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).