Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Writing Assignment Tracker IV

First Writing Assignment Tracker update of 2013.  And it’s a belter.  In fact, it’s a tiddler, because I’m hard at it.  But here’s the chart.



Time Allocated

Sched      Actual

+/- Schedule


First Draft Treatment

1 month



Initial Step Outline

2 weeks



Initial Step Outline client comments

4 days



First Draft Treatment

2 weeks


-1 Day


First Draft Treatment client comments

3 weeks



Client comments

2.5 weeks


+3 Days


Second Draft Treatment

10 days



Writer response (not treatment)

2.5 weeks


-4 Days

Client comments

3 weeks



Second Draft Treatment

10 days


-1 Month


Second Draft Treatment client comments

4 weeks



Client comments


-1 Week


First Draft

12 weeks




First Draft client comments

8 weeks




Revised First Draft

4 weeks




Revised First Draft client comments

2 weeks




Second Draft

4 weeks




Second Draft First Set

6 weeks




Second Draft Second Set

6 weeks



Just to briefly unpick this.  You’ll recall (those of you paying attention) that just before Christmas I delivered a ‘response’ rather than a second draft treatment, following client comments on the first draft treatment.  One part of my response was to push back at quite a major note, and a rationale for that, while the other part was a ‘how about this?’ shifting of the balance / direction / heart of the whole script.  The client – as previously mentioned, a transatlantic consortium of producers, financiers and other interested parties – got their heads together over the break and responded in good time in the New Year.  They largely accepted the first point, while largely rejecting the second.  My instinct had been to move a bit further away from the source material, theirs was to gravitate back towards it, which has been the subject of some healthy creative tension throughout this process.  They also brought me back in line on tone – I wanted to push it higher concept, but they want to keep it real-world, character comedy.  And, since my job is to deliver them the best script according to their brief, I accepted their comments – that’s what they’re there for – and went back to the treatment.

My first draft treatment was 25+ pages, a really detailed beat sheet.  This time I wanted to keep it to under ten pages, to double-check that the ‘birds-eye view’ of the story structure was functioning as it should: Act One, Act Two, Act Three; the ten-page mini-acts; the big sequences; the mechanics of the hero’s journey.  So this wasn’t rewriting the first document, it was writing a new synopsis of the new movie from scratch.  Along the way I had a moment where I was convinced that we were heading in the wrong direction, but a panicked skype call with the script editor settled my nerves.  It’s a funny old thing, how a couple of well-placed comments from her could help me make sense of it all in my head again, without many of the component parts fundamentally changing.  That’s good script editing – helping the writer see what is already there in front of them.

So I delivered this shorter, second draft treatment, a month behind the project schedule.  The story is basically the same as in the first draft, but with probably 30% less narrative material, allowing room for the more interesting scenes, characters and moments to breathe.  That old ‘excavation’ metaphor again, gradually digging deeper to reveal what the story is really telling us.  I also sent some updated character biographies, which could be read separately but alongside this document, along with some casting ideas (a writer’s favourite game!).

The clients then turned around their comments in a matter of days, rather than the four weeks the contract (strangely) allowed them.  And they were teeny tiny comments.  Somehow, it had all fitted into place in the right way, with the right balance.  The casting ideas gave us a chance to discuss the types of personalities that we saw in the various roles, their tones of voices, etc.  Voice-over was considered, and discarded.  All good constructive stuff.

The question then was, what next?  Do I stick with the treatment format, and expand my ten pages back up to twenty five, as I had done before?  Or were we ready to go to draft?  I delivered a fairly impassioned plea for the latter course of action.  Treatments are functional documents, useful for setting shape and for moving elements around at the planning stage.  But it should never be seen as an end in itself.  While a lot of the storytelling groundwork goes on at this stage, the ‘screenwriting’ doesn’t begin until you bring those moments and characters alive through dialogue, internal scene structure, relationships and dramatic juxtaposition.  That’s when you see what you’ve really got here, and whether the structure you think you’ve cracked over ten pages actually works over a hundred and ten.

