By Deola Folarin
1] PAINTING WITH WORDS:
My first tip is as much for producers and script editors who are working with screenwriters who have dyslexia and other learning difficulties, as for the scriptwriters themselves. It is important to understand that dyslexic screenwriters think differently and that their approach to scriptwriting may be unusual. Yes, at times they don't catch onto what is easily grasped by most people, but they often think more than others in terms of visual and aural imagery. And cinema is a visual and aural art! And I believe others with dyslexia tend to think of screenwriting as painting with words and dialogue as cinematic poetry. Scriptwriting for writers with disabilities is not all 'Temple of Doom' and gloom: Spielberg was dyslexic! And it is believed that Stanley Kubrick had Asperger's Syndrome. Both are accomplished screenwriters as well as directors.
Because of my dyslexia, I never wanted to write. I came to writing as a frustrated director who wanted to get my own ideas down into a script that I could direct.
Now I really enjoy creating scripts, especially after I doing an M.A. in screenwriting. However, even today I have terrible problems with the 2 page-outlines that sell one's work. The logical progression, the correct grammar, and spelling demanded by these documents can be a minefield when you have a learning difficulty.
However, they can and should reflect a dyslexic person's strengths. Use all those stunning visuals that you see and stories that you hear every day to help producers and funders quickly grasp the filmic life in your storylines, incidents, characters, visuals.
2] THE STORY/PLOT NECKLACE
Here is where a dyslexic disadvantage becomes a firm plus. Dyslexic brains often make interesting connections and see the world differently as well as more visually. So search the internet, newspapers, and magazine for those diamonds in the rough. These are the beads you can put on that string of a plot. You might find a fantastic true story but you cannot get the rights or the first half is great but the second half is dull. That's, of course, the moment where creativity comes in - taking nuggets from life and stringing them together in creative ways. And dyslexics are often particularly creative - easily seeing original connections - for example, by way of unique angles e.g. point of view, sequences, etc. - that others find more difficult. Look at any great Spielberg or Kubrick film: JAWS, SCHINDLER'S LIST, FULL METAL JACKET, THE SHINING, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.
And of course, study all the great examples of original story/plotlines whether from life, novels, biographies, or wherever; whoever created them, disabled or neurotypical. Since one of a dyslexic's strengths is combining things in a unique way, it is important to study films that do this. E.g. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (I am not aware of a gay cowboy movie before this), JOHNNY MAD DOG, (essentially LORD OF THE FLIES but so originally set with boy soldiers in an African civil war zone). LIFE OF PI (You can't get much more unique than the story of a boy on a lifeboat in the ocean stuck with a tiger!) COP LAND( where a partially deaf sheriff defends his town from corrupt cops and the mafia). Or finally, MURDER BALL, (a feature documentary about disabled wheelchair basketball players).
Okay, you've thought of your unique, original, fascinating story but how do you tell it to others in two pages and a few rather formal paragraphs. I suggest taking a blank sheet of paper, drawing ten or so squares [ or circles] big enough for you to write one sentence in each. These are your beads. Then write one sentence in the first about the action/story that happens at the beginning of the film. Draw an arrow to the next box and continue to create the story necklace until you get to the end of your movie plot. I often start at the end. I like to know my climax and where I am going and then I go back to the beginning of the plot/story.
This diagram is a very simple way of having a visual sketch of your story in front of you.
If you do this on a large piece of paper then you can stick pictures that make comments on each story block next to it. This is hugely helpful when you are creating characters or setting the mood of the story/sequence.
3] THREE DIMENSIONAL CHARACTERS:
The best book I have read on creating characters, making them striking and three-dimensional is LINDA SEGER's CREATING UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTERS. Buy it and devour it. It is brilliant and helped me hugely.
There is nothing worse than an incredible story and pacey plot but with cardboard cut-outs for characters. Yes, it is difficult in a 2 pager not to have wooden characters since you don't have the visual poetry of dialogue in an outline but you can hint at the protagonist or antagonist's speech or unique mannerisms in your descriptions. Make your main characters unusual and stand out individually from the page. Your minor characters can be more stock. Remember we want to watch interesting people that hold our attention or ordinary people in interesting situations. No reader wants to read a 2 pager with dull characters. Strong characters will make your outline stand out. Shine!
Make a scrapbook that you can fill with interesting people whose stories fascinate you.
Create a list of questions that you would ask your character if you could speak to them. Become one of the actors in the story and interview yourself and other characters. This will really help you to make the characters more three-dimensional.
Watch and study films with amazing characters in them: e.g. Melvin Udall in AS GOOD AS IT GETS, Mildred in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, Hannibal Lector in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Russell Stevens in DEEP COVER, Brandon Treena in BOYS DON'T CRY, Alonzo in TRAINING DAY. Travis Bickle in TAXI DRIVER. Ask yourself how could you have treated these characters in a 2-pager.
Now you are ready to try your two-pager. Even on its two pages, don't forget to paint with your words and create aural images. Arrestingly!
