The long dead road – or why screenwriters should be novelizing


This month sees yet another new novel by Andy Conway, and a major change of direction following the Touchstone saga (don’t worry, Touchstone fans – the next Touchstone novel is a stunner and is coming very soon).

But this time I’ve teamed up with action novelist Jack Turner to deliver a gritty revenge thriller, LONG DEAD ROAD.

The book came about through an unusual process. And it owes its existence to up and coming film producer Richard Adams.

I met Richard on the set of my first feature film as screenwriter, revenge thriller Arjun & Alison, and we got on well. I get on well with anyone who says he likes my screenplay. I especially get on well with anyone who seeks me out a couple of years later when he’s putting together his first slate of film projects and asks me if I want to write one.

Richard had an idea about a man who comes out of prison and takes revenge on the gang who put him inside…

A few drafts later and I had the idea of turning it into a novel. And I think this is what every screenwriter should be doing right now. Continue reading

Arjun & Alison: the trailer is out!

Been waiting all year for this, and it’s finally here.

The trailer for Arjun & Alison, the indie feature film I was hired to script in February 2010, worked on all that year and saw shoot in Birmingham last November.

It’s been in a Mumbai edit suite most of this year and this is the first glimpse of what the film might actually look like.

(The security guy with his back to camera is me, by the way).

It’s a marathon, not a sprint – the 15-year journey to becoming a screenwriter

I know, I know. I’ve been pretty quiet this last year. Hardly a blog to my name and my hits have plummeted (I’m still amazed so many of you keep coming back to look, if I’m honest). But there’s a reason. And the reason is that, rather than writing about screenwriting, I thought I’d actually do some. And last week something very special happened.

Yes, fifteen years of hard, largely unpaid work finally came to fruition, and my first feature film, ARJUN & ALISON, went into production. Continue reading

Networking is rather like dating…

August is probably the wrong month to network seeing as every producer I’m talking to is buggering off to find some sun, but I’m nothing if not perverse, so it’s been a bit of a cracking fortnight on the schmoozing front.    But I realise that most screenwriters would rather hack off a toe than go out and network, so I thought I’d talk about how to make it seem less painful.   

Last week I took part in a frantic day of pitching, that turned into an intense day of networking.

The screenwriters’ forum group I’ve helped to set up managed to collaborate   with our regional Producers’ Forum and organise a training day in which Euroscript‘s Charles Harris came and led us in a pitching workshop, and pretty   amazing it was too (I would recommend any course by Euroscript after seeing Charles in action).

Several of us bit the bullet and pitched scripts we were working on and then got feedback from the room. There’s really nothing like a room full of producers   and screenwriters for getting an instant focus on the story you’re writing. I quickly found out that my ‘romcom’ Learn to Croon was actually nothing of the sort (I think Blake Snyder would definitely class it as a Golden Fleece story).

But pitching was only half of what the day was about. It actually got a lot of writers meeting up with a lot of producers. I had my pack of one-page pitches in my bag (because you never know) and one of the producers there was quite happy to take them away. The next day he phoned and asked to read two of my scripts.

After the event was over, a few of us hightailed it over to Wolverhampton’s Lighthouse centre where producer Roger Shannon was showcasing his latest short film. I could happily have gone home and crashed out, but I forced myself along   (because you never know).

And indeed, I met two more very useful contacts.

I guess, like most of you, I’m the kind of person who has to force themselves to network. It’s extremely difficult to get out of your comfort zone and   schmooze people. But I can say with all honesty that every single breakthrough   I’ve ever had with my screenwriting has been the result of chatting someone up, never through sending something off in the post. And this fortnight has seen three   projects come to life purely through the power of gab.

Caroline Ferguson wrote a great article on networking for the now defunct ScriptWriter Magazine a while back in which she said:

‘Successful networking builds reputation,  influence, momentum and genuine advantage. If you can deliver ‘the product’, networking will blow open the door. Also, human nature suggests that film-makers are more likely to employ a writer with whom they’ve engaged on a personal level,    someone they like and trust rather than a person who is simply a name on a screenplay.’

She’s not wrong.

