By KT Parker
Are you undecided about entering Euroscript’s Screenwriting Competition?
Don’t overthink it. Just do it.
To my mind it is one of the best British screenwriting competitions, and unique in that it focuses on treatments. True, you must submit ten pages of a script – but not necessarily the script of the story you tell in your treatment. The focus of this competition is very much on story, and on you as a storyteller.
Here’s why I recommend you enter this competition.
1. Test the viability of a story idea
Factoring in several re-writes, a feature film script is going to take at least 6 months of your life to get right – usually much longer. If you’re going to invest all that time, you want to be sure you have a strong premise and enough story to underpin a viable, compelling script.
I use this competition to road test ideas. I have entered it four times, and placed twice. “Dowl’s Mill” came third in 2013 and “A Face To Paint” came second in 2015. Both of the scripts that grew out of those top-three treatments then went on to win awards.
The other two treatments that didn’t place still need re-thinking to turn them into stories that work as feature films. Fortunately, because of N°2 below, I’ve got an ace up my sleeve that will help me to re-shape and improve them…
2. Receive valuable feedback
Writing is about communicating to an audience, but when we are creating our stories, we are sometimes so immersed in them that we are blinded by their minutiae. It’s the proverbial “can’t see the woods for the trees” syndrome. Getting feedback gives us a sense of how well we are doing in conveying our intentions.
The beauty of the Euroscript Screenwriting competition is that every entry receives a structured, bullet-point feedback report. This includes an estimation of the budget (high, medium, low); a brief synopsis of the story; a list of positive points; suggestions for improvement and general advice for the writer.
I’ve found the synopsis very useful, as it helps me to verify that the reader understood the story as I thought I’d written it. Also, the reader’s synopsis often contains a turn of phrase that helps me improve my logline or one-page synopsis.
Outlining the positive points of the treatment is helpful because it tells a writer what doesn’t need changing - what to hold on to and build on. The suggested changes can be taken at face value, or, as happened with one of my stories, can prompt a re-think to help come up with an alternative that is even better.
Ultimately, it is your story and so it is up to you to learn to filter out any notes that will harm rather than enhance it. That said, given the high professional standard of Euroscript’s notes, you will probably want to take each and every one on board.
3. Exposure to film executives
It is notoriously difficult to break into screenwriting. You not only compete with established writers, but also with the tens of thousands of wannabes who take to their computers each year. Winning a major screenwriting competition is one of the best ways to get noticed. It's a validation: this person can write!
Euroscript list the twelve finalists of their competition on their blog and then announce the winners live at a “meet the producers” event held at the BFI in London. Here’s the thing: if you place in the competition you stand out amongst all the other writers clamouring for the producers’ attention on the night.
Robyn Slovo (producer of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”, “Two Faces Of January” and Thomas Alfredson’s new film “The Snowman”) gave me a recommendation of a producer to send my script to, while Judith King, Head of Development at Red Planet Pictures, requested to read my script as a sample. An extraordinary result for an unrepped writer like myself!
This year, it could be your turn. So what are you waiting for? The competition is open for entries until March 31st.
ABOUT KT Parker
KT Parker is a writer and producer, trained through Euroscript’s Summer School (2012) and various ad hoc weekend Euroscript courses, the “Storytelling for the Screen” programme at the Screen Arts Institute (2013), attending London Screenwriters’ Festival every year since 2012 and participating in the BFI/Creative Skillset Talent Campus (2015, run by London Screenwriters’ Festival).
She is currently producing her one-act play, “The Chamber Of Beheaded Queens”, which has been selected for Liverpool’s Page To Stage Festival (4th-16th April 2016). Her screenplay, “A Face To Paint”, won the period/historical feature film script category of Final Draft’s Big Break screenwriting competition in December 2015 and she is now crowdfunding her way to L.A. to attend the awards ceremony at Paramount Studios on February 11th. You can check out her campaign here:
You can also connect with KT Parker on social media here:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/lunaperla and https://twitter.com/BeheadedQueens
Every successful screenwriter I know is brilliant at pitching. The ability to pitch well accelerates every aspect of your career in cinema or TV - from coming up with new ideas to developing them, and of course selling them.
