Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Christmas miracle!

Christmas has truly arrived because I now have a job. It's a temp job but still. My household can now pay its bills.


To celebrate this fabulous event, I thought I'd do a recap of my favourite Christmas flicks. I did one last year where I lamented the absence of Christmas movies at the cinema. Well, this year we have Arthur Christmas.... and that's about it.

But if that doesn't float your boat, there's these great options, all available to rent at your local video store or pirate online.

Elf - Great idea (a real elf forced to work with department store elves while searching for his father) and one of Will Ferrell's best performances. Also a brilliant take-off of It's a Wonderful Life's suicide-on-the-bridge scene. This is one of those films that you knew was a future Christmas classic as soon as you saw it.

Gremlins - The bit where Kate tells Billy what happened to her father on Christmas Eve scarred me as a kid - and for that reason, this film about furry little monsters wrecking a town's Christmas will always have a place in my heart. If you want to terrify a child for life, rent Gremlins. You'll love it!

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – I’ve seen this practically every Christmas I can remember and it’s still funny. Not clever, mature or sophisticated. Just big laughs, and they keep coming. My favourite scene is the bit where Chevy Chase tries to figure out why his stupendous outdoor lights aren't working…

Scrooged – Bill Murray when he was the funniest man on screen, playing miserly television executive Frank Cross. This is a brilliant updating of the Dickens story with a truly dislikeable hero and a great supporting cast.

Home Alone – A John Hughes holiday movie with an underrated script, this film skirts a lot of potentially dark issues. A child left alone for Christmas, being terrorised by two creepy burglars? My mom practically cries with laughter at the bit where Joe Pesci tries to make it up a frozen set of steps and I don’t blame her. This is Macauley Culkin’s finest hour.

It’s a Wonderful Life – Again, a film which on the surface is loaded with sadness. A depressed man decides to throw himself off a bridge, only to see the effect his life has really had on others. Yet it’s one of the most heartwarming films ever made. Anyone who isn't touched by the scene where George Bailey runs through the snowy streets of Bedford Falls has a heart of stone.

Miracle on 34th Street – I don’t mind which version it is, this is a lovely film with a great story. Can we prove there really is a Santa! This is one film that always makes me choke up. Yes, I am a girl.

Happy Christmas and happy movie-watching!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tiger is heading for the screen! And Puss in Boots already made it....

First up, some good news! Apart from, I have more time to write, which is always good.

My short script Tiger is getting made. I met a director at the Waterford Film Festival who read the script and liked it, and we've been having meetings about it since. The upshot is that we're going to shoot the film next Spring, hopefully in late February/early March.

I'm meeting the director tomorrow to go over the script and break it down, and we're also meeting a possible lead actress and a DoP. So it's all systems go - which means entering the fundraising fray again. Luckily, Director Man reckons it can be done nicely for 3 grand, which is a fairly achievable sum to raise.

If you live in Dublin and want to help out (pretty please!), then you can in one of two ways. Come to a fundraising quiz which we're going to hold at a city centre pub at the end of January. Or, if you know of anyone who has a big, impressive-looking house that we could borrow for two days, give me a call! We won't wreck it, I promise.

In other news, I went to see Puss in Boots yesterday at midday. Yes, I'm unemployed. But hey, there were five people in the cinema apart from me and my sister (she's not unemployed, just on a week off) and there was no idiot kicking the back of my seat. It was great.

As for the movie itself, it's not as good as Shrek 1. But then again, nothing is, including Shreks 2, 3 and 4. What Puss in Boots does have is great characters and great casting. Zorro himself as Puss in Boots, with Banderas spoofing both this and his role in Desperado. His Desperado co-star Salma Hayek as his feline love interest. Zach Galifianakis as the self-loathing, surprisingly touching Humpty Dumpty.

But the best turns for me were from Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris, who play Jack and Jill as monstrous, terrifying hillbillies. They drive around terrorising people in a huge cart pulled by flaming-eyed hogs. They have cool weapons - sort of like Southern-fried blunderbusses. They have all the best lines - and there are some great lines in this movie.

If you have kids, bring them along - but be warned that they will have nightmares about Jack and Jill. If you're sprog-less, go along anyway, you'll enjoy it!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Take a leap...

If this was a movie, things would be going to be a. much worse or b. much better. After being messed around by my erstwhile employer for two months, I became unemployed as of last Wednesday. I have several friends in various levels of depression and one in hospital with multiple injuries. Let's just say that if I was a paid counsellor, I'd have earned a lot of money recently. I haven't been able to save much since September because I was unemployed for most of October. Oh, and we still haven't sold the house...

Right now, getting to the States seems like a dream that's disappearing further and further into the distance.

I choose to believe that this is the point in the movie where things get better. I will get a new job. My friends will get over their various problems. We will sell the house. My Hollywood fund will start to grow again.

It's all too easy to make plans when times are good - there's no challenge in that. The real planning starts when times are hard and you can't see how you can achieve your goal. Like a character in your script, you have to take a leap into the unknown and make a commitment. As Michael Ardnt put it, a kamikaze moment of commitment.

I may not be trying to defeat the Death Star or battling Mr. and Mrs. Robinson. But I'm reassessing my plans - while keeping my eyes on the ultimate goal of getting to Hollywood in 2012. That's my December resolution, and I can't wait to make it come true.

Now to work...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Getting your short film ready for its close-up....

So you have a short script that tells a great story, won’t take ages to make and can be shot on a shoestring budget. What’s the next step? How do you go about getting it from page to screen?

It’s time to break the script down into shots. This step is often left up to the director - and with good reason. It’s the kind of task that makes me want to start napping. However, it is a good exercise as it really shows you what’s possible to shoot and what’s not. Plus, you’ll know your script inside out once you’ve prepped it!

Firstly, go through the script and try to picture it in terms of shots. Can you imagine each shot on screen? Will it be a close-up, a tracking shot, or a long shot?

Stepping back and seeing your film in individual shots makes the whole thing less overwhelming. Now you know what shooting it is going to entail!

Make a list of all the shots and if you can, draw each one out roughly. Stick figures are fine – draw a box, put the rough sketch in it and mark it as “John reacts, close-up” or whatever it is. Imagine that this is a comic book and that each box is an illustration.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the location for this shot?

  • How many actors are needed for it?

  • Props – are any needed and if so, which ones?

  • What type of shot will it be (close-up, establishing shot) etc?


Unless you’re also planning to direct, that may be as far as you need to go. You will now have a. something solid you can show to a potential director and b. a good idea of what will be needed in terms of locations, props, number of actors etc.

If you do plan to direct yourself, you’ll also have to get into things like shot angles, camera movements, lighting, special effects (if any) and the direction of the action. I’ll hold my hands up and tell you that I know nothing about this.

However, these are the people who do: Chris Jones and Genevieve Jolliffe, the intrepid creators of The Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook.  They’ve been there, done that and gotten the scars and police arrests to show for it. This book is ten years old but still well worth a read, if only to hear about some of the crazy stuff they’ve done in the name of no/low-budget guerrilla filmmaking. Like casting Harrison Ford’s brother Terence, nearly going bankrupt or posing for a movie poster with a huge gun (Genevieve).  

If you have a decent short script with something to say, don’t let anything stop you from getting it made. To quote Jones and Jolliffe, “Don’t be put off by ridicule, poverty or fear”.

Just to prove that that quote wasn’t just for fun, I’ll storyboard Tiger over the next few weeks and post a scan of the no-doubt amateur looking results (gulp!)...

Friday, November 18, 2011

As promised, here's Tiger....

I said I'd upload a copy of my short script Tiger - purely for illustration purposes, so here it is.

What I'll do in the next post is a proper breakdown of this script as if I were prepping it to be shot. Any thoughts or ideas on this gratefully accepted, as there is more than one way to get a script ready.

In the meantime....

Click here to read Tiger

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Making your killer short film in a recession...

I’ve always meant to go to the Waterford Film Festival but something always seemed to crop up that weekend (4-6 November). This year, however, I had to go because my short script Tiger was one of 12 scripts shortlisted for the short script competition. With 500 euro as the prize!

Sadly, I didn’t win (although well done to Barry Grant, who did!). Waterford concentrated on shorts this year and had a really good programme of Irish and international short films.

Anyway, the whole experience gave me a real yen to see Tiger up on the big screen. It’s a snappy little thriller about a battle of wits during a tiger kidnapping between one of the kidnappers and one of the victims, a well-off bank manager’s wife.

So what I’ve been thinking about all this week is: what’s the best way to get it made? What’s the fastest and most efficient way to get your baby short from page to celluloid?

1. It all starts with the script. Right? You need a decent script that tells a compelling story in a short amount of time, preferably one that can be shot quickly and cheaply. For example, Tiger is ten pages long, but it all takes place in one location and has only five parts for actors (only three of which are speaking roles). It has no special effects and doesn’t need any fancy costumes or props.

2. Based on your script, calculate the man hours needed to prep and shoot it. I’m not an expert on this by any means, but I did co-produce a short for a friend last year. It was fifteen minutes long, involved a lot of camera moves, and took four (frenetic) days to shoot. Tiger, to give you an idea, would probably take two days to shoot. The only complicated bit would be a long tracking shot at the start. There are shorts out there that were shot in a day. Working all this out will help you form a budget.

