Act One: Drumming Out Your Beat Sheet

Films are undoubtedly a visual medium, and a powerful one, but they aren’t born that way. Every film starts off as a script, and what lies within the pages of your screenplay determines or defies the quality of its visual twin.

You should sequence your story into manageable, bite-sized portions, which when transferred to screen, will look as seamless as they read. As readers, we don’t stop to question the nature of these steps, they usually do their job and do it well; they cajole us into turning the page.

In screenwriting, you’ve got about ten pages to capture an executive’s attention; seriously, no more and maybe less before they continue slogging through the slush pile.

The key to success? You’ve got to open with a bang. Ten pages isn’t much, so you really need to give us something to react to, something big. Remember Lost, by J.J Abrams and Damon Lindelof? The first scene opens to the protagonist coming to on a jungle floor. That’s enough to get us asking questions, but when he makes it out onto a beach, we’re slapped in the face with the answer: a crashed plane, an exploding engine, people screaming, getting blown up. All within three minutes of screen time. That’s all it takes for the audience to get hooked. In features, the first act comprises of about twenty or thirty minutes’ screen time, the written equivalent of which is thirty pages.

This is where a beat sheet comes in handy. Beats determine the mission and scope of each of your scenes, they’re like touchpoints to hit. Great if you do, but they’re not the end of you or your script if you don’t. Blake Snyder’s beat sheet is probably the most comprehensive, the ones you should tick off your Act I checklist:

Opening Image

This is perhaps one of the most important beats of your script. The first scene acts as a hook to catch the reader/viewer’s attention.
The opening image of Jurassic Park sets the premise immediately. Man versus Beast. In Gone Girl, a wife snuggles up to her husband whilst he tells us (via voiceover) how he pictures cracking his wife’s head open and pooling her brains for answers. This is genius in the way it points to the film’s major premise. Is he mad? What answers is she hiding?
The opening image should make us ask that question, what’s going to happen? And we don’t want to be spoon-fed the answer either, we want to be strung out, wherein lies the suffering, lies the pleasure.

Set-up

This is where you lay the foundation for your story. Where is the story set? What is the character missing from his/her life? What is the film going to be about? Essentially, you are presenting the protagonist’s world to the viewer as it is before the call to adventure.

Theme Stated

The theme usually appears in the set-up, and is the underlying message of a film, spoken aloud to the protagonist to challenge the way they think. It’s a message that usually falls flat on the main character in the beginning, because they don’t have enough context or personal experience with it to yet understand its value. In other words, the character is oblivious to it. In Jaws, Brody’s wife waves him off to work, telling him to be careful and he laughs it off. “In this town?” Right.

Gravity‘s theme is pretty straightforward: Ryan needs to let go. We see this figuratively and literally throughout the film. Ryan has to let go of her daughter’s death, just like she’s got to let go of Matt, in order to survive. In 500 Days of Summer, Tom is hopelessly optimistic about Summer, but it’s his sister who sets up the theme of the film by pointing out that just because Summer shares certain aspects in common with him, this doesn’t make her his soulmate, a truth Tom painfully comes to terms with.

Catalyst

Otherwise known as the Inciting Incident, or call to adventure, the catalyst is the first event or action that will show that change is coming for the character. That life as he or she (or it) knows it, will end. In Shawshank Redemption, Red puts his money on Andy to crack during his first night in his cell, but Andy stands his ground and doesn’t make a peep. Inglorious Basterds’ catalyst hits when Lander asks LaPadite if he’s harboring the Dreyfuses under his floorboards. His family won’t come to harm’s way if he collaborates, setting Shosanna’s fate into motion.

Debate

Usually there is some debate surrounding the character’s catalyst. Should I leave my nice comfy hobbit hole to go on what appears to be a suicide mission? Wouldn’t I be safer here, eating crumpets and sipping tea? But not all debates revolve around a character’s departure. In the Hunger Games, for example, the debate is not whether Katniss will participate in the games (she doesn’t have a choice) but if she’ll win. That’s why it’s important you have a general idea of these beats, but don’t use them to define your screenplay.

