Monsters are central to Horror, so ahead of our Writing Horror workshop on February 23, let’s look at the positive values they can have for both writers and audiences
By Ian Long
A boy and his monsters
In almost every interview he gives, Guillermo del Toro revisits his outcast, hypersensitive Mexican childhood as a “thin, almost albino” boy, his domineering, disapproving grandmother, and the defiant affinity that he developed with monsters as a result. It’s his touchstone and founding myth.
Monsters opened up a zone where the lonely, bullied future director could find comfort. For young Guillermo, they weren't scary, but strangely benign and nurturing. They acted as guardians of his private world.
Immersing himself in the darkness of horror films and Victorian Gothic (like Tim Burton in sunny Burbank), he felt surrounded by powerful imaginary friends who terrified and repelled everyone else, but made him feel stronger - and, perhaps, an initiate into secret worlds and arcane knowledge.
The director says he also deliberately over-ate to put on weight (something that would later cause health issues), consciously changing his body into something bigger and more intimidating – in his mind, something “monstrous”.
How can writers use monsters?
Del Toro’s story suggests that, rather than being one-dimensional figures, monsters can have depth and nuance, embodying positive aspects as well as threats.
Which can make for complex, intriguing, dramatic stories.
As writers, we can blur or eradicate the line between heroes and monsters. We can use them to raise deep questions about human psychology, and show how “ordinary people” strike bargains with them, for various reasons - perhaps themselves becoming monstrous in the process.
And as we’ve seen with del Toro’s own health problems, dealing with monsters also has its costs – which is also inherently dramatic.
This is something that the creators of shows like BEING HUMAN, DEXTER, HANNIBAL, TRUE DETECTIVE and PENNY DREADFUL have recognised.
All these shows have great strengths, but Penny Dreadful may be the richest of them. Its creator, John Logan, consciously shaped it as a primer of ideas about monsters and monstrousness, which he used to think the subject through from just about every angle.
Like del Toro’s tales, Penny Dreadful is inspired by Victorian Gothic, and its lead characters are a kind of incestuous, dysfunctional family. Sir Malcolm Murray is the obsessed, driven father-figure. Vanessa Ives, Ethan Chandler and Victor Frankenstein are his wild children.
And as we know, Victor also has a "child" of his own: interestingly, both he and the Creature use the epithet “demon” to refer to each other.
As Vanessa asks the flamboyantly amoral Dorian Gray: “To be alien, to be disenfranchised from those around you, is that not a terrible curse?”
“To be different, to be powerful – is that not a divine gift?” Dorian suavely replies.
It's a story about outcasts who find a common cause. But the things that keep them together are fragile and constantly under threat.
Sex and monsters
Q: But where did Logan’s interest in monsters come from?
A: It’s all about sex.
“I've always been drawn to monsters,” Logan says. “As I grew older, I realised what really attracted me to them was … to do with growing up as a gay man.”
The teenage Logan saw the gay area of New York as “a forbidden, sexy, scary place”. Although he quickly realised that this is was where he belonged, "to step through that door would mark me as different from my brother, my family, my schoolfriends.”
“The thing that made me alien and different and monstrous to some people is also the thing that empowered me and gave me a sense of confidence and uniqueness and a drive toward individuality that I think is important for any writer."
It's something that also figures in Hellraiser creator Clive Barker's relationship with writing - to name just one other example. John Logan goes on to say:
"Until I grappled with and accepted the reality of who and what I was – which many people would consider monstrous – I couldn't be the artist or the man that I am.”
Monsters and audiences
I've talked a lot about writers' potentially positive relationship with monsters.
Does it seem likely, though, that audiences - the fine, decent, upstanding bulk of the population - would feel any affinity with creatures that overturn ideas of normality?
However - difference isn’t just felt by gay people, writers, or thin, almost albino boys.
The brutal fact is that we all share this experience at some stage in our lives. And we all have transgressive, antisocial drives that we may not want to enact, but which we need to acknowledge at some level. Monsters can help us do this.
Why else would people feel so intrigued by the Child Catcher, Freddie Kruger or Hannibal Lecter?
And why else would all the films and TV shows I've mentioned be so popular?
Exploring difference in this way can bring you closer to audiences, not further away from them.
