Monday, October 10, 2011


This year, the friendly folks at the London Screenwriters' Festival are running their speed pitching sessions again. Whether it's with agents, producers or both, speed pitching presents the golden opportunity to get your desperate face in front of the creative behemoths and life changing giants who spend the rest of their year locked behind The Firewall of Fuck-Off.

There can often be a whisper of negativity and cynicism surrounding these kinds of sessions, especially from those who have participated in similar events and not had any success, but success really boils down to three massively important factors:

1. Have you got something that they want?

2. Can you present it to them in a way that makes them understand what you're selling?

3. Have you got a snub-nosed .38 pointing at them under the desk when you slide them the "read my script or die" note?

I've speed pitched before at the LSWF and it resulted in all three producers requesting to read my work without me having to fire a single shot.

The guidelines are very straightforward: research who you're pitching to, prepare the very best pitch you possibly can, and present it to the best of your ability without shitting your pants. Although each speed pitching session last five minutes, you really need to be pitching your project in 30 seconds, definitely in under a minute, allowing enough time to chat about your script and work. If you give a confident and succinct pitch, you are more likely to have a confident discussion about that script in the time remaining. If you don't think you can pitch your project in under a minute, then you won't be able to pitch it in five. I pitched two projects in each five-minute session and had a relaxed chat about both of them. Two producers requested to read one, the other wanted to read both. It is doable.

You need to strip your story back to basics to cater for the event and battle-weary attention spans. I guarantee it's much better to have a brief pitch that leaves questions than a rambling pitch that creates doubt, plus, no matter how well rehearsed you are, the moment you sit in front of Scary Person Who Can Change Your Life, it's understandable that you will definitely, unquestionably, undeniably, without shadow of a doubt, break down and start weeping uncontrollably, so creating a short pitch gives you less words to get wrong and less time to make a complete and utter arse of yourself.

Introduce yourself, include any relevant credits and awards (but leave out criminal records and diseases), thank them for their time and set the scene for your pitch: "I'd like to pitch you a low-budget screwball comedy set in contemporary England." Once you establish those basics they instantly know how to listen to your pitch. You've now got under one minute to briefly explain your story plus any business the script has been involved in (placed in any competitions, significant development, etc)

The session is immediately easier once you've got over that pants-soiling first hurdle, because then you'll be fielding questions about a story and characters you should know inside out. Just don't ramble. Have another longer and looser pitch prepared that expands your opening salvo into a half-page/one-page synopsis. Learn that in the same way and use it to riff back and forth while discussing your film.

Always have back-up pitches! Were they to apologise and say comedy isn't really their thing, you can calmly respond with, "I have a creature-feature horror set in the Scottish Highlands at the turn of the century. Would you mind if I pitched that to you?" Hopefully this is less likely to happen at these kind of organised events because you'll have researched who you're pitching to in order to cater your pitch and projects to their preferences. Try saying that drunk.

Don't take along scripts or USBs to thrust into their hands, but do take along carefully prepared one-page pitches and business cards. Your one-pager should include logline, synopsis, any script business and your details. Ask before you produce either of them. The producers who requested to read my work were not interested in my one-pagers, but other folk I met during the festival were interested in them (okay, so it was for a paper aeroplane competition in the car park, but I'll take whatever I can).

Plan your pitch like you would when writing dialogue in a script. You need to hone it by reading it out, by performing it, to iron out any word combinations that don't feel or sound right coming out of your mouth. Once you've got your pitch down, print off several copies to take with you and keep reading and rehearsing.

Remember the recipients of your pitch are not in your head (at least not until you follow them home and eat their brains), so make sure you explain your story as simply, clearly and calmly as possible without overselling yourself. Do not tell them your comedy is "hilarious" or your horror is "really scary", that's up to them to decide when they read it later that weekend at gunpoint.

I quickly discovered that it's important not to confuse speed pitching with speed dating. Also, do not eat whilst pitching. I made the honest mistake of buying a baked potato with cheese and beans just before I was due to pitch. Not wanting to wait (cold beans? I don't think so) I brought it to the pitching table. Turns out me going to all the extra effort of providing an extra fork for the producer is somehow not considered thoughtful. Neither is using that fork to stab the security guard. Basically, if you want to eat a baked potato during the pitching session, simply buy extra ones to give to each of the producers and agents when you sit down. They'll really appreciate it.

Good luck with your pitching and your writing and try to enjoy the experience.

This piece was originally published on the LSWF website.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011



Although I’ve owned Scrivener for a good few years, I’ve been predictably lazy using it, playing with it every now and then rather than devoting serious time to understanding how it could work best for me. If you can imagine trying to teach a dog to sit still in the middle of a field full of squirrels smothered in cheese then you’ll start to get an idea of the scale of problem I face when trying to engage the analytical side of my brain.

