Ann Marie Williams is the author of Screenplay Competitions: Tools and Insights to Help You Choose the Best Screenwriting Contests for You and Your Script. I read this book recently and was impressed by its detail and strategies. Please check out her book at the bottom of the post and grab your B2W discount. Over to you, Ann Marie — Here’s 10 quick tips on entering screenplay competitions.

1) Decide what you want out of the competition process

Before you start researching screenwriting competitions, decide what you hope to gain from entering.  Do you want a competition that will launch your career if you win?  Or, are you looking for a competition that will provide you with detailed insight into how your script ranked and why? MORE: 5 Simple Tips To Help You Break In As A Screenwriter

2) Decide if you want written critiques (and if, so what kind)

The written critiques that are offered in relation to competition entries are many and varied, so determine the depth of feedback you’re looking for in a critique and how much are you willing to pay for it.  Often you’ll have to decide at the time you enter a competition if you want the critique offered, so do your research prior to starting the submission process.

3) Research the competition

This might go without saying, but it’s a good idea to only enter competitions that are reputable and have garnered respect from the industry.  This doesn’t mean new competitions aren’t legitimate, nor does it mean that a competition that has been around a long time is the right competition for you and your script.  But you don’t want to get your script (and your money) tangled up in a scam.

4) Read the judging criteria

Not every competition looks for the same qualities in scripts.  Some want edgy Indie scripts.  Some want big-budget blockbuster scripts.  Reading the criteria a competition uses for judging entries can help determine if your script is a good fit.

5) Eligibility Requirements

Once you’ve narrowed down the list of competitions you want to enter, make sure you can enter them.  Eligibility requirements pertain to both the script (it’s format, genre, length, etc.) and the writer (age, writing income, previous competition/fellowship wins, etc.). MORE: 5 Career Strategies For Writers

6) Understand what you are legally agreeing to when entering a competition

Always read the fine print associated with the competition you plan to enter.  This includes the rules, agreements, eligibility requirements, terms and conditions, privacy policies, etc. — as well as the prizes awarded.  Also know that, in addition to reading the fine print for the competition itself, you may also need to read the fine print for the competition’s parent site and/or any third-party submission sources utilized.

7) Protect your work

It isn’t usually an entry requirement to copyright your script with the U.S. Copyright Office and/or register it with the WGA — but, many competitions do recommend that you do at least one (if not both).  Personally, I always copyright my work.  Just be aware that it can take several months to process the copyright or registration.  If you want to have the official copyright/registration confirmation, you’ll have to start the process well before you enter any competitions.

8) Know the deadlines

Some competitions have multiple entry deadlines (the cost to enter increasing after each deadline passes).  Other competitions have an incredibly short entry window, lasting only a few days or a few weeks. Keep a record of these deadlines — after all the time and energy you’ve put into researching and selecting competitions (not to mention writing your script!) you don’t want to miss an entry opportunity just because you missed the entry period.

9) Know your script’s main genre 

Some competitions utilize what I call “genre-specific judging” (meaning scripts are judged only against other scripts submitted under the same genre — rather than judging all scripts and all genres together).  But, even if the competition does not use genre-specific judging, entry forms typically ask for your script’s genre anyway (usually so competition administrators can match your script to the appropriate judges).

10) Write your logline ahead of time

Most competitions require a logline with entry, so it’s a good idea to write this a few days or weeks before you plan to enter.  Even if the competition doesn’t use your logline as part of the judging process, the logline could be used to help match your script to the right judges and/or to market your script if you win/place.  That’s decent incentive to write a succinct, accurate, and compelling logline, right? MORE: CHEAT SHEET – How To Write A Logline 

Bonus!

Remember: one competition is just one competition!

One of my scripts reached the semifinals at Austin Film Festival, the semifinals at ScreenCraft, and the finals at the Nashville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition.  However, that same script (same script, same version, same everything) failed to make it past the second round at the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards, or get anywhere at Nicholl, Big Break®, BlueCat, or Script Pipeline.

So, remember, the results from one competition — or even two or three — is not always perfectly indicative of the quality of your writing.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t still benefit from the competition process.  Entering competitions, reading legalese, learning how to deal with results and analyzing critiques… these can all be great opportunities to improve your script and yourself as a writer.  And that can help get you closer to a screenwriting career — whether you win the competition or not.

Thanks for reading!  Thanks to Lucy V. for posting!  And happy writing!

About The Book

Want even more tips? Check out Ann Marie Williams’ book Screenplay Competitions: Tools and Insights to Help You Choose the Best Screenwriting Contests for You and Your Script and visit her website: www.annmwilliams.com.

Order Screenplay Competitions direct from the publisher at BluestockingPress.com and use coupon code Bang2Write to get 35% off the cover price.

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Grammar Purists Versus Writers

Grammar rules are part of any language. But rules aren’t always helpful, especially in a world that is constantly changing.

All the tweeting, hashtagging, and texting has forced the English language to evolve accordingly. What used to be strict grammar no-nos are now acceptable forms of speech. Just spend a couple of minutes on social media … How many rules did you see broken? Loads, I bet!

But are these rules really being broken?

A lot of traditional grammar rules are considered more awkward than useful. Rules like “that VS which” don’t really make a difference in everyday speech. Forcing personal pronouns in a casual conversation sounds unnatural and clunky.

These days, grammar is about clarity, not formality. Even modern writers break these rules. Pick up any English book from the 20th century and you’ll find tons of ‘broken rules’. Starting your sentence with a conjunction (“and”, “but”, “because”) is now common, precisely because it sounds natural.

The Expert Editor rounded up some of the most famous rules and put them in today’s context. So, stop worrying about the proper use of whom VS who; it’s no longer the 19th century. Check out the 15 rules it’s okay to break infographic below, after the jump. Happy writing!

More On Grammar

Of course, it never hurts to brush up on your grammar and ‘rules’ … Even if you do end up breaking them! Here’s some other infographics and articles from this site on this subject.