Lessons from Logan and del Toro
By its nature, being a writer is an outsider’s occupation – and, as we've seen, monsters are a great metaphor for this.
But how can you find your own relationship with monsters and the monstrous? Here are a few points to ponder. You will probably think of others.
Find out much more about writing horror at our all-day workshop on February 23
We all have big ideas and we want to make big movies and would like to go from WHIPLASH to FIRST MAN in a few short years like Damien Chazelle. But the reality is Chazelle is very much the exception to the rule and many writers get burnt out as they struggle to get their scripts produced in spite of winning top competitions and getting their work optioned. That doesn't mean you shouldn't write big projects and reach for the stars, just that it wouldn't hurt to have small films that you know can get made. That's when micro-budget films come into play. Admittedly what qualifies as “micro-budget” is a little fuzzy (see what Steven Follows has to say on the topic) but the bottom line is they are movies made with money you can realistically secure under your present circumstances.
Micro-budget films aren't just for writer-directors. Producers are craving scripts they could produce well on a small budget. The lower the budget the easier it is to recoup the cost, which is more appealing for them. Although micro-budget scripts present clear advantages in terms of feasibility it's often challenging for directors and producers to find scripts that can be truly made on a low-budget – let alone a micro-budget – so it seems that a lot of screenwriters are unaware of the reality of turning their vision into a film. So, the tips below would be a good place to start to remedy the situation:
1. Think like a producer...
Write with a producer's cap on even if you aren't planning on producing yourself. Is it a story that could really be made on a budget without massive compromises that would be detrimental to the story? Not all projects should be made on a micro-budget. So give your script an honest reality check and if you aren't savvy about production talk to filmmakers and take stock of the requirements of your project. While the budget of your micro-budget script can always balloon like the DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED or BURIED you can't always scale back your high-concept project so it's always a good idea to set strict parameters at the outset so that you can make the creative limitations work to your advantage taking into account all the resources you have at your disposal (including what you can access at your day job for example!).
2. Ensure it's a script you are passionate about...
It's not because you can shoot a script on an I-Phone over two weeks that you should do it. Regardless of the budget between the production process and the festival run, it's going to be one or two years of your life you won't get back. The process of making a feature film is incredibly involving so make so make sure you believe in your project. Of course if you aren't planning on producing and directing yourself that's less of concern but let's face it, in the micro-budget world chances are you are a bit of an hybrid between an entrepreneur and an artist (and if you aren't it's time to become one).
3. It's okay to think big...
Movies like COHERENCE which was shot over five nights and explore big ideas in a compact format are gold dust as they transcend the limitations of low-budget filmmaking and take full advantage of the fact they have creative control and can experiment with bold ideas.
4. It's not because you can shoot your script cheaply that you should overlook the development process...
Movies with 2, 3 main characters are incredibly hard to write. Many of the breakthrough micro to low-budget films out there are the product of years spent in development. Small gems like A GIRL WALKS ALONE AT NIGHT and BLUE RUIN don't emerge fully baked, their auteurs spent years crafting their scripts and it shows.
5. Make each character count...
The fewer the better. The fewer characters you have, the more screen time they have and the better you can develop them and actors love the opportunity to have a great character to sink their teeth into. Use the hyper-connected world to your advantage to be able to add more characters without having to bring them on set. There is so much you can do with a phone like in Chris Sparling's BURIED and modern technology can offer cheap solutions to tell your stories. Look at the clever use of technology in the Danish Oscar entry THE GUILTY co-written by Gustav Möller and Emil Nygaard Albertsen who manage to keep their audience on the edge of their seat with a policeman in a call center, a phone and computer screens.
6. Contained locations but you can still move around...
The fewer locations the better of course so the first examples of contained movies that cross your mind might be TAPE and EXAM and the aforementioned BURIED which manages to squeeze actual action pieces in a coffin. But it's not because you are making a micro-budget film that you should necessarily contain your story to ONE location. Ask yourself what locations you have at your disposal and write around them, WEEK-END being a good example of that, or LOCKE where the character is stuck in a moving car throughout the whole film which makes the whole experience cinematic. Just avoid locations you don't have full control over.