3. The budget – are you planning to pay everyone, or is this going to be an experience-generating exercise for all concerned? If the answer is the latter, try and keep the shoot as brief as possible and make sure to at least feed them all well. What you will have to shell out for, unless you can borrow them, are cameras, lighting and sound equipment. Also, you’ll need insurance (Filmbase can do you a deal on this), and editing and post always eat up a chunk of money. I know NOTHING about editing and post, so I won’t even get into this except to say: if it’s as clear and uncomplicated a movie as possible and if you can shoot it efficiently and quickly, so much the better. In the case of Tiger, I would also need a fairly fancy house as my main location, so I’d have to rent or borrow this.

4. So you now have a fairly good idea of how much it will cost to make. Now it’s time to decide how you’re going to fund it.

There are three options: public funding (IFB, Filmbase etc), crowd-funding and self-funding. I’ll deal with them in turn: approaching the Film Board or Filmbase can yield a decent budget. Everyone will get paid AND fed. Yay! BUT – the process is competitive, you must have a producer and director on board, and if you’ve missed all the deadlines, it can mean a long wait until the next one.

5. Crowd-funding – Allegra Huston (daughter of John, sister of Angelica), recently funded a short movie through selling cakes, holding quizzes and raffles and asking for donations in person and online. When John Huston’s daughter is taking this step, you know crowd-funding has gone mainstream. But be prepared to produce a very decent-looking trailer (probably funded entirely by you), and to hear a lot of no’s on your way to success.

6. Funding your movie from script to post is the last option, and I really recommend exhausting every other step before doing this. The chances are that you will never see this money again. If you do take this step, raid the piggy bank and put down the bank loan application form. I know, Kevin Smith funded Clerks through credit cards. But APR can be cruel, and so is paying off five grand during a recession.

That’s my ten cents on getting started with making your short film. I’ll be taking a bold step tomorrow and posting Tiger on this site for illustration purposes only. Be kind!

If you have questions, criticism or comments, please post them here or on Twitter!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A confession... and my thoughts on Save the Cat

First, a confession. I had originally planned to head to L.A. in January 2012. BUT – I’ve just had a month of unemployment, after going to two U.S. films festivals. Oops. March next year is now looking like a more realistic timeframe. But the dream is still alive – temporary unemployment will not stop me from hitting Hollywood in the near(ish) future!

After my experiment last month, I thought I’d review another book on screenwriting. There are many of them out there, but how many are any good? Next up is a classic – Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

A lot of people reckon Save the Cat promotes formulaic popcorn movies, and there is some truth in this. The late Mr Snyder himself admits in an early chapter that this is not a book for anyone interested in writing indie or arthouse films. This is a book on writing mainstream studio movies.

He insists that you should start by asking “What is it?” and nailing your film’s logline. Condense your idea into a logline and practice it on people until you’re sure that it’s a winner. Does your idea sound like something Joe Average will want to watch on Saturday night? Will it make him leave his sofa and pay for a cinema ticket and some overpriced snacks?

Snyder then goes through the “10 genres that every movie ever made can be categorized by”. These include Monster in the House (a horror genre), The Golden Fleece (usually used for adventure movies), etc. (I’ve tried to rack my brains and come up with a film that doesn’t fit one of his genres, but in vain. If you can, more power to you!) Hollywood tends to want something that’s “the same, only different!” and this chapter is all about defining your story and coming up with a fresh twist on an existing genre.

Next, make sure that you have the right hero for your story – and the right villain, who should be the hero’s perfect foil. Like Joseph Campbell, Snyder is big on Jungian archetypes – the wise mentor, the eager young man – and how to use these stock characters in your script. As many movie stars tend to be associated with certain types of roles, this can also help producers imagine your characters better. But as with the genres, Snyder emphasises how important it is to give the archetypes a new twist or angle.

The next two chapters are probably the most controversial – they involve “beating out” your movie by filling in a sheet of 15 beats (i.e. opening image, setting the scene, the call to action, the B-plot, “fun and games” which tends to be the first part of Act 2, etc). Once you have defined your 15 beats, you then outline the movie using index cards and “build” your story of approximately 40 scenes.

When you’re sure that you’ve built the perfect outline, then and only then do you start writing the script.

Snyder has been accused of making scriptwriting formulaic - and I’m sure a lot of writers were horrified to see a script reduced down to nuts and bolts like this. BUT, I do think it’s essential when you’re starting out to have some sort of guiding structure, and this is exactly what you get from Snyder’s beat sheet. Also, from filling out the 40 scene cards, you get a clear idea of which acts are overloaded, which ones are too light and where you may be going wrong overall.

Laurence Kasdan said in Austin this year that he studied playwriting at college and that the 3-Act structure was therefore embedded in his brain. He doesn’t even have to think about it anymore. This is basically just a more cinematic version.

The bottom line: Save the Cat is well worth a read when you’re starting out in screenwriting, as it gives you all the structural basics you’re ever going to need. All this and he has great names for scriptwriting missteps, like “Too Much Marzipan” and “Watch out for That Glacier!” RIP Mr Snyder, you’ll be missed...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The last day of Austin 2011...

Sunday arrived and after three days of not enough food or sleep and far too much booze, I was feeling ropey. BUT – today was possibly the biggest day of the festival in terms of amazing content. AND - a producer had asked to read one of my scripts, giving me a much-needed boost. So it was on with a coffee drip and a large amount of sugar to keep me going.

First up was a workshop on rewriting. With Terry Rossio. This was the session I’d been looking forward to the most. He said he’d felt there was a lack of practical writing advice at the festival, with a lot of very general tips on the process but nothing in-depth.

This was his answer – some weeks prior to the festival, writers were invited to submit a scene from one of their scripts. Rossio would then pick one or two of them and demonstrate live how he would rewrite them. One of my scenes went in before the deadline, so I had my fingers crossed....

The workshop lasted for nearly two hours, but I would willingly have sat there for four or five, because a. Terry Rossio is a really interesting guy who’s gotten the T-shirt in terms of writing and b. the group discussion generated by the session was brilliant.

Rossio began by explaining when he first became a writer. He had written a short story and his writing partner rewrote the last paragraph when they went over it. It was when he saw his partner’s rewrite that he saw the power of including certain words, of going over and over your text and polishing it until it “sings”. Giving the reader as much content as possible per syllable.

It’s really hard to summarise all the other things I learned during this 90 minutes, but I’ll give it a try:

  • Rather than description overload, you have to be in service of something greater. Read your script out loud – this is essential. It will tell you what needs to be cut.

  • Don’t think it’s “good” or “fine” – it can always get better. You have to believe that. Your killer line can always be better.

  • It’s “holds”, not “is holding”. It’s “a dog barks”, not “a dog starts to bark”.

  • Use one space, not two, in between dialogue sentences.

  • It’s amazing how often taking out the first part of each sentence in dialogue makes it sound better!

  • When going over scenes, ask yourself “Will this scene serve as an important lead-in? Will it help the plot?”

  • Performance dialogue needs silences, sounds, pauses and things like “mmm” and “uh”. Little odd pieces, idiosyncrasies.

  • Actors hate question marks in performance dialogue – they hate to be reduced down to asking questions. Also, they can do very little with just saying “no”. Experiment with how they can answer negatively without bluntly saying no. Rephrase questions into speculations, for example.

  • If it’s important how one character holds another in a certain way, for example, describe it. Otherwise, “holds” is fine.

  • Characterise the scene – what’s happening in it? What’s happening in the background?

  • In polishing, a lot of time gets spent fixing spaces and formatting. Don’t add any extra spaces that you will have to take out later.

  • The beginning of a script is the one time you should get a little flowery – the opening image is important for the reader to get a sense of the script.

  • Use “we see” if necessary but be very sparing with it and only use it in particular cases.

  • Put in dashes (- - - ) to add pace.

  • Every word counts! Try out a lot of different words for each action or movement to make sure you get the right one.

  • Give your script a “look” or logo – this will help you believe that it will exist as a product out there.

  • Each script should have a separate folder on your computer. Terry Rossio has around 25 sequences for each script he writes with his partner, with the 25 divided up between them. By doing this, they are thinking the same way the production team will – in terms of sequences. This process comes from using index cards, then writing up an outline. Once they are both finished writing, Rossio will cut and paste the 25 sequences into a master file, which is the completed script. Here’s the thing that amazed me – they don’t read through the whole thing until this point!

  • Printing out the completed first draft and reading over it on the page is essential.


Rossio put two scenes from people’s scripts up on a big screen and literally went over them, making rewrite suggestions in red. He took input from the audience as he went along and took some of our opinions on board. One point he did stress at the beginning was that all of this was just his opinion, that it was all subjective. But still, I could see how the changes he suggested were making the scenes tighter, more polished.

Everyone got very excited at the end because he promised to rewrite everyone’s scene and send them on by email! I can’t wait to see what he does with mine – and I really hope this session becomes a regular fixture at the festival because it was fascinating.

Then there was a run across to the Stephen F. Austin hotel, where Michael Arndt was giving a presentation on Endings – the Good, the Bad, and the Insanely Great. He developed and delivered this presentation at Pixar, where it apparently blew everyone away, and I could soon see why.

