Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Power of the Read-Through

On this Blog I have often mentioned doing read-throughs of scripts and why I consider them to be essential to any writer, but I have never fully broken this information down into WHY I consider this to be one of the most important and underused aspects of creating a decent first draft... and beyond.

So this Blog poast is all about the power of the read-through. Feel free to be super-excited about this.

Firstly, what do I constitute as a read-through? Well, it can be as big or as small as you can achieve, organize and need. I’ve neatly categorized these into 4 tasty little sections:
  1. You. Just you. In a room, reading out EVERYTHING – action lines, dialogue etc… like a right old nutter
  2. You and your partner / flatmate / mum / brother / neighbour – two of you, lines split between you, sharing the action-line workload (10 pages and swap, that kind of thing). This is what I do with my partner Jess on EVERY first draft I’ve ever written in the past 5 years. Poor lady.
  3. A group of friends who you trust and can actually do read-throughs (i.e. nobody who is massively shy, clams up when speaking publicly, hates you etc…)
  4. A group of actors (who could also be your friends, of course – I’m blessed with knowing a lot of actors, thankfully).


The larger the group the better, because of the post-read-through discussion (optional) and the more readers you have, the more you can step back and listen. My favourite read-throughs have been the ones where I don’t read at all – or take a few minor roles – so I can see how everyone else interprets my words. More on this shortly.

So what can you get out of a read-through?

The simple answer: A BOLLOCK LOAD OF THINGS
The more complicated answer: SEE BELOW



1.) PACE

When you read your script (in your head), you might find yourself subconsciously skipping over paragraphs or scene descriptions or pieces of expositiony dialogue, but you won’t think much of it at the time – like skipping over words / paragraphs in a novel. It doesn’t spoil the read too much, right? You know what’s coming, so you’re excited to get past some of the setup scenes…

In a read-through you literally cannot hide from it. Every single line is read out loud and can only be read as quickly as you – or someone else – can read it. Unless you’re Alvin, Simon or Theodore, you’ll be reading at a quite ‘normal’ speed. So you can’t just skip over sections. You have to listen to it. ALL of it. Every single word you’ve written.

This should be a joy – this is WHY you’re writing it, right? To have someone perform it – but reading through every single scene and line and piece of dialogue ensures you witness the real pace of your script.

Notice I say “of your script” not the real pace “of the movie”. A read-through doesn’t reveal how the movie-of-your-script will be paced, because you might spend a full page describing a dystopian future full of underground city-scapes and the movie-version flies through it in seconds, making it fast, pacy and thrilling. Vice versa too – you might write “John buries his dog”, which reads swiftly on the page but might be painfully slow on screen.

HOWEVER, a read-through will reveal the pace of your script – how someone coming into it cold may experience it – and also firmly show you the pace of the dialogue scenes. These dialogue-lines will be close to the final movie version (if filmed word-for-word) and help show which scenes last waaaaaaaaaaay to long and which ones zip by. I’ve literally deleted an entire scene of expositiony dialogue based on a read-through and laced the information subtly throughout the rest of the script instead.
  

2.) BOREDOM

No one should ever be bored reading your script. It should be thrilling to read, even if it’s a tranquil period-piece. A read-through can really highlight the boring moments.

Related to pace (see above for glorious details), boredom can come through plotting, character, dialogue etc… and can be seen through either your own surprised boredom or the general lack of attention from the other readers.


If you find yourself wanting to skip ahead to the ‘better bit’ then it’s safe to say the bit you’re currently reading isn’t quite good enough.

This is where it’s beneficial having more readers and not participating in the reading yourself – you can ‘people watch’ but also ask the readers which parts sagged / bored afterwards. Always a fun discussion…


3.) CHARACTERS

One test that works for me is the allocation of characters to actors (well, readers…). Often you will have less ‘actors’ than roles available – in my case it's just me and Jess! - so you have to cunningly divide the roles so they don't clash too much.

This is helpful in two ways -

WAY ONE - You can find out who your characters talk to the most, as you want to give readers characters who don’t talk to each other much (otherwise it could be really confusing, unless they’re super-good at accents…).

This can be especially revealing when you realise your antagonist doesn't speak to your protagonist or your love interest has had more interaction with her boss than her would-be lover.

There are nifty little devices on Final Draft that also show this (they do loads of stuff - you can even do a profanity count!) so it’s worth checking out that too.