The best way for me to learn something is by doing, so I made a 2011 resolution to write my next project using Scrivener and pick it up as I go along. Although I reckon I ended up using only a small percentage of the software’s potential, it resulted in me producing the fastest, least complicated screenplay I have ever written, and one that is presently being read by an Oscar-winning producer. That last bit obviously has less to do with what Scrivener has to offer and everything to do with me showing off, but the fact remains Scrivener made it a hell of a lot easier and quicker to get the screenplay to that point.

All my story/character stuff is initially written by hand, from concept through various treatments, until I get to a definitive treatment. The physical process of writing by hand seems to help me access the parts of my brain that have somehow survived a lifetime of utter lunacy; so that process won’t change, nor will the fact I prefer to write the story in prose first before writing it up as a screenplay, effectively adapting my own work.

That process means that by the time I finally get to writing the actual screenplay, a lot of the sobbing, head-butting walls, more sobbing, stabbing legs with pens, even more sobbing and soul crushing self-doubt has already been dealt with, meaning most problems that arise at screenplay stage are more likely to be minor ones quickly resolved without the introduction of prescription tranquillisers, and often by referencing the reams of story and character detailed earlier. I’ve experimented with various ways of writing screenplays over the years and this seems to work best for me.

What Scrivener has done is revolutionise an established process that I know works for me by offering the main thing lacking from that process (and my life); order. Scrivener is a fantastic aid to outlining. It makes stuff easy. Once I’ve got to my final treatment stage, rather than write that treatment up as a continuous manuscript, I use Scrivener to build it into a detailed outline using the software’s great outlining tools.

I surprised myself having a lot of fun learning, probably because it was a lot more creative than I was expecting, and the ease with which I could decipher the technical stuff meant I experienced very few cheese-dipped squirrels along the way. By the time I’d finished outlining my treatment, writing up the screenplay was the easy bit. I’m not going to break down or attempt to go into detail about how Scrivener works, not just because I can smell cheesy squirrels heading my way, but also because it’s already been done much better than I could do justice.

Best-selling author, David Hewson, has been successfully using Scrivener for his last five novels. David is extremely generous with his knowledge and often posts helpful Scrivener tips on his blog (one such tip recently saved my arse, big time) and I would gobble up each tip as posted. Much easier than bothering to learn myself, right? Er...

David recently wrote an ebook about using Scrivener. My recent experience, combined with the knowledge that David’s previous tips were written in such a way as to be easily processed by a brain that often resembles a badger trapped in a wheelie bin, made it an easy decision to buy. Plus I kinda wanted to say thanks to him for doing my homework.

I read David’s book in one sitting, which is more than I can say about any other ‘how to’ book I’ve ever forced myself to trudge through. It’s simple, easy, very accessible, and, like Scrivener itself, great value for money. If you’re considering investing in Scrivener, you could do a lot worse than have a nose at this book to help decide whether the investment is worthwhile. If you already own Scrivener but are unsure/lazy about how to get the best out of it, then it’s a great working guide to help you learn the basics from a writer who continues to make it work successfully for him.

I should stress that I’m coming at this from a screenwriting perspective and David’s book is written from the angle of writing a novel, so don’t expect to be walked through how to structure and outline a screenplay. The book covers just one particular way – David’s methodology – out of countless potential ways of using Scrivener to suit individual ways of writing. The fact I write drama and David’s book is about writing literature had no bearing whatsoever on how useful it was in helping me grasp the important basics of a brilliant piece of writing software, and has given me the perfect platform to experiment with my own work.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a Kindle, the free Kindle app enables you to read the book on your computer screen (quite handy, as you can refer to Scrivener as you read off the same screen) or from your iPad (screenshots look much prettier than on the Kindle).

I also quite like the fact that owning it as an electronic file means it’s only ever one click away whenever I’m using Scrivener on my laptop – it’s a handy safety net. Now all I need to do is find a similar tool that puts my personal life in order and then… ooo… look, squirrel!

“No software will write your book for you. No program can make the creative side of writing easier. But Scrivener transforms the mountain ahead so that it’s a sight more manageable to climb.” David Hewson

"It's makes stuff easy." Jared Kelly
"Cheese-dipped squirrels! Woo hoo!" A Dog



Monday, May 23, 2011


Last year I clicked on a Twitter link (twink?) from Danny Stack that introduced me to the wonderful world of Julie Gray.

At the time, Julie was running a screenplay competition which involved submitting a one-pager based on three random words she had chosen. Although the three words could be used however the writer fancied, the lighthearted premise was tempered by a strict ruling that the one-page script should still be treated as a professional submission and adhere to correct formatting and represent real time, with one page roughly reflecting one minute of screen time.

Julie's three words were: Plum, Sweater, Volcano.