Arndt began as a script reader in a story department after film school and reckons he read hundreds of screenplays. He saw that most movies just don’t get made, and began to analyse why. His boss at the time claimed that there is no such thing as a bad script, only an unfinished one, i.e. that the writer didn’t refine it through enough drafts. Most screenplays Arndt read seemed to fail in Act 3, or have Act 3 problems. So he concentrated on identifying what it is that makes a good, bad or brilliant ending.

His theory is that a “good” ending will be at least somewhat surprising, whereas a “bad” ending is one you see coming from miles away.

But a truly great ending is a combination of three things; it’s surprising, positive and most important of all, meaningful. Films with great endings stay with you. They can even show you how to live your life.

Here’s just some (really, this was a long session) of what he covered:

What is the meaning of the story? The meaning of Star Wars, for instance, is “trust your feelings”. The meaning or true values of the film should be revealed in the climactic two minutes.

Your hero can be his or her own “enemy” – Rick in Casablanca is a good example of this. But the three movies he went through in the presentation, Star Wars, The Graduate and Little Miss Sunshine, all involve heroes who are essentially innocent.

There is usually an insult-to-injury moment for your hero – in Tootsie, for example, hero Michael Dorsey believes that the best actor will always get the part. But he’s wrong; he’s soon about to see that someone much less talented but more famous is going to get the part he deserves. This puts the audience on the side of an otherwise unsympathetic hero.

Your hero should ideally have three “arcs” during the story – an external arc, an internal one and a philosophical one. In The Graduate, for example, Benjamin’s external goal is to figure out how his life will be different. What will he do differently from his parents? His internal goal is to connect and find love. And his philosophical arc involves love versus conformity. Freedom versus rules.

The climax moment usually happens between pages 89-91 in a 100-page script. The hero will have had a moment of despair, when he or she has done everything they could, but it’s not enough. They’re going to fail anyway – on every level. Benjamin has failed to stop his girlfriend Elaine from marrying another man. He has failed to find a real connection. And now the jaded society of rules and cynicism has won. Then he turns it all around by making a kamikaze moment of commitment and interrupting Elaine’s wedding.

Arndt showed us the moments of despair and decisive action in all three films. It’s amazing that the two moments – despair and victory – in Stars Wars, for instance, are only 45 seconds apart. They should ideally be as close as that for the greatest emotional impact.

The hero’s decisive moment – the one that wins the day – has to be positive, surprising and meaningful, leading to a great ending we did not see coming.

Apart from his writing skills, Michael Arndt is a brilliant teacher who knows screenplay development inside out. Another writer told me afterwards that he nearly had a brain meltdown during Arndt’s presentation – his brain was buzzing with how all this related to his own scripts. I know how he felt – apart from Terry Rossio’s, this was definitely the session with the most implementable material. I felt like going to the nearest internet cafe and writing a script there and then!

However, instead I shared a cab down to the Rollins Centre, where Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi were holding a public reading of their latest screenplay, The Nice Guys. This being Shane Black, he didn’t have just any old actors playing his two heroes, recovering alcoholic enforcer Jackson Healy and boozed-up private eye Holland March. No, he had Peter Weller and Thomas Jane, both of whom kicked ass.

I really hope that they – and the rest of the uber-talented cast – get to do their stuff on the big screen soon. This is a gritty, hilarious thriller that’s got Black’s trademark wit all over it. There was a bit during the reading where Jane’s character was supposed to fall over a rail during a party and go tumbling down into a canyon. Jane staggered back, fell against his chair and went flying backwards off the stage, where he (and the chair) landed with a crash. Everyone winced – that must have hurt! I thought he’d accidentally gone too far with a stunt, but I heard afterwards from someone who was there during rehearsals that he’d been practicing!

That was it for the official festival activity, but the night was still young. I caught a concert at The Continental, where local legend John Dee Graham and singer-songwriter Sarah Walter Sharp did a great gig. Then it was on to the Beavis and Butthead party (held at a bar called Frank that serves hotdogs!) where I met Mike Judge, creator of B&B as well the best movie ever written about the workplace, Office Space.

The thing about Austin is that you always hear some stories you can never repeat. All sorts of inside gossip. Well-known, well-paid people letting their guards down and revealing that they too, have the same insecurities and self-doubt as anyone just starting out. Once again, I met a lot of people, and they ranged from people like me at the start of their careers to people who’ve been writing for 30 years. Showrunners, screenwriting stars and local characters.

This mix of people and the access all areas vibe is what makes AFF great. I look forward to going every year and this time was no exception. Roll on 2012 – I can’t wait!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day 3 of Austin 2011...

Saturday began with a discussion between TV titans Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars et al) and Hart Hanson (Judging Amy, Bones et al). Hanson was due to receive a special award at the festival awards luncheon that afternoon.

Bones is a great show. The episode with Robert Englund as a creepy janitor was one of the best things I’ve ever seen on TV. But what really excited me was that Hanson was one of the writers on The Beachcombers, a Canadian TV show that I remember watching as a kid. I’m sure it wasn’t that great a show in retrospect, but back then I was glued to it.

The two guys agreed on one big thing – that being a showrunner is the best job there is for a writer because of the level of control. Yet Hanson claims – rather surprisingly, that he’s not a natural showrunner and has only found himself in this role out of necessity. He says he hates when everyone’s head swivels toward him in meetings, but he loves not having his stuff rewritten. He now runs two writers rooms – one on Bones and one on his new show The Finder. This possibly mainly because his exec producer runs the Bones room and Hanson himself mainly gets involved when it comes to hearing the case pitches.

He explained how Bones came about – he had an overall deal with 20th Century Fox and had to produce a pilot for them every year. Another show he’d been planning didn’t pan out, then his producer showed him a documentary on author and former pathologist Kathy Reichs and he thought there was something there. While the casting has been key to the shows success, Hanson’s initial meeting with David Boreanaz went really badly. Then Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel had to audition together – in front of a large crowd from the network.

Rob Thomas claims to be too afraid to read online reviews of his show, while Hanson said he has some people who say they hate Bones but still watch it religiously!

So how do you get Hart Hanson to read your TV script? You need to be a repped writer. His advice was to write loads of TV scripts, polish them, and send them to agencies until someone agrees to represent you. OR – get an entry-level job on a show and someone will, eventually, agree to read your spec. Don’t do what one writer did and submit one of the showrunner’s own specs to him! You’ll need at least two samples of your work – but they can be plays or feature screenplays instead of TV scripts.

One big skill you will need – one that Hanson admits he has – is to be able to copy other writers’ voices, that is, to adapt the voice of a show. You should be able to put it on like a jacket.

In terms of what the networks are looking for, Hanson says that shows about interesting people doing interesting things isn’t enough anymore. The networks want a show with a cool, high-concept hook.

The next panel discussion was about The Heroine’s Journey and featured female writers Elizabeth Hunter (Beautyshop, The Fighting Temptations) and Pamela Gray (Conviction, A Walk on the Moon).

They covered what it means to be a female writer, but also what it means to write a good female character.

For example, making your female character “more likeable”. Does this mean making her less edgy? Less angry?

Elizabeth Hunter made the point that if four people give you the same note on your script, you have to pay attention to it. In her film The Fighting Temptations, the main character was originally a gangster rapper, but making him an advertising executive worked better.

Pamela Gray – It’s not that there are no parts for women, it’s just that there are more leading men who can open movies. There’s a perception that only teenage boys watch films. Writers rule on TV – and look at the TV roles for women. She said she’d like to be a showrunner on a show some day – it’s about creative control.

Elizabeth Hunter – There’s more interesting stuff on TV – it’s a lot more expensive to put out movies and people are afraid to take risks.

The panel acknowledged that there is a perception that only women will watch “female movies”, whereas both genders will watch a male-oriented film.

Gray said she was a fan of Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, but pointed out that the journey is different for female characters. A woman in a script will tend to “refuse the call” more than once. They don’t just launch into action. The “threshold guardian” – often these are wives but in her film Conviction, Betty Ann’s husband was the threshold guardian, trying to stop her from taking her step forward. Also, “mentors and allies” tend to be the main character’s best friends in a female character’s story – and women tend to join a community at the end of the story rather than going it alone.

Taking an entrepreneurial approach – what can I get made next? Hunter says she reads books and takes a proactive approach to pitching projects. She loves producing and wants to direct a project at some stage. She pointed out that the studios are already not as relevant as they once were. You can make a low-budget movie and get it distributed. There’s the internet, video on demand.

They mentioned Mindy Kaling’s recent entertaining article in The New Yorker about female characters in movies – they all seem to work in art galleries and/or be klutzes. They’re romantic leads (where do you start?), virgins (Twilight) or assassins (Salt). Whether your main character is a man or a woman, they can’t be passive. Taking action is what makes them a hero – or a heroine.

Notes – you often get a character note that does not serve the main character – for example, she must have a viable romance, even if this has to be shoehorned into the plot.

Pamela Gray’s movie A Walk on the Moon featured Diane Lane as a woman at a 1960s Catskills bungalow colony, where women and children would spend the summer and their husbands would only join them at the weekends. She was told that the scene where her long-married main character has her first orgasm when she sleeps with a visiting salesman could not be shot as written. The reason? What would it say about her husband? She eventually managed to get the scene filmed as she had originally intended, but it meant standing up for her script and for her character.

This was the first time AFF had done a female panel any year I’d been there, and I thought it was really useful. Plus it got the biggest female attendance of all the events!