How To Improve Your Grammar (Writers’ Cheat Sheet)

5 Top Writing Mistakes, From Grammarly

3 Killer Typos That Blow Writers Out The Water

In The Spotlight: Elmore Leonard’s Top 10 Writing Rules 

Top 10 Rules Writers Love To Hate

5 Reasons Why ‘The Rules’ Will Kill Your Writing Dead

Good Luck!

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On Being Excluded

Feeling excluded from the industry? You’re not alone. It seems a lot of writers feel this way. If you’re part of the B2W Facebook group, you may have seen several mini-spats in there this week. These things always seem to jump up at the same time, because feelings run high and writers have A LOT of feelz.

The purpose of this post is to address why writers might feel excluded, but also why this is not necessarily the issue they think. Ready? Let’s go.

The BBC Drama Writers’ Scheme

The first one revolved around the new BBC TV Drama Writers 2019 Scheme, which requires an agent or a credit to enter. A few B2Wers claimed they were being excluded, since they had neither.

It’s easy to see why on this one. After all, it’s hugely difficult to secure an agent or a credit. That said, it is not impossible. Plenty of writers have set their caps at doing this and they have gone on to do it. Why not you, too?

Also, writers need to be battle-ready. A huge opportunity like the BBC’s cannot afford to hold writers’ hands. Writers have to prove they can hit the ground running. But it’s a sad fact that many new writers just don’t know ‘enough’, whether that means craft or industry nous (sometimes both).

Rightly or wrongly them, industry types need to work out which writers are ‘battle ready’. One way they do this is by insisting writers have agents and/or credits. Whether we think is right or not, we also have to accept not meeting the submission criteria for a job is NOT the same as being excluded.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Keen on getting accepted for schemes like the BBC’s? First you need to work on that credit and/or getting an agent. It really is that simple.

ITV ‘Bans’ All-Male Comedy Writing Teams

The second mini-spat revolved around the ‘banning’ of all-male comedy writing teams by ITV. Instead, to get commissioned comedy writers must have gender parity in their writing teams. This means new teams that get commissioned should be a 50/50 split of men and women. Inevitably, this meant there were some claims male writers are now getting excluded as standard.

First off, as @dtmooreeditor points out below, all-male teams are not ‘banned’, it’s a stupid clickbait headline. Secondly, most people agree that comedy is male-dominated and something needs to be done about the inclusion of female voices … After all, mere encouragement has not done much for female representation the last two or three decades.

On top of all that, dtmooreeditor also posits that ITV has the budget and can set its spending however it wants in this particular round of funding. If that includes a drive towards diversity and inclusion, so be it. Again, not meeting the submission criteria for a job is NOT the same as automatically being excluded. READ THE WHOLE THREAD HERE or click on the pic.

Lastly, politics aside, in  this post-Fleabag, Russian Doll, internet-savvy age, how hard is it to find female comedy talent??? If male writers find it extraordinarily difficult to locate them, they’re either not very imaginative or very organised. You need to be both to be a pro writer!

KEY TAKEAWAY: Comedy and screenwriting generally is still a male-dominated profession. No one is ‘banning’ anyone! Rather than let your emotions run away with you, think about what diversity and inclusion really means and WHY it’s needed.

Look, I Get It

The odds in this writing lark ARE terrible. Add other challenges and grievances and it can feel completely impossible. This is why writers feel excluded.

But let’s set those emotions aside for a moment and think logically. What are YOU doing to ensure you have what the industry wants? And I don’t mean just writing that great script or novel. I mean literal career strategies to ensure you have the goods to make gatekeepers take a chance on you, such as:

  • Networking (online and IRL)
  • Collaborations and helping others
  • Submissions strategies
  • Entering and winning/placing highly in contests
  • Platform-building
  • Evaluating our goals as we go

We have to remember it’s all about CUMULATIVE build up. We’re in this for the long haul and there’s no short cuts. That’s just the way it is. We can fight this – and lose – or accept what we need to do and get on with it.

Don’t forget, I know where you are coming from. Back in the day, I had no agent, no money, I lived in the middle of a field in Devon. I had no contacts and I was just a teen mum. I couldn’t even drive a car and there were no buses out there.

It would have been easy to express defeat before I even started. Instead, I recognised my career was in MY hands and I had an internet connection. I knew I could make my way into the writing career I’d always wanted via the world-wide web. As a result, Bang2write was born and the rest is history.

You CAN do this too, B2Wers. We are all rooting for you! Don’t forget to join us in the Facebook group if you haven’t already.

Good Luck!

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Want to be thought of as a GENIUS in this writing lark? Then you need to check out what’s gone before … But also crucially, who’s trod the path before you, too!

Many thanks to Michael for this brilliant dose of inspiration in this very diverse list. Whilst you may not have enjoyed every piece of work these creatives have produced, fact is they’re at the top of their game. There’s lots we can learn from them in our own writing journeys. Enjoy!

Genius Creatives

If you want to become a genius creative yourself, it’s a good idea to try to learn  from the best! I’m obviously not saying that you should flat-out imitate them. Rather, you can learn a lot from studying the work of genius creatives you respect and figuring out how they do things.

That said, sometimes it can be difficult to figure out where to start, especially with so many genius creatives out there to choose from! So with that in mind, I’ve done the hard work for you and listed just fifteen of the best creatives of the 21st century. Ready? Let’s go …

Genius Focus

1)    Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino is mostly thought of as a director, but he’s also one of the top screenwriters of our modern era. He’s been known to work as just a screenwriter, although in recent years he’s mostly focused on writing and directing his own films. You could learn a thing or two from him when it comes to how to structure a story for the maximum impact, and let’s face it – his films are a lot of fun, too.

Top Tip: Find your voice. When you’re watching a Tarantino movie, you know it. That applies no matter what genre he chooses. You need to ensure people can tell it’s YOU writing. MORE: 7 Ways Of Showcasing Your Writer’s Voice In Your Screenplay

2)   Spike Lee

Brooklyn-based Spike Lee is an African American film director who’s won a range of awards including an Academy Award, a BAFTA, two Emmys and a Cannes Grand Prix award. Lee also owns a production company called 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, which has produced over 35 different films. The majority of his work investigates race, racism and bigotry, with films including Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, The Original Kings of Comedy and BlacKkKlansman.