7. Keep it short anD SWEET...
I read a lot of micro-budget scripts which are 110 pages, which means the directors will often end up shooting ten pages per day if they only have ten days to shoot. So I recommend you edit the hell out of your script and be ruthless with it. Aim for 90 pages maximum.
8. Don't assume that because you don't have money it should be all talk-talk-talk...
There are so many ways of making things visual on a budget and keep the characters moving. Making a micro-budget film doesn't necessarily mean you have to film a stage play. Look at BLUE RUIN and its incredible visual opening. It's not because you are making a micro-budget film that you should strip away all your great locations and shot ideas that can elevate your piece.
9. Understand your industry context and the marketplace...
Be clear at the outset about your goal. Are you writing your film for yourself, the festival circuit, the commercial circuit or both and be realistic and knowledgeable about the prospects of a small movie in today's indie landscape. Study similar films (“comparables”). Again, even if you aren't a producer it wouldn't hurt to have clarity about the marketplace while boldly embracing the fact you can take a risk with your story or cast that you wouldn't be able to take when more people are investing in your film and want to have a say in the creative process. Show us a white-sheeted ghost wandering in a house if you please like in A GHOST STORY.
10. Beware of SFX and VFX...
If you as a writer/director or your director are a specialist in VFX then fine, you can write a story in the vein of MONSTERS but if you are not, just know you are in for a steep learning curve so refrain from relying on VFX and what will happen in post-production. Embrace your limitations in a creative way and plan ahead like Mike Cahill who spent a long time carefully designing the otherworldly visuals of ANOTHER EARTH before going to camera.
It's just a starting point of course but a good place to start to make the most out of your minuscule budget.
By Ian Long
Sometimes films or TV series work towards an unusually powerful scene or sequence which burns itself onto the memory of the viewer.
This is much more than a mere “twist” (often a disappointingly trite or unearned plot turn), but something which plays really profoundly on viewers’ perceptions and emotions, touching them in ways they may not entirely understand.
Q: But how do we achieve this effect?
A: By being aware of how to use information in a story, and making and breaking patterns of ideas in the minds of audiences.
My Deep Narrative Design workshop on June 12 sets out many ways in which you can create powerful stories using these methods.
For now, though, let’s look at a great example of making and breaking patterns in the first season of HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE.
Spoiler Alert: this item reveals one particularly surprising moment of the story, although the season has many other intriguing character and plot elements.
The story features Louisiana State Police homicide detectives Rustin “Rust” Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin “Marty” Hart (Woody Harrelson).
The two men embody contradictory sides of the standard “hard-boiled” detective – aspects which are usually contained in a single protagonist.
Hart is an unreflective man of action, all fists and fiery passion, while Cohle is a sort of nihilist philosopher-cum-policeman - detached, despairing, unfathomable. Both share an overarching sense of alienation, of being at odds with life.
As well as twin protagonists, True Detective has an unusual dual-timeline structure. In the story’s “present”, 2012, the two detectives are interrogated about a case they worked on some twenty years earlier.
As we move between the past and present, finding out about the case and seeing how time has changed the men, we learn why they’re being questioned: one of them is suspected of involvement in a recent murder related to the past case.
The Joys of Voiceover
As in many noir-inflected stories (SUNSET BOULEVARD, MEMENTO, DEXTER, etc), voiceover isn’t just an add-on here: it’s a vital part of the story’s design. The narrative just wouldn’t work without this way of putting us inside characters’ minds.
Patterns and Rules
Series creator Nic Pizzolatto set out clear ground rules for the story in his treatment, including this: “The narrating voice may lie, but the images we see never will. So an audience can be sure they know exactly what happened, and also that they can tell when one of the detectives is lying.”
The Unforgettable Sequence
For much of the season, Cohle and Hart's spoken testimony squares with what we're seeing onscreen. But in “The Secret Fate Of All Life,” the fifth of the season’s eight episodes, this pattern is broken.
The duo track a suspect to a meth lab hidden deep in the bayou. Finding two kidnapped and abused children in the compound, Hart is incensed and unnecessarily kills the suspect, who he’s already taken into custody.
But the voiceover we hear from the men as we watch these events tells an entirely different story.