I then shot off to the awards lunch at the Austin Club, where Hart Hanson, screenwriter Caroline Thompson, some guy called Johnny Depp and Pixar supremo John Lasseter were all getting awards.

There was obvious and genuine affection between David Boreanaz (who introduced Hanson), Emily Deschanel (who did a recorded video due to being heavily pregnant) and their boss. Terry Rossio introduced Johnny Depp, who sported a hat, sunglasses and heavy beard, but managed to come across as that rare thing, a nice movie-star. His movie The Rum Diary had screened the evening before, and I was unable to get a seat (i.e. couldn’t be bothered to join the massive queue). But I’d heard from several attendees that director Bruce Robinson was wasted during the Q&A, while JD himself had also had a few WKDs or whatever it is he drinks). Maybe he’s nice when he’s hungover – or maybe it’s not an act. Either way, he’s a one-off, and a bit of a legend.

My pitching session was fast approaching but first I caught a Q&A with writer and director Rodrigo Garcia (In Treatment, Albert Nobbs). Garcia is the son of famous Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose books are on school syllabuses all over Latin America. Rather surprisingly, Marquez himself was a screenwriter in Mexico and according to his son, had wanted to be a director. He talked about growing up in a household full of creative people discussing stories. To people who ask him, “How did your father influence you?” he always asks, “How did yours influence you?”!

Garcia began as a cinematographer before moving into directing and now, writing. He still feels that each movie is composed of three films – the written version, the filmed one and the final edited version.

He prefers writing female characters as: “they are more complex. The men are always good boys – like me!” He never asks the same person to read his script twice, but shows it to two people, does a rewrite, shows it to two more people, does another rewrite, and so on.

On the writing process – he writes something every day, even if it is only a few pages. “You have to turn the computer on, or it won’t happen!” The second act is always a nightmare. He watches a movie a day when he’s writing, even if it’s one he’s seen before, to “feed the brain”.

Albert Nobbs (which shot earlier this year in Ireland) – this was a passion project for Glenn Close, who first played the role on stage in 1982. She chose Garcia to direct and he says she had a very solid idea of what the character would be like.

TV versus the movies – he likes to ask, “what is the problem?” in each story. What are the desires and what are the obstacles? Each script needs a touchstone or central idea. The age of your main character is crucial – where are they in their life? In answer to a question about dislikeable chracters, Garcia made the good point that this means they have been badly written. Downfall, the movie about Hitler’s final days, is full of compelling chracters, yet they are Nazis!

With shaking knees, I then headed off to my one and only pitching session, in front of judges Tai Duncan (Paul Schiff Productions) and Joyce San Pedro (Sony Pictures). There are nine pitching sessions during the festival and two writers progress from each to the live final. After going through my own private hell and watching 10 other pitches (some amazing, some okay) we got the results. I didn’t get through – I came third. But this is still my best ever result, so at least I’m improving (slowly!).

The pitch finale took place in a crowded bar later on. Every year I’m amazed at the courage it must take to get up in front of a lot of other drunk writers and pitch your movie. Twenty or so brave souls did that, and all I can say is fair play, folks...

Then there was the always immensely fun conference wrap party, which took place in Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. Legend has it that Robert Rodriguez staggered in there after finishing El Mariachi and celebrated with a big, juicy steak.

The night finished much later in the Driskill Bar, but not before I met Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3), who might well be the nicest man in the world. He explained the Act 3 changeover in TS3 (it involves the little toy aliens) and gave his pitch for Little Miss Sunshine 2 (sounds like a hit! But not an Oscar winner).

Monday, October 31, 2011

Day 2 of Austin 2011....

Next morning, it was up early and on to a roundtable. First up with Disney’s Maggie Malone, who gave the following advice: you have to be so enthusiastic in your pitch that you bring the listener on a journey. Also, as a studio writer you have to be able to communicate someone else’s ideas as passionately as your own.

Next was literacy agent Gayla Nethercott. Her ideal client, she revealed, has to employable, good in a room, have a voice she likes and be self-aware. I explained to her that I’ll be moving to LA next year, most likely on a three-month tourist visa initially. She advised me to set up as many meetings as possible before I go and to use my three months wisely. No Irish shyness allowed!

The last exec was Cort Lane, VP of animation development at Marvel. He works on TV animation and most of their stuff is aimed at 6-11 year old boys. This isn’t an area I know a lot about, but it’s extremely interesting – for example, there are a lot of rules on TV animation for kids. There’s no face punching, no breaking windows and if a character goes on a motorcycle, they must be wearing a helmet (Unless they’re Spiderman. Then anything goes). Because their characters are superheroes, they can get away with more – but developing child-friendly stories for Wolverine or Hulk, for instance, can be challenging.

Then it was on to talk on reversals and pay-offs with the one and only Shane Black, who is currently working on Iron Man 3.

He claims – rather refreshingly – to still have fears about pitching and finds that writing gets harder, rather than easier, once you have a few scripts behind you. While some writers claim to love writing, he says he’ll do anything, even clean the house, to avoid getting started.

Here is just some of the other stuff he covered:

  • Every story is a suspense thriller, whatever the genre. Will the guy get the girl? Will the hero escape the slasher killer?

  • Reversals – things that put events or details in a movie in a different light. Everything seems okay, but wait! There’s a problem. Most scripts suffer from not having enough of these kinds of moments. It’s rare to have too many – Reindeer Games is one movie that does.

  • Quick reversals – these are usually used in action movies. Example – La Femme Nikita, where she goes to a bathroom window, her only escape route, to be faced with a brick wall.

  • Slow reversals – we only find out at the end of Stand By Me why the main character has been telling us this story.

  • Pay-offs – All the balls that you’ve been spinning during the script should start to come down in Act 3. Small victories – the “You’re a loser” line in Rocky that pays off at the end of the movie when he “wins” by staying on his feet. But you have to hide your set-up – you’re looking for an “Oh my God, I forgot about that!” from the audience.

  • If you’re stuck, go for a walk! And if you’ve just finished a first draft, leave it a month before looking at it again.

  • Script doctoring – they’re paying you to put your own stamp on the story, or else you’re just taking their money. With Iron Man, it was a case of finding the version of the story he wanted to tell.

  • Make ideas seem like executives’ own thoughts, like if they want to change something and you disagree with them. Make them feel like geniuses – they’ll love you for it!

  • A really good tip – learn to expect the best, not the worst! Use positive thinking, as it’s so easy to be negative, especially in LA.


I went from there to a panel on agents and clients, which featured UTA agent Rebecca Ewing and her client, screenwriter Amy Talkington. Amy is currently working on several projects, including the scripts Valley Girl and Undercover, as well as the remake of Private Benjamin.

She explained that she got her first agent after she made an award-winning short film while studying at Columbia University. The short ended up getting screened at Paramount Studios and she got referred to Rebecca as a client after this.

Here are some of the topics they touched on:

  • Open assignments – Rebecca Ewing explained that the process to win these is now highly competitive. As an agent, she must use her influence just to get clients in the door and on the shortlist. She talked about meeting a new client recently, hearing what he was interested in writing about, and giving him the option of doing a book adaptation at one of the studios, which he was immediately interested in.

  • Contact with your agent – Rebecca will leave Amy alone while she’s writing on a project. At other times, when she’s between projects, they’ll talk every day. While they’re friendly, it’s important to remember that you and your agent have a business relationship first and foremost. One interesting note is that it often takes the agency longer to write up an agreement with the studio than it takes the writer to write the draft!

  • Agents and clients tend to have handshake deals rather than signed contracts.

  • Managers – Rebecca works closely with Amy’s manager. The manager will go through her pitch with her and breaks projects down; it’s a more casual relationship and they will talk more regularly. A manager will often bring a client to an agent they know – or vice versa. Amy did stress that while she likes having as many people out to bat for her as possible, it’s important to make sure that your team get along.

  • Getting an agent  - their advice was to concentrate on writing great material rather than finding an agent. Great scripts rise to the top. When you’re ready, you can try to get representation through referrals. Do research on a potential agent before you meet them and feel out if this is someone who will be with you for the long haul.

  • You don’t have to be based in LA, but you have to be committed to coming out for meetings 2-3 times a year. Rebecca stressed that she doesn’t mind if a client is shy or has poor pitching skills, as these can be worked on.

  • Screenwriter gaffes – these would include “stalking” an agent, expecting too much too soon and not respecting boundaries. Also, not understanding that this is a long-term career, not a quick fix.


Overall, this was a session full of good advice, and it was nice to see an agent-client relationship that seems to work really well!

Lastly for Friday was a panel on the art of screenwriting, featuring Terry Rossio (writer of Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin etc etc), Laurence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat etc etc) and Nick Kazan (At Close Range, Reversal of Fortune, etc etc). No rookies here!

Process – Rossio uses a board and index cards to map everything out. He doesn’t think about theme so much as the characters and how they relate to each other. Kasdan likes to use cards with one word on them to represent each scene. And Kazan likes to rely on writing huge outlines. When he feels like he knows the movie inside out, he starts writing. When things are going well, he has pictures and dialogue in his head and he’s writing at speed to try to describe them.

Kazan talked about going to the University of Michigan, where the guy who taught Arthur Miller was still teaching. The three-act structure was so drilled into him there, he hardly has to think about it now.

Theory – Rossio maintains that theory is only good as a diagnostic tool – useful once you have a draft and you’re trying to figure out how to fix it. He drives around and around for hours thinking about his scripts.