Top Tip: You can build recognition and even a career on investigating social justice issues.

3)    Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan is so dedicated to his craft that he apparently learned how to grow corn so that he could make Interstellar as realistic as possible. He has a reputation as one of the best creatives in Hollywood thanks to films like Memento, Insomnia, Inception and Dunkirk. Combined, his films have brought in nearly $5 billion in box office sales, making him a household name in the process. If you haven’t heard of Christopher Nolan, I’m not sure how you ended up on this article in the first place.

Top Tip: Pay attention to the details if you want to add a heightened degree of realism to your movies.

4)    John Singleton

Singleton passed away several weeks ago, and it was a big loss for creatives in the community. After directing Boyz n the Hood, he became the first African American and the youngest person to have ever been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. His other projects include Poetic Justice, Rosewood, Shaft, 2 Fast 2 Furious and the television series Snowfall.

Top Tip: Tell stories from the heart and that relate back to the life you’ve lived. In this way, youth can trump experience.

5)    William Monahan

William Monahan is one of the best 21stcentury writers, period. That’s because he’s a novelist as well as a screenwriter, starting out as the editor for SPY Magazine while establishing himself as a journalist, essayist and critic. Monahan is mostly known for writing the screenplays for movies like Kingdom of Heaven, The Departed, Edge of Darkness and Oblivion, which he wrote the first draft for. Definitely one to watch and to learn from, whether you’re a fan of his or not.

Top Tip: One way to break into the industry is to start out in more traditional writing roles such as journalism and movie criticism.

6)    Ava DuVernay

DuVernay is mostly known for working on the movies Selma and A Wrinkle in Time. She’s the first black woman to win the directing award at Sundance, as well as the first black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. A Wrinkle in Time also made her the first black American woman to direct a film that grossed over $100 million.

Top Tip: If someone else hasn’t walked a path before you, perhaps you can be the trailblazer.

7)   Steven Zaillian

Steven Zaillian has been in the business since the late 70s, where he started out working as a film editor before moving into screenwriting, directing and producing. He wrote the screenplay for Schindler’s List, ultimately winning a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award. He’s also worked on Awakenings, Gangs of New York and a bunch of other well-known and critically acclaimed movies.

Top Tip: Another way to get into the movie business is to start out as something else, even if it’s just by running errands. You have to do whatever you can to get your name out there.

8)    Mara Brock Akil

Akil is a screenwriter and producer who’s mostly known for her work on Girlfriends, The Game, Being Mary Jane, Black Lightning and Love Is. A graduate of Northwestern University, she’s based in Beverly Hills and is the older sister of actress Kara Brock. Movies are in her blood, and there’s a certain quality to her writing that has helped her to cut through the noise of a mostly male-dominated industry.

Top Tip: Experience and education count, but perseverance and a solid work ethic are also genius moves. MORE: 10 Things You Can Do With Zero Talent 

9)    Diablo Cody

Cody is mostly known for Juno, which was her first feature film script and which won an Academy Award, a BAFTA and a Writers Guild of America Award. Before that, she first rose to prominence because of her memoir, Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. After Juno, she worked on projects including Jennifer’s Body, Young Adult, Ricki and the Flash and Tully.

Top Tip: Embrace your past instead of being afraid of it. Also, grasp opportunities. Cody never set out to become a screenwriter, but now she’s at the top of her field. It’s no accident.

10) John Logan

Unlike the other screenwriters on this list, John Logan is almost purely a writer and not a writer/director, although he’s acted as a producer from time to time. He’s the brains behind movies like Gladiator, Star Trek: Nemesis, The Last Samurai, The Aviator and Skyfall. He’s also written for the theatre and for television, winning a whole swathe of awards along the way. He’d been writing plays in Chicago for ten years before even starting his first screenplay.

Top Tip: Just because you’re a screenwriter, it doesn’t mean you have to be a director or a producer. Sometimes it’s best to focus on the script and to leave the rest to specialists.

11) Lucinda Coxon

Coxon is a British playwright and screenwriter. Her credits include The Heart of Me, Lily and the Secret Planting, Spaghetti Slow, The Danish Girl, Mrs Gonzales and Wild Target. Her plays made her a success, but it’s her screenplays that have made her a star. She also shows that you don’t have to live in Hollywood to build a career as a screenwriter.

Top Tip: Getting started with plays can help to boost your portfolio and to kickstart your career.

12) Brian Helgeland

Helgeland is an interesting writer because he started out with A Nightmare on Elm Street IV but refused to be pigeon-holed as a horror writer. His breakthrough hit was 1997’s L. A. Confidential. He followed this up with A Knight’s Tale, which he also directed and produced. More recently, he was the writer of Mystic River, Robin Hood and Legend. Definitely one to watch – and it’s worth reading the source screenplays, too.

Top Tip: Don’t back yourself into a corner by focusing on a single genre. Instead, embrace multiple different genres and put your own unique spin on them.

13) Karen Croner

Karen Croner is a television and film screenwriter who’s worked on a range of products including TV’s 101, Scattered Dreams, One True Thing, Admission and The Tribes of Palos Verdes. She’s also written the screenplay for Girl Soldier, which is still in development, and the TV series My Glory Was I Had Such Friends, which has recently entered pre-production.

Top Tip: Being a genius can be about being multi-disciplinarian. In other words, be prepared to write for both film and TV and to seize any opportunities that come your way.

14) Barry Jenkins

Jenkins launched his career with My Josephine. He followed it up with a number of well-received movies. This includes Medicine for Melancholy and 2016’s Moonlight, which delved into LBGTQIA+ issues. His third major feature was 2018’s If Beale Street Could Talk. This is based on the novel of the same name by seminal African American author James Baldwin. He’s also notable for taking an eight year hiatus between movies. He has a well-established reputation despite only being in his thirties.