At the risk of getting all Swiss Toni on you, I find that networking as a screenwriter is rather like making love to a beautiful woman dating. I often find myself using very similar techniques (no, hear me out…) :

Get out there 
If you’re interested in dating you have to realise that no hot girl is going to turn up at your door, you have to go out to where the hot girls congregate and talk to them. It’s the same with people in the film industry. Go to where they congregate. I don’t volunteer to help run a monthly Screenwriters’ Forum or my regional Writers’ Guild branch because I’m a noble philanthropist. I do it because I know it gets me away from this desk and into situations where I will meet people who might be good for my career. And if either of those groups organise events with guest speakers I know that I’ll be one of the people who’s running the event, not just some schleb who’s turned up to sit at the back.

Use your social proof
Another dating concept I picked up while researching a screenplay on seduction artists: ‘social proof’ is that currency you have when you walk into a bar and people know you. It makes people who don’t know you think you’re popular. This is why politicians, when they walk through a crowd shaking hands with total strangers, always see someone in the distance and point to them. It says ‘Hey, I’ve got an old friend here. I’ve got social proof.’ So if you’re at a festival or an event, don’t be the loner giving everyone the Thousand Yard Stare; use the friends you have there as your base camp from which to take on the whole room; give each other social proof  (but don’t do the politician pointy thing – it makes you look like a twat).

Use non-threatening body language
This could be an article in itself, but there are a few body language cues I’ve forced myself to adopt and have now pretty much internalised. Make eye contact when you’re talking; smile and appear friendly (I have one of those faces where people always ask me why I’m giving them a dirty look); turn your body slightly away from people (facing strangers head on can be intimidating – look like you’re ready to leave or passing through as you introduce yourself – then turn to face them more only after they seem comfortable).

Ask them about their passion
Yes, you can talk about your passions and what you want to do, but only after you’ve asked someone what they do, what they’re working on, what they’re really into at the moment. People like to talk about themselves. Allow them to feel their own passion and perhaps connect it with you.

Don’t pitch
Same thing really. Don’t storm in pitching your scripts. A lot of people hate being pitched to, especially when they’re having a drink and socialising. My mate Paul Green of the NFTS told me when going to Edinburgh for the first time: ‘Don’t be the guy pitching to the big names; just hang out with them, get drunk with them, have a laugh with them. They want to work with people they know they can have a laugh with and be comfortable around. Leave the pitching for later.’ I guess you could call it the pitchers not pitching rule. (Pitchers of ale? No? Never mind.)

Don’t be negative
Who wants to hang around whiny, cynical, complaining, bitching, black-hearted doom merchants who only see the shit things in life? Hands up. No one? Good. Me neither.

Leave on a high and get the digits
Don’t hang around staling out the environment if you sense you’ve said all you can to whoever you’re talking to. Every schmooze has a natural high point, so make sure you leave on it (you’re a busy person, you have things to do and other people to chat up). Swap cards if it’s appropriate.

The follow-up
It’s no good collecting a nice colourful stack of business cards; you need to put them to use. So always follow up every card you collect with a friendly, non-threatening email after a few days. Nice meeting you, maybe mention that thing you talked about (re-connect to their passion). If you did talk about a project of yours, remind them of it and send it to them (or ask how they would like it – hard copy or PDF). Facebook is great for this. I add people to Facebook all the time and it’s an easy way of keeping in touch.

It’s not enough to write great scripts. Half of being a screenwriter is getting off your arse and getting out there meeting people who can get those great scripts made. Just think how brilliant that is – half of your job is going out having a good time!

So go out and network this week. You know you want to.

Writers don’t mean shit

writers2I’ve noticed a growing militancy in screenwriters since the WGA strike. Not least in myself. It seems we are absolutely fucked off to the back teeth with our status in this industry as little more than work experience fluffers (excuse my vulgarity, but this industry makes me feel like a whore sometimes).   

A couple of incidents this week have added to the humiliation.

The nominations for the Emmys were announced and much media furore ensued. I read all about it on Digital Spy and am pleased about the recognition for Mad Men and 30 Rock (both great shows).