Notes on movies – the general consensus was that studios know when they’re making a huge mistake with a script note (like, a 100m dollar mistake). But they’re going to make it anyway!

Casting – “sometimes the casting fairy dust lands” – as with Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow and pretty much the whole cast in The Big Chill.

Terry Rossio then said something huge about exposition. This was the most useful thing I heard during the festival – and I heard a lot of useful advice. His advice was, “Take it out. You don’t need it”.  He went on to explain that in the course of each situation or scene, the information will naturally occur during the story. You want interest and mystery, not exposition. This was big for me because one of my big problems is getting bogged down with explaining stuff in scripts. The idea of taking it all out and tossing it is a huge relief!

Making a career  - this has become harder because all writers have is their work and writers don’t tend to be good schmoozers! Kazan advised newbie writers to align themselves with other industry professionals such as DOPs and directors, to build their network of contacts. You have two things to use as leverage – your talent and your discipline.

Developing characters – the best characters are “primal” in some way. For example, Rossio pointed out that Sherlock Holmes is “curiosity” personified.

I then headed off to a barbecue in the grounds of the French Legion. It was a balmy evening by then and there was a lot of free food and beer, so not much to complain about!  Afterwards everyone moved on to a festival happy hour. The great thing about a festival like this is that everyone is there to make contacts and meet other writers/producers/agents/whatever so you can just walk up to anyone and introduce yourself.

Friday ended at an ungodly hour – and we were only halfway through....

Saturday, October 29, 2011

How to do the Austin Film Festival – an essential guide

It’s October, so that means Austin Film Festival time. I missed last year’s festival – something about being sensible about money or some such nonsense – but when I say I missed it, I really meant emotionally. Where else but Austin can you rub shoulders with A-list writers, directors – oh, and the odd actor? So this year it was back to Texas, where a friend from the 2009 festival had kindly agreed to put me up.


The festival kicks off with a four-day conference comprising roundtables, panels and pitches, not to mention parties, with films sprinkled in between. I tend to arrive on the Wednesday night to avoid jet lag, and stay until the Monday night, cos Austin is a fun place and Monday’s the only time you get to spend exploring it. The rest of the time, you’re sitting in freezing air-conditioned rooms or drinking beer in hot bars, but all the while hearing war stories and screenwriting tips from the best in the business.

Day One

The first panel began at midday on Thursday 20th October with a conversation between Austin writer and playwright Pat Hazell and Alec Berg, writer as well as  director and executive producer on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

I have to hold my hands up and say that I’m much more interested in writing movies than TV. But this was a fascinating discussion – Berg said more about writing for TV in an hour than I suspect many TV-writing courses will teach you in a year.

He talked about writing comedy in college and how he teamed up with his future writing partner there. Working on Seinfeld was very different to the traditional writing rooms he’d experienced on other shows. Instead of writing with a room full of other writers, he would come up with some ideas, put them past Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, and write them up by himself. Another thing that was different was that the usual sitcom show morality was turned on its head. Bad things were always happening to the characters and the moral was not, “don’t do that again”, but “don’t get caught!”

On Curb Your Enthusiasm, there is no script. Instead, they have an 8-9 page outline and the whole thing is improvised based on this. Many of the ideas come from real life – Larry David makes note of situations that make him feel uncomfortable and uses them on the show! There is no “they” on the show – the writers and David are free to cover pretty much whatever they want.

Berg now writes with two other writers, and claims that this works because they never get bogged down with disagreements. There’s always a tie-breaker!

He also talked about the movies he’s done. He and his partner wrote Eurotrip as something inexpensive to produce that they could direct themselves. He described this experience as their “film school”. It was weird working with film characters who have to have an "arc" compared to TV characters, who have longer to develop. They’re now working with Sacha Baron Cohen on his new movie The Dictator, having worked with him before on Borat and Bruno. Berg described him as mad but brilliant  - no surprises there!

One good piece of advice he had about movies was to take notes on your script from execs - even crap notes - but to try to come up with a good take on them. Also, try to figure out what the exec or whoever is actually trying to say about your script - read between the lines.

Other things they covered during the conversation: working from home – impossible, as family members keeping saying “you’re obviously doing nothing!” when you’re sitting staring into space. The episode of Curb with the “gay kid” – “The casting director tasked with finding a camp eight-year-old called and said, ‘I’ve found the kid!’”

Alex Berg is a guy who's truly been there and done the work, and it was brilliant to hear his advice and stories.

I skipped the next panel to have lunch instead with editor Frank Reynolds (thanks to Frank for taking me to Huts Hamburgers, which is awesome!) and director Whit Stillman, who is a lovely man.

That night there was two great parties (the free booze was only starting), one of them hosted by Black List founder Franklin Leonard. I also caught the one and only movie I managed to catch during the festival, Martha Marcy May Marlene. Starring Olsen sister Elizabeth Olsen as a girl who’s escaped from a cult, this is a brilliant film featuring an impressive performance from Olsen and a even better one from John Hawkes, the star of last year’s Winter’s Bone.

Then it was on to Day Two, otherwise known as Friday....

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why we should all watch Die Hard....

I'm in a private film club that meets once a month in the lovely Denzille Lane Cinema. The administrator sends around an Excel sheet via Facebook and you choose whether or not to sign up to attend this month's screening. As the cinema only has about 30 seats,  it's a bit like sitting in someone's very fancy living room.

Anyway, the December screening just went around today, and it's nearly full already. The movie? DIE HARD. Well, it's set at Christmas!

I've already seen Die Hard dozens of times - and I can guarantee that most of the others going will seen it a lot more than that. Yet I'll still watch it on DVD or whenever it's on TV (about once a month!). And we're all going to show up on 2 December to watch it on the big screen. So what's Die Hard's big appeal?

To paraphrase Bill C, it's the script, stupid. Seriously, it's a kick-ass script. And what else would you expect from something co-written by the legendary Steven E. De Souza.

It has everything: a likeable hero with one big flaw (he loves being a cop too much to follow his wife to LA). A villain who is every bit as compelling as the hero (check out that great scene where Hans pretends to be a hostage and he and McClane talk Roy Rogers and guns).

Supporting characters that are interesting and compelling in their own right. There's Holly Gennaro McClane, who takes the fact that her company Christmas party has been hijacked in her capable stride. The traffic cop Powell who gets reluctantly involved in the situation and emerges as McClane's new friend (and gets over his gun phobia into the bargain). Gruber's crazed henchman Karl, who seems to be impossible to kill. And that's just a few - this is a movie packed with cool characters.

Instantly quotable dialogue - there's yippee ky yay but so many other great lines. I especially like the bit where Hans sees the architecture model for the Nakatomi Tower and quotes Alexander the Great. Or anything that comes out of the stupid police chief Dwayne T. Robinson's mouth (as brilliantly played by the late, great Paul Gleason).

Plus there's the great simplicity of the plot: put one good guy in an impossible situation, against better-trained, better-equipped opponents and let the games begin. This is the blueprint for how action movies should be made, but it's also a good example of how a story should be structured for any genre. If you can write a script - whether it's a comedy, a drama or a sci-fi, where you make people care about the characters and keep them compelled as much as this, then you've succeeded.

I can't wait to watch it again - this time on the big screen. Remember, watching Die Hard is fun but can also be classed as an education...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Review of Writing Movies for Fun and Profit

One of the things writers do to avoid actually writing scripts is read books about writing scripts. And I’m no exception. Sometimes I even learn something!

So I thought it would be fun to review the occasional screenwriting book, starting with this one: Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon.

These two guys have written nine features together, including Night at the Museum, Reno 911!, The Pacifier and Taxi. Their movies have, according to this book, made nearly 1.5 billion dollars at the box office. Now, if you read that, saw the list of movies and thought “This is exactly what’s wrong with Hollywood today”, then this book is not for you. If, on the other hand, you want to read all about writing Hollywood blockbusters from two guys who are actually out there doing it, then read on.

This is probably the thing I liked most about this book: it’s written by two working screenwriters who are writing and selling scripts right now. There are way too many books out there written by people who last sold a TV movie in 1993 – if they have any credits at all. Incidentally, Lennon is also an actor and if you watch his performance in 17 Again and don’t fall around laughing, you have no funny bone. The guy singlehandedly saved that film.

This book is divided into two sections, and it says a lot that the first section is Selling Your Movie, whereas the second half concerns Writing Your Movie. The selling part begins with the words “If you don’t sell it, it’s not a screenplay. It’s a stack of paper for the recycling bin”. Never were truer words said!

The three things you need to get started as a screenwriter are listed as follows:

1. A copy of Final Draft

2. An Agent or Manager

3. Discipline. The ability and desire to write loads. And loads.

You also need to live in L.A. They are very insistent about this and even provide useful information like the best places to park in or near studios and a list of In-N-Out Burger locations.

In the chapter “Why Isn’t Anyone Buying My Brilliant Screenplay?”, the two boys give their rules for writing screenplays that sell. And let’s face it, they’ve sold a few. So here they are:

  1. No one wants you to reinvent the wheel. For example, most people out there (I’d include myself in this) would not say on Saturday night “I know – let’s watch Eraserhead again!”

  2. 2. Most people go to the cinema not to be challenged, but to be entertained.