WAY TWO - You get to pick ‘who reads who’. This can boil down to ego and - as an occasional actor - I find myself noting and thinking about who the best characters are and who would be excellent at playing them.

This works like being team captain and picking your team for dodgeball, and should have the same principle here – it’s less about who’s the ‘best’ but more about who is left on the bench.

At this stage you might discover your protagonist is actually “Spotty McLazy Kid” and is the LEAST appealing character in your script… and that can be devastating. This actually really helps to make your script more commercial as it’s super-important to think about casting (at any stage in the scripting process).

All your main characters should be appealing to play, even your ‘day players’. Look at Shane Black’s writing – even the bit parts are remotely interesting. Okay, there’s always going to be the occasional Waiter (“Can I take your order sir?”) but for the most part all characters should have something appealing to them.


4.) DIALOGUE

My word, this is the most important of all. How you read something in your mind and how it’s said out loud are vastly different. If a character says “You’re my goddamn nemesis” then it reads okay on page… but saying it out loud sounds f*cking ridiculous.

Often this occurs with lines that are screamed or shouted, which read fine on the page but sound false / out of place when said out loud. Like someone screaming “Die!” or “Noooooooo!” or another bold declaration. Sometimes it works and sometimes you sound like Darth Vader at the end of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, screaming into a bucket. Noooooooooooooooooooo!


It also helps hearing the suddenly-very-obvious exposition spouted from someone’s mouth and witnessing the unnatural syntax of some characters’ voices. You can also find out what sounds accidentally hilarious or what lines are difficult to say.



5.) IN ONE GO

How often do you read your entire script “in one go”? Probably very rarely. When editing you’d sit through dozens of sessions, smashing through each page with careful precision until you get lost in the trees.

Doing a read-through forces you to read your entire script in one sitting. This is especially useful to reveal all the things mentioned above, but it also shows you TONE and whether you’ve kept it consistent throughout.

It also reveals continuity, character arcs and character consistency. What might seem normal when editing the script page-by-page (over a few days) may appear screamingly out-of-place when all those pages are connected together and read out loud.



6.) FREE PROOF-READING!

Proof reading can be VERY expensive, and unless you’re a massive spelling / grammar pedant your script is probably littered with teeny, tiny mistakes than you’ll naturally skim over because you’ve read that page FOUR GAZILLION TIMES.

When you grab a bunch of people to read-through your work, they’ll stumble on mistakes and – more likely than not – mention the errors. I always make sure to ASK them to do so (interrupt at any time!) because sometimes a reader might feel pedantic or embarrassed to point out your mistakes. Tell them you want it, like a sadomasochistic lover of your own failings.


It really helps identify if dialogue-lines are labelled incorrectly or a last minute ‘find and replace’ job has gone horribly wrong. I remember changing one character’s name from ‘Lance’ to ‘Harry’ at the last minute, using the ‘find and replace’ function in Final Draft… only to forget to specify it has to be the EXACT WORD ONLY. I ended up with words like ‘AmbuHarry’ and ‘GHarryd’ and ‘VigiHarry’ and ‘NonchaHarry’. The read-through was hilarious but also very f*cking embarrassing… but better than me sending it out to some producer who’d take one look at it and throw it in the circle-file under his desk, forever considering me to be either utterly mad or in love with someone called Harry.


SERVICES

If you can’t pull together a group of decent read-throughers or don’t trust your mates to read something out loud without shitting themselves, then there are groups available to help out.

Start with writing groups (you’ll be surprised how good writers can be at doing read-throughs) but there are also professional groups like The Watermark Collective (www.thewatermarkcollective.com/) who will hire actors to perform your script – definitely worth it.


AND FINALLY…

Finally, it can also help sell it. How? If you have a lot of decent actors in it, you could record it and send it out to a Producer or seven. That’d be a unique pitch – “would you like to listen to my script”? You can also invite execs along to a read-through. Both bold moves, but it’s a bold industry so well worth considering.

So – in short – the key reasons why a read-through could benefit your script are:

REVEALING PACE
REVEALING BOREDOM
REVEALING CHARACTERS
REVEALING DIALOGUE
REVEALING TONE, CONTINUITY, CHARACTER ARCS & CONSISTENCY
FREE PROOF-READING!

Basically – DO A READ-THROUGH on every script you write.

And why not?


Saturday, 15 November 2014

November and H.R. Giger and Collaboration


Hello November, you super-quick beast. Out of nowhere half a month has disappeared, in a whirl of activity, writing and Switzerland.

Switzerland?