As Hart and Cohle tell us that they came under intense fire and were obliged to retaliate, the scene that we see is quiet and tranquil. And then we watch as the men fake evidence of a desperate shootout which never happened.
They’re subsequently decorated and promoted for their heroism. But they've become conspirators in covering up a murder. It’s a lie on which the rest of their lives will be founded.
The Emotional Impact
I vividly remember the sense of unreality I experienced when watching this scene: a feeling which drew its power purely from the way in which information was “coded” in the story. With it went feelings of bafflement, almost betrayal, as the visual information I was receiving departed so far from the characters’ verbal descriptions.
It’s these moments of thrilling strangeness – when viewers feel cut adrift and experience something genuinely new and compelling – that we need to look for in our stories, and which makes them truly memorable.
And when reading scripts, these are the moments that producers and directors are searching for.
The brilliant title sequence which includes the images in this article were made by Elastic, and you can find out more about the ideas behind the sequence here.
For more details and to book on my Deep Narrative Design workshop, click here.
Thank you for reading, and please let me know of any thoughts or comments.
As usual, we at Euroscript are taking our Script Surgery to the London Screenwriters’ Festival in September.
Our doctors will be meeting a host of writers and giving them in-depth, one-to-one help with their projects.
Lots of writers say their appointments with us are the highlight of their LSF.
So we’re ready – but are you?
We say it every year, but it’s crucial to have your projects in the best possible shape before you pitch them to the producers, financiers, distributors and other movers and shakers you’re going to meet at LSF.
You need a finished script. And you need it to be excellent.
The good news
There’s still time to get the best feedback in the business from LSF’s most trusted screenplay development organisation – in other words, us.
We’ll give you the quality consultancy you’ll get at the Festival before you go – so you can relax when you’re there, knowing your story is as good as it can be, and you can hand it out with confidence.
More good news
The help we give at LSF is available all year round via Skype calls, meetings and written reports. So you can get that vital feedback you need whenever you need it.
Click here to see our range of feedback services and to book!
By Ian Long
Horror offers writers and directors ways to make cinema that's vibrant, powerful and entertaining.
My Writing Horror Now workshop on July 12 aims to refresh the ideas of people who already love the genre - and to help newcomers see its many possibilities.
So, to lure you in, here are 6 reasons why you should be writing Horror.
1. The Creative Challenge
Horror is an extremely malleable genre which gives writers the chance to reform the world and its possibilities at will. It also blends in interesting ways with other genres.
Think of David Cronenberg’s comment that his film THE BROOD (1979) was a more truthful account of a marriage break-up than Robert Benton's KRAMER VS KRAMER, released in the same year.
The workshop will look at ways of making new stories from this “blending” process.
Take up Horror's creative challenges and give your imagination free rein!
2. Politics, Society, Religion, Sexuality
Are you deeply concerned about any of these issues?
Do you want to comment on them in ways that will reach large audiences and start debates?
The genre’s visceral, unbound quality lets you talk about social and political ideas in ways that are devastating and memorable.
Think of recent films like GET OUT and UNDER THE SHADOW. Or older ones like CARRIE, the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and JAWS.
All of them had intriguing depths and important things to say about the way we're living.
Horror cuts to the chase, dealing with deep, primal issues that other genres skate around.
3. Visual and cinematic qualities
Horror intensifies stories which might otherwise lack cinematic interest, opening up visual possibilities, heightening emotions, increasing stakes.
In other genres, a problem may be talked about, or acted out. In Horror, it’s embodied … by a 'monster'. And it’s up to you how that monster looks, acts and sounds.
4. Popularity with audiences (and critics)
Did you know that Horror is the most profitable film genre?
Producers are always looking for good, original Horror scripts. And many popular TV shows (DEXTER, HANNIBAL, BEING HUMAN, etc) have strong horror aspects.
Lots of the movies that “break out” of their home territories and achieve international success are in the Horror genre (TROLLHUNTER, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, THE ORPHANAGE).
And when the films are good, the critics will also come on board; all these films were very well reviewed.
5. A Great Tradition
Horror has no lack of cultural or intellectual credibility. Many great writers have contributed to the genre – from Daphne du Maurier, Susan Hill and Hilary Mantel to Charles Dickens, Franz Kafka and Honoré de Balzac (not forgetting Mary Shelley).