  3. You don’t become a better writer by thinking about it. You get better by writing.


Next up, pitching the movie! Make sure the premise is easy to describe in terms of other successful movies. AND – the main character must be the kind of flawed (but amazing) character a movie star will want to play. Also, dress well. Practice your pitch til it’s burned into your brain.

They go into a lot of interesting detail that somehow I’ve never seen in any other screenwriting book. What it means when you sell a movie. How much you can expect to make. Credits – and exactly what they mean. What face to put on when you’re receiving notes and experiencing extreme rage. How one single movie exec can screw up your entire deal, and things to avoid doing yourself to avoid sending your deal toilet-wards.

I laughed a lot reading this book, especially the examples of scripts they sprinkle throughout the book (“Turbulence”, a comedy set at the airport starring Kevin James as a downtrodden baggage handler and Cameron Diaz as an art historian). The brilliant but terrifying thing about these plots is that they could be real. They probably are!

You will absolutely hate this book if your favourite film is Eraserhead and you hate mainstream films. But even then, you’ll learn something about the process of pitching and selling movies. I think it’s well worth a read and I look forward to the sequel, “Writing Movies for Fun and Even More Profit!”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review - Writing Movies for Fun and Profit

One of the things writers do to avoid actually writing scripts is read books about writing scripts. And I'm no exception. Sometimes I even learn something!

So I thought it would be fun to review the occasional screenwriting book, starting with this one: Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon.

These two guys have written nine features together, including Night at the Museum, Reno 911!, The Pacifier and Taxi. Their movies have, according to this book, made nearly 1.5 billion dollars at the box office. Now, if you read that, saw the list of movies and thought "This is exactly what's wrong with Hollywood today", then this book is not for you. If, on the other hand, you want to read all about writing Hollywood blockbusters from two guys who are actually out there doing it, then read on.

This is probably the thing I liked most about this book: it's written by two working screenwriters who are writing and selling scripts right now. There are way too many books out there written by people who last sold a TV movie in 1993 - if they have any credits at all. Incidentally, Lennon is also an actor and if you watch his performance in 17 Again and don't fall around laughing, you have no funny bone. The guy singlehandedly saved that film.

This book is divided into two sections, and it says a lot that the first section is Selling Your Movie, whereas the second half concerns Writing Your Movie. The selling part begins with the words "If you don't sell it, it's not a screenplay. It's a stack of paper for the recycling bin". Never were truer words said!

The three things you need to get started as a screenwriter are listed as follows:

1. A copy of Final Draft
2. An Agent or Manager
3. Discipline. The ability and desire to write loads. And loads.

You also need to live in L.A. They are very insistent about this and even provide useful information like the best places to park in or near studios and a list of In-N-Out Burger locations.

In the chapter "Why Isn't Anyone Buying My Brilliant Screenplay?", the two boys give their rules for writing screenplays that sell. And let's face it, they've sold a few. So here they are:

1. No one wants you to reinvent the wheel. For example, most people out there (I'd include myself in this) would not say on Saturday night "I know - let's watch Eraserhead again!"
2. Most people go to the cinema not to be challenged, but to be entertained.
3. You don't become a better writer by thinking about it. You get better by writing.

Next up, pitching the movie! Make sure the premise is easy to describe in terms of other successful movies. AND - the main character must be the kind of flawed (but amazing) character a movie star will want to play. Also, dress well. Practice your pitch til it's burned into your brain.

They go into a lot of interesting detail that somehow I've never seen in any other screenwriting book. What it means when you sell a movie. How much you can expect to make. Credits - and exactly what they mean. What face to put on when you're receiving notes and experiencing extreme rage. How one single movie exec can screw up your entire deal, and things to avoid doing yourself to avoid sending your deal toilet-wards.

I laughed a lot reading this book, especially the examples of scripts they sprinkle throughout the book ("Turbulence", a comedy set at the airport starring Kevin James as a downtrodden baggage handler and Cameron Diaz as an art historian). The brilliant but terrifying thing about these plots is that they could be real. They probably are!

You will absolutely hate this book if your favourite film is Eraserhead and you hate mainstream films. But even then, you'll learn something about the process of pitching and selling movies. I think it's well worth a read and I look forward to the sequel, "Writing Movies for Fun and Even More Profit!"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Blog!

I've made the decision, after a couple of years and a lot of posts, to move to Wordpress. Their themes are prettier and I can host my own blog there which seems like a good plan.

The new address is http://dublintohollywood.com. I'll sort out a redirect as soon as possible but in the meantime, this will be my new home!

Thanks folks.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How to get your mini masterpiece made....

I have a short film called Tiger, about a tiger kidnapping and a battle of wits that develops between one of the kidnappers and one of the victims, a bank official's wife.

It's 10 pages long, is set in only one location, and has only five parts (three of which are speaking roles). I reckon it could be made in some style, with everyone getting paid at least a small amount, for five grand.

So what are my options for getting it made? Should I go down the DIY route or hold out for a proper budget? Since I can't be the only writer with a half-decent short script, here are some options for getting your short onto the big screen.

1. Make things easy on yourself by starting with a low-budget script. A 15 minute script with 10 locations is going to be a nightmare to shoot. Try not to have any more than 5-6 speaking roles and avoid anything that requires special effects or too many expensive props.
2. Enter competitions and apply for funding schemes. The main ones in Ireland are the Filmbase Awards and the Film Board's Short Scripts scheme. Competition is fierce, and you may need to have a director or producer lined up if you're approved - but this is definitely one of the better options.
3. Send it direct to production companies and hope that one of them will get behind your script and want to make it. I'm going to try this with Tiger, targeting production companies that have made similar shorts and have a good track record. I'll report back on how this goes!
4. Make it yourself. This could potentially be the most rewarding option, but it's by far the hardest. If you can't crowd-fund the movie or raise money via investors, you could find your credit card getting bent WAY out of shape. I wouldn't advise going down this route unless you have exhausted all other options - and even then, you will need a talented team to keep you on track.

Anyone have any other ideas on getting a short film from page to screen?

Monday, September 26, 2011

The cure for a movie pitch with too much set-up....

First, a clarification. I said a few days ago that you could apply for an I-539 visa extension if you're in the States on a 90-day tourist visitor visa. My helpful visa lawyer has clarified that this is not the case - actually you can't extend the 90-day Visa Waiver Program (otherwise known as the VWP).

The I-539 allows people who are on a B-2 Visitor's Visa (like, a business visa) to extend their stay but, unfortunately, people on the VWP are unable to do the same. And this would be a bad thing to get wrong - you could end up being unable to get back into the States because you've outstayed your visa.

Here is some information on the VWP: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1990.html

My bad, folks! It did sound a bit too good to be true....

On another note, I was talking recently to another writer about pitching. We both had a script idea that's difficult to pitch because the story requires a lot of set-up before you can get to the good stuff. There is just too much stuff to explain before the hero can get cracking on his/her journey. Anyway, between the two of us (although Jason, I think it was your big lightbulb moment!), we cracked the solution.

You start the pitch by describing the climax of your movie. So for example, Minority Report, which requires a lot of set-up before the plot really gets going, would begin with Tom Cruise already on the run, a cop convicted of a crime he has yet to commit.

Double Jeopardy would begin with Ashley Judd escaping jail and vowing to kill her husband - whose murder she is already serving a life sentence for.

Or to use a horrendous example, Snakes on a Plane (which took forever to deliver the snakes, let alone get them on an aircraft) would start its pitch with Sam Jackson already battling the snakes on the plane.

Basically, put your hero in a really tight spot - and THEN describe how he came to be there. The audience will be hooked by your opening situation, and then follow your hero on the rest of his journey.

I hope this helps other writers struggling with the dreaded set-up - it's certainly taken the fear out of it for me!

The cure for a movie pitch with too much set-up....

First, a clarification. I said a few days ago that you could apply for an I-539 visa extension if you're in the States on a 90-day tourist visitor visa. My helpful visa lawyer has clarified that this is not the case - actually you can't extend the 90-day Visa Waiver Program (otherwise known as the VWP).

The I-539 allows people who are on a B-2 Visitor's Visa (like, a business visa) to extend their stay but, unfortunately, people on the VWP are unable to do the same. And this would be a bad thing to get wrong - you could end up being unable to get back into the States because you've outstayed your visa.

Here is some information on the VWP: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1990.html

My bad, folks! It did sound a bit too good to be true....

On another note, I was talking recently to another writer about pitching. We both had a script idea that's difficult to pitch because the story requires a lot of set-up before you can get to the good stuff. There is just too much stuff to explain before the hero can get cracking on his/her journey. Anyway, between the two of us (although Jason, I think it was your big lightbulb moment!), we cracked the solution.

You start the pitch by describing the climax of your movie. So for example, Minority Report, which requires a lot of set-up before the plot really gets going, would begin with Tom Cruise already on the run, a cop convicted of a crime he has yet to commit.

Double Jeopardy would begin with Ashley Judd escaping jail and vowing to kill her husband - whose murder she is already serving a life sentence for.

Or to use a horrendous example, Snakes on a Plane (which took forever to deliver the snakes, let alone get them on an aircraft) would start its pitch with Sam Jackson already battling the snakes on the plane.

Basically, put your hero in a really tight spot - and THEN describe how he came to be there. The audience will be hooked by your opening situation, and then follow your hero on the rest of his journey.