Top Tip: Take a break or a hiatus if you need to, especially if it means you’ll come back stronger.

15) Mark Bomback

Bomback is a little lesser known than some of the other screenwriters on our list. He’s still worth a look … He’s done a bunch of uncredited work and worked as a co-writer with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Films he’s worked on include Live Free or Die Hard, Deception, Total Recall, Fifty Shades of Grey and The Mummy. He’s also written a book called Mapmaker, which is worth adding to your list of screenwriting books if you’re after some light reading.

Top Tip: Don’t be afraid to be a co-writer. In many cases, two heads really CAN be better than one! MORE: 4 Reasons 2 Heads Are Better Than 1

Concluding

Now you know who some genius creatives of recent years are. Your next step is to make sure that you’ve checked out some of their work. You can also take notes and work out what you can learn from them.

Don’t forget though that simply imitating these genius creatives is NOT the lesson. You need to take what you learn and put it into action your own way. You need to develop your own unique voice and style if you want to build a reputation for yourself.

Good luck!

BIO: Michael Turner is a film buff and former screenwriting student. Now self-employed as a freelancer writer, he works for clients like Gradesfixer and predominantly writes about films and television. His favourite screenwriter is Quentin Tarantino.

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Marvel Villains

Every hero needs an opposing villain. They go together. Plus you can’t get more heroic or iconic than the notion of a SUPER hero!

There have always been stories of these special kinds of hero, in every culture. There’s always talk of ‘superhero fatigue’ online, but the reality is audiences can’t get enough.

It’s no accident that studios like Marvel have been doing so well with superheroes. Marvel knows what entertains their target audience and they have provided it. AVENGERS ENDGAME finally usurped TITANIC at second place on the biggest box office smashes of all time recently.  Love or loathe superheroes, Marvel have been absolutely smashing it.

What’s more, Marvel have adapted with the times. They have realised audiences want not only greater diversity, but better writing too. There have been radical changes in its character representation over the years. Nowhere is it more obvious than with its villains.

‘Comic Book Villain’ used to be the descriptor applied to non-comic book characters when antagonists were two-dimensional. Yet in recent years, Marvel has demonstrated even comic book villains needn’t be 2D. Here’s three examples of Marvel villains and what we can learn from them.

1) Erik Killmonger, Black Panther

‘You know, where I’m from… when black folks started revolutions, they never had the firepower… or the resources to fight their oppressors. Where was Wakanda? Hmm? Yeah, all that ends today.’

Make no mistake, Erik Killmonger is a monster. He’s a sadistic murderer who has spent years as a mercenary, consumed with bloodshed. But he is RIGHT. Wakanda hides its resources and gifts from the world. It stands by and does not act whilst its brothers and sisters are oppressed world-wide. How can that be a good thing? Thematically, BLACK PANTHER shows us, in the shape of Erik Killmonger, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’  

What’s more, Wakanda not only deserted Erik’s people, it deserted him. It made him that monster. The trauma he goes through as a boy shaped him to become the man who comes home seeking revenge.

MARVEL TIP: Villains may not be bad people, just as heroes may behave in less noble ways. But even when they are bad people like Killmonger, that doesn’t mean antagonists are necessarily WRONG, either.

2) Hela, Thor Ragnorak

‘I’m not a queen or a monster. I’m the Goddess of Death.’

Everyone knows a protagonist needs a motivation, goal or need to power the story. What a lot of writers underestimate is the fact antagonists need a COUNTER motivation. This lead to a plethora of antagonists (particularly female ones) having reductive traumatic back stories to ‘explain’ why they are bad people.

What makes Hela so great then is she ‘just’ wants to destroy everything. She is The Goddess of Death. It is quite literally her job. What do you expect her to do, bake cookies and go horse riding? Le duh!

Add to that the fact Dad Odin used Hela to gain power, then discarded and imprisoned her. He didn’t even tell Thor or Loki they had an older sister! You can see why she’s pissed. This was genius, because many in the audience felt they would want revenge in her place, too (I know I did). Go girl!

MARVEL TIP: Antagonists can be villains simply because that’s just what they do. Just make sure we can relate to the ‘why’ of that being their way of life.

3) Thanos, Avengers Infinity War & Endgame

‘You were going to bed hungry, scrounging for scraps. Your planet was on the brink of collapse. I’m the one who stopped that. You know what’s happened since then? The children born have known nothing but full bellies and clear skies. It’s a paradise.’

Thanos is a villain because his crusade – killing half of humanity across the cosmos – is monstrous. But like Erik Killmonger, he is technically correct. We DON’T have enough resources to go around. It DOES make sense that we take away some of those mouths to feed. It would help stop deforestation, pollution, you name it.

But wait! Don’t forget it’s also an absolutely monstrous thing to do. For all his talk of ‘fairness’, Thanos is a genocidal maniac. Whilst his theory might be sound, the practice is not. The people Thanos kills or makes disappear are sentient beings with their own place in the world and loved ones. No one has a right to take that away on the basis of ‘logic’.

Also, don’t forget Thanos is a hypocrite too. After all, he doesn’t offer to sacrifice himself (being as giant, he would be taking up A LOT of resources!) … Nor does he disappear when he snaps his fingers in the Infinity gauntlet! Funny, that.

MARVEL TIP: Antagonists are ABERRANT. They are odds with the prevailing logic of their story world. If the characters prize emotion and morality, like superheroes do, then the villain must be cold and logical.

BONUS!!! (Beware, spoilers below)

Dr. Bill Foster, Ant-man And The Wasp

‘Don’t think badly of Ava, she’s just scared’.

A secondary character, Dr. Bill Foster performs an antagonistic function bumping up against his old colleague, Dr. Hank Pym. But he’s more than that. He facilitates and helps the main antagonist of the piece, ‘Ghost’ aka Ava Starr (seen in the pic above).