Join this gilded roll-call with your own contributions!
6. Horror isn’t polite
At times when cultural mores become a little rigid, some outlet is necessary for us to say the unsayable, and to give vent to the dark things that underlie our psychology and culture.
Horror is always going to provide these opportunities (humour does something similar - and there's a strange bond between these seemingly very different genres).
Use Horror to indulge your inner punk-rocker, to be provocative, and to experiment with divergent ideas. Audiences will love you for it.
For more information on the workshop, and to book, click here.
By Charles Harris
Your script is complete. Everything works - but there is one more thing that you absolutely must deal with before you send it out.
If you've been following this series of blogs from the start, you've taken your idea from first spark to final draft, step by step, and learned a great deal about your story along the way.
You've honed the premise until it had that spark that lit up when you pitched it. You developed it into an outline that worked, with an intriguing beginning, a dynamic middle and a surprising yet satisfying end.
You've created a first draft that was a mess, but contained a few hidden gems.
You edited for structure, character, scene dynamics, dialogue and description until the whole screenplay worked from fade up to fade out.
In the previous draft, you faced up to the "X Factor" - the one thing (perhaps more than one thing) you've been putting off dealing with.
One more thing...
It's done and ready to send out. Yes?
Because you only get one chance to sell your script to any one buyer. And if there's an obvious flaw that you've missed, then you've blown it.
Before you send it out, you need feedback.
So far you've been doing this all on your own. You've been writing - to quote Stephen King - "with the study door closed." Now it's time to open up.
Screenwriting is a collaborative art, and no script has ever succeeded without feedback. Now is the time to get it.
If you thought the previous steps were scary, this will be the scariest yet. Nobody likes getting feedback.
The only thing worse than negative feedback is no feedback!
We all want to believe our writing is brilliant and unimprovable. And we're all wrong. Even the greatest novelists have editors. The greatest playwrights listen to their actors and directors.
Better that you know the problems now, before you've tried to sell the script, than after, when it's too late.
But listening to feedback is an art in itself. Not every response is right. Not every suggestion should be followed. How do you know which to listen to and which to ignore?
First, take the process step by step.
Before you send off for a report, tidy the draft. Check carefully for typos and spelling mistakes. Put it in the right format - this is crucial (if you aren't sure about screenplay format, I've written a simple guide and a couple of templates that you can download for free here).
Check also for inconsistencies (such as characters whose names change) and factual errors (Dr Google is a great help here).
Then , If you've never had feedback before, begin slowly. Start with a couple of friends, who will (hopefully) let you down lightly.
What do you want to know?
If they've never read a screenplay before, you may have to give them some guidance.
Suggest they imagine their favourite actors in the roles. Ask them to be constructive (not "this sucks" but "here's a place you could improve!")
I also like to give them some questions to think about, such as "Pause at page 10. What do you think is about to happen? What do you think of Josie? Do you care about her?" Etc.
Give them a reasonable time to read the script and then allow yourself time to make any changes that seem to be indicated (see below).
This may entail retaking all the steps from first idea onwards. But if so, don't complain, celebrate.
You're making it better.
Bring on the pros
Once you've gone though all this, you must get professional feedback. Useful as friends may be, they probably don't know the industry. And even if they do, they want to be nice.
Even after all my years and awards, I still get at least two professional reports on any screenplay or novel before I send it. And there are always issues that come up.
The one time I didn't, I ended up spending two years after filming, fixing the problems that should have been spotted in the script - at far greater expense!
Of course, not even the best feedback must be listened to and evaluated.
My rule is you have to listen when they say something needs to be fixed - but you don't have to agree with their suggestion of how to fix it!
Sometimes, you just know a criticism is wrong.
Sometimes, you just know it's right! Especially if you find yourself getting angry or defensive. That's always a good sign that you need to listen.
Sometimes, it's right to follow recommendations - sometimes the opposite will work just as well.
Sending one comedy script for feedback, I was told I should make it funnier.
In fact, I made it more serious. The resultant balance of light and dark actually made the remaining comedy work better.
And then you really are finally done
You've listened to the feedback. You've decided what it means. You've taken note. You've made the necessary changes.
You're finished. Celebrate. Well done!