Break into Two

This is the end of act one. It’s the ultimate game-changer that will propel your character into act two, the cataclysmic decision, the point of no return. Usually there’s new surroundings to be explored and it’s the driving force that carries the protagonist into act two and dumps him in harm’s way. In Jaws, the hunt is on once a reward is put in place for catching the killer shark. In Django Unchained, Dr Schultz cuts Django a-I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine deal he can’t refuse. In Juno, the protagonist ponders over abortion, but then decides to give the baby up for adoption.

Remember this is just a formula, it’s not THE formula. A template designed to help, but never restrict you. Each writer finds their groove as they go along, so it’s absolutely fine to take all this on board with a pinch of salt. If you don’t put the catalyst on exactly page number twelve, the script police aren’t going to beat down your door and batter you senseless with a heavy duty script guide. Like I said in my previous article, your story is unique, and sometimes the rules are there to be broken.

Review: TrackMySubs

If you’re anything like me you have a bunch of subscriptions at the same time: Netflix, Adobe CC, MailChimp, my ISP, Office 365, etc. Many of these renew on their own but a few of them don’t and there are times when the providers don’t send reminders.  That’s where TrackMySubs comes in.

 

TrackMySubs is, yes, another subscription service, that monitors all of your subscriptions in one place.  There are a few things you have to do to get set up.

 

The most tedious step of all is entering each of your subscriptions into it.  Luckily they’ve tried to make it as painfree as possible—start typing in the name of the service and it suggests popular companies. Enter the date of the renewal, the frequency, cost, and whether you would like to be reminded.  It was also fairly easy to change the default currency to GBP.  Here you can assign notes or discount codes for instance to remind you when it’s time to renew.

 

The thing I really appreciated was TrackMySub’s ability to have folders for different subs so that I could sort by my business expenses from my personal.  To that end, I could set up reminders to go to different emails for each subscription which I enjoyed. Further, you can customise labels for different cards you use (for instance business vs. personal) that help you distinguish which card you used for what service.

 

The thing that surprised me is how much money each year I am spending on these services which only became apparent to me in the reporting section.  The other thing I’ve noticed in recent years is that subscriptions seems to be the direction most companies are taking instead of outright purchases of software (anyone remember the whole Adobe Creative Cloud versus Creative Suite debate?) TrackMySubs allows a very loose definition of subscriptions which I appreciated as it allowed for monthly expenses like gym membership, insurance, house payments, etc.

 

While it would be a lot simpler for TrackMySubs to find my subscriptions for me from my bank statement, I can realise that this would be a huge trust in privacy so I think they’re on the right track now by making me enter my details manually.

 

There was only one area that could be improved. The timeline section, which seems an odd layout to what I expected, lists subscriptions running vertically throughout the year.  Perhaps a calendar view would be easier to understand?

 

Currently, TrackMySubs runs at £29/$36 per year with a special discount for IMIS members with 70% off (login as a member and go to Member’s Section and Discounts.)  For someone with a small production company or a freelancer who is on set often and doesn’t have the time to remember everything I felt the service was quite cheap.  And hey, if you’re a freelancer, TrackMySubs would be considered to be claimed against your taxes normally (check with your tax advisor).

 

We spoke with Gabe Alves from TrackMySubs and he commented that a Chrome plugin is in the works which would help with that whole thing of opening the site up every time you sign up for a new service.

Press Release: IMIS Appoints New Chair of Cinema Technology Committee

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM, 20TH APRIL 2017 — The International Moving Image Society (IMIS) (formerly known as the British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society (BKSTS)) has announced the appointment of a new Chairman to oversee the development of its widely respected Cinema Technology Committee (CTC).

The appointment of Richard Mitchell (also VP Global Marketing & Commercial Development at Harkness Screens) was confirmed at the committee’s April meeting following the decision of the previous Chairman Richard Huhndorf (UK Technical Director at Warner Bros) to stand down after a term of nearly seven years.