In the course of the movie, Ava’s story turns out to be a tragic one. She doesn’t want to destroy Ant-man (though she will if he gets in her way). She does not want to steal Pym technology to sell it to arms dealers. She’s only trying to save herself. The way her body phases isn’t really under her control, so she’ll die if she doesn’t stabilise soon. She is frightened and does not want to die. We understand her actions, though we don’t condone them.

By the way, this Vox article Ant-Man And The Wasp’s True Villain Is Not Who It Appears To Be makes a great case for who is really to blame. Check it out!

MARVEL TIP: Make your villain’s motivation relatable to your target audience by having them afraid of something scary we ALL must face, such as death. Alternatively, pose a difficult moral question in the villain’s actions … ie. they do something terrible to protect their children.

Who is your favourite villain of all time and why? Let B2W know!

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How To ‘Break In’

Every week, screenwriters email me about how to ‘break in’ as a writer. They will ask me what they should do next, or why it’s going wrong for them.

Personally, I’ve always advocated creating one’s career, rather than focusing on how to ‘break in’. I feel the latter promotes the idea that the industry is a locked shop and writers are being kept ‘out’. This has never been my experience, because I’ve never believed that. I’ve also followed the 5 tips below.

So if you are ready to ‘break in’ (or rather, create your career!), then check these tips out:

1) Write Spec Screenplays People Actually WANT

My first simple tip would be to maximise your portfolio. In other words, write stuff that is achievable and that people actually want. This is because …

  • Too many spec scripts are written FOR their own writers (not an actual target audience)
  • Worse, too many specs are not possible to make at low budgets
  • Too few screenwriters even know what ‘low budget’ means, ie. ££$$ range

Research is the key in finding out what the industry wants, plus what is possible for what money. This doesn’t mean you are ‘selling out’, just SELLING. It’s what professional writers DO. More on maximising your portfolio, HERE.

By the way, if you don’t have an agent, this is not necessarily an issue. Lots of people say it’s a ‘Catch 22!’ and you have to have an agent to get work. If this was ever true, it’s definitely not now. More info on how to get produced without an agent, HERE.

Lastly, if you DO want an agent? That’s okay too, CLICK HERE. Just know agents are hard to attract as a screenwriter without 2 or 3 on this list. More, next.

2) Create An Online Platform And/Or Following

NEWSFLASH: Agents, producers, filmmakers and other writers Google people. This means how we appear online is very important. Make sure you have a good online presence. I can’t stress this enough.

Google your own name, right now.  What appears in auto-complete? Here’s mine, at time of writing: 

Now look what appears in your text results. Again, here’s mine:

And here’s my image results:

It’s Not Accidental

None of what appears in my search results is accidental. Look at the keywords. I have cultivated these results, for a long time.

But what’s more, it’s not difficult. You can do the same, simply by adding to content online. Consider the below, when thinking about your results. 

  • If you do not appear at all (or very, very low down the search results). This is bad news.  When relationships are everything in the media, a quick Google check is common sense. If people cannot find you at all, they may not want to work with you.
  • If you DO appear, ask yourself a) Is it good? b) Neutral? c) bad? Good results are the ideal and relate to writing and filmmaking stuff. Neutral may be your day job, or unrelated good stuff like appearing in the local paper because your kid won something. Bad is (usually) you writing lengthy diatribes online or trolling others, especially in the industry. Massive own goal.

The good news is, your current ‘Googlability’ is not the way it must be forever. You CAN ensure your search results come back MUCH better in the future. Start today! A great online platform is a must in 2019. At the very least you should have a good website or Linkedin profile. 

Remember too, social media can help us or sink usFor more details on how to do this, CLICK HEREFor more on creating platforms and followings generally, CLICK HERE

3) Create Some Buzz For Yourself

i) Make Short Films

Even after 15 years in the script reading trenches, I believe the simplest way of creating buzz is STILL making a short film. The good news is, advances in tech means this is more achievable than ever. It’s possible to create high quality shorts and documentaries at very low budgets on iPhones, even.

Creating buzz with shorts can mean different things. Obviously, winning awards and commendations at high profile film festivals is great. If you can do this, all power to you. But films festival submissions can be very expensive, plus there’s no guarantees you will win or place. So maybe you want to create buzz another way. Here are a few I have seen Bang2writers do:

  • Work with charities, so they can access that charity’s audience (especially online).
  • Taking part in 48 Hour Film Challenges and other initiatives, like Create50’s The Impact.
  • Create your own short film showcases in pubs, village halls, online, etc and invite people you want to work with.
  • Research and get commissioned by organisations to make your film, like The Exeter Phoenix’s. (Which B2W advises on, by the way). These commissions often lead to official showcases.
  • Create a short with a learning objective, taking it into schools and orgs for talks and workshops.
  • Making the film available online, with teachers’ resources as a free download so it’s distributed into classrooms by the teachers themselves.

This is not an exhaustive list. There’s ALWAYS ways to get your work out there, if you want to make a short film.

ii) Enter Screenwriting Competitions

That said, making films is not possible for everyone. There are lots of Bang2writers with responsibilities or challenges that mean making shorts is too much of a gargantuan task. Then there’s the writers who simply don’t want to! 

If you are one of these writers then, entering screenwriting competitions may present a viable strategy. The bigger ones include Final Draft Big Break, The Nicholl Fellowship, Bluecat, Scriptapolooza, Shore Scripts and The PAGE Awards. If you can win or place highly in 4-5 screenwriting contests in the same year, this can be one way of getting agents’ and filmmakers’ attention. Bang2writer KT Parker writes about this in more detail, HERE.

Lastly, I am fan of the book Screenplay Competitions: Tools and Insights to Help You Choose the Best Screenwriting Contests for You and Your Script by Ann Marie Williams. You can buy it, HERE

iii) Network Like A Pro

Lastly, networking well in real life is a great way of creating buzz around yourself. If you are sociable (or can can fake it well), then meeting as many people as possible is a great strategy (as long as you are not weird or demanding!).