Last time, we started by looking at your seed image. If you missed the article, read it here). This time, we’re getting stuck into the pitch or log line.
Why have a pitch at the start?
A good log line is essentially a one or two sentence pitch which has something magical that makes your listener’s eyes light up - this is the spark. Nowadays I never start writing a script unless I have a log line with that spark - after all the first person I have to sell the idea to is myself.
As I write, and then as I edit, the pitch helps keep the script focused. And at the end, the pitch is central to selling it to producers.
What’s your pitch?
There’s a certain magic you need in creating a good idea that you can’t force into existence. But you can create the right conditions for finding it. And you can do that right now.
You don’t have to be clever, you have to be imaginative, disciplined and committed to not accepting second-best. And you need three ingredients to make the pitch work:
1. What’s your genre?
Ingredient one is the genre - in other words, what kind of story is this going to be? Will it make people laugh, or cry, or scream in horror? Or what? Genre is first and foremost about the emotion you want to create in the viewer.
The seed image probably gave you a hint of that emotion. Now is the time to dig deeper into your imagination. Imagine the audience watching your work on screen. What do they feel?
2. Who does what?
Ingredient two in a good pitch is the Outer Story. Who is your protagonist and what does he or she want? Focus on the big decision that underpins the whole story.
In Hamlet it’s the decision to avenge his father’s murder. In Joy it’s the decision to invent a self-wringing mop.
It’s an “outer” story because we have to film it - in other words it’s not just inside their head.
3. What’s their flaw?
By contrast, ingredient three is the Inner Story. What is the inner flaw that’s stopping the protagonist from progressing? On its own, the outer story is rather thin and mechanical. This inner struggle gives it depth.
Hamlet has to conquer his fear of taking action (he fails to do this in time, which gives us a tragic ending).
Joy has to learn to stand up for herself. If, she does that she’ll earn her happy ending. In some stories, you find a mix, part growth, part failure, giving a bittersweet end.
Put it together
To create your pitch, put them together: GENRE plus OUTER STORY plus FLAW.
Hamlet is a revenge tragedy about a young prince who must avenge his father’s murder but must confront his own fears before he can confront the murderer.
Joy is a comedy-drama about an insecure but ambitious young woman who sets out to invent the world’s first self-wringing mop and must learn to stand up for herself if she’s to succeed
Where’s the rest?
Where’s the rest of the play? The brilliant writing? The subtle interrogation of philosophy? The other characters? The subplots?
They don’t belong here.
Don’t confuse the log line with the script. The job of the pitch is simply to excite - to excite you enough to write the screenplay and then to excite producers enough to read it!
That simple sentence can take hard work to write. You need to focus hard on the absolute essentials, and cut away everything else - your 90+ page idea boiled down into a single line.
But if you get it right, it will form the foundation of everything you do next - whether that’s writing the outline, editing a draft - or indeed selling it.
Next: Writing the treatment.
By Charles Harris
Are you planning to get stuck into some writing this January? Or getting ready to polish one up for selling?
I thought I'd kick off the season with ideas and techniques for using your time in the most useful and productive way.
This will the first of a series that will take you through the steps from start to finish, so if you follow them, by the time you've finished you'll have a finished screenplay for film or TV - ready to send out.
What kind of writer are you?
To start, what kind of writer are you? There are four basic kinds (with variations):
- those who plan every detail
- those who prefer to jump in and see what happens
- those who plan, but like to improvise when they feel like it
- and those who plan but continue to change the plan so that it keeps pace with the draft as they progress.
Any method is good, if it suits you and your story. However, with film and TV scripts there is much less room for jumping in blind than, say, with novels and plays.
Personally, I plan the basic steps but allow myself freedom to discover and improvise as I write. This keeps the freshness, but ensures you don't go so far off piste that the whole story falls apart.
Here are the first steps, so you can start on them right now if you want. Then I'll follow up in more detail in future days and weeks.
