?
After attending Screen Lab, it is much clearer to me what the role of the scriptwriter is. The director, actors, director of photography and camera operators all have their own areas of expertise in the film making process and it is not the writer’s job to impose on that by being too prescriptive in the scene descriptions. Film making is a collaborative process and everyone involved wants to use their particular talents to find the most effective way of communicating the story.
I thought yesterday was a great day, but today was absolutely brilliant. Peter Hynes, scriptwriter for children’s television came to talk to us. He was hilarious; I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much. He told us about his experiences writing scripts for long running live action and animated series and gave us advice on how to make contacts in the industry. While it was a very humorous discussion and we got the impression that he loves his job very much, he emphasised that it took a lot of hard work and persistence to build a career as a screenwriter. He was writing for five years before he got his first break and since then, works every weekday in his shed from 9am -6pm. He advised us to always have two or three projects on the go so that if one falls through you won’t be stuck. If nobody has commissioned any work from you, keep writing anyway so that you have some spec scripts.
Two actors, Astrid and Paul, also came in to do a read through of a couple of the attendees’ scripts. This was a great chance to find out what actors look for in a script and what puts them off. Astrid and Paul both said they liked scripts where their characters were strong and didn’t die on page 2! They didn’t like too much description or exposition. The questions they asked the writers about the scripts were really illuminating and completely different from the questions that came up yesterday during the Power of Three exercises with the other writers. The questions the actors asked were mostly concerned with clarity in the scene descriptions and dialogue. It was really useful to have their perspective since there is normally no comunication between the writer and actors when a script is being filmed. Astrid and Paul did a fantastic job acting out the two scripts and it was really interesting to see their interpretation of the characters.
Today was the first day of Screen Lab and I am exhausted! Partly because I spent a large part of the day concentrating hard and making notes, and partly because I had to get up at 7am to catch the train. Yikes! Despite the early start, it was a great day and I came away feeling a lot more confident about screenwriting.
We started off with some exercises to generate ideas. One of the exercises involved sitting on the floor with a large sheet of paper and felt tip pens to make a Mind Map. We used our Mind Maps to create fictional characters, but they can be used to generate and organise ideas on almost any subject.
After that, we practiced giving each other feedback on our application scripts using the Adrian Mead’s Power of Three method. The feedback comes in the form of questions so it’s very non-confrontational and encourages you to think more about your script. It also let’s you figure out for yourself which elements of the script are working and which aren’t.
In the afternoon we talked about pitch docs and how to get an agent. I’m not at that stage yet, but getting an agent can go on my new list of goals, which we were encouraged to create. First up, under Short Term Goals: do homework for tomorrow’s Screen Lab and go to bed!
I got a place on Screen Lab so I’m over the moon about that. It’s a three day course for budding screenwriters interested in finding out more about the craft and about how to break into the industry. It takes place at the end of February so I will write another post then to let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I will be reviewing my copy of Making It As A Screenwriter, which is written by the Screen Lab leader Adrian Mead.
I downloaded it during my stint in Andalucia and worked through it chapter by chapter, trying to do the “Must Do Stuff” whenever possible. Some things, reading scripts online and writing five minutes a day, are easy and enjoyable. Other things, like scheduling in internet breaks and not letting “research” on the internet cut into your writing time are harder – for me anyway.
I recognise myself in Mead’s description of the “Amoeba Writer”. That is, I need a stimulus before I react. If there is a writing competition deadline coming up then I will work like crazy to have my entry ready, but if there are no writing opportunities on the horizon then I will lose the motivation to write every day. In fact, even though I knew about Screen Lab back in December, it was only in the last week before the deadline that I got my application (CV, covering letter and 3 minute script) together. Ah well. There are worse things to be than an amoeba I suppose – a splotch of primordial goo, for example.
I breathed a sigh of relief last Thursday when I got my Mslexia Women’s Short Story Writing Competition entry in the post, then I got cracking on my submission to Screen Lab. The application has to include a writing CV so I’ll be printing mine onto a post-it note.
I’ve only ever had to write a standard CV before so I searched around on the internet for some advice on how to create a writing CV. The most useful article I found was How to Create a Writer’s Profile by Adair Jones at suite 101, which advises including a section on Achievements and Awards. I won a couple of minor poetry competitions when I was in high school so I spent last night looking for the certificates so that I can list them on my CV.
While I was looking through the folders full of school reports, newspaper clippings, certificates and drawings from when I was a child, I stumbled across a “book” that I made when I was five. It’s about a plucky young duck called Toddler Waddler on her first day at nursery. It’s too difficult to read the story from the photograph below so here is a transcription:
Toddler Waddler Starts Nursery – One day Toddler Waddler went to nursery. It was her first time. She thought how nice it would be. She thought of all the wee hamsters and (buggies? / babies?). How nice it would be when she got there. She couldn’t wait.
It’s a sweet story I think, and not at all like my own first day at nursery, which I spent crying for my mummy. I don’t think we had a hamster either, just a mean budgie.
I’ve just noticed that Toddler Waddler the duck has four legs. How bizarre.