Monday, November 30, 2009

To plan or not to plan....

The end of 2009 is fast approaching (arrggh, how?!) and 2010 is looming. So is next year going to be the year I buy tickets to see someone else's movie or a dress to go to my own (feature) premiere? 

There's lots of ways you can look at a new year. I read Marvin Acuna's blog and he advocates making big goals and then planning the next 12 months to ensure that you meet those goals. 

And it's hard to argue with that. You have to know what you want and plan in order to achieve it, whether it's running a marathon, trying to sell your house or embarking on a scriptwriting career. And if you don't think strategising and planning are important, then it's not a career, it's a hobby.

But planning's not everything. I also think you have to run some risks, take some chances. You never know who you're going to meet or what experience is going to inform your next story. Your characters are always partly you, but so are your stories and your humour. And neither of those are going to be improved by sitting at home with a planning board :)

So here's my plan for 2010: to achieve a balance between plotting my next career move and enjoying everything life throws at me along the way....

To plan or not to plan....

The end of 2009 is fast approaching (arrggh, how?!) and 2010 is looming. So is next year going to be the year I buy tickets to see someone else's movie or a dress to go to my own (feature) premiere? 

There's lots of ways you can look at a new year. I read Marvin Acuna's blog and he advocates making big goals and then planning the next 12 months to ensure that you meet those goals. 

And it's hard to argue with that. You have to know what you want and plan in order to achieve it, whether it's running a marathon, trying to sell your house or embarking on a scriptwriting career. And if you don't think strategising and planning are important, then it's not a career, it's a hobby.

But planning's not everything. I also think you have to run some risks, take some chances. You never know who you're going to meet or what experience is going to inform your next story. Your characters are always partly you, but so are your stories and your humour. And neither of those are going to be improved by sitting at home with a planning board :)

So here's my plan for 2010: to achieve a balance between plotting my next career move and enjoying everything life throws at me along the way....

Friday, November 27, 2009

Things I learned at the Zebbie Awards....

Went to the Zebbies Awards last night and killed off a few thousand more brain cells. When you take into account the number of nights out I had during my twenties, I’m probably about half as smart now as I was in college :)

Anyway, here’s what I learned during the evening (which was a great night out so thanks to the IPSG):

  • It is possibly to limp across Leeson Street in 10 seconds in very high heels when there are cars heading for you.
  • Screenwriters events have free pizza but no free drinks.
  • Just because a film is very old does not mean that it’s very good.
  • James Joyce’s Volta cinema was bankrupted by “Italian electricians”. No, I have no idea either.
  • David Norris once got to ask Brendan Behan a question at the launch of The Hostage.
  • David Norris is very loud.
  • Film people really like to wear black.
  • Cinematographers are big fans of radio plays….
  • Film people are conscientious types who like to go home early and get lots of sleep. By midnight the only people left were me, the rest of the screenwriting group I’m in and a few other pissed writers.
  • 4 Dame Lane bouncers don’t like men who kick bottles.
  • Or groups of men.
  • It’s possible to have a non-disastrous night in RiRa but only if you stay upstairs. Under no circumstances go downstairs.
  • It’s possible to have 8-10 drinks and no hangover (although you will end up with the reaction ability of an 80-year-old).

    Next year I want to see my name or one of my friends' names on the nominations list. Get writing, people!

Things I learned at the Zebbie Awards....

Went to the Zebbies Awards last night and killed off a few thousand more brain cells. When you take into account the number of nights out I had during my twenties, I’m probably about half as smart now as I was in college :)

Anyway, here’s what I learned during the evening (which was a great night out so thanks to the IPSG):

  • It is possibly to limp across Leeson Street in 10 seconds in very high heels when there are cars heading for you.
  • Screenwriters events have free pizza but no free drinks.
  • Just because a film is very old does not mean that it’s very good.
  • James Joyce’s Volta cinema was bankrupted by “Italian electricians”. No, I have no idea either.
  • David Norris once got to ask Brendan Behan a question at the launch of The Hostage.
  • David Norris is very loud.
  • Film people really like to wear black.
  • Cinematographers are big fans of radio plays….
  • Film people are conscientious types who like to go home early and get lots of sleep. By midnight the only people left were me, the rest of the screenwriting group I’m in and a few other pissed writers.
  • 4 Dame Lane bouncers don’t like men who kick bottles.
  • Or groups of men.
  • It’s possible to have a non-disastrous night in RiRa but only if you stay upstairs. Under no circumstances go downstairs.
  • It’s possible to have 8-10 drinks and no hangover (although you will end up with the reaction ability of an 80-year-old).