By the way, the process that follows is also a great way to work with a well-developed script. It's only too easy to lose your way in a script edit - this method ensures you never lose sight of the essentials even as you polish.
1. Find your seed
A good seed will make you interested, fired up, ready to explore. The problem with writing is it's like getting caught in the storm. As the story builds and you're in the middle of the storm you forget where you were planning to go in the first place.
Remembering what started you off will help you keep going to the end.
Most writers start with ideas that come as a seed, unformed but with the germ of interest. Usually it's an image - a man walking down a railway track in the night, a body lying stabbed in a swimming pool.
Sometimes it's a character they want to explore. Who is it? What does she want? What does she need?
For Harold Pinter, his seed was often a line of dialogue. Who's speaking? What will they say next?
Start working on this now. Ask yourself what first excited you about this story idea.
Whatever it is, locate it, write it down and begin to brainstorm. Jot down any thoughts that grow from your seed - images, places, characters, feelings, events... Write them in whatever form you like - in lists, on separate scraps or in a diagram connecting your thoughts like the branches of a tree. As you do, see what ideas begin to come.
2. Create your pitch or one-sentence log-line
For the second step, we'll be focusing that core idea into a pitch that gets me fired up. I never start writing anything unless I have a strong one-sentence pitch that has that crucial spark. After all, the first person I have to sell the idea to is myself.
3. Plan the treatment or outline
Later in the series, I'll talk about developing a route-map for the journey you're about to undertake. The better you make this, the more you can relax and trust where you're going.
4. Write the draft
First drafts are best written fast. I'll be looking at how best to organise to do this, so that you don't get hung up on distractions and details.
5. Edit the draft
Most writers make the mistake of trying to edit everything at once. I believe that the best way to eat a large sausage is one slice at a time. So in the final articles I'll be taking you through the steps from big picture to tiny detail in seven separate edits.
Ready, Go, Steady
Are you ready for the journey? Or maybe already in the middle of one and can do with some help and reassurance. Most people wait till they have every single detail perfect... and never start!
Don't wait till you have everything perfect - the best place to start is now.
Step #2 - the premise and pitch
Charles Harris is an experienced award-winning writer-director for cinema and TV. His first professional script was optioned to be developed by major agents CAA in Hollywood and he has since worked with top names in the industry from James Stewart to Alexei Sayle.
He created the first Pitching Thursday for London Screenwriters' Festival, has sat on Bafta awards juries, lectured at universities, film schools and international film festivals and teaches selling and pitching to writers, directors and producers across Europe. His new book Teach Yourself: Complete Writing Course is recommended reading on MA courses.
by Ian Long
“I think accessibility is what often denies horror its deserved attention. So it all depends on the execution [as to] whether mainstream audiences can accept it.”
- Bryan Fuller, Hannibal’s showrunner
The TV series Hannibal (which ran from 2013-2015, but which may be due for a revival) went even further than the cinema versions of Thomas Harris’s novels in terms of outré shocks and extreme weirdness - or, at least, it seemed to.
At the same time, it was widely praised by critics and established a widespread audience of committed and discerning ‘Fannibals’, with a large female contingent.
All of which suggests that this surprisingly engaging show is more than a simple gore-fest. There’s something considered going on here: a clever design scheme has allowed us to feel that we've experienced the most monstrous events imaginable, while shielding us from the worst of them.
So ... what sleight-of-hand enabled Hannibal to make such dark and gruesome subject matter into compelling viewing?
If we want to devise horror ideas which have the potential to connect with audiences, understanding how Hannibal achieves its effects gives us some useful clues. It shows us some of the strategies that storytellers have used to handle truly taboo topics.
1. Set it in a fantasy world
Hannibal doesn’t strive for realism. The show's design distances it from the world we know, immediately tipping us off that it takes place in a fantasy arena: a world that's an analogue of ours, but which runs by slightly different rules.
“We are not making television,” Fuller told each new director who came to work on the programme. “We are making a pretentious art film from the Eighties.”
Recognisable technology is present, but the cars and computers stay in the background of the underlit, Gothic-looking buildings with their green-tinged interiors and peculiar, retro accoutrements.