I hope this helps other writers struggling with the dreaded set-up - it's certainly taken the fear out of it for me!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

IFTN publishes my report on Moondance....

The link to the full Moondance report is here. Thanks to IFTN for publishing the story!

Also, my helpful Texas contact has provided some other useful information for anyone moving to the States - this time on phones!

Phone

Obviously I will need a mobile phone (other known as a cell-phone or cellular). I'll also need a way to keep the phone number if I have to leave the States and go home for a while, and I need a way for people in the States to call my American phone number and get some kind of voicemail in the meantime.

This can go disastrously wrong. I have a friend who screwed up setting up his voicemail service but didn't realise this and thought no one was calling him. He ended up losing three months worth of calls from American contacts -including about 30 from a scary Hollywood agent, whose ignored voicemails got more and more furious...

First of all, mobile phone numbers and landline phone numbers in the States are the same. In other words, mobile phones don't have a special prefix like they do in Ireland and at least some other European countries.

When you buy a U.S. mobile phone it is assigned an area code which is based on where the phone was sold. For example, the area code in Austin is 512. If I buy a phone in LA, I'll get a LA-based area code.

The number that is attached to the phone will then belong to me. I'll be able to transfer it to other phones or voicemail services, providing that the number is still current and the bill is paid. (So in this instance, you wouldn't cancel your mobile phone and then move the number, you'd move the number, and then cancel the service.)

There are several big mobile phone companies in the States and lots of little ones. The big ones all operate on a contract basis - but I'll be getting a prepaid service. I'll probably buy a phone from them as my Irish mobile is an ancient relic and I'll then pay in advance month by month for phone service. I'll then have my own LA phone which I can take with me.

Here's the best part - using Google Voice. See here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Voice

If I need to go home to Ireland, I can transfer my LA number to Google Voice. When people call my LA number, it will go to a web-based voicemail, and I'll get a email or text that there is a voicemail waiting for me.

I hope this helps anyone else who's hoping to do a similar move.

As always, if anyone has any further info or other suggestions, I'll be glad to accept them. Thanks!

IFTN publishes my report on Moondance....

The link to the full Moondance report is here. Thanks to IFTN for publishing the story!

Also, my helpful Texas contact has provided some other useful information for anyone moving to the States - this time on phones!

Phone

Obviously I will need a mobile phone (other known as a cell-phone or cellular). I'll also need a way to keep the phone number if I have to leave the States and go home for a while, and I need a way for people in the States to call my American phone number and get some kind of voicemail in the meantime.

This can go disastrously wrong. I have a friend who screwed up setting up his voicemail service but didn't realise this and thought no one was calling him. He ended up losing three months worth of calls from American contacts -including about 30 from a scary Hollywood agent, whose ignored voicemails got more and more furious...

First of all, mobile phone numbers and landline phone numbers in the States are the same. In other words, mobile phones don't have a special prefix like they do in Ireland and at least some other European countries.

When you buy a U.S. mobile phone it is assigned an area code which is based on where the phone was sold. For example, the area code in Austin is 512. If I buy a phone in LA, I'll get a LA-based area code.

The number that is attached to the phone will then belong to me. I'll be able to transfer it to other phones or voicemail services, providing that the number is still current and the bill is paid. (So in this instance, you wouldn't cancel your mobile phone and then move the number, you'd move the number, and then cancel the service.)

There are several big mobile phone companies in the States and lots of little ones. The big ones all operate on a contract basis - but I'll be getting a prepaid service. I'll probably buy a phone from them as my Irish mobile is an ancient relic and I'll then pay in advance month by month for phone service. I'll then have my own LA phone which I can take with me.

Here's the best part - using Google Voice. See here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Voice

If I need to go home to Ireland, I can transfer my LA number to Google Voice. When people call my LA number, it will go to a web-based voicemail, and I'll get a email or text that there is a voicemail waiting for me.

I hope this helps anyone else who's hoping to do a similar move.

As always, if anyone has any further info or other suggestions, I'll be glad to accept them. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My first award! And an updated how-to guide on moving to the U.S....


Back from Boulder and apart from the ongoing jet lag, I have only positive things to say about it. I had a great time and the time and money spent getting there was well worth it. I've written a full report on the trip for the Irish Film and Television Network so I won't go into huge detail here.

I do have to say that Boulder is a really friendly place. Everyone I met made me feel so welcome and the festival participants were a fantastic bunch.

I want to particularly thank Moondance festival director Elizabeth English for putting on such a great festival. And obviously for giving me a cool award!

I'll post a link to the IFTN page as soon as they publish the story.

Also, a helpful friend from Texas has filled in some of the blanks from my previous post on moving to the States. Here is a bit more info on each of the essentials:

Car Insurance

Apparently you can definitely get car insurance with a foreign driver's license, from a crowd called "Progressive Insurance". Their toll-free number in the States is 1 800 7764737 and more information can be found here:http://www.progressive.com/progressive-insurance/progressive-overview.aspx

Housing

I was talking to several Angelenos past and present over the weekend and they suggested the following Los Angeles areas: Silver Lake and West L.A. I will check both of these out.
No matter where I decide to live, I'll probably need one of these:
http://www.theupsstore.com/products/pages/maiandpos.aspx

This is basically a "fake" but totally legitimate address. The address will appear to be something like this:

Eilis Mernagh
2525 Wilshire Blvd.
Suite 1576
Venice Beach, California

2525 Wilshire Blvd in this case would be the street address of a store and 1576 would be the number of a little rented mailbox. This is great because the store will accept packages from UPS, FedEX, etc, they will forward your mail anywhere, and text you when your packages have arrived. It's also an image thing: you can be living in your car or in some dodgy apartment somewhere, but your official address is Wilshire Blvd. And even if you move from one crappy apartment to another, your address won't change!

I'm advised that the US post office has a similar service involving a P.O. Box, but they won't accept packages from non-U.S. postal service package delivery companies which is a bit of a nightmare. The address in this case would look like this:

Eilis Mernagh
P.O. Box 541006
Venice Beach, California

Visa

On the visa dilemma, I've had opinions from several U.S.-based friends at this stage and I'm taking their advice. Which is basically: unless you can get an agent before January and unless that agent can line up some work for you, get the tourist visa. I have to agree - paying six grand for a visa when I have neither job nor agent would be insane.

Even better, I'm told that you can extend the duration of your 3-month tourist visa while you are in the States (as opposed to renewing your visa, which means leaving the country). All you need is a good reason, such as attending a film festival. To do this, use form I-539.

See here:

http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.5af9bb95919f35e66f614176543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=94d12c1a6855d010VgnVCM10000048f3d6a1RCRD
http://www.uscis.gov/USCIS/Resources/C1en.pdf
http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/m-752.pdf

Miscellaneous

Lastly, and this seems like a no-brainer to me (yet I had to be told!), make sure to use the U.S. version of Google as opposed to the Irish one when you are doing searches. This will bring up results more suited to living in the States.

My first award! And an updated how-to guide on moving to the U.S....


Back from Boulder and apart from the ongoing jet lag, I have only positive things to say about it. I had a great time and the time and money spent getting there was well worth it. I've written a full report on the trip for the Irish Film and Television Network so I won't go into huge detail here.

I do have to say that Boulder is a really friendly place. Everyone I met made me feel so welcome and the festival participants were a fantastic bunch.

I want to particularly thank Moondance festival director Elizabeth English for putting on such a great festival. And obviously for giving me a cool award!

I'll post a link to the IFTN page as soon as they publish the story.

Also, a helpful friend from Texas has filled in some of the blanks from my previous post on moving to the States. Here is a bit more info on each of the essentials:

Car Insurance

Apparently you can definitely get car insurance with a foreign driver's license, from a crowd called "Progressive Insurance". Their toll-free number in the States is 1 800 7764737 and more information can be found here:http://www.progressive.com/progressive-insurance/progressive-overview.aspx

Housing

I was talking to several Angelenos past and present over the weekend and they suggested the following Los Angeles areas: Silver Lake and West L.A. I will check both of these out.
No matter where I decide to live, I'll probably need one of these:
http://www.theupsstore.com/products/pages/maiandpos.aspx

This is basically a "fake" but totally legitimate address. The address will appear to be something like this:

Eilis Mernagh
2525 Wilshire Blvd.
Suite 1576
Venice Beach, California

2525 Wilshire Blvd in this case would be the street address of a store and 1576 would be the number of a little rented mailbox. This is great because the store will accept packages from UPS, FedEX, etc, they will forward your mail anywhere, and text you when your packages have arrived. It's also an image thing: you can be living in your car or in some dodgy apartment somewhere, but your official address is Wilshire Blvd. And even if you move from one crappy apartment to another, your address won't change!

I'm advised that the US post office has a similar service involving a P.O. Box, but they won't accept packages from non-U.S. postal service package delivery companies which is a bit of a nightmare. The address in this case would look like this:

Eilis Mernagh
P.O. Box 541006
Venice Beach, California

Visa

On the visa dilemma, I've had opinions from several U.S.-based friends at this stage and I'm taking their advice. Which is basically: unless you can get an agent before January and unless that agent can line up some work for you, get the tourist visa. I have to agree - paying six grand for a visa when I have neither job nor agent would be insane.

Even better, I'm told that you can extend the duration of your 3-month tourist visa while you are in the States (as opposed to renewing your visa, which means leaving the country). All you need is a good reason, such as attending a film festival. To do this, use form I-539.