You've done something that most people never do - however much they talk about it. You've written a professional, polished screenplay.
Start researching the right people to send it to - and begin sending it out.
And while you're doing that - start work on the next....
Charles Harris' best-selling satirical thriller novel The Breaking of Liam Glass is out now, published by Marble City Publishing. It has been selected as Finalist for a Wishing Shelf Book Award
by Ian Long
To get you in the spirit for our Neo Noir workshop on August 31st, let’s explore how this flexible genre can be adapted to many different circumstances
1. NEO NOIR IS INTERNATIONAL
We often see Noir as an American form – although it was made in Germany (M, 1931) and France (Pépé le Moko, 1937) years before the classic US era.
As detailed in a recent BBC radio programme, there’s currently an explosion of Noir in the Arab world – particularly Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria.
The themes of Neo Noir can apply to a host of settings.
2. NEO NOIR SUITS CITIES
Neo Noir can be made in many settings, but it thrives on the crammed energy of cities, with their thrusting sense of modernity, money, sex, crime, struggle and corruption.
Some great Neo Noir has come out of mega-metropolises like Rio de Janeiro (CITY OF GOD) and Seoul (A BITTERSWEET LIFE).
Cities give the genre their own special flavour. Where's next? Which city do you want to use as a backdrop for a Noir story?
3. NEO NOIR'S A GREAT VEHICLE FOR POLITICAL THEMES
Noir can shine a light on the gangster ruling classes, oligarchs and kleptocrats which are becoming ever more widespread in our world.
The genre is geared to strip away the facades of organisations, revealing how the wealthy and powerful got where they are and gained what they have.
4. SOMETIMES ITS TARGETS ARE SURPRISING
The shadow side of a squeaky-clean modern society is central to Nordic Noirs like THE KILLING, THE BRIDGE and BORGEN.
Here, a communal rural past has been swapped for a vision of rational, state-planned ‘perfection’ – but one which threatens social and family bonds.
5. MANIFESTOS CAN HELP NOIR CREATIVITY
Ingolf Gabold, head of drama at DR, the public channel responsible for the Danish TV Noirs, used a Dogma-style manifesto to shape his shows.
As well as unifying the company's output and production methods, it put writers firmly at the centre of the creative process.
6. MURDER IS OFTEN THE BEGINNING OF NEO NOIR ...
Tracing the process that's led to the taking of a life is often the pretext for Noir stories, answering the questions of who was involved, and what stood to be gained.
But the narrative can - and must - lead in many directions.
“While the protagonist is solving the case, we get to see every level of society. It’s like cutting a cake with a knife. Each layer is clearly exposed. The crime is only the beginning: we need to see how a whole society works to produce it.” - Egyptian novelist/screenwriter Ahmed Mourad
And we need to ensure that the genre doesn't continue to rely on young women as stock victims.
6. ... BUT IT NEEDN'T BE
Many Noirs don't feature deaths or detectives at all.
Because it's the genre of compulsion and self-destruction, it encompasses stories of addiction like REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and THE LOST WEEKEND, and stories set in the gambling world like CASINO and CROUPIER.
7. Noir reaches audiences!
Nordic Noir is a great example of this.
Noir tropes give stories an extra dimension of anxiety and tension, whether they're about crime, sex, addiction, or other compulsions, heightening drama and increasing audience appeal.
And Neo Noir can morph into many different forms to reach its audiences: films, novels, TV series and comics/graphic novels.
Come to our workshop on August 31st and learn all about writing in this popular and intriguing genre.
By Ian Long
It isn't really a trick question, but the most important ingredient of suspense is the one thing we should always have in mind when writing screenplays:
In other words, we need to care about - or at least empathise with - the character at the centre of the narrative, who is the subject of the suspense.
(Successful screenwriting is almost always about making yourself go back to basic principles).
Misery - an example of empathetic identification
In MISERY (1990, directed by Rob Reiner, script by William Goldman, from the novel by Stephen King) there's only a very short time to sketch in Paul Sheldon's character before he's kidnapped by Annie Wilkes.
But the filmmakers manage to give us enough clues for us to read his character and see him as someone we are willing to identify with.
* Paul is an accomplished, successful novelist, which adds charisma.
