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

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