    Next year I want to see my name or one of my friends' names on the nominations list. Get writing, people!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Getting under the skin of your script...

Friday morning, I was up very early for a flight to Bristol. I was heading to a workshop that the London Film Academy were putting on as part of Bristol’s Encounters Shorts Festival - and Ryanair were determined to stop me getting there. Despite their best efforts (plane arrived 40 minutes late), I managed to screech up to the venue in a taxi only 15 minutes past the appointed time. 

My first impressions of Bristol: it was rainy (like everywhere else right now), it was quite pretty, based as it is on the River Avon, and people there really do talk like Justin Lee Collins. 

The workshop took place, rather bizarrely, in a conference room upstairs in a youth hostel. What sort of YHA has a conference room? Anyway, I arrived in the nick of time and joined a large circle of people comprising of me, 4 other writers, producer Rachel Wardlow from the LFA, two professional actors, a paying audience and BAFTA-winning director Richard Kwietniowski. The morning was spent with the actors reading each 2-minute script several times, with suggestions of alterations coming from the writer themselves, the audience, the actors and Richard Kwietniowski. Then the actors would read the script again with the alterations included. It was really interesting and loads of good ideas got thrown up. What was particularly good was that they asked loads of questions of your work - for example, with my script Older Woman, they asked what Jackie had been doing before Josh showed up, the relationship she had with her husband, whether Josh always dressed neatly or whether he'd dressed up to see her. They also suggested changing the last line from "Yeah..." to "Yeah?" which does in fact work a lot better. 

At lunchtime, everyone voted for one script to be acted out and filmed in the afternoon. In the meantime, we headed off to the cafe in the Watershed centre that is the hub of the festival. Located along the river, it's a large, modern building that holds three cinema screens, a cafe and bar and several big meeting rooms. I scarfed down a pie and mash - while in England, a pie always seems like a good idea...

Back for the results, Mark Shand's excellent script Cherry Cola had been voted in as the one to get the film treatment. I voted for my own, but if I'd voted for anyone else's it would have been Mark's - it's a story about a security guard dealing with a shoplifter who just happens to be his ex-partner and (possibly) the mother of his child. When we read it in the morning, it got a lot of laughs and is indeed a funny script. But as the afternoon session goes on, Richard and the actors Charlie and Emily start discovering layers to the story that weren't apparent at first glance. As the rehearsals go on it becomes, in fact, very poignant.

The actors and Richard give out advice at intervals - less is more, especially with dialogue. If an actor can't remember or doesn't understand a line, many times there is a problem with that line. Get your friends to read scripts aloud for you so you can hear which lines sound clunky.

Then they block out the scene using tables and a chair as props and shoot the whole thing from about a million different angles. It's at this point, as Richard gets Charlie and Emily to do close-up acting and they act out the same funny line for the hundredth take, that I realise for sure that I could never be an actor. How do they produce emotion on demand like that?? Then, after a satisfactory but gruelling day, we all watch the rushes. It's mad how much has been achieved from Mark's two-page script in less than eight hours.

Afterwards everyone hit the pub and I sampled some of the lovely local cider. At nine p.m. it occurred to me that I really should check into my hotel so I went off and did that, before going to a selection of naughty late-night shorts. 

The next day was more rain and more shorts. I think I saw about 21 in total over the two days and they ranged from awful to amazing. There was also a great Q&A session involving some producers, a cinematographer, a sound recordist and two writer/directors, Eran Creevey who wrote/directed Shifty and Andrea Arnold, who penned and directed the fantastic Fishtank.