You don’t have to wait for official networking events, either. Asking people for coffee (you’re buying) is a GREAT way of meeting producers and filmmakers, especially those on their way up the ladder.  For 5 Quick Tips On Effective Networking, CLICK HERE.

4) Try Events and Online Hosting

If you’re able to, try an event like London Screenwriters’ Festival. There are lots of initiatives, competitions and a pitchfest associated with this event – amongst other things. It’s the biggest screenwriting festival in the world now and you can meet lots of people there. The next one is in 2020, but you can get ‘PAYG’ tickets to budget for it.

I would also recommend giving sites like Stage32, Roadmap Writers, Virtual Pitchfest, The Black List, Ink Tip a try. These sites will let you pitch your script to industry pros and/or host his script online, for a fee. They have their fans and their detractors, so make sure you do your due diligence. (For the record I have heard of Bang2writers doing well with all 5 of these. Roadmap Writers is my personal recommendation. This is because I know Joey Tuccio and believe he is a great guy who genuinely loves writers and wants to help them).

5) BELIEVE!

Look, I get it. It wasn’t different for me, I had to create my career too. Spec Screenwriting and filmmaking is a tough gig. But if you concentrate too much on the ‘break in’ moment, you may miss opportunities right in front of you.

Instead, I put to you … What is more preferable:

  • Believing you WILL get where what you want to be (whilst enacting the 4 other points on this list)?
  • Thinking it’s all pointless and everyone wants to keep you out?

Good Luck!

Details On B2W’s Next Course

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Just some of the orgs B2W has read for

My course with LondonSWF, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING is perfect not only for wannabe script readers, but savvy writers who want to know how script readers work. Can you afford to miss out?? The next one is very soon – June 22nd-23rd, 2019 at Ealing Studios, London.

CLICK HERE for full details of the course (or on the pic on the right), including feedback from past delegates. We expect it to sell out again, so act now to avoid disappointment. See you there!!!

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Beta readers are so important (also known as ‘peer reviewers’ in there screenwriting world)! Many thanks to screenwriter and novelist Keith Ndenga Kinambuga today. He’s written a great article about what we can learn from beta readers. Be sure to check out his books at the bottom of the post. Don’t forget too you’re welcome to look for beta readers and peer reviewers in The B2W Facebook group, that’s one of the primary purposes of the group. Enjoy!

All About Beta Readers

One of the toughest things for anyone to accept is criticism. It is especially tough for the createive because the judge is normally the public. Fortunately or unfortunately, this is what s/he needs to overcome in order to improve their work.

It took a while for me to embrace this, but I can now confidently say that I am in my moment of Zen. I welcome criticism whether it’s good or bad. The beauty of embracing it is that you learn how to sift the real from the fake, the genuine from the haters. Here is what I’ve learnt from my Beta Readers (the hardcore, no-holds-barred fans who read my manuscript just before release):

1) Don’t give excuses

When something wrong is pointed out, do not try to defend it. Take five, meditate on it then decide on the way forward. An immediate response only shuts down your reader and will most likely come off as childish. Your beta reader always has your draft in mind. MORE: 5 Ways To Use Feedback Effectively

2) Be visual

The best compliments I’ve had about my writing is that the visual description is ‘immersive’. However,  one beta reader told me, ‘It’s great for the big moments, but distracting for the casual.‘ In other words, I needed to tone it down just a wee bit.

In my first novel, I tried my best to keep the balance but in the second, it was a deliberate act. To create ‘word pictures’, use paragraphs that concentrate on the five senses. I personally break it down to what a character sees, smells, hears, touches, tastes. MORE: 5 Top Tips On Visuals For Your Novel From Hollywood Blockbusters

3) Tone down the ‘foolosophy’

As a self-publisher, sometimes I get requests from other writers who want to me to read their own drafts. In this case, I’m the beta reader!

The common weakness I see from newbies (and a few with experience) is explaining how the character views the world philosophically rather than visually. This is fine in some cases but when overdone, it can subject a reader to a boring rant on personal viewpoints. Compare these two paragraphs:

He hated her and her idiotic thoughts. Instead of making decisions about her life on her own she relied on others. He would have taken the six-figure salary job on offer in a heartbeat. Didn’t she know jobless youth are suffering?

Or

Her questioning eyes bore through him. “Well, what do you think? Should I take the job?” 

He studied the piece of paper, a typed job contract. The number of zeros on the salary offer seemed to snake on forever. A blank space sat eagerly next to her name. His jaw pumped, bile rising.

He sneered and grabbed a pen from his lapel. “If you won’t sign it, I will.”

The two snippets are communicating a similar message but which one is more appealing? I bet you’ll choose the second simply because it’s more visual. The visual aspect adds drama and characterisation. Explaining thought processes too much like the first slows the story down. MORE: 8 Ways To Jump Start Your Novel’s Description 

4) Give them credit

I always include my beta readers in the acknowledgement section. Without their honest opinion, I would be trapped in a bubble. MORE: 3 Important Beta Readers You Just Have To Impress

Good Luck!

BIO: Keith Ndenga Kinambuga’s screenplays have aired all over Africa. He’s blogged short stories and is now publishing novels. His home is Kenya and every word he writes echoes a strong local influence with universal thoughts. Check out his two novels I’m Not A Black Widow But I Spin Webs and The Black Algorithm (available on pre-order) on Amazon HERE.

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Jed Mercurio And LINE OF DUTY

Jed Mercurio’s work always seems to be a talking point with the Bang2writers. Whether it’s his use of tech in his storylines; those iconic interrogation scenes; his much-lauded LINE OF DUTY finales; or his female characterisation, we always seem to be putting his writing under the microscope!

The first four series of LINE OF DUTY recently hit Netflix. As any veteran of this site knows, I love structure and always thought it was a very tight show plot-wise. But since the show began in 2012, the TV landscape has changed considerably.

We’re ‘binging’ content now as standard, which means new pressures on writers like Jed. People are no longer watching TV drama week-on-week, but back-to-back. Now obviously each series is shot in one go. But if there’s only a few seconds between episodes instead of seven days, then audiences are surely more likely to notice inconsistencies and other issues. I was interested to see how one like LINE OF DUTY ‘stands up’ as it’s straddled the streaming revolution.