If it’s established early on that we’re in a dark fairytale, we can enjoy the ride - free of the misgivings we may feel if the story’s world was closer to reality.
2. Make sure there's a strong vein of dark humour
Bryan Fuller: “I consider Hannibal a very, very, very dark comedy.”
Much of the show’s interest is based on our prior knowledge of Hannibal Lecter. We know he’s a cannibalistic murderer, even if everyone in the story thinks that he's a suave and worldly psychiatrist. And this provides much scope for humour.
Hannibal frequently drops outrageous hints about his true nature.
And when he does so, Mads Mikkelsen allows the smallest hint of a smirk to cross his glacial features. The more this happens, the more deliciously complicit we become with his character, and the further we’re drawn into the story.
It’s a big mistake to write horror (and other ‘hard-hitting’ genres) without a vein of well-judged humour - an essential balancing factor which greatly increases the pleasure of the audience.
3. De-emphasise sexual violence
Sex is far from the main driving force for the parade of garish psychopaths that weaves its way through Hannibal.
Their motives are so strange and convoluted that it’s the sheer commitment of the performances and the loving attention to detail of the filmmaking that renders them credible.
Hannibal’s florid maniacs pursue obscure obsessions for months, years, decades; they try to become prehistoric cave-bears, to turn people into trees or fungi, or to construct gigantic eyes to look at God.
This is a fairytale world of fantasy crimes.
Fuller understands that rape has been overexploited in crime stories, and has specifically banned it from his series. As he says, “That was one of the big challenges. How do we keep our promise [not to tell rape stories] ... and also service the novel.”
If we were watching a procession of sex-crimes, the series would quickly become creepy and distasteful - especially for women, who are weary of seeing themselves as victims in any number of genres.
4. Aestheticise your murders for intellectual appeal
Following on from this, by the time the audience gets to see the victims they have usually been rendered into perverse – but often quite beautiful – artworks.
These drew visual inspiration from the oeuvres of Francis Bacon, Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn, Anselm Kiefer, the Chapman Brothers, and many others; adding to the visual stylishness of a show which foregrounded the superb tailoring of Mads Mikkelsen's clothing.
We rarely see someone being killed, much less tortured or mutilated.
And when we do, the details are often obscured. It’s mostly when violence between or involving the leading characters takes place that we witness it at all; just about everything else happens offscreen.
The most interesting confrontations are the long, near-philosophical dialogues between Hannibal and various others (particularly Will Graham). Their verbal fencing is so full of subtexts and hidden conflicts that it's as thrilling as a physical struggle.
Hannibal places death in a fantasy context and serves up mortality as an abstraction, divorced from its customary context. And it doesn’t make the mistake (often found in novice screenplays) of overplaying the gore-factor.
5. Build in some strong emotional undercurrents
This is perhaps the most important factor of all.
When Fuller said he saw Hannibal as a dark comedy, he added, “and on another level, it’s an emotional story about male friendships.”
I have a friend who can’t watch the US version of House of Cards: she finds the characters too cold and self-motivated. But she enjoys Fargo despite its violence, because its characters retain some emotional depth and sense of connectedness.
Both Hannibal and Will Graham are strange, unfathomable men. Each represents the other's sole chance to find the deeper understanding that all human beings crave.
For all its grisliness, Hannibal is something of a protracted courtship between Lecter and Will Graham.
As Bryan Fuller, says, “If the first season is the bromance, the second season is the break-up; Lecter is the spurned lover.”
Like all other genres, Horror is far more powerful, memorable and potentially popular when there's some powerful emotion behind it.
Don't forget this when you're writing your own stories!
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You can find out much more about these kinds of approaches to constructing stories - films, TV series, novels and short stories - in Ian Long's DEEP NARRATIVE DESIGN WORKSHOP, on June 12.
To find out more and book, click here.
IAN LONG is Euroscript's Head of Consultancy. He is a writer, script editor and screenwriting teacher, and has taught his acclaimed writing workshops in the UK and elsewhere.
THE ONLY PLACE TO TALK ABOUT THE CRAFT OF SCRIPTWRITING.