4] GET YOUR WORK CHECKED:
This is an obvious point but probably even the most important for us dyslexics and those who have other learning difficulties. This will help you make sure your work is clear, well-written, and engaging. This is vital as a reader for a funder, a film company, or competition will have hundreds of 2-pagers to get through. You don't want your nuggets to get buried in bad punctuation and inept grammar that is distracting for a reader. You want the reader to keep focused and excited.
Make sure you get your work checked by a script editor, tutor, or another writer with strong editing, grammar awareness, and correction skills.
If you have no access to anyone, do not despair there are proofreading services online, like grammarly.com or https://kindlepreneur.com/best-proofreading-service/ or https://www.writersservices.com/editorial-services/proof-reading-service/. There are also fonts which are more readable for dyslexic readers such as Dyslexie and Open Dyslexic.
Although Euroscript is not a proofreading service they have amazing script feedback services and courses at Euroscript.
Have fun painting with words and creating cinematic poetry. Carpe Diem!
By Alizée Musson
In the pre-internet age, filmmakers’ options for getting a foot in the door were limited to writing spec scripts and shooting short films for the festival circuit. Back then, reaching an audience was impossible without convincing the industry’s gatekeepers first. Nowadays, in the world of Web 2.0, reaching a worldwide audience is only a click away. Through their web series’, the following three projects gathered enough momentum to launch their creators’ big break.
So, what can we learn from these success stories that may inspire you to jump on the web series bandwagon?
1. Simon's cat
The internet loves cats; it’s a well-known fact. Back in 2008, Simon Tofield, an animator, decided to teach himself computer animation by making a short film. Inspired by one of his four cats, Hugh, the film focused on a cat trying to get his owner’s attention in the morning. A simple idea that carried Tofield far. Without knowing it at the time, someone copied the film from his showreel and uploaded it to YouTube. By the time he realised, the video had captivated more than cat lovers around the world. Seeing the video’s popularity, Tofield decided to launch a YouTube channel to tell more of his buddies’ daily adventures - Simon’s Cat was born!
Hundreds of episodes have been made since, viewed around 1 billion times on a YouTube channel with 5.5M followers. From working alone behind his computer, Tofield became a director leading a team of animators. Simon’s Cat became so viral that in 2009, a book adaptation was announced and went on to sell internationally.
From then on, the web series and his feline protagonist evolved into various formats: in 2012, Simon’s Cat comic strips ran in The Daily Mirror; in 2016, Simon’s Cat partnered with Sesame Street; and in 2018 the game Simon’s Cat Dash came out.
Tofield’s experience is a perfect example of how sharing your work on a platform such as YouTube could be a great way to test a concept – even one you haven’t thought of yet.
2. Shiro's Story
In 2018, rapper and filmmaker Andrew Onwubolu (a.k.a. Rapman) released the three-part web series Shiro’s Story on YouTube: the story of a father who must dive deep into the London gang world to get his daughter back; all told through freestyle rap. Inspired by a real-life story from the South London neighbourhood of Lewisham, where Rapman grew up, the film was shot “guerilla-style” with a small cast and crew. The trilogy was an instant hit, gathering millions of views within the first hours of being released.
Shiro’s Story didn’t just garner a wide audience, it also caught the attention of producers and broadcasters. Thanks to this web series, Rapman moved on to more significant projects. In 2020, he released a crime drama feature film, Blue Story, based on another YouTube series of the same name that he had released in 2014. The film was co-produced by Paramount Pictures and BBC Films and was short-listed for the BAFTAS. The web series’ success also led Rapman to get a representation deal with the entertainment agency Roc Nation.
The success of Shiro’s Story is definite proof that you don’t need fancy gear and a big budget to create a hit – all you need is a good story.
3. People Just Do Nothing
People Just Do Nothing follows the lives of MC Grindah, DJ Beats and his friends running a radio station called Kurupt FM, broadcasting drum and bass music from Brentford, London. Created by Allan Mustafa, Steve Stamp, Asim Chaudhry and Hugo Chegwi, this mockumentary sitcom was first released on YouTube in 2011 as five webisodes, accumulating around 380K views. Among the audience was producer Jon Petrie who worked with a former producer of The Office, Ash Atalla. Seeing potential in the idea, Atalla arranged to produce a pilot episode for BBC3’s Comedy Feeds in 2012. BBC3 liked the concept and decided to pick up the series. Its first season was released in 2014 and ran for five seasons until 2018.
In 2017 the show won a BAFTA award and a Royal Television Society award for Best Scripted Comedy. Although it is now over, the creators have been working on a feature film adaptation due to be released in August 2021: People Just Do Nothing: Big in Japan. The series’ success has also opened many doors for the creators: Allan Mustafa, Asim Chaudry and Hugo Chegwin have since respectively appeared in films and TV series, including Netflix’s Love Wedding Repeat, Wonder Woman 1984 and The Announcement, and Steve Stamp continues to write for TV, including the TV movie Peacock.
While this web series did not gather millions of views, its concept stood out enough to get picked up by a significant broadcaster. You don’t need many episodes. All you need is a strong story to get noticed.
So, what are you waiting for?
THE ONLY PLACE TO TALK ABOUT THE CRAFT OF SCRIPTWRITING.