Yes indeed. I visited the land of clocks, chocs and knifey multi-tools last weekend, to see the lady Jessica’s uber-cool Uncle / Aunt / Cousins / Jack Russell dogs contingent, who live in the hills somewhere in Switzerland. There were a lot of cows too, with actual bells around their necks. And a frog on a passport… but that’s an entirely different story.

I visited the museum of the (great, late) H.R. Giger, whose work was both utterly amazing, hugely disturbing and very very sexual. Not one for the children, that museum.

I also sat and ate in the H.R. Giger café, which was a very bizarre experience. Not only is it overshadowed by the 400 year old Château St. Germain, but it’s also based on Giger’s work.

Check out some of my photos here:







So what has this got to do with writing?

Well, most of you will know H.R. Giger for his design work on Alien – and the museum shows some of his initial designs and ideas on this, and it’s fascinating (and disturbing) – and he created an truly iconic (and lasting) Horror / Sci-Fi creature.

The writer of Alien (Dan O'Bannon) did not create this monster. He created the idea of it – and certainly the motivations and / or brutally brilliant biology of it – alongside Ronald Shusett, Ridley Scott and a few others.

But he did not design the beast.

As a writer you sometimes find yourself resenting the input of others, thinking you’re the only one who fully understands your work and that any outside influence – bar some much needed proofreading – will dilute your work and corrupt your story / theme / character etc…

But collaboration is king. Collaboration creates films like The Thing and Alien and Shaun of the Dead.

Film IS collaboration.

I was talking to someone recently who said the script isn’t signed off until AFTER the edit is locked, and that’s a bold statement to make. But I fully agree with it. Your script will be edited all along the process, with initial rewrites, when budgets are decided, when designers get involved, when SFX artists (especially on horror / sci-fi) add their unique take of things, when actors add their own spin on the characters, when the director runs out of time on one day and has to cut a scene / some dialogue, when the editor has to make some cuts for time etc…

Film is collaboration. It has to be. Alien is a sum of its parts - from script to editing, design to lighting, sound to props – and it is incredibly important that a writer understands and embraces that, even if they’re directing their own work.

Yeah, it can go horribly wrong if ‘visions’ clash or budget restraints crush the spirit from it… but H.R. Giger reminded me how important EVERYONE is to the process of filmmaking. It’s why people call the script a blue-print for a film – it’s nothing without anyone else – and without people like H.R. Giger or Derek Vanlint or John Mollo or Michael Seymour or Ridley Scott a film like Alien wouldn’t be the Alien we know.



Thank you H.R. Giger, for everything you gave us.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

London Screenwriters’ Festival 2014

On Sunday night I returned from my first ever London Screenwriters’ Festival, exhausted and exhilarated.

What an experience.

The London Screenwriters’ Festival has been running since 2010 and has since become one of the world’s biggest screenwriting festivals – possibly THE biggest in the world now – with over 800 delegates and 150 professional speakers, moderators and guests.

So how was it?

It was exciting, exhilarating, exhausting, surprising, funny, fun, ridiculous, eye-opening and absolutely fucking awesome. Eat my adjectives!

So it was quite a positive experience then?

Yes!


There were some frustrations and the occasional nutcase, but overall it was a really great experience.

Why?

A hundred reasons, but – to name a few – the sessions were informative, inspiring, arse-kicking and insightful. Listening to Ted Tally talk about Silence of the Lambs WHILE WATCHING IT was such an awesome experience. The majority of the greatness came from the guests and delegates themselves.

The guests who inspired me included Joel Schumacher, Ted Tally, Pilar Alessandra, Lee Jessop, Holly Pickering, Chris “Fucking Awesome” Jones and a dozen others.

The delegates I met included my old mates Mac McSharry & Neil Rolland and ‘new mates’ Anthony, Dan, Daniel, Darren, Dave, David, George, Giles, Ivan, Jonny, Karen, Marcus, Nicola, Pat, Paul, Philip, Rebecca, Simon, Stephan, Steve, Terry, Vicky and about fifty other awesome people. And one weird guy who said I looked like a dead guy he once saw on Prime Suspect. I can only presume the episode was called “The Handsome Corpse”…

There are a lot of talented people out there.

I even managed to meet up with Hayley “Script Angel” McKenzie and Philip “4Screenwriting” Shelley and ran into actor / filmmaker Ali Zaidi (who was on the 4screenwriting course with me). All great people and really inspiring / encouraging.