The last two are completely different: Andrea Arnold started off doing shorts, Eran Creevey began as a runner before eventually graduating to doing music promos. Then he wrote and directed Shifty, the story of a day in the life of a Muslim drug dealer in London. He storyboards everything and preps in advance. She shoots on the fly and doesn't rehearse or prepare much. Her advice was: "Don't think too much about it and don't worry what everyone else thinks". Creevey says he lies in bed during a shoot having anxiety attacks. 

I got to talk to Andrea Arnold a bit afterwards and asked her if she wrote treatments before embarking on a script. I kind of expected her to say she didn't, but no, she does treatments. Her opinion was, you have to have a plan but then you can go off plan and do what you want knowing you have it as back-up. 

All too soon it was five o'clock and I had to head to the airport. I really enjoyed this short trip and would definitely consider going back next year. The pie and cider alone are worth the trip :)

Getting under the skin of your script...

Friday morning, I was up very early for a flight to Bristol. I was heading to a workshop that the London Film Academy were putting on as part of Bristol’s Encounters Shorts Festival - and Ryanair were determined to stop me getting there. Despite their best efforts (plane arrived 40 minutes late), I managed to screech up to the venue in a taxi only 15 minutes past the appointed time. 

My first impressions of Bristol: it was rainy (like everywhere else right now), it was quite pretty, based as it is on the River Avon, and people there really do talk like Justin Lee Collins. 

The workshop took place, rather bizarrely, in a conference room upstairs in a youth hostel. What sort of YHA has a conference room? Anyway, I arrived in the nick of time and joined a large circle of people comprising of me, 4 other writers, producer Rachel Wardlow from the LFA, two professional actors, a paying audience and BAFTA-winning director Richard Kwietniowski. The morning was spent with the actors reading each 2-minute script several times, with suggestions of alterations coming from the writer themselves, the audience, the actors and Richard Kwietniowski. Then the actors would read the script again with the alterations included. It was really interesting and loads of good ideas got thrown up. What was particularly good was that they asked loads of questions of your work - for example, with my script Older Woman, they asked what Jackie had been doing before Josh showed up, the relationship she had with her husband, whether Josh always dressed neatly or whether he'd dressed up to see her. They also suggested changing the last line from "Yeah..." to "Yeah?" which does in fact work a lot better. 

At lunchtime, everyone voted for one script to be acted out and filmed in the afternoon. In the meantime, we headed off to the cafe in the Watershed centre that is the hub of the festival. Located along the river, it's a large, modern building that holds three cinema screens, a cafe and bar and several big meeting rooms. I scarfed down a pie and mash - while in England, a pie always seems like a good idea...

Back for the results, Mark Shand's excellent script Cherry Cola had been voted in as the one to get the film treatment. I voted for my own, but if I'd voted for anyone else's it would have been Mark's - it's a story about a security guard dealing with a shoplifter who just happens to be his ex-partner and (possibly) the mother of his child. When we read it in the morning, it got a lot of laughs and is indeed a funny script. But as the afternoon session goes on, Richard and the actors Charlie and Emily start discovering layers to the story that weren't apparent at first glance. As the rehearsals go on it becomes, in fact, very poignant.

The actors and Richard give out advice at intervals - less is more, especially with dialogue. If an actor can't remember or doesn't understand a line, many times there is a problem with that line. Get your friends to read scripts aloud for you so you can hear which lines sound clunky.

Then they block out the scene using tables and a chair as props and shoot the whole thing from about a million different angles. It's at this point, as Richard gets Charlie and Emily to do close-up acting and they act out the same funny line for the hundredth take, that I realise for sure that I could never be an actor. How do they produce emotion on demand like that?? Then, after a satisfactory but gruelling day, we all watch the rushes. It's mad how much has been achieved from Mark's two-page script in less than eight hours.

Afterwards everyone hit the pub and I sampled some of the lovely local cider. At nine p.m. it occurred to me that I really should check into my hotel so I went off and did that, before going to a selection of naughty late-night shorts. 

The next day was more rain and more shorts. I think I saw about 21 in total over the two days and they ranged from awful to amazing. There was also a great Q&A session involving some producers, a cinematographer, a sound recordist and two writer/directors, Eran Creevey who wrote/directed Shifty and Andrea Arnold, who penned and directed the fantastic Fishtank.

