I am proud to have facilitated the Screenwriting Community within IMIS for the last year.
This Community was set up to offer something powerful for Screenwriters, with a focus on skills and opportunities.
It has become clear to me over this time how much this initiative is needed, particularly as an alternative hub to current big-hitters such as the BFI and BAFTA. How does a Screenwriter with little or no connections – but with a really original well-written project – breakthrough? Our purpose is to tackle that question head on.
Screenwriters have to navigate a mass of “opportunities,” many of which have strong brand recognition, that offer hope – but little else. A profit-making cottage industry of middlemen have come to dominate the space and this is why I feel non-profits such as IMIS can really make their presence felt and start to facilitate exciting writers, scripts and projects.
In an industry and culture that has yet to fall out of love with reboots, remakes and franchises – “copyright exploitation” to give it its technical, somewhat sinister, term – we aim to identify, and provide platforms for, the truly original voices of the future, with a singular passion. We want to spark a new golden age of British Cinema, which is why @IMISWriters uses the hashtag #britishfilmrenaissance
In the last year, the Screenwriting Community has hosted events led by Leah Middleton, agent at Marjacq, Rick Harvey, MA Course Director at Raindance, workshopping theme and others. We always aim to give Screenwriters practical tools to advance their writing and career, while eschewing hollow platitudes.
The Table Read Event was a continuation of that purpose and was meant to provide a platform for and feedback to a select number of promising scripts with an unerring focus on encouraging originality and driving excellence in the craft side of screenwriting.
With “craft” in mind, I also want to provide some general feedback to everyone on some of the major trends which cropped up from the 70 entries we received.
(And by the way, as a Screenwriter, I’m sure I have made all of these mistakes and many more, besides!)
What to Do and What Not to Do:
This was undoubtedly the most noticeable issue.
A mandatory industry standard layout has evolved, the purpose of which is to help the reader focus on the story elements of each script consistently. It dictates, for example, that the font be 12-point Courier, with a whole set of very specific rules around spacing, indents and elements.
As there is an important reason for this format, my recommendation is simple – write in industry standard always. To help you in this, use software such as Final Draft or Celtx so you minimise the chance of any errors. Your individuality should be in the story, not the layout.
Not story rules, but screenplay rules. A series of ‘best practice’ conventions have sprung up around writing a screenplay, which, if not followed, can be equally distracting for the reader. A few examples:
Passive vs Active Voice
Screenplays should be written in “Active Voice,” where the subject is the person that performs an action, usually in present tense. This is the most immediate way of writing – important, because screenplays rely more on action and less on description than other mediums.
Passive Voice version: He is slapped by her.
A reader reads that sentence “he IS slappED BY HER” – this formulation JOLTs the reader out of the spell you are casting.
Active Voice version: She slaps him.
As a general rule, avoid the verb ‘to be’ and -ing words as much as you can.
Believe me, you can tell a professional-standard script from this alone, in the first few sentences.
As a general rule, you only describe what the viewer can see and hear, because of the nature of the medium. Some writers wrote, “she feels” or “he remembers.” There is no way we can know what someone “feels” unless you describe the physical effect of that, or what he “remembers,” unless you include a flashback, or they talk about it, or it otherwise produces an observable physical effect.
First time is in CAPS. Again, you cannot describe their personality directly, you can only describe what we can see and hear. And what is seen and heard should mainly be that which indicates the kind of character they are.
Someone who fidgets may indicate a nervous person. This will also create a useful Active Question – in the audience’s head – why is this person fidgeting? Let’s find out…
This is a particular bugbear of Robert McKee’s and once you notice it, it, again, becomes a distraction for the reader. When you write “we see” or “we hear” in the action description, you put the reader in the story, you break the “fourth wall.” Find another way, don’t break the spell.
Maybe this is my personal taste, but I love clever titles, specifically ones which have a double meaning, one of which relates to some kind of theme. If a script is called “Penny” because it is about a protagonist called “Penny,” this usually does not bode well, unless “penny” also relates to some kind of story, let’s say about money or luck. But there are notable exceptions to this in the film world, such as “Carrie,”. Like I say, this could be my personal taste.
Of course, there are all sorts of rules, conventions, principles and theories about how to write the story part of the screenplay, too. This is much more subjective, so all I have to say about this is in the scripts I read, where there was a sense of surprise – a great twist, or an intrinsically poetic approach, or dialogue pregnant with subtext it pushed a script to the top of the pile. This is where you can subvert audience expectation and/or cast a magical spell.
In order for the spell to stay, the format and conventions need to be adhered to dogmatically. This is so that it is in the story itself that you set your voice free and take us on a journey that will move us emotionally and transport us to another realm.
It was a pleasure to read these scripts and I hope that we run another event such as this one, soon. We want to make London a global centre of excellence for Screenwriting. #britishfilmrenaissance. Join us.
On February the 21st at Zero One, Soho we hosted a table read of the winning scripts, which enjoyed a very positive reaction from the audience and the participants. Bringing together quality writers and actors is only one stage in the process, but we hope to have facilitated the future production of these scripts into stunningly realised projects. The winners again:
- No Man’s Land by Tom Canning
- The Big One by Michael Lavers
- The Pact by Olu Alakija
- Psalm of the Sawist by Asia Nichols
- The Talk by Jonathan Hughes
Our sincere thanks also to the Actors who came down and brought these scripts to life and to Zero One for their support.