Here Comes The Science Part

So, for science, I sat down and revisited all four series, one after another, non-stop! (You’re welcome). No spoilers, but this was a real eye-opener. The over-arching storyline of The Balaclava Men finds its way into every character’s arc somehow. This is whether they are series regulars like Arnott, Hastings and Fleming; or visiting characters like Corbett, Denton and Huntley.

There’s fantastic foreshadowing too, especially when it comes to Hastings’ ambiguity. Right from the offset he says to Arnott in series 1: ‘There’s no one blacker than me.’

Depending on how you view this line, I felt there’s a certain dramatic irony to it, too.

B2W’s official verdict then? LINE OF DUTY is tight AF.

Story Archaeologists Versus Story Architects

In the last article on B2W, I talked to Eric Heisserer (ARRIVAL, BIRDBOX). In an off-the-cuff remark (that didn’t make it into the interview!), Eric mentioned he was a ‘story archaeologist’. He qualified this by saying he dug layers of story out of characters and situations as he goes.

I thought this was a really interesting way of describing the plotting process. On further consideration however, I thought that I actually do the opposite to Eric Heisserer. I have an ‘endgame’ for the plot in mind, then plot backwards to find the *beginning* of that story.

I guess you could say I am a ‘story architect’! This would make sense, given my love of visual representations of structure and ‘drawing the story’.

What The H

As all LoD fans know though, this over-arching storyline and its ‘Who is H?’ pay-off is STILL on-going. Jed does not have a crystal ball and can’t know if series are going to get re-commissioned too. This is why he has to ensure each series has its own contained storyline too.

But on re-watching LoD in its entirety, I had two questions:

  • Did Jed Mercurio plot where The Balaclava Men storyline was going from the offset?
  • If he did, does this mean he’s a story archaeologist or a story architect???

Jed’s Answer

Well, there’s only one person who can really answer that! I dug out my address book and asked Jed himself. B2W was lucky enough to receive his answer right away.

‘I lean towards the archaeological approach. I’ve never thought of it that way, but it’s a very good analogy. Generally I’ve thought in terms of story having “critical mass” from which a “chain reaction” can develop.’

Jed’s idea of critical mass and chain reactions really resonates with me. Story *is* a kind of BIG BANG with sparks flying off in all directions to create new characters and situations. Love it. It makes me think of alchemy.

On Endings

But I did still want an answer for whether he knew the END of that storyline from the very beginning of conceiving LINE OF DUTY  …

  • … Did Jed know who’s pulling the strings at the top and work ‘back’ from that, like a ‘story architect’?
  • … Or did he plot LoD series 1 and the storyline sent out spores for new series like that ‘archaeologist’ Eric mentions?

Jed’s answer:

‘It was an on-off process over a number of years with a few rethinks.’

Note how he doesn’t quite confirm he already knows that ultimate ending, though. Seems Jed likes to keep people guessing on this … It’s a great strategy, because everyone wants to know!

Concluding

Great storytelling is great storytelling; we all know it when we see it. As writers, we need to ensure audiences connect with our concepts and characters by creating tight plots that deliver.

But there is NO right way to get there. You can do that however you want … Whether you’re a story archaeologist, architect or alchemist. Or something else.

What kind of storyteller are you?

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All About Eric

Eric Heisserer has a screenwriting resumé most Bang2writers would kill for. From franchises through to adaptations and indie dramas, Eric has been at every level of the movie coal-face it seems.

Eric’s also really approachable and offers great insights on the craft. I interviewed him for my non-fiction Drama Screenplays book because he wrote and directed one of my favourite dramas Hours, starring the late Paul Walker. He’s also shared some excellent pointers on female characters in the past for B2W, too.

So I thought I’d check back in with Eric in 2019 and see what other juicy tips and insights he could share with the Bang2writers. Ready? Let’s go …

1) You Have To Chase After Opportunities

Of course, we have to start with BIRD BOX. This was a huge win for Netflix, with eighty million subscribers’ households watching it in the first month alone. It’s an adaptation of the novel by Josh Malerman. Knowing that Eric developed his previous adaptation ARRIVAL (from the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang) on spec, I asked if he had done the same again.

‘No, it was a writer-for hire job,’ Eric explains, ‘Though I did have to chase after it. I did the first five pages for the producers. I wanted to show I could capture the fear and tension of Malorie and the children making their way to the boat.’

Writing pages as an audition is not unusual for new writers, but I was surprised to hear Eric had to do this, given his track record. After all, ARRIVAL was Oscar-nominated! But it wasn’t about any concerns over Eric’s writing, but something else.

‘There was some worry BIRD BOX might not be a cinematic experience if audiences couldn’t see the actors’ eyes.’ Eric says, ‘I wanted to show the visceral possibilities of the blindfold.’

And it worked!

TOP TIP: Always hustle. Concerns about the writing of a story may not always be about your writing … But equally, your writing might just be the solution.

2) There Will Always Be Compromises  

In the book version of BIRD BOX, there are actual monsters behind the madness that plagues humankind. In stark contrast, the movie adaptation never shows them. This is an interesting reversal for a visual medium like screenwriting.

As human beings, we are compelled to look. But the book’s theme is ‘not knowing is better sometimes’, signified in the madness when you do.’ Eric says.

It’s a wise choice. How can a movie deliver on the horror of something so bad it literally drives a human mind mad? Hollywood has already shown us such horrors as the Alien, Predator, Pinhead, Jigsaw and more. In real life, we have seen pictures of dead children on posters and watched real-life beheadings online. We are de-sensitised.

Leaving the BIRD BOX monsters unseen then makes them much more frightening. That said, I had seen some articles about how they did build a monster at one point. I asked Eric about this.

‘There was a dream sequence,’ Eric says, ‘Malorie comes down to the kitchen, comes face-to-face with the monster. It signified her fear of motherhood, so had some features of an infant. It also was symbolic of her survivor’s guilt, so had some features of her dead sister.’