The last two are completely different: Andrea Arnold started off doing shorts, Eran Creevey began as a runner before eventually graduating to doing music promos. Then he wrote and directed Shifty, the story of a day in the life of a Muslim drug dealer in London. He storyboards everything and preps in advance. She shoots on the fly and doesn't rehearse or prepare much. Her advice was: "Don't think too much about it and don't worry what everyone else thinks". Creevey says he lies in bed during a shoot having anxiety attacks. 

I got to talk to Andrea Arnold a bit afterwards and asked her if she wrote treatments before embarking on a script. I kind of expected her to say she didn't, but no, she does treatments. Her opinion was, you have to have a plan but then you can go off plan and do what you want knowing you have it as back-up. 

All too soon it was five o'clock and I had to head to the airport. I really enjoyed this short trip and would definitely consider going back next year. The pie and cider alone are worth the trip :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Power of Low Expectations

We're taught to expect the best - but is this really a good idea? It's an idea that's been preying on my mind since I got back from Texas, thanks to a piece of good advice I heard on the opening day of the festival. Go into this expecting nothing. At the time I thought this was a bit negative, having all sorts of selling-scripts-and-getting-an-agent ideas in mind, but I took it on board anyway and banished all these big ideas from my brain.

The result? A totally enjoyable, chilled-out festival with no hard-sells, no major disappointments, but a Rolodex-full of business cards, good advice and excellent memories. And I've stuck to it since I got back. No more dreaming about making quick sales and always thinking of the future, the future, the future. I'm learning to enjoy the present and realise that it's going to be a long road to seeing Writer - Eilis Mernagh on the big screen, so I might as well enjoy the journey. 

P.S. - this works for other areas of life too. Go on a night out thinking you're going to meet an Eric Bana lookalike (I seem to be alone in this but he's my Brad Pitt..) and get married and you are going to go home all fed up. Ditto if you're a guy and you won't settle for less than Jessica Alba with a sense of humour. But go out to have a laugh and trust me, you will. 

Embrace your low expectations and you shalt not be disappointed. There's a self-help book in this....

The Power of Low Expectations

We're taught to expect the best - but is this really a good idea? It's an idea that's been preying on my mind since I got back from Texas, thanks to a piece of good advice I heard on the opening day of the festival. Go into this expecting nothing. At the time I thought this was a bit negative, having all sorts of selling-scripts-and-getting-an-agent ideas in mind, but I took it on board anyway and banished all these big ideas from my brain.

The result? A totally enjoyable, chilled-out festival with no hard-sells, no major disappointments, but a Rolodex-full of business cards, good advice and excellent memories. And I've stuck to it since I got back. No more dreaming about making quick sales and always thinking of the future, the future, the future. I'm learning to enjoy the present and realise that it's going to be a long road to seeing Writer - Eilis Mernagh on the big screen, so I might as well enjoy the journey. 

P.S. - this works for other areas of life too. Go on a night out thinking you're going to meet an Eric Bana lookalike (I seem to be alone in this but he's my Brad Pitt..) and get married and you are going to go home all fed up. Ditto if you're a guy and you won't settle for less than Jessica Alba with a sense of humour. But go out to have a laugh and trust me, you will. 

Embrace your low expectations and you shalt not be disappointed. There's a self-help book in this....

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reading scripts for fun, or how big a nerd are you?!

Scriptwriter might as well be script reader as far as I’m concerned! I know reading other people’s scripts isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – too much of a busman’s holiday. I met a successful writer at the festival in Austin who admitted that he never reads scripts or indeed, screenwriting books.

But I find it really useful in terms of seeing how other writers handle formatting and story structure, not to mention dialogue. I read a script every other week, usually from a website like SimplyScripts but also work by other writers in a screenwriting group. And you do learn a lot! I download both produced and unproduced scripts – alarmingly, the writing quality is usually identical and the unproduced scripts are often of much better quality!