They seemed to agree.  Green light to move to script.  Good.  We have an overview structure that we agree on, some character sketches that feel right.  Now my job is to surprise the client for all the right reasons – delivering them a script that they recognise in outline but feels new and fresh and engaging in detail.

The contract tells me I’ve got twelve weeks, but I’m going on holiday at the end of March, so I’m going to try and do it in eight.  And what I’m actually going to do is to write the first draft over the next three to four weeks, then put it in a shoe box for two weeks, then give it a proper rewrite or two before submitting.  None of this completing-the-first-draft-the-night-before-the-deadline business.  Not this time.  Nosiree.

Well, let’s just see how that goes, shall we?

I feel like the man in his rowing boat, setting out from the Canaries, pointed at the West Indies.  See you on the other side!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Next Big Thing

So apparently this is a blogmeme.  A bleme.  It’s called ‘The Next Big Thing’ and seems to be the C21st version of a chain letter.  A writer-director I know in Australia called Antony Mann did it, after he was pinged by another guy called Adrian Deans, who had been pinged by someone else who had been pinged by someone else etc.  Who  knows how these things start?

You can follow the bleme on twitter too, I think - #thenextbigthing.

Anyway, Antony pinged me, so now I’m doing it.  At the bottom I’m pinging a few other bloggers, in the hopes that they’ll do it, too.  Feel free to take this on yourselves, even if I haven’t pinged you directly.

It’s a list of questions that everyone has been asked to answer about their next project.  Whether that will eventually be a Big Thing or not remains to be seen, but I suppose it’s always Big to the writer at the time of writing.  The questions were conceived for novelists, it appears, but I’m tweaking for screenwriting.  Off we go.

1) What is the working title of your current/next book?

2) Where did the idea come from?
It’s a true story.  I was working on a training film for the British army and one of the soldiers we were working with mentioned the incident.  It set my spidey-senses a-tinglin’.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
(Spot the inappropriate question for screenwriters.)  The answer reminds me of the quote from ‘The Player’ – “no stars, just talent” etc.  We’ll probably end up with Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts.  In truth, it’s a dozen young male soldiers in their early 20s, so we’re hoping to find a lot of new talent, the Faces of 2014.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A detachment of Paras try to rescue a comrade from a minefield in Helmand province, and find themselves in a fight for their own lives.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It has been commissioned by a production company, Pukka Films, who are hoping to finance and shoot it themselves later on this year.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?
About six months of research, mainly one-to-one interviews with those involved, and with the parents of the soldier who lost his life, reading through detailed first hand testimonies from the Army’s Board of Inquiry and the coroner’s Inquest, press reports, other books written on the subject etc.  The first draft itself took two weeks – a case of the writer trying to stand at the back of the room and let this amazing story tell itself.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Other film reference points are ‘United 93’ and the Katherine Bigelow films ‘The Hurt Locker’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’.  Detached, documentary-style observation, with the power of dramatic storytelling.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
We want to make a modern British war movie.  They just aren’t out there.  We want to examine why and how these young men risk their lives in a confused conflict in a foreign country.  And we want to pay tribute to their bravery, their comradeship, their sacrifice.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
We’re avoiding the political, and simply concentrating on the fate of the ten men, in that minefield, on that afternoon.  This is about their view of the war, not the generals’ or the politicians’.  It’s also an interesting side note that the mines that were causing all this damage were legacy mines from an earlier Russian occupation, thirty years earlier.  There are no Taliban in this movie, and no shots fired.

So that’s me.  Now I’d like to ping this onto:

Danny Stack – film-maker and blogger - http://dannystack.blogspot.co.uk/

Tim Clague – film-maker and blogger - http://projectorfilms.blogspot.co.uk/

Chris Jones – film-maker and blogger and festival organiser and a few other things besides - http://www.chrisjonesblog.com/

Ed Caesar – journalist and author and screenwriter and second row - http://www.edcaesar.co.uk/

Guy Walters – historian and novelist and epicurean and petanqueriste – will respond via twitter, if anything - https://twitter.com/guywalters  

Take it away, boys.