Sunday, 14 December 2014



I believe that getting ahead is a combination of talent + connecting with collaborators (commissioners, producers, development execs) + determination. The talent is your script and it's up to you to make it make a great impression – it doesn't have to be perfect but it does need to be well-presented. Create the halo effect with your work. There are things you can put right to avoid being written off before being fully read. This is a crude but effective checklist and you'll see within five pages if the script needs more work.

Rocliffe Notes Writing Checklist

A first draft of anything is never good enough! Don’t send your work to be read by someone just because you’ve finished writing the script! You get one chance to be read. Why send out something that is mediocre? Casting Director Catherine Willis agrees "don’t send stuff that’s not ready, an early draft that isn’t complete. Send something that’s ready – it needs to be working on paper." Kate Rowlands concurs, quoting Tony Grounds "Don’t think about the first draft, think about the first read". She adds "what’s the impact that your script is going to have? Are they going to commission the first draft?"

The title page are the very first words people will read of your work. Nothing raises my eyebrow more than to see "story by XYZ & written by XYZ & created by" all the same writer's name. Simply put the script title by the screenwriter's name. Modesty becomes the writer. That's all that is requited unless someone else wrote it with you or it is based on an original story by someone else. I hate endless credits on films for the same person, especially on shorts by an unknown filmmaker. It just spells EGO to me. 

Often you will be asked what's your film called. Is your title is clich├ęd or difficult to understand? I believe a title should tempt a reader - be distinct, enticing, mysterious and stimulating… a sort of promise of potential by the story-teller to entertain the reader. Before you go listing examples to prove me wrong, ask yourself this: why make it even harder to get your work read when you have yet to get a producer, then finance and then a release? Here's a blog listing what they consider the worst film titles - I'm torn between I DISMEMBER MAMA and THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI. 

Camera or edit directions in a script - ie CUT TO, PAN UP, CLOSE UP, FADE IN. It suggests the writer is unaware of how films work. A writer's craft is to write, not to tell the cinematographer and editor how to do what they do. Everything is possible through images rather than camera directions. Award-winning actor Danny Huston: "don’t show me a cut and paste job that has been patched together. A collage of ideas is fascinating, but when it feels patched it can be really distracting and unattractive. Too much camera description feels very amateurish. I have read good scripts that have ‘pan to’ or ‘fade in’ or ‘fade out’, but when the writer is describing the camera movements you’re not seeing the images – you’re being told them. If I read ‘the retina of an eye’ I know to get out a micro lens. If it says ‘the Amalfi coast’ I know it’s a grand shot. How you present things creates the shot. Don’t tell me how it will be shot."

Poor presentation and punctuation with spelling mistakes and incorrect formatting. A script with typos is annoying. There are so many resources out there – both free (Celtx) and paid (Final Draft, Screenwriter). Software that will correct it for you and the blessed spellcheck – seemly much underused but never underrated. There is no excuse. Company Pictures Head of Development Serena Bowman commented: "not proofreading scripts and sending them in with mistakes and grammatical error shows you really don’t care. If you don’t take the time to proof it then I won’t take the time to read it."

Using the ‘ing’ in action words such as ‘is walking’ instead of ‘walks’ – go back through your script and see if you have used the ‘ing’ and change it.

The overuse of the word ‘feels’. How does the character show how he or she feels when they are sad/happy/angry – what emotional action will demonstrate this? Show us how they are feeling, don’t tell us. Give the actors something to do. Similarly with the word ‘looks’ – what kind of look – is it a glance, a stare, a glare or are they peering? I love these word cheatsheets for 'walks', 'emotions' and 'looks'. 

Excessive swearing indicates amateur writing – actors will add swear words if it feels natural within the script. It doesn’t make the character harder or more edgy nor does it add realism to the script. Occasional use is fine but you need to be aware of watersheds and PG ratings, and if you are not you should be. Read Bang2Write on swearing in scripts.

How long does it take to get started, when does the set up stop and the real heart of the film begin? Would you sit in a cinema waiting for a film to get going? A busy reader won’t keep reading, waiting and hoping for the script to start. Don't make reading it like work. A development exec will stop reading after a few pages. It's tough but true. 

You really only have one chance to make a good impression - many of our panellists feel that whilst the ideas are brilliant – the writers aren’t pushing themselves enough. Be bold and brave and quality check your work. 

"I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit," Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. "I try to put the shit in the wastebasket."
Keep writing!