I read one unproduced screenplay recently that set me thinking: it was well-written and had good characters. It had a good basic plot. But the story theme was not exactly one that would set a box office alight, concentrating as it did on theoretical mathematics. The writer obviously knows her stuff and cares about this script, but its chances of selling seem slim. Should she concentrate on more commercial material or carry on writing the stuff she’s interested in? I suppose it’s the eternal screenwriting question, after all, no one really wants to write shelf puppies….

Anyway, I seriously encourage everyone to check out Simply Script’s unproduced section – there are some undiscovered jewels in there!

Reading scripts for fun, or how big a nerd are you?!

Scriptwriter might as well be script reader as far as I’m concerned! I know reading other people’s scripts isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – too much of a busman’s holiday. I met a successful writer at the festival in Austin who admitted that he never reads scripts or indeed, screenwriting books.

But I find it really useful in terms of seeing how other writers handle formatting and story structure, not to mention dialogue. I read a script every other week, usually from a website like SimplyScripts but also work by other writers in a screenwriting group. And you do learn a lot! I download both produced and unproduced scripts – alarmingly, the writing quality is usually identical and the unproduced scripts are often of much better quality!

I read one unproduced screenplay recently that set me thinking: it was well-written and had good characters. It had a good basic plot. But the story theme was not exactly one that would set a box office alight, concentrating as it did on theoretical mathematics. The writer obviously knows her stuff and cares about this script, but its chances of selling seem slim. Should she concentrate on more commercial material or carry on writing the stuff she’s interested in? I suppose it’s the eternal screenwriting question, after all, no one really wants to write shelf puppies….

Anyway, I seriously encourage everyone to check out Simply Script’s unproduced section – there are some undiscovered jewels in there!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Description, description, description....

How do you know that you must be a frustrated novelist? When you're a screenwriter and all your scripts contain loads of description! Paragraphs of it! 

This is my single biggest script-related problem and I'm battling it with every new draft I produce. I go to my screenwriting group every other week, read other people's beautifully sparse pages, full of white space and hang my head in shame. How do they do it?

Does anyone apart from me find themselves going over their scripts with a red pen, crossing out unnecessary hair colours and lines of action, slashing out pieces of scenery? How does anyone write a script where their main character is described simply as JOHN (21)?? 

Someday I will beat the description demon but until then, it's going to be painful....

Description, description, description....

How do you know that you must be a frustrated novelist? When you're a screenwriter and all your scripts contain loads of description! Paragraphs of it! 

This is my single biggest script-related problem and I'm battling it with every new draft I produce. I go to my screenwriting group every other week, read other people's beautifully sparse pages, full of white space and hang my head in shame. How do they do it?

Does anyone apart from me find themselves going over their scripts with a red pen, crossing out unnecessary hair colours and lines of action, slashing out pieces of scenery? How does anyone write a script where their main character is described simply as JOHN (21)?? 

Someday I will beat the description demon but until then, it's going to be painful....

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Motion Capture = Terrifying Movies!

Every few years, people start talking about animation and avatars and how they're eventually going to lead to actual human actors to being phased out. Well, based on what I've seen up to this point, I think the thesps can rest easy for a while longer. 

Doing an animated film is one thing but the thing that drives me mad are these motion capture movies, as beloved by Robert Zemeckis. He seems to be addicted to taking perfectly adequate stories that would work well as animation or live action and instead inflicting MC on them. The result? Dead-eyes ghosts that flit across the screen, barely raising a single emotion or feeling apart from skin-crawling discomfort. 

Remember that scene in Toy Story 2 with Sarah McLachlan's song and Jessie's owner giving her up that made everyone cry? The one I still cry at every time I see it? Never going to do that with anything involving motion capture. 

Someone I said this to brought up the examples of 300 or Sin City - but those movies involved a colouring process rather than MC - it was still recognisably real actors (with real, human eyes!). The eyes are like something out of a horror movie....

Mr. Zemeckis, I'm making an appeal. As a fan, please just drop the motion capture and make Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2 already.  Or better yet, Back to the Future 4.

Motion Capture = Terrifying Movies!