They provide a list of ‘nominations in the major catagories’. And yes, you’ve guessed it: not ONE writing award.

They list everything from Drama Series to Made for TV Movie and the Lead and Supporting Actors and Actresses in all of them. Not one writer.

This means that Laura Dern getting her people to fax in her supporting role in a TV movie is more of a major category than the individuals who wrote Mad Men, Battlestar Galactica, The Wire, Damages, The Office, Pushing Daisies and Flight of the Conchords.

Why? Because writers don’t mean shit.

Then I attend my regional film agency’s great big pre-launch for a new interactive media fund. Loads of people there, and we all walk away with an info pack. When I get home I discover the pack contains a DVD showcasing regional talent… and my short film is on it.

I’d heard about this DVD a while back. It was released free with a magazine. A mate told me about it: ‘I’ve just seen your film on this free DVD with this magazine.’ Oh really? No one told me. Finally, I have a copy of my own.

I look over the packaging. All the names of the creators are there, including my director. Mine isn’t. I may have written it but I am not the author.

Why not? Because writers don’t mean shit.

In 2003, the International Affiliation of Directors issued their infamous Dublin Declaration stating that ‘the director is the primary author of the audio visual work.’ They might as well have just gone round and kicked every single screenwriter in the crotch and pissed on them afterwards.

Writers guilds responded with our very own Toronto Declaration – pointing out that, if anything, the writer should be regarded as the ‘primary’ author of a film, and that their declaration flies in the face of the whole notion of filmmaking being a collaborative medium.

Whenever we writers start fighting our corner, we are always reminded just what a collaborative medium it is. A fact they conveniently forget when they release it as ‘A Name of Director Film’.

And they  do this because  writers don’t mean shit.

Filmmaking is a collaborative medium. A small army of people join forces in order to create one, each person chucking into the mix their own unique ingredient. But every film begins with a blank page. Every film begins with someone willing to mine their soul to fill that page with a story. Every film begins with a writer.

I wrote most of this last night and posted it as my editorial to the daily Shooting Screenwriters bulletin. It’s caused a bit of a stir. Some people have already pointed out that writers don’t mean shit because they don’t stick up for themselves.

This is true. Hopefully, a rant like this will make more writers realise that fact and lead to more of us doing something about it.

A version of this rant originally appeared in Shooting Screenwriters, and the now defunct 12Point liked it so much they ran it with a response from agent Julian Friedmann. 

Hello, do you have a tax shelter?

How wannabe film producers get their training with EAVE

Dentists, lawyers and electricians can all  go to college to be trained in their job. In the film world you can even go to  directing school or a writing academy. But no one teaches you how to be a film  producer. It’s just something you learn to do when you balls it up as a  director, isn’t it?

Okay, that’s a joke, but the point remains  that you can do film school if you want to direct, or take any one of the  Writing MAs that have sprung up around the country if you want to be a  scriptwriter; but what do you do if you want to be a producer?

Well, the answer is, you go to EAVE, and,  to my surprise, that’s been the tried and tested route for over a decade now.  EAVE (pronounced ‘Ee-ah-vay’), in fact, seems to be the European film  industry’s best kept secret, having not only developed a great many European  films over the years, but also trained most of Europe’s film producers.  Suddenly, having attended one of their workshops for a week, I find that most  of the producers I meet are EAVE graduates. It’s like discovering some secret  brotherhood like the Masons or the Rosicrucians. They’re everywhere.

Committing to EAVE means taking three  week-long workshops over the space of a year, each one in a different European  city. The first workshop will be concerned with Development and most producers  go with a scriptwriter to kick a project into shape. The second workshop will  train participants in Packaging and Finance. Finally, the third workshop is a  monster pitching session where you get to try and sell your project to scores  of top producers.

It’s not just three weeks’ work, though. In  between workshops you’ll be developing your project whilst liaising with your  group leader and specialist experts. EAVE also means accepting that you will  spend a whole year on the film festival circuit. So you’re pretty much  committed to spending twelve months of your life schmoozing with the  cigar-chomping top brass of Eurofilm Incorporated.

