Something I’ve noticed

It was Orson Welles who said, “A writer needs a pen, an artist needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an army.” I recently learned that a screenwriter – or this one, at least – needs one of these:

 

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When I started out, I heard that screenwriting depends on structure more than any other art form. It was something I denied for a long time, at least in my own practices. Others may painstakingly plot out their whole stories using index cards beforehand, but not me. I had this romantic idea of being a writer who could pound out a script from the gut and then make some minor amendments later.

But experience is a great teacher, and I eventually became schooled on the level of my own bullshit.

Long story short, there are only so many false starts and directionless ventures one can encounter before humility must take hold. Dramatic writing is a serious business. If there is a key to mastering the craft, it is not secretive or ethereal. One has to appreciate the complexities of the craft; in order to do so, one must become consciously acquainted with them.

For some inane reason, I used to consider a structured approach inferior. It seemed anathema to real creative flair. Now I realise how naive I was.

The end should always justify the means, so if you can write Fargo without plotting out on index cards then have at it. Good for you. But that approach is not superior or inferior to using a notice board. The writers of Breaking Bad use them, as do many world-class screenwriters, and it does them no harm.

What is inferior, however, is stubbornness. Rigidity. Not learning what works best for you. Sticking by old practices because that’s how you do things, regardless of the failures and frustrations they cause.

I stepped out of my comfort zone, bought a big notice board, and within days I saw the difference. Creatively, it was the best thing I ever did.

Kubrick on Screenwriting

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“Writing a screenplay is a very different thing than writing a novel or an original story. A good story is a kind of a miracle, and I think that is the way I would describe Burgess’s achievement with the novel. A Clockwork Orange has a wonderful plot, strong characters and clear philosophy. When you can write a book like that, you’ve really done something. On the other hand, writing the screenplay of the book is much more of a logical process — something between writing and breaking a code. It does not require the inspiration or the invention of the novelist. I’m not saying it’s easy to write a good screenplay. It certainly isn’t, and a lot of fine novels have been ruined in the process.”

 

Source: http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/interview.aco.html [excerpted from “Kubrick”, by Michel Ciment]

There and Back Again: The London Screenwriters’ Festival

The word ‘hiatus’ has been on my mind lately.

It’s been 7 months since my last blog post, where I shared a few words about the art of perseverance (or, how to stop worrying about how big the tree is and keep swinging that axe).

It’s also been 3 years since I last attended the London Screenwriters’ Festival.

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A lot has happened in those time frames. Since my last post, I became a father for the first time. A year before that I bought my first house. Go a little further back and you’ll find me burrowing into the Welsh independent filmmaking scene, where I have been active ever since.

With the arrival of my perfect little daughter five months ago, the selfish writer in me wondered whether I would ever hear and feel the buzz of the Festival again, like I did in 2012 and ’13.

I do have the Welsh scene, which continues to astound me with its depth of talent and boundless potential. There are still mountains to climb there, as my creative relationships continue to flourish and projects roll ahead.

There’s just something about London.

Swarms of hopeful writers rubbing shoulders with industry professionals; the absence of comfort zones; the heady sound of dreams being fuelled, doubts being validated, and stories being exchanged. Throw in the opportunities to pitch your ideas, analyse scripts, conduct table reads and lock yourself in an elevator with a Hollywood exec, and it’s quite an experience.

Only I did none of that when I attended.

I didn’t pitch; I didn’t sign up to a table read or a script lab; and I avoided the infamous ‘Elevator Pitch’ like leprosy. I did network, and I met some wonderful people who I remain in contact with; my first Festival led, through several degrees of separation, to meeting the group of filmmakers who I work with to this day.

However, my networking was limited by the same thing that prevented me from putting myself and my work out there:

Fear. Of rejection; of humiliation; of finding out that I’m hopelessly wasting my precious time.

These fears are real, and they will remain unchallenged unless I face them. At least by sharing my work with more people I’ll get an idea of how to improve. And if I’m to take the craft of screenwriting seriously, as it deserves, then that’s got to be worth the investment.

Time poverty, fiscal restraints, and a comfortable creative niche in my own country were, I felt, all valid reasons not to make the annual pilgrimage to London. These reasons still exist. But so too does my love for screenwriting, and my desire to overcome my fears and personal flaws.

Now, three years older and three years more experienced, I feel better placed to capitalise on everything the London Screenwriters’ Festival has to offer. Life is passing by at quite a rate. If I’m not careful it’ll take all of its best opportunities along with it.

And that’s precisely why I’ll be going next year.

Keep Swinging the Axe

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“It’s like chopping down a huge tree of immense girth. You won’t accomplish it with one swing of your axe. If you keep chopping away at it, though, and do not let up, eventually, whether it wants to or not, it will suddenly topple down. When that time comes, you could round up everyone you could find and pay them to hold the tree up, but they wouldn’t be able to do it. It would still come crashing to the ground. . . . But if the woodcutter stopped after one or two strokes of his axe to ask the third son of Mr. Chang, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” And after three or four more strokes stopped again to ask the fourth son of Mr. Li, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” he would never succeed in felling the tree. It is no different for someone who is practicing the Way.”

— Zen Master Hakuin