Monday, June 13, 2011

What are YOU waiting for?

What are YOU waiting for?

Self-confessed fast-talker Natasha Pincus (or Tash for short, as there's no time to waste) spoke about speeding through the process of screenwriting.

Her experience in a UCLA intense screenwriting course demanded two feature scripts in thirty weeks. Her time there gave her first hand experience of the American work ethic.

Tash tells us in order to keep up with world's best practice, we must live and breathe screenwriting. A week locked away in a room is the very least we must do to write the first draft, and most likely a bad one at that.

Before settling down to write, you must be able to answer "what is the film about?" Not the plot or what happens, but "what does it mean to you? Why does the world care about this script?" You need to know "this is what I think and this film is the metaphor for hiding that message."

Enlightening is Tash's stance that we must begin. No matter what short documents we have compiled to line our cave-like world, we must retreat to it to write the first draft. This is where the birth of the script happens. For unless there is a first draft how can the REWRITES begin? It's for the rewrites that we tap back into the catharsis that got us there, and line by line the craft is honed. All of that writing chips away at the minimum 10,000 hours we need to clock-up to reach even mediocre screenwriter status.

So it's lots of work then. Unless committed fulltime to the task of writing, how does one fit this around a busy work or family life, holidays, hobbies, fitness, domestic duties, maintaining friendships. I know you know it, the list of life's demands goes on right?

Let me bring you to my reality for a moment. It's a sleep-in to be woken up at 6.30am by two bouncing juniors, especially if I've been up half the night already with their feverish temperatures, bedwetting or soothing fears about the creatures that go bump in the night. Factor in school drop-offs and pick-ups, ballet, swimming, volunteer positions at the school and kindergarten, and all the boring stuff that keeps the household stable, there's not even a 40 hour week left to fit in a producing job let alone writing features as well. And I'm no stranger to the kind of hard work that Tash refers to, once working a 60 hour week in a production house coupled with about another 40 hours a week on a hobby (building houses in my spare time). Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about being a mum or being busy. Maybe they are excuses for procrastinating over a blank page. So it's the challenge of finding 7 uninterrupted days of writing that makes me A) glad I'm a producer and B) hopeful of meeting lots of workaholic writers like Tash!

To date, aside from establishing herself as a Director, especially creating music videos, Tash has 12 feature scripts and a TV series under her belt. She's just getting started. And she won't stop for anyone. She'll have an idea...a genre...research market forces...and write it before anyone else does. She is herself and it's her take on the idea which can't be copied. If someone else writes it first, who cares - she's got another idea and it's going to be even better than the last because her writing got better with every hour she spent on that big print and dialogue.

Tash revealed the reality that very few are talented enough to take the auteur route. She believes that writers should be writers and directors should be directors. You don't find too many "surgeons who are also practicing lawyers," Tash says (although with medical malpractice litigation these days, maybe they should consider it).

She also believes writers need to be more accomplished market researchers. You need to feel the zeitgeist and know what scripts are out there. "Follow Creative Screenwriting publication obsessively and be a writing nut. As an artist, feel it. As a businessperson, make it," challenges Tash.

Collaboration is best at the genesis stage. But even if only sharing at first draft stage, sharing is crucial to success. Share the script with other artists to learn where the communication is flawed, what isn't cinematic and whether the film will work.

There is a sense of urgency is Tash's fast-talking. She thinks Australians spend too long making short films. The time is better spent making one feature (even if it's bad) than making dozens of shorts (even if the last one's brilliant). In the U.S, Tash explains, at university level filmmakers create features, not shorts. Her advice: "Practice the sport you're designing to play at."

After a quick drink break, the group moved into the most important session yet...our first ever idea sharing exercise. Four brave aspiring writers including me stood before the group to share the results of our first goal worksheet - 1 premise, 5 themes, 5 loglines. I can't share the ideas with you in this blog but what I can share is my pride in our members for facing this challenge to share and applaud those, including guests Tash and Warwick Field, for providing insightful comments and raising issues about each concept around genre, structure, characters, plot and the market.

Excitement brews as Line by Line proves it's worth as a safe place for collaboration. Explore, prod, reject, query. Dig deep into the soul of your idea. Better to hear the responses now than to spend a life in solitary confinement slaving away at an idea only you believe in.

So to follow Tash's advice in summary...write hard, then even harder and clock up those 10,000 hours. Share your work with other artists...DOPs, editors, directors and producers to name a few, as well as non-filmmakers, your cousin, workmate, neighbour. Learn to trust when it's time to let go of that piece of writing and get on with another.

And the advice I liked best:
It's all well and good incubating an idea. Sure, sit on it for ten years and watch other writers, filmmakers, the market place, pass you by.

Feature films wait for no man...what are YOU waiting for?


Fiona Leally
Buy Me a Pony

Thursday, June 2, 2011

That dreaded 'F' word

And thus it began…

I will always remember the first Line by Line gathering as a feeling. A room of 30 people excited about the prospect of writing. That feeling was infectious, contagious: people could see what was possible for them.

This nervous inspiration was furiously stoked by our first guest speaker, Maggie Miles, producer of Van Dieman’s Land and currently co-producing a feature with Robert Connolly. We had little idea what she was going to talk about, and yet she turned out to be the perfect person to kick start our adventure.

Her experience as a producer and as a writer herself had exposed her to a number of different writing disciplines and methods. She cheerfully contradicted herself. She stated that a number of screenwriters are not ruthless enough, many do not plan well enough. But then went on to contrast this belief with tales of writers who are crippled if they even think of plot because it stifles their ability to take the emotional risks that writing entails. However, as a producer whose role it is to guide writers to their stated goals within the time they set for themselves, she firmly took the position that deadlines and restrictions can also be healthy for the creative process.

But what struck me most clearly (and will stand us in good stead as we undertake to collaboratively support writers in getting from concept to treatment by the end of 4 months) was her guidance on that evil, corporate, dreaded word: feedback.

Maggie provided excellent tips on how to give “feedback” that assists the writer and does not tear down or drown creativity, this sparked great contributions from the group on this topic too. In fact, during Line by Line, we will be sharing ideas that will be at stages of development where “feedback” could be detrimental. Maggie offered the following advice:

  • ­ Do not only give opinions (“I think it’s …”, “I didn’t like it when …”
  • ­ Be conscious of when you’re trying to solve something. Your thinking may not gel with the writers’ (“You should cut …”)
  • ­ Ask questions.
  • ­ Offer responses (“ What this idea got me thinking about was … “)

These responses could range from how the writing made the reader feel, what it made them think of, what memories were stirred, etc. These responses indicate to a writer how the material is landing, without passing creative (and subjective) judgement on material.

Armed with these tools on how to constructively support each other, we launched into our program. We all signed agreements relating to ownership of material and confidentiality. These agreements were not legal documents, but rather statements of intent. The signing of them seemed to provide great reassurance to a room full of strangers, yearning for collaboration but fearful of losing their ideas.

The goals set for the following fortnight were to write one premise, 5 versions of a controlling idea and 5 versions of a logline. Having now done this exercise for 2 different ideas, I found it really useful in centring me in why I am writing what I am writing.

Here is to the next step!

Chas Fisher

Co-founder of Line by Line