Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Belated report on an awesome day

I have lost all sense of time. I think the workshop was last week... no wait... the week before. Nevermind, it was awesome. The NZWG put this workshop together (many thanks Steven, Sean and Benedict!). And here's how it went...

First up was Linda Niccol, co-writer for "Second Hand Wedding". If you've never seen it, you should. It's adorable. Linda gave us some gems for writing for low budget. I was pretty engrosed in what she was saying at the time, so didn't make many notes. But a few tips stood out to me...

1) It's easier to get investors to come on board if there's nothing too controversial in the story, and no sex, no drugs, no swearing. (Shit. I love swearing.) No big sets, no special set dressing, no special effects, limited characters and limited extras.

2) Write to location. It's easier to write scenes for low budget if you have a particular, feasible location in mind.

3) Make the story character based. Make memorable characters. Add drama and conflict, with backstories, and lots of layering for the characters.

4) A good logline, synopsis and treatment are escential for marketing and getting financing. Be creative with your marketing. Put yourself and the project out there. Note: Linda took an add out (she's in advertising) and that's how they got an investor. haha!! Cool.

Linda was charming and funny, and a pleasure to listen to. She answered questions with an openess and honesty that was much appreciated.

Next up was Steven, our fearless leader of the NZWG talking about contracts and dispute resolution. He made this potentially dry section of the day full of laughs and valuable info, that even the most un-business-minded writer would have to stop and take notice. Steven mentioned a few things that I'd never even heard of, like "moral rights" of the writer. Which apparently, is one of the first things you have to give up, but hey, good to know what it is you're giving up. Basically what I got from the contracts section was IF I ever get to that point, I should send my contract to Steven for him to check before signing anything. Awesome.

Then came the conflict resolution tips. And I liked them so much, as I think they are good rules for life, I wrote them down, and will include them all. (the stuff in parenthasis are my little additions. I couldn't help myself.)

1) Be calm and assertive. (a powerfully rare combo.)
2) Have all the facts at hand, in writing. Keep coorespondance and timelines. Be organized. Ducks in a row.
3) Secure an agreement that there is a problem to be resolved. (God, how horrible it would be to be the one in angst, and no one cares!)
4) Work towards a resolution (not just looking for an ear to moan to)
5) Never underestimate the power of shutting up. (I bloody love this point! Must try to take this one on board more.)
6) Know what you want. Know what matters the most short term and long term. (seems obvious, and yet...)
7) Know what comprimises you're willing to make. (ah, yes... comprimises. Everyone's got to give a little bit.)
8) Seek mediation sooner than later. (don't let things fester. It will get infected, and then you'll just need a bigger needle.)
9) Approach the mediations proffessionally. (don't be a drama queen, or a pathetic bitter person)
10) Set a time frame to meet. Be realistic and fair to both parties. (Don't make the date on your mortal enemies wedding day.)
11) Agree to disagree on stuff. And then LET IT GO. (No one likes a vengeful, bitter whiner. And it's not good for your insides. Live and learn.)
12) The solution must be acceptable to both parties. (fighting is a two way street. Know that the situation didn't blossom into this mess without some help from you.)

Then we chowed down on pizza (thanks Steven) while chatting with enthusiasm. There was lots of great energy in the room at this point. I was feeling buzzy myself.

Next up was Graeme Tetley. After hearing this man talk, and enjoying his energy, I have become a most enthusiastic fan. I am late to this party, joining his many long standing fans. He has had 7 films made, and more are under his bed. I wrote very litte in my notebook while Graeme was talking. I was too engrossed. But I did scrawl a few things quickly...

Often the contradictions that you find in research are as interesting as the commonalities. (Here he was talking of the interviews and accounts that he gathered when researching for "Out of the Blue". I thought this idea was facinating.)

Graeme likes using music in scripts. (I'd never really thought of that.)

And when being asked to do some revision which you think is a load of shite, the best thing do to is "smile and nod". Awesome.

Graeme had much more to say, stories were told, and advise was given. But I was caught up in the moment, and as I have such a poor memory, this is all I can recount.

Our last session was on pitching, with Jane Wrightson (a big cheese at NZ On Air) and Paul Swadel (a new big cheese at the FIlm Commission). You could feel the power emulating...

I took the most notes here, not because it was any less interesting. But there was a lot of practical advice and lists given that were easy to write down. Valuable as.

Paul gave me my latest moto... "RTFO" which is Refuse to fuck off. I like it.