“Over the past eighteen months the society has started the process of revitalising its infrastructure to serve the 21st century global media industry,” explains Roland Brown, President of IMIS. “It is no secret that up until very recently the society had been in decline through an ageing membership and the change over the past two decades in the way creative talent is employed.  During this difficult period, the Cinema Technology Committee under Richard Huhndorf’s leadership and its associated journal Cinema Technology Magazine stood as shining examples of what the society could achieve, particularly against the backdrop of the enormous technological change from film projection to digital projection.  As the society has broadened its horizons and ambitions, the Cinema Technology Committee has been doing the same attempting to redefine its core purpose to best serve the cinema industry and the new Chairman and his team will doubtless provide an invaluable resource to the industry,” he adds.

As well as delivering cinema presentation training courses, the committee has organised educational visits to product manufacturers, overseen a dramatic refresh of its acclaimed journal and delivered a number of presentations at the recent UK Cinema Association conference in London on topics including HDR, immersive audio and laser projection.

“I am extremely honoured to be the new chair of such a vibrant, diverse and progressive group of professionals that are seeking to share knowledge and skills for the betterment of the cinema industry,” explains Richard Mitchell, Chairman of the CTC.  “Digital cinema technology presented the industry with substantial opportunities but also significant challenges and whilst many of these have been solved there is still much work to do to help the industry improve the movie-going experience whilst keeping a close eye on developing technologies. The breadth of expertise within our group (with members from distribution, post production, exhibition, integration and manufacturing) leaves us ideally positioned to support the industry not just in interpreting industry standards and how to apply these or in identifying the best of breed technology for the future but most importantly how to improve, optimise and maintain presentation quality with existing cinema equipment and the best practices associated with these,” he adds.

The CTC has also confirmed Graham Lodge (Managing Director of Sound Associates) as Vice Chairman, Peter Knight (Mad Cornish Projectionist) as Head of Communications and Dave Norris (Universal Pictures International) affectionately named “Last Projectionist Standing” by movie critic Mark Kermode as Cinema Technology Ambassador.

Over the coming months both IMIS and CTC will be launching a range of initiatives aimed at supporting the media creation and cinema industries.

About International Moving Image Society

The International Moving Image Society was born out of the BKSTS in 2016. The BKSTS was originally created as the ‘London Branch’ of Society of Motion Picture Engineers (now known as SMPTE) until 1930.

The society is focused but is not limited to supporting the development, production and exhibition of feature films, television, commercials, music videos, short films, animation, gaming, and future emerging formats for consumption through training, education, knowledge sharing and networking.

For more information, visit the Society’s web page at www.societyinmotion.com

About Cinema Technology Committee

The Cinema Technology Committee (CTC) of the International Moving Image Society (IMIS) aims to assist the cinema industry in recognizing the importance that cinema technology and indeed the way in which it’s utilized can have a profoundly positive effect on the movie-going experience.

As well as providing guidance and support, the CTC engages in a number of activities aimed at educating and improving the cinema experience. These include training courses, technical handbooks, educational visits, knowledge sharing, networking events, projectionist certification (in conjunction with the UKCA) and the industry’s leading technical journal, Cinema Technology Magazine.

For more information, visit the Society’s web page at www.societyinmotion.com/ctc

# # #

IMIS CONTACT:
Peter Knight – Head of Communications – CTC
International Moving Image Society
Pinewood Studios
Pinewood Road
Buckinghamshire, SL0 0NH
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)1753 656 656
Email: ctc@societyinmotion.com
Web: www.societyinmotion.com

The Effects of the Financial Markets on the Film Industry

The foreign exchange markets have become more and more liquid over the years as global trade has increased, with a daily volume of US $5.3 trillion. The increase in international trade presents some exciting opportunities for both large and small companies across a wide range of industries. For people working in creative industries, it could open up possibilities for international collaboration – and increase access to overseas funding.

But, as last year demonstrated, foreign exchange exposure can also present risks if the rate moves against you. And because exchange rates are a ratio between two currencies, fluctuations can be caused both by events both at home and overseas. So if something happens overseas to strengthen a country’s currency, the Pound can weaken as a result. This can have an impact on costs and profitability for companies that need to make payments in foreign currencies.