Every few years, people start talking about animation and avatars and how they're eventually going to lead to actual human actors to being phased out. Well, based on what I've seen up to this point, I think the thesps can rest easy for a while longer. 

Doing an animated film is one thing but the thing that drives me mad are these motion capture movies, as beloved by Robert Zemeckis. He seems to be addicted to taking perfectly adequate stories that would work well as animation or live action and instead inflicting MC on them. The result? Dead-eyes ghosts that flit across the screen, barely raising a single emotion or feeling apart from skin-crawling discomfort. 

Remember that scene in Toy Story 2 with Sarah McLachlan's song and Jessie's owner giving her up that made everyone cry? The one I still cry at every time I see it? Never going to do that with anything involving motion capture. 

Someone I said this to brought up the examples of 300 or Sin City - but those movies involved a colouring process rather than MC - it was still recognisably real actors (with real, human eyes!). The eyes are like something out of a horror movie....

Mr. Zemeckis, I'm making an appeal. As a fan, please just drop the motion capture and make Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2 already.  Or better yet, Back to the Future 4.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

You're waiting for ages and...

This has been a good week - just got an email from The Writers Network competition, organised by FadeIn magazine. My Christmas movie "All I Want for Christmas" is a quarter-finalist in the 16th Annual Writer’s Network Screenplay & Fiction Competition. Along with 546 others, but still!

I'd completely forgotten about entering this competition - the deadline was 15th June...

Also, just want to point out Brett Nicholson's fab blog on Austin http://abucketoflove.blogspot.com/2009_10_01_archive.html. Yes, I am the Mad Irish Lass. Well, I am Irish and I guess I'm a Lass...

You're waiting for ages and...

This has been a good week - just got an email from The Writers Network competition, organised by FadeIn magazine. My Christmas movie "All I Want for Christmas" is a quarter-finalist in the 16th Annual Writer’s Network Screenplay & Fiction Competition. Along with 546 others, but still!

I'd completely forgotten about entering this competition - the deadline was 15th June...

Also, just want to point out Brett Nicholson's fab blog on Austin http://abucketoflove.blogspot.com/2009_10_01_archive.html. Yes, I am the Mad Irish Lass. Well, I am Irish and I guess I'm a Lass...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My diary piece on Austin trip is online

The Irish Film Television Network site have kindly published my diary article on the trip to Austin - you can see it here http://www.iftn.ie/news/?act1=record&aid=73&rid=4282667&tpl=archnews&only=1

Talking of festivals, the Cork Film Festival lineup looks amazing. Always keep meaning to go and every year something crops up instead. Next year!

My diary piece on Austin trip is online

The Irish Film Television Network site have kindly published my diary article on the trip to Austin - you can see it here http://www.iftn.ie/news/?act1=record&aid=73&rid=4282667&tpl=archnews&only=1

Talking of festivals, the Cork Film Festival lineup looks amazing. Always keep meaning to go and every year something crops up instead. Next year!

Monday, November 2, 2009

From Austin to Bristol...

I’m going on another film-related trip! This time to the U.K. this time for a script workshop. I’ve won a place at the London Film Academy’s Script 2 Screen workshop as part of Bristol’s Encounters Shorts Festival. This is the competition http://www.londonfilmacademy.com/events/event_article.asp?EventID=180&type= You had to submit a 2 page script with a male and female character – so I wrote one called Older Woman about a nerdy teenage boy and his love for his best friend’s hot mom...

Anyway, the best things will be working with actors, which I have little experience with, as well as having a chance to meet some U.K.-based film folk. Roll on 20 November!

From Austin to Bristol...

I’m going on another film-related trip! This time to the U.K. this time for a script workshop. I’ve won a place at the London Film Academy’s Script 2 Screen workshop as part of Bristol’s Encounters Shorts Festival. This is the competition http://www.londonfilmacademy.com/events/event_article.asp?EventID=180&type= You had to submit a 2 page script with a male and female character – so I wrote one called Older Woman about a nerdy teenage boy and his love for his best friend’s hot mom...

Anyway, the best things will be working with actors, which I have little experience with, as well as having a chance to meet some U.K.-based film folk. Roll on 20 November!