Paul gave these pointers on pitching...

1) Know who you're pitching to
2) Why are you there? (not sure how you wouldn't know this... to get your film made, no?)
3) Give the person you're pitching to the tools to take the pitch to the next level (their boss)
4) Say your name and the name of your project often.
5) Slow down and punctuate.
6) Take notes.
7) Pleasentries are important. (I tried that once, and mentioned how much I enjoyed his previous movie to a producer, but turned out he hated it! oops.)
8) Show your credentials, don't undersell yourself, but stay humble. (ah... credentials...if only I had some to show.)
9) Tell the story. Say the genre, the hook, the main characters, what happens, the conflicts and what's at stake.
10) Good to get them asking questions. Get them engaged.
11) Get a commitment for when they'll read/call.

A few other pointers that came up in the discussion...

Structure of the script is important (ha! I say.)

Know why is your idea different. Know what the idea is. What your story is about. (you know, I thought I knew... and then when I tried to tell someone, I floundered. I think this is a really important point. try to tell someone, anyone, a random person on the street is ok, what your story is about. See how you do. In fact, several books I've read on screenwriting, and selling it, tell you do to this. I see why. It will show a multitude of sins.)

Don't bash other projects. (doh!)

Write what you love, and let that love and enthusiasm come across in the pitch. (not just your shaking hands and bundle of nerves. Focus on the story, and not the importance of your presentation of the story. I tell myself...)

Know the audience for the film your writing. (I can't believe how often this question has been asked of me. I always think... it's it obvious?! But I guess they want to hear it from you...)

Loglines are crucial. Make sure the logline matches the script. This will tell if you really know what your story is about.

A synopsis should say who, what they want, and how do they get it in 4 paragraphs.
1) 1st act.
2) 2nd act, beginning
3) 2nd act, end
4) the end

(which I hate to admitt this, but it goes to prove Malcolm's theory that the 3 act structure is in fact, a 4 act structure. OK, Malcolm, but it's still a structure!!)

12 points to tentpole moments. (OK, I don't really know what this means, but I wrote it down, so it must have seemed important. Can anyone shed some light please?)

It's important to appear proffessional, and confident that you can pull off the idea.

The Film Commission looks for writers notes which are 2-6 pages of the writer talking about where the story comes from, and what was the passion for telling this story. It should be written by the writer, and can include notes from feedback sessions, etc. (I think this is brilliant!! You get to straight talk all the morality and preachiness that you so pain stakingly had to leave out of the script, and just infer and hope that someone got it. You get to talk of the reason that you wanted to write this script, and what gave you the idea. I never thought anyone would actually give a crap about this. It never seems to come up, ever. And I always wonder why. I love to hear this stuff. What the motivation was for the script in the first place. And low and behold... the Film Commission wants to hear your inner workings. Awesome!!)

Some things that the writer's notes could include are:

1) character and structure
2) Script assessment and what the writer will do about it.
3) the forward plan
4) outline the problems with the script, and if there's any ideas on how to fix these problems (I don't know about this one... both Jane and Paul were quite enthusiastic about this point. But I think why would a writer submit something that they thought still had problems. Wouldn't you want to re-write and try to work all that out before you shot one of your silver arrows?)

More tips included:

- It's good to know what the budget is for the film. Perhaps in a cover letter from the producer.

- Make the inciting incident happen early.

- Make sure your protagonist is active an on a journey. No passive protags.

- Go to events held for producers or directors, like Spada confrences. You'll be the only writer there. (the trick is to be able to talk to them and not stand in the corner as some writers tend to do...)

Some advice for low budget (under $200K)
- no night shoots (I hadn't thought of that one)
- limited chars
- no special effects
- 1-2 locations. (wow, that's sparce!)

Then there was some chat about why the Film Commission needs a producer attached to a project before they'll look at it, and it all kind of went a bit strange and then quiet. My guess is so that they can weed out the crap scripts, as a producer won't want to support one of those either. Otherwise, think of all the drivel that they'd have to read... Unpopular to say, but I can't say that I blame them really. Doh!

And that was the day. It was great. I was buzzing from the energy of it all. A few of us went for a drink after, and buzzed some more. I was inspired. I am thinking of tackling a NZ story next. I say thinking and tackling, because I'm Canadian. I feel cheeky writing a NZ story. But I am thinking of writing about a Canadian living in NZ. A low budget film. Seems to be the call of the day.