Chris Towner from international payments specialists HiFX discusses these issues further and specifically how they could impact the UK Film and Production sector.

 

BC: What is the main cause of currency fluctuations?

CT: Political and economic events both in the UK and overseas can cause exchange rate fluctuations, which can impact how much it costs to make foreign purchases, how competitive companies can be in foreign markets and how desirable companies are to overseas investors.

For example, in the aftermath of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, the value of the pound against the dollar fell 12 per cent within hours. Three months later that figure had reached 15 per cent. That can be devastating for a business with exposure to foreign currencies.

But there have also been events that have helped to boost the pound. For example, there have been some fluctuations in the US dollar as a result of Donald Trump’s actions since he became President in January, and again following a less positive than expected message in a recent US Federal Reserve announcement.

Meanwhile in Europe, the pound experienced a boost against the euro in the run-up to the recent elections in the Netherlands, where there were concerns that far-right candidate Geert Wilders could gain ground.

 

BC: Can we expect similar uncertainty throughout the year?

CT: There could be a similar effect around the French elections in April and May, and then the German elections in September.

However, there is always the risk of an ‘unknown’ event, which would also impact currency. These events, (sometime referred to as the known unknowns!) such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks and unannounced Central Bank decisions pose a risk to the currency markets.

And as Brexit negotiations progress, these also have the potential to cause fluctuations in the currency markets as investors in the foreign exchange market are likely to be closely following developments.

 

BC: What is the potential impact on the film and media industry?

CT: If you need to spend money in another country, perhaps to purchase equipment from a foreign provider or if you are planning a trip to an overseas location, the recent weakening of the pound means this could become more expensive for you than it would have been this time last year.

For example, if you needed to pay an invoice to a US supplier in dollars when the pound was at its lowest point in January you may have ended up paying almost 20% more than you would have done 7 months earlier.

 

BC: Could currency volatility impact funding into the UK film and production sector? Will investors shy away from the UK?

CT: The weaker pound could potentially make the UK an even more attractive place to invest, as currencies such as euros and US dollars are stronger against the pound so foreign investors could get more for their money. Also, given our film industry is exported overseas, we could also look to benefit from the weaker pound by offering lower cost services.

 

BC: What steps can a business take to protect itself from the impact of currency volatility in the future?

CT: The first step is to understand your exposure and the potential risks to your business. Once you have an understanding of this, you can develop (or review) your company’s Foreign Exchange policy to ensure you have a plan in place, whatever happens next. Then you can start to take a look at the various products on offer that could help you mitigate your risk – these include forward contracts, FX options and FX structured products. These products have all been designed to help companies hedge their risk in different situations. The best time to develop your policy is during calm markets – try not to react to events but plan for them in advance.

 

Let us know your thoughts as well as how your productions handle money between countries below.

The Script Board: A Guide to Screenwriting

Developing your idea

Every creative journey starts with an idea. That little spark that strikes when you least expect it. A flash of the unknown. A scenario that makes you stop and think, did I really imagine that? Is it a leaking box in the boot of a car? Five beautiful virgins with suicidal tendencies?

Perhaps it’s a character who walked, fully-fledged and wonderfully flawed one day into the confines of your head. Whether he’s a whip-wielding archaeology lecturer with a flair for enraging Nazis, or she’s more of a wall-flower with a deep-rooted depression, you’ve got the start of something, and now you need to get it down on paper.

You’re probably raring to write, fingers quivering over the keyboard, ready to dive head-first into scene number one. It’s understandable. But before you start filling your head with plot points, conflicts and the real brain teasers–the aptly named: ‘Save-the-Cat’ moments, you’ll want to have at least a rough idea–the vaguest of notions– of what your script will be about, and how it will end.

If you start writing before you’ve figured at least this out, things will get messy. You’ll get frustrated. Writing without a plan is like an architect building without a blueprint, you can try to build on vision alone, but all those extra hours of planning you skipped in the beginning are guaranteed to come back and haunt you later.

