Thursday, 4 September 2014


On 2 September, we launched our annual Call for Film Scripts, the final script call of 2014. This year we set a creative brief - submissions must include a scene with two women having a plot-related conversation not about a man or men. This has generated much discussion on social media forums - some positively embracing the challenge, others less so. There have been comments that writers will struggle by having to shoehorn a scene into an existing script. Try adapting the script to meet the brief; change the gender of some of the characters. If it doesn't work - don't send it in. After all, creative beings shouldn't limit their ability to rise to challenges of creative briefs. They are full of ideas, just lacking the confidence to believe in them. My advice to those struggling or dismissing the brief as too difficult - go away and see what you come up with, you might surprise yourself.  Good characterisation can define your work and that for me lies at the heart of all good writing. New writers need to write, keep writing and hone their craft. These briefs are good for stretching that muscle.

Our guest blog contributor is writer and script editor Jon Croker, whose new films include Women in Black 2, Desert Dancer and Paddington. As one of last year's film panellists, and a contributor to my soon to be published book the Rocliffe Notes, Jon's tips give a unique and fresh perspective on the writing process that I've not read elsewhere. I'm delighted to share them here and the best bit is you don't need to be as experienced as Jon to try them out. 


Try to spend time with actors, cinematographers, and editors and get to know all the many different aspects of filmmaking. Try to understand the film from their point of view. They are the ones who in the end are going to have to make it. If you understand their jobs and the way they approach a film, then it will broaden your perspective. If you don’t know any people in those jobs, then read interviews and watch DVD extras.

Don’t get lost in “development speak”. There are a lot of ugly, meaningless phrases and as a writer you should detest ugly, meaningless phrases. It’s useful to know them, but dangerous to rely on them.

Always remember the films you love and the ways in which they break every supposed rule, and always remember the experience of watching them before you analysed them.

Don’t forget the audience. And don’t forget what it’s like to be part of one.

Screenwriting manuals can be helpful, but only as a part of your armoury. My personal favourite is “On Filmmaking” by Alexander Mackendrick, because unlike a lot of gurus, he made some great films himself.

Make sure you know the difference between sympathy and empathy. The former is useful to feel towards your characters, the latter is vital.

Always ask yourself: what might this look like? Do I want to know what’s going to happen next? Has anything surprising happened in the last five pages? Has anything happened at all?

The ‘three act structure” is a fancy way of saying “beginning, middle and end”. While obviously true, it’s not particularly helpful when trying to write, and often leads to scripts that just start, hang around for a while, then stop. Think about your story in smaller units. What are its five acts? What are the seven basic events in your story, which have to happen? Are every ten pages (not just the first ten) as rich and full as they could be? At the bottom of every page, is there enough to make you want to turn to the next one?
Stop writing. Look back at the page you just wrote. Is that really the best it can be? Did you just write it like that because lots of films do it that way? What if you approached it from a different angle?

‘Genre’ is a much-abused word. But it’s just French for “type of”, so try not to use it as a catch-all (“hey, it’s only a genre movie”, or “I love genre cinema”). Be more specific. Are you writing a horror film? A romantic comedy? An adventure? A drama? A tragedy? Be very, very careful when calling your film a “thriller”. This too often means a slow moving family drama where nothing happens until right at the end. Slow moving family dramas where nothing happens until right at the end can be great, but not if you’re reading it expecting it to be a thriller. If you want to write a thriller, make sure it’s thrilling - and that on every page either something thrilling happens or is about to happen.

~ Jon Croker 

Next Deadline Call for Film Scripts - 5 October 2014. 

Keep Writing!