This scene never made it in the finished movie. So, which did Eric prefer of the two approaches? He wisely won’t be drawn: ‘There will always be compromises.’

TOP TIP: Get used to making compromises! You might love one approach to a story, but you can find a way of loving another approach too.

3) Find The Way That Works For You

Bang2writers often worry about learning the craft the ‘right’ way. But there are no writing ‘rules’; at most, it’s a set of guidelines.

Eric echoes a feeling so many writers have: ‘I’m an experiential learner. I’ve had a ridiculously hard time with ‘How To’ screenwriting books. I prefer workbooks. Break it, fix it, recreate it.’

But how do we do this? Why not start with Eric’s 150 Screenwriting Challenges. Sometimes the only way to learn is to just dive in.

TOP TIP: There is no ‘right’ way. No one cares HOW you do it, just do it.

 4) Good Storytelling Is About Feelings

The poet Robert Frost said,No tears in the writerno tears in the reader. No surprise in the writerno surprise in the reader.’ This quote tells me it’s no good to have wonderful writing craft if it doesn’t provoke an emotion response in its target audience.

So, how can we ensure that emotional response passes from us, to our audience? I asked Eric what his thoughts were on this.

‘So much of this is research and development. They say ‘writing is rewriting’ and that’s true, but it’s also about the feeling in your heart,’ Eric explains, ‘You have to seek out a character who knows that feeling, then seek out a story to express that … Create an experience that others can tap into.’

TOP TIP: Audiences always remember how good stories made them feel. Knowing what they get out of it will help you.

 5) Prioritise Your Relationships

Lots of writers think there’s this magical place called ‘The Industry’ where you have to ‘break in’. The reality is rather different. ‘It’s easy to chase after a job to pay the rent, but it’s better to find relationships,’ Eric says.

But of course, it’s not just a case of simply finding someone who’s a good bet and attaching yourself to him/her. If only! All your ducks have to line up, not just in terms of getting the job, but in keeping it as well. Back to Eric: ‘There’s lots of different ideas of what stories are. You have to find people on the same page.’

There’s a last reason you MUST all be on the same page too: time. There’s a good chance your projects will be in development for years, sometimes even decades. ‘Everything takes forever!’ Eric warns.

TOP TIP: The industry is built on good relationships, plus choose wisely – you will be working with certain people a LONG time.

 6) Know What’s Standing In Your Way  

There’s lots online about how to defeat writer’s block, with probably just as many articles insisting it does not exist. Whether it does or doesn’t is kind of immaterial; if writers believe it does, then it does. It’s knowing what’s behind it that’s key.

‘Beware the paper tiger that prevents you from writing,’ Eric agrees, ‘The fear, the judge, the self-editor – whatever the manifestation of your writer’s block is. Find the hack to bypass it.’

TOP TIP: Dig deep and find the cause of your problems so you can keep writing. You can’t fix a blank page!

Thanks, Eric!

How To Write Female Leads Like A Professional Screenwriter

Book Versus Film: BIRD BOX

Book Versus Film: STORY OF YOUR LIFE aka ARRIVAL

Writing And Selling Drama Screenplays

150 Screenwriting Challenges

How NOT To Write Female Characters 

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Logline Mistakes

‘Logline help’ is one of the top searches that lead writers to this blog. It’s also something that leads people to the Bang2writers Facebook Group, where writers can post their loglines to the wall for feedback from their peers.

There’s loads of advice online about how to write a logline, but unfortunately writers still find it extremely difficult. It’s tough to know what the most important things are in a good logline. What should we include? What should we leave out? Yikes!

All this means writers end up making lots of logline classic mistakes. The biggest is probably describing ‘around’ the story, meaning the writer is being too vague and/or not focusing on the most compelling bits of the story. You can find out more classic mistakes HERE.

Baseline

By the way, loglines are not just for pitching scenarios. They can act as a great ‘baseline’ when we start a new project, plus they can help carry on through the drafting process, too.

Personally, I think it’s a great idea to start a project with a logline like this, in order to ‘break story’. I call it a ‘baseline’. I also use ‘baselines’ in my novels.

Since writers so frequently make the same mistakes, having a baseline can be really useful in creating the end logline for pitching purposes, too. I think all writers can benefit from them, because it means writers can make informed decisions as their projects evolve/change through the drafting process.

New B2W Resource

Since Bang2writers are always asking me for help on all this then, I thought it was time for a new B2W resource. So here is the all-new B2W Logline Cheat Sheet!

As you will see, there’s a formula for your logline to help ‘focus’ your story, as well as a number of questions to help you consider what you need in it. This should (hopefully) mean you don’t end up being too vague, or describe ‘around’ the story.

  •  The ‘very important’ questions are those non-negotiables that HAVE to be in your logline. These are the elements that pique our interest, or help us understand what is going on. The first three are fairly self-explanatory. I have included the question about failure because that relates to the stakes, something a lot of writers struggle with … Yet the nature of potential consequence makes a story COMPELLING (whether those consequences are literal, metaphorical, or both).
  • The first three answers to ‘important’ questions may find their way into your logine, or they may not (dependent on genre or style, especially). Even if they don’t, you still need to know the answers to help you write your draft and/or discuss your project in meetings. ‘Why this story?’ – or variants of it – shouldn’t be in the logline, but still helps you focus whilst you write. It’s also a question that is very likely to come up in meetings later.

The resource is available HERE on this post and on the B2W Resources page to download as a PDF. (It’s also in black/white too). Simply click the link above, the pic below to grab your copy on The B2W Resources page. Best of luck with your projects!

Breaking Into Script Reading – Back For 2019!

How do IMy sell-out course, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING is back for its FIFTH year in 2019! If you’re interested in becoming a script reader, or finding out more how script readers may assess YOUR own writing – or both! – then this is the course for you. The course will run 22-23 June, 2019 and tickets are on sale now. GET THEM HERE, or click the pic on the left. See you there!

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