Wow, this is reading like a really shit Oscar speech. I’d also like to thank my Mother for giving birth to me a bit…

Yeah. So it was ace.


There were the usual misfires you’d associate with a festival such as this; some technical difficulties, some sessions veered off course, the occasional mad person ‘got all up in your personal space’ and one absolute twatburger asked Joel Schumacher whose decision it was to put nipples on the batsuit in Batman and Robin… after a script-to-screen of The Lost Boys. What an uber-douche. Thankfully Mister Schumacher is a LOVELY bloke and answered the question respectfully, rather than throw a chair at the moron’s face.

Anyway…

I wish I had joined in with the pitching sessions, which seemed like something I’d ‘enjoy’ and a way of getting your work / brand / name into the right hands. Next year, baby!

On a totally separate note, rather distractingly many of the posters read “LONDONSWF”, which (in my mind) read as London "South Woodham Ferrers”, which is my home town! 

The reminder of my roots, however, actually helped to spur me on. Everyone needs a kick up the arse and that constant reminder of my home town – and all its infinite lack of opportunities – was actually surprisingly helpful.


All in all, it was an awesome experience full of awesome people. The London Screenwriters' Festival is an amazing place run by amazing people. I freakin' loved it.

The theme of the festival seemed to be "BE FUCKING AWESOME" and "BE A SUPERHERO". We even had to choose superhero names. Why not?!

My superhero name?

“Mister Fucking Perseverance”.

He’s probably more like a supervillain, mind you…

Now, enough of this silliness. I need to do some writing. Bring it on.

Halloween: Don’t Move

'tis the season to be scary!

Halloween fast-approaches and for many Horror fans it’s a season of mixed feelings; time to slap on our most-loved films, carve pumpkins and don costumes that would normally get us arrested… but it’s also a time where premature Christmas decorations spoil the mood, effort-free “sexy devils” dominate the high streets and the cinema and DVD markets are flooded with rush-released utter dross.

BUT… it’s also a time where short film clubs, independent cinemas and Horror-enthusiasts put on special events full of charm, passion and awesomeness, because they LOVE IT.

I’m proud to say that my short film DON’T MOVE (produced by Ben Franklin and directed / produced by Anthony Melton) has been chosen to be screened at a few events this year.

It’s fantastic this little short keeps finding audiences, and an honour Horror fans and event organisers deem it good enough to screen for Halloween.

Don’t Move is playing in the following locations this Halloween season –

  • Rising Tides Halloween Special (London)
  • Shorts on Tap (London)
  • Roughcut (Cornwall)
  • Leuven Short Film Festival (Belgium)
  • Molins De Rei Horror Festival (Spain)
  • iShorts (Czech Republic & Slovakia)
  • Dirt Poor Filmmakers Festival (USA)

- and undoubtedly it’s playing at other awesome short film events over the Halloween period (if you know of any others, please tell me!).

If you can get yourself to one of these events, that’d be awesome. I know some of the filmmakers behind Bloody Cuts will be attending the Rising Tides Halloween Special TONIGHT – as Don’t Move and Suckablood are both playing – so head along there and join ‘em!

Needless to say, I am absolutely thrilled to have Don’t Move play at so many great events during my favourite time of the year. I hope it scares the crap out of everyone!

Now… if you’re unable to attend the event, then why not have your own little ‘event’ at home? Open up Youtube or Vimeo, whack in your headphones, crank up the volume and watch Don’t Move.


Happy Halloween!

Friday, 24 October 2014

London Screenwriters’ Festival 2014

Good morning!

I am literally just about to leave for the London Screenwriters’ Festival 2014. I’m a noob / LSF virgin etc… and really looking forward to it.

A chance to chat to fellow screenwriters, listen to some amazing talent give sage advice and watch in awe during a Script-to-Screen session of The Lost Boys with Joel friggin’ Schumacher!

Good times.

If you’re there, please let me know and we’ll meet up for a drink and chat writery stuff.

Right, I better go… don’t want to be late!

London Screenwriters’ Festival 2014?

Let’s go!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Don't Move - The Feature

In 2013 my short film script DON’T MOVE was made into an awesome horror-short by the fantastic team at Bloody Cuts (R.I.P.), produced by Ben Franklin and directed by Anthony Melton.

Well… guess what?

A full FEATURE version has been written. In America. By up-and-coming horror writer Zak Olkewicz.

Who?!

Zak Olkewicz, duh!