* He has high aspirations and isn't driven by profit; he wants to stop writing the successful 'Misery' series and do something more creative.
* He has a good working relationship with his female agent, who clearly likes him.
* He's caring (he wants to see his family in time for Christmas).
* The hotel manager speaks well of him (we often judge people by how they deal with those in 'subordinate' positions).
* He's handsome and well-dressed - but not fussily so.
After the accident (which later turns out to have been deliberately staged by Kathy), there are further reasons for identification and empathy:
* Crucially, Paul hasn't become a victim through greed or stupidity, or a bad decision; anyone in his position would have suffered the same fate.
* He's badly injured and disoriented.
* He's at the mercy of someone who is powerful, unpredictable and terrifying.
* Soon after we've met him, he has become very vulnerable.
* He employs great resolve and ingenuity to deal with his situation
So when suspense is applied to his attempts to escape from Annie, we're "in there with him" - our emotions are fully engaged, and we're not just watching from a position of detached interest.
FIND OUT ALL ABOUT SUSPENSE HERE!
Although emotion, empathy and identification are the basic preconditions for suspense, there is much more to learn about this crucial aspect of storytelling.
And you can do this at our SUSPENSE IN STORIES workshop.
DATE AND TIME
Sunday 15 April
Registration - 10.15
10.30am - 5.30pm
40 Percival Street
Nearest tube: Angel
Click here to see a map.
Click here for more, and to book.
The workshop examines the changing techniques of suspense as they apply to many genres, and to films, TV series, and novels.
The Tutor - Ian Long
I'm a screenwriter, script editor and Euroscript's Head of Consultancy. I teach workshops in various genres (Neo Noir, Horror, Science Fiction) as well as Suspense in Stories and Creating Fear in Films.
“Look at that subtle off-white colouring. The tasteful thickness of it. Oh my God, it even has a watermark!” Comparing business cards in AMERICAN PSYCHO
Euroscript is the trusted partner of London Screenwriters’ Festival when it comes to script feedback.
Each year we help hundreds of writers at our script clinics and drop-in desk. For many, it’s the highlight of their festival – maybe because it’s the one part which is all about them and their work.
Through experience, we know the dos and don’ts of attending the world’s biggest professional screenwriting event.
So here are our top ten tips for a successful visit to LSF 2017.
1. Plan ahead
Really study the LSF's schedule before the festival.
Focus on the people you want to meet and the sessions you want to hear. Write an itinerary.
But be flexible, too, and ready to catch unexpected opportunities.
2. Bring plenty of business cards…
Make sure they’re printed on white card, so people can make notes about how wonderful you were after you've gone.
(Subtle off-white will also work.)
When you get a card from someone else, wait until they're out of sight, then make notes on it for your own use. Who they are, what they do.
We guarantee you'll have forgotten your own name by day two.
3. …and network like crazy.
Talk to everyone.
Exchange ideas with other writers; they may become future collaborators.
Pitch your stories to producers: they may get your movie made. And if they’re at the LSF, they probably want to be pitched to.
But whether you’re pitching an idea to the producers’ panel, or more informally …
4. You need a script!
One that you can immediately send to anyone who's interested.
There isn’t much point in enthusing people with your great idea, then telling them they’ll have to wait six months while you get it down on paper.
Don’t give them an excuse to forget about you.
5. And you need to have had feedback on your script.
We’re not saying this just because it's our job.
You really do need an objective assessment of your script's strengths and weaknesses by someone who knows what they're talking about, and to have acted on their advice, before you hand it to producers.
Because you only get one chance to submit it!
You can find out about our feedback services here.
6. Feedback takes time to absorb
Understanding the points an editor is making, asking questions to clarify what's been said, seeing how you can creatively apply the ideas to your story - it all takes time.
Many points will be made in the form of questions, throwing the creative onus back onto you, so you must allow yourself a period to reflect and revise.
People often underestimate the time needed to deal with feedback.
If you leave it all to the last minute, the process will feel horribly rushed. You won’t enjoy it, and your script won't benefit in the way it should.
The good news is...
7. You have time to get your script in shape
Now is a good time to work on your story.
There’s the whole of August - and more - to get some feedback, to focus and refine your project, and also to put a great one-page outline and fluent pitch together.