See here:

http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.5af9bb95919f35e66f614176543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=94d12c1a6855d010VgnVCM10000048f3d6a1RCRD
http://www.uscis.gov/USCIS/Resources/C1en.pdf
http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/m-752.pdf

Miscellaneous

Lastly, and this seems like a no-brainer to me (yet I had to be told!), make sure to use the U.S. version of Google as opposed to the Irish one when you are doing searches. This will bring up results more suited to living in the States.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How to move to the U.S. to sell scripts in 100 easy steps...

Seeing as my move to the U.S. is now only four and a half months away, I thought I'd give an update on how this was going.

One promise I'm going to make is that if I ever succeed in moving to the States and finding work as a screenwriter (when I succeed?), I'm going to write a how-to book for all the other non-U.S. writers who like me, want to move over but have no idea where to start. Because there is no book like that. I know, I've searched Amazon. And some solid advice would be really welcome right now.

Here is what I've gleaned so far:

Visa
The motherload in terms of moving to the States. No visa, no In-N-Out burger. I did a consultation with visa lawyer and she has concluded that I am eligible for a fancy O1 artists visa, especially with my Moondance win. However - you can ONLY work as a writer. No day job to make ends meet and if you run out of money, tough buns. It's back to Ireland on the first flight you can afford to stick on your soon to be maxed-out credit card.

Also, you must have a manager/agent in place. While they're not going to be your "employer" per se, they act as a facilitator between you and the actual employer (i.e. the film company that will be hiring and paying you.) So if you can't get an agent, you can't get an O1 visa. (That said, I'm going to Moondance AND Austin this year so you never know!)

Oh and there's the lawyer's fees - $6,000 for the case. There's also a government filing fee of $325 and a union letter fee that ranges from $200-350. Gulp.

However, there is a Plan B, in the form of the humble three-month tourist visa. My back-up plan is to head over on one of these at the end of January, spend three months networking like a mother and hopefully end up with some decent contacts/offers of work/representation at the end of it. Being on the ground as opposed to 5,000 miles away might be what does the trick.

Money
As in, money to live on while I'm on a tourist visa and unable to work a day job. I'm aiming to save 10 grand and this is going okay - although going to Boulder and Austin has taken a bite out of this fund. I'm justifying it by claiming that the contacts and potential leads outweigh the costs - only time will tell.

I have, however, sold a lot of extraneous possessions and am now down to things like college books (if you know anyone studying English, Philosophy or History of Art, let me know) and an inflatable exercise ball (ditto). Of course, I still have a lot of crap - it's just crap I'm not willing/able to get rid of yet.

One thing we haven't managed to shift as yet is our house. It's lovely, it's just not for me or my sister anymore. Again, that needs to go before I do...

Health Insurance
You can extend VHI by paying through the nose for an overseas premium. U.S. insurance might be cheaper, but you can't avail of it without a proper visa.

Cars
I'd love to buy a beater to get around L.A. but I'm still not clear, despite extensive research, about whether you can get insurance if you haven't got a long-term visa. Any U.S.-based people know anything about this? You'll also need to apply for an international driving licence - see here.

Housing
I've only started to enter the maze that seems to be choosing a neighborhood in L.A. to live in. However, many of the Irish and U.K. ex-pats seem to live around Venice Beach, simply because the temperatures there don't reach the sizzling heights that they do in West Hollywood. And I am Irish, after all. Any thoughts on this will be gratefully accepted!

I'll continue to update on the moving saga as it gets nearer to D Day - meanwhile, I'm off to pack for Boulder....

How to move to the U.S. to sell scripts in 100 easy steps...

Seeing as my move to the U.S. is now only four and a half months away, I thought I'd give an update on how this was going.

One promise I'm going to make is that if I ever succeed in moving to the States and finding work as a screenwriter (when I succeed?), I'm going to write a how-to book for all the other non-U.S. writers who like me, want to move over but have no idea where to start. Because there is no book like that. I know, I've searched Amazon. And some solid advice would be really welcome right now.

Here is what I've gleaned so far:

Visa
The motherload in terms of moving to the States. No visa, no In-N-Out burger. I did a consultation with visa lawyer and she has concluded that I am eligible for a fancy O1 artists visa, especially with my Moondance win. However - you can ONLY work as a writer. No day job to make ends meet and if you run out of money, tough buns. It's back to Ireland on the first flight you can afford to stick on your soon to be maxed-out credit card.

Also, you must have a manager/agent in place. While they're not going to be your "employer" per se, they act as a facilitator between you and the actual employer (i.e. the film company that will be hiring and paying you.) So if you can't get an agent, you can't get an O1 visa. (That said, I'm going to Moondance AND Austin this year so you never know!)

Oh and there's the lawyer's fees - $6,000 for the case. There's also a government filing fee of $325 and a union letter fee that ranges from $200-350. Gulp.

However, there is a Plan B, in the form of the humble three-month tourist visa. My back-up plan is to head over on one of these at the end of January, spend three months networking like a mother and hopefully end up with some decent contacts/offers of work/representation at the end of it. Being on the ground as opposed to 5,000 miles away might be what does the trick.

Money
As in, money to live on while I'm on a tourist visa and unable to work a day job. I'm aiming to save 10 grand and this is going okay - although going to Boulder and Austin has taken a bite out of this fund. I'm justifying it by claiming that the contacts and potential leads outweigh the costs - only time will tell.

I have, however, sold a lot of extraneous possessions and am now down to things like college books (if you know anyone studying English, Philosophy or History of Art, let me know) and an inflatable exercise ball (ditto). Of course, I still have a lot of crap - it's just crap I'm not willing/able to get rid of yet.

One thing we haven't managed to shift as yet is our house. It's lovely, it's just not for me or my sister anymore. Again, that needs to go before I do...

Health Insurance
You can extend VHI by paying through the nose for an overseas premium. U.S. insurance might be cheaper, but you can't avail of it without a proper visa.

Cars
I'd love to buy a beater to get around L.A. but I'm still not clear, despite extensive research, about whether you can get insurance if you haven't got a long-term visa. Any U.S.-based people know anything about this? You'll also need to apply for an international driving licence - see here.

Housing
I've only started to enter the maze that seems to be choosing a neighborhood in L.A. to live in. However, many of the Irish and U.K. ex-pats seem to live around Venice Beach, simply because the temperatures there don't reach the sizzling heights that they do in West Hollywood. And I am Irish, after all. Any thoughts on this will be gratefully accepted!

I'll continue to update on the moving saga as it gets nearer to D Day - meanwhile, I'm off to pack for Boulder....

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Adding a new lead character to an existing script - madness?

I'm currently doing a rewrite of a childrens' movie after reading a load of feedback on the existing draft (both professional notes and the thoughts of my writing group). This is one of those early scripts that never had an outline done for it - and I'm paying the price for this now. Always outline!

The current draft has an Act 2 that sags lower than Jabba the Hut's undercarriage and more prose description than the average novel. Its greatest strength - a novelist villain and his horrible creations, don't show up until about fifty pages in. But these are not its biggest problems.

I was driving home from work the other day when it hit me what was really wrong with it. This was a kids movie with very few kids in it. What children there are play only minor roles in the story and don't get to do much about from scared by the villain. I can't actually think of any kids movies where little 'uns were that absent, apart from maybe Gremlins (but even it has Corey Feldman and is arguably not aimed entirely at kids).

So I'm giving one of the main characters an 11-year-old half brother. Whether this will fix things, I don't know, but it will certainly force me to start thinking like a kid! It will give kids watching someone to relate to. And it will force me to do a drastic rewrite of the script, which it badly needs.

Has anyone else tried inserting a (main-ish) character after the script is written? Am I insane to do this? Thoughts on a postcard...

In other news, I've booked my flights to Boulder and will be mainly eating beans on toast between now and Christmas. But it'll be worth it to get some rays (I hope). Boulder is apparently over 20 degrees at the moment....

Adding a new lead character to an existing script - madness?

I'm currently doing a rewrite of a childrens' movie after reading a load of feedback on the existing draft (both professional notes and the thoughts of my writing group). This is one of those early scripts that never had an outline done for it - and I'm paying the price for this now. Always outline!

The current draft has an Act 2 that sags lower than Jabba the Hut's undercarriage and more prose description than the average novel. Its greatest strength - a novelist villain and his horrible creations, don't show up until about fifty pages in. But these are not its biggest problems.

I was driving home from work the other day when it hit me what was really wrong with it. This was a kids movie with very few kids in it. What children there are play only minor roles in the story and don't get to do much about from scared by the villain. I can't actually think of any kids movies where little 'uns were that absent, apart from maybe Gremlins (but even it has Corey Feldman and is arguably not aimed entirely at kids).

So I'm giving one of the main characters an 11-year-old half brother. Whether this will fix things, I don't know, but it will certainly force me to start thinking like a kid! It will give kids watching someone to relate to. And it will force me to do a drastic rewrite of the script, which it badly needs.

Has anyone else tried inserting a (main-ish) character after the script is written? Am I insane to do this? Thoughts on a postcard...

In other news, I've booked my flights to Boulder and will be mainly eating beans on toast between now and Christmas. But it'll be worth it to get some rays (I hope). Boulder is apparently over 20 degrees at the moment....