He topped the coveted Blood List in 2013 with his excellent horror-house script INK AND BONE and is selling scripts like Shane Black in the 90’s.

He also has a really cool name. Zak Olkewicz. Yeah. Love it.

More official information here:


Now, some of you might be wondering “Why the hell didn’t you write it, Scullion? Why?!!”

Well… for various reasons, most of them boring. Buy me a drink and I might tell you about it. Or I might just down it and run away, laughing like a bonkers hyena.

What do I get out of it, though? I can’t remember off hand. I signed a contract in blood and gave them something called an ‘everlastingsoul’, but otherwise I imagine I’ll be showered in gold and virgins if it’s made.

Whatever the case or reasons or background to it… I’m VERY excited that it’s got to this stage. The script is great (no, you can’t read it) and it’s currently being slapped onto the desk of super-important people in Hollywood and beyond.

Fingers crossed it’ll get picked up and made. That would be some evolution for a 15 page script I wrote years ago that featured an invisible demon and no twist ending!

What’s more, if it does get picked up then Anthony Melton and Ben Franklin will direct it… in America. Which would be awesome!*

*Because I’d be invited to the set, where I can sit and eat doughnuts, watching them making a feature film with literally ZERO responsibility. Oh, and it’d be a fantastic opportunity for us all and those lovely chaps deserve huge success and happiness and condos and stuff. Mmm… doughnuts and no responsibility.

Right. That’s it. Newsflash over.

As always, I’ll keep you updated…

Exciting times!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Second Place Scullion


I have been sick.

No, not Ebola. Worse. I’ve had man flu. You know ‘man flu’, right? It’s that deeply sexist flu that only attacks men and which women sarcastically claim is a more-aggressive form of normal flu.

Cough cough, pass me the Strepsils, la boo hoo…

Yeah, weep for me.

I’m over it now because I have the immune system of a Great White Shark. And their cold dead eyes, unfortunately.

Anyway, this is why I haven’t mentioned the results of the London Screenwriters’ Festival Script Labs (posted Thursday).

RESULT: I did not get onto Script Lab 5.

Or 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 or 7… but mainly because I didn’t apply to them!

However, I did get a special commendation, which is ace:

Special commendations in this lab go to LIARS END by Dave Scullion and SPECIAL UNIT by Rebecca Handley, both previous high scorers/placers in Hayley McKenzie’s Script Angel / LondonSWF initiative and it wasn’t hard for us to see why:

“Love the central concept, some exceptional visuals” (LIARS END)

“Good set up, with a great [spooky] arena” (SPECIAL UNIT)

Cool, huh? A great work Rebecca too!

Now, I’m naturally disappointed but I’m also pleased I made it as far as the second round. In fact, this year I’ve made it to the second round of The Red Planet Prize, the Script Angel Competition*, the On The Page Logline Contest and now the second round of the Script Labs.

Call me “Second Round Scullion!”

* okay, so technically I got through to the third round / top 5 of the Script Angel competition… whatever. That doesn’t fit with the Second Round Scullion theory. And I don’t want to change the Blog Title. Jeez, like mega-effort and stuff.


Now, I’m certainly not disappointed by this. Not by a long chalk (or a short chalk. Or coloured chalk. What the hell does that phrase even mean?).

As a screenwriter you cannot win everything – far from it – and as long as you keep writing, you will improve. In previous years I didn’t place in any competitions (and boy did I enter them). I won a place on the 4screenwriting competition 2013, which has served me incredibly well since, but otherwise my competition placements have been… lacking. 2014 has been a vast improvement on that.

Placing in a competition is great. It genuinely means something. Your script / script sample / concept etc… might not be perfect or what the judges and readers are looking for, but you PLACED – it means your writing is good enough to be considered worthy of winning.

I’d like to congratulate the 6 screenwriters who got onto Script Lab 5, so HUGE congratulations to Alexandru Ruchelaru, Amy Amani, Cera-Rose Pickering, David Young, Keith Storrier and Rachel Howard – six names to watch out for in the future.

Full list of the results are here:


Congratulations to all the writers on all the labs and commiserations to all those who didn’t make it that far. Keep going. Keep writing. Keep on keeping on.

Anyway, I’ve lost two days of writing – stupid cold – so I’m ploughing into my next script. So should you. Winner, placer, loser, writer. Doesn’t matter what happens, just keep writing.

Pick up a quill. Grab some parchment. And get writing. Those future competitions aren’t going to win themselves.

Let’s go.