It’s a hefty commitment to make, but the  effect is clear for anyone to see. This year EAVE came to Birmingham for the  first time, with the third workshop of the 2003 course, so I got an insight  into just how valuable an experience it can be.

First off, I’m a screenwriter, so it’s  interesting for me to see the producer’s angle on things. Secondly, my God –  look how many of them there are! For a whole week I’m surrounded by up to sixty  movie producers. It’s more producers than I’ve seen in my life so far. Do I  have enough business cards with me?

It’s not just that I’m hob-nobbing with the  next generation of continental movie producers; it’s also that a few of the  current generation of quite famous movie producers are here as well. I do a bit  of a double take when I find myself standing on the terrace of Ipanema and  realise that the lanky, slightly frayed at the edges guy I’m chatting to is  actually Nik Powell. You know, the guy who set up Virgin with Branson, then  went on to exec produce films like Company  of Wolves, Letter to Brezhnev, Mona Lisa, Scandal, Waterland, The Crying Game,  Backbeat, Fever Pitch and Little  Voice. Yeah, that Nik Powell.

But that kind of schmooze coup is par for  the course. A year on EAVE and you’ll have met nearly everyone who’s anyone on  the European film scene.

Mark Pressdee is finding that out. He’s  spent the past few years working on nearly every low/no-budget short film  production in the West Midlands and, consequently, has one of the most sought  after filofaxes in the local film industry. He already spends a large part of  his day fielding calls from frantic local line-producers who desperately need  runners, DOPs or lighting crews for the short they’re shooting, especially when  it’s First Cut or Digital Shorts time. But now he’s decided to become a bona  fide producer and has gone through the EAVE mill, emerging with an exhausted  look and a graduation certificate for his production office wall.

“It’s totally changed me,” says Mark. “This  year I’ve been to every film festival in Europe except, ironically, Edinburgh,  I’ve pitched my project idea in Cannes, I’ve just spent a week here in  Birmingham pitching to some of the biggest producers in Europe and some of them  are interested in the feature I’ve got. It’s the kind of experience that  changes you totally as a person. I actually feel like a film producer now. For  a giggle I even made the odd appearance in a suit and with a cigar! Seriously,  though, it filled me with self-believe. I now know I can push my projects. I  now believe in my talent as a producer to develop and nurture the talent of the  region, because that’s what it’s all about.”

It’s funny, but, because I know Mark, it’s  easier to see the real effect EAVE can have on a person. He walks taller, he  has more stature, because yes, he’s a producer now.

“I think I’ve probably just  taken a leap forward by six years. If I hadn’t done EAVE, I know it would have  taken me another six years to learn what I’ve just learned. When I went to the  first workshop back in January, I talked to a local producer who’d done it the  year before (Natasha Carlish, who recently produced the short film, Bouncer) and she said I’d come back to  Birmingham and immediately set up an office. I was like, you must be joking, I  can’t afford that, but she just smiled and said I would. So I do the first  workshop in Ludwigsburg and come straight back and take a unit in the Custard  Factory. I had to. You can’t be a producer without a production office.”

Doing the course has set him back a bit:  something like two grand from his pocket and maybe another three grand of work  that he had to turn down in order to do the festivals, but he got help to fund  some of it and he knows it’s an investment in his career. A year ago his  contacts book was full of regional talent and he was working on no-budget  shorts; now his contacts book is full of European producers and he’s talking to  the big money people about his feature idea. The next stage is to use those  European contacts to get movies off the ground in the West Midlands: a marriage  of continental and regional talent.

Mark is now doing business as Macoy Media.

Workshop 3, which took place largely at  Birmingham Rep, was hosted by Screen West Midlands and featured a number of  plenaries that were open to local producers. Of particular interest was the  talk given by Alison Small, Head of Film Council International, who pointed out  that inward-investment features in the UK are about to break all records.  There’s never been a better time to be a British producer looking for European  co-production partners to shoot a movie: “Global filmmaking is here to stay and  it’s not a threat to the UK that there are all these other fantastic filmmaking  centres across Europe: we should be working with each other in partnership.”

EAVE, then, seems like the perfect place to  start making those partnerships.

A version of this first appeared on Channel 4’s Ideasfactory site.