We can help with all this.
8. Don’t be a stranger
When you come to the festival, make sure you visit us at the friendly Euroscript drop-in desk, which is open to all.
You can ask questions, share triumphs or disasters, practise pitches...
...or just chew the fat about screenwriting in general.
9. Afterwards - rest, recuperate, respond
If possible, don't plan anything important for at least three days after LSF.
You'll crash out for the first two.
Then you'll need time for following up all the contacts you made.
10. Give yourself time to debrief.
Write down everything that went well - and not so well.
And what you now realise you need to learn in the future.
Have you got any great tips of your own for people attending the Festival?
If so, please add them in the Comments below.
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Just write EUROSCRIPT-17X in the 'ENTER PROMOTIONAL CODE' box below.
Add that up, and it's a happy £103 present from all of us at Euroscript.
Meanwhile, good luck from all of us as you prepare for LSF, and we look forward to seeing you there.
Your Next Script #11
By Charles Harris
We're almost there. Over the last ten articles we've developed an idea, worked it up as a treatment, written a first draft and revised it to the point when it's almost ready to send out.
But there are two more crucial tasks yet to perform. And the first will often make the most dramatic difference of all.
What have you been putting off?
This is what I call the X factor. Nothing to do with reality TV, the X factor is both simple yet profound. But only you know what that is.
It could be something you've been meaning to cut - such as a sequence or character you love but which you know isn't working.
It could be something you know you need to add.
It could be some aspect of the script that you're starting to have doubts about. Perhaps the key turning point doesn't do the job as well as it should. Or the premise doesn't totally make sense.
It's the thing you've been putting off doing - draft after draft.
The difference between OK and great
Listen to the small inner voice that prompts a rethink or addition.
Most good writing comes from our unconscious minds. While we need to use our rational editing brain to polish it up, we also have to listen to those deeper instincts.
It's natural to be afraid of the amount of work needed. But that extra work may turn out to be the most important work of all.
If in doubt...
What may seem a trivial change at this stage may even have profound effects. The big difference between a script that's so-so and one that sparkles is often this stage. It's now that the writers who go the extra mile reap their rewards.
Kill your darlings
In this draft you examine everything you are clutching onto in your script.
All too often, at this stage, we find we're still holding onto the very things that we should be letting go.
Be brutally honest with yourself - because if you're not I can guarantee that the industry will be.
You only get one chance with each possible buyer - producer or agent. Once they've rejected your screenplay, they are very unlikely to look at it again.
If in doubt, cut it out
So if you have doubts about anything, cut out the scissors. Cut it out and see what happens. (Remember you can always put it back again... But you almost certainly won't).
If in doubt, put it in
The corollary to cutting what you are thinking of cutting, is to write what you've been avoiding writing.
What about that twist that you keep mulling over and putting off because it would involve some extra research?
Or the character change that you can't put out of your head, but means rethinking the entire second act?
Or maybe there's a seemingly trivial issue that you just can't put out of your mind.
What are you shying away from?
Changes I've made in this final mini-draft have always brought major improvements.
Whether it's writing an emotional crisis that I've been shying away from, because it will be too gruelling (or challenging) to write or rectifying what seems to be a relatively trivial plot hole, I never regret this last run through.
One script of mine came to life in a totally unexpected way, simply because I followed the little voice that told me I had to dramatise a flashback from a character's childhood in Jamaica.
Even though I thought I was being stupid - we'd never afford the budget for a location shoot in the Caribbean - I wrote the scene. And it worked.
Despite my fears, we shot it, for almost no money, on a gloriously sunny day by turning a gravel pits in Hertfordshire into a totally convincing country road near Kingston, Jamaica, and it gives a very special lift to the whole film.
Listen to your instincts
To sum up: you may think that all the writing is over. But you can be sure that there are a few little loose ends still to be investigated.
Now, for one final time, you will gain enormously from listening to your instincts and making those last few changes that make all the difference to your script.
We're almost done. One more job to do before we can send it out - which we'll look at in the final article of this series.
Charles Harris is an international award-winning writer-director and best-selling author. His new novel - The Breaking of Liam Glass - is to be published by Marble City tomorrow.
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