To increase your chances of success, you’re going to need a step-by-step outline of your story. There’s no way round this, no shortcut, I’m afraid. Besides, this is the one process where you’re allowed to be as mad and as inventive as you like. If you want to add that roof sauna with the jet propulsion you’ve always wanted, go ahead. It can’t be budget-cut at this stage.

The Key Elements

The best way to know whether you’re on the right track, is to make sure that your story includes the three most important elements of storytelling. If you look at any film, Hollywood or otherwise, they all share these pivotal aspects in common:

  • Your protagonist (well, duh!). Every story needs a protagonist, someone the audience can root for, a central character your story revolves around.
  • Your protagonist’s objective. What does your character want? Frodo Baggins wants to destroy Sauron’s evil ring, Jerry Lundegaard (Fargo) wants quick cash in hand, and Clarice Starling, from Silence of the Lambs, wants to catch serial killer Buffalo Bill. Your protagonist’s objective is the driving force of the entire production. There is no story without it.
  • Conflict. Conflict includes all the obstacles your protagonist must overcome in order to reach their objective, usually put in place by your antagonist, whose own objectives will clash with your protagonist’s. Example: Sauron doesn’t want his ring liquefied in lava, so he’ll move hordes of orcs across Middle Earth to stop Frodo. Marge Gunderson, on the other hand, isn’t about to let Jerry get away with his crime scot-free, and Lecter sure as hell isn’t going to give up Bill’s identity without making Clarice fight for it. Conflict exists to threaten your character’s objective. It’s necessary to raise the stakes. Harry Potter wouldn’t be half so fun without Voldemort forever one-upping him, and Little Miss Sunshine would lack poignancy if Edwin hadn’t keeled over during the last leg of their journey.

The Roadmap

So where does structure come into the mix?

Simply put, structure dictates the order of events that guide the hero toward his or her objective. If you look at any storyline, you’ll see that the protagonist goes from A to B to C. In layman’s terms, there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. Most scripts nowadays follow the three-act structure, a formula which Syd Field, author of the Foundations of Screenwriting, claims is the glue that holds most screenplays together. This is the roadmap, and whether it’s a sketched diagram of plot points or a dozen index cards blu-tacked to your wall, it will save you a whole lot of re-writing (and tearing your hair out) later.

Although there is no formula which will magically turn your idea into an earth-shattering, Oscar-winning script (that comes from within, from the dusty cobwebby depths of your mind), having a solid structure in place can (and will) guide you in the right direction. If we break Field’s paradigm down, it looks something like this:

 

Act IAct IIAct III
Beginning pp. 1 – 30 Set UpMiddle pp. 30 – 90 ConfrontationEnd pp. 90 – 120 Resolution

 

The first act, as you can see, is the set up. You’ve got thirty pages to introduce your character, expose setting and lay the groundwork for the film’s plotline. In this act you’ll also include the inciting incident, the push to adventure, the point of no return.

The second act is the confrontation. This is where most of the action goes down, where your character will get a taste of the dangers to come, where everything will go wrong, and where your character loses all hope of achieving his/her objective.

The third act is the resolution. It’s the last leg of your character’s journey where the odds will turn and your protagonist will come out triumphant (or not, if you’re Scorsese). It’s where your plot reaches its maximum tension and there is an emotional or physical confrontation.

Be warned!

Many writers just starting out confuse story with structure. We’ve all done it. We’ve all changed our protagonist’s ultimate choice, because it didn’t fit in with the structure. Beware.

Plot and structure are not the same thing. Structure is applied to your story later on, once you’ve figured out the basics. What you need to know right now is your premise, your pitch. Before Harry ever got his Hogwarts letter (the inciting incident, otherwise known as the ‘Call to Adventure’), J. K. Rowling knew Harry was a wizard, and that he’d attend a wizarding school and defeat the dark lord who killed his parents. That was her story. All those red herrings dotted around Snape and Quirrell came later, structural additions which added layers of complexity to the story.

This is the layout every script should have. You probably know most of this intuitively, but now go over your story and double-check. Do you know your character’s main objective? What about the obstacles? Are they clear in your mind’s eye?

Story is the backbone of every successful script. Once you’ve got your premise sorted, you’re free to move onto the technical side, formatting.