I'd never really been one for competitions, but the idea did seem fun, and maybe I was also a tad inspired by Julie's rallying cry to US readers of her website: "Let's show those Brits how it's done!" So I planted my arse and soon found myself peering into the melancholy world of plums and their relationship woes. I sent in my script and was pleasantly surprised to receive a lovely response from Julie expressing her delight having read it.

The script was shortlisted for the competition's online vote and promptly bombed, finishing a proud but lowly last. It would seem my plums are not to everyone's taste. Who knew? The real prize, though, was meeting up with Julie in London later that year. Julie is as lovely, lively and fun as she comes across online, reassuringly obsessive about writing and a genuine delight to be around. She happily informed me that my submission was one of the best one-page examples she'd read from any of her competitions and she's subsequently been using it as a handout in her screenwriting classes as an example of subtext. That was genuinely nice to hear.

I recently discovered the forgotten script sitting in an unrelated folder. So, without further ado, here are my plums:

Reading it again reminded me of a more recent competition by The London Screenwriters' Festival. They organised a successful comedy weekend in April this year and offered a free festival pass to the winner of their own one-page screenplay competition (see what you started, Julie?) Their guideline being the script should reflect the tone of the festival and therefore be comical. Maybe inspired by my plums, I once again found myself in the angst-ridden world of fruit. The script was shortlisted but ended its journey there, though this time there was no online vote to relegate my fruit to the bottom of the no-win zone. Fruit have feelings too.

I thought I'd include that LSWF one-page script with this post, if for no other reason than it gets you closer to your five-a-day. Yes, that's right, reading this post WILL make you healthier.

Friday, February 25, 2011



Reading Lucy’s great post the other day reminded me of an article I wrote for Scriptwriter Magazine a few years ago, inspired by the myth of ideas theft.

Motivation for screenwriting wasn’t immediately obvious to me. It would be easy to say I always wanted to tell stories to entertain people, but in truth that’s a predictably lazy piece of twaddle, and, certainly in my case, wouldn’t be the truth on its own.

The obvious motivations exist for me as they do for all writers. Orwell said it more eloquently, but it’s basically a very healthy dose of ego, combined with the pleasure of storytelling, the urge to uncover facts and truths, and a driven, almost self-righteous desire to expose injustice - all traits shared by all writers (don’t let them tell you any different); it’s just the proportions that differ, dependent on the writer’s state of mind at the time and the subject matter.

I’ve always had stories floating around my head. Actually, part of my problem is they don’t float at all, they wear cricket spikes and barbed-wire gloves and take lots of ecstasy and I’ve been forced to experiment with various ways of extracting them, or at least calming them down. Screenwriting appears to work as a way to get them out of my head and stop their bad dancing. Either that or I have to anesthetize my brain to such an extent that they appear to go away, which, although often a popular choice, is a bit like removing the flashing oil light on a dashboard because it’s becoming annoying - at some point you’ll need to take a bus.

I’ve been taking a lot of buses lately.

A while back I read in The Hollywood Reporter that a film addressing climate change was in pre-production. That wasn’t a good day, week or month for me. The Day After Tomorrow - a high-concept exploration of the effect of global-warming on a deluded population. Oh bollocks…


I’ve never been a naturally paranoid person, but I knew right then I’d been cyber-burgled. I've got pages and pages of research, treatments and character bios to prove it. The first draft was only a week away. Well, maybe a month away. Actually, thinking about what time of year it was, and taking into consideration my work commitments and a wealth of other thinking projects, along with my continued financial obligation to several local bartenders, plus all those bus journeys, I probably would have got round to nailing the first draft in about, oh, I don't know, a year or so? Maybe.

And there it was, my motivational epiphany: Get Stuff Done.

Ideas are everywhere, but until someone knuckles down and turns one of them into a viable script, they are worthless, hence the oft-repeated mantra about why there exists no copyright on ideas, just the manifestation of those ideas into scripts. This motivational epiphany extended to the knowledge that every single great idea I come up with - no matter how unbelievably unique and utterly brilliant I know I am - there will always be people the world over toying with a similar idea (just nowhere near as good) and maybe some of them are already working on treatments, maybe some have already completed drafts, and just maybe… uh oh…

It’s the most natural thing for storytellers to share a common currency of thought. Imagine a busy street with hundreds of people walking along it every day. Add something of interest in that street that draws attention and could inspire a story. Throw in a couple of screenwriters walking down that same street at different times, and they’ll be the ones most likely sucked into imagining the story behind it and the possibilities that story could inspire. In the same way that out of all those hundreds of people it will be the few photographers walking down that street who will focus on something else and be inspired in a different way, seeing hidden possibilities that most people walking past wouldn’t, and which crucially they feel are unique to them. And so it goes. Hence it really shouldn’t be a surprise when we screenwriters come up with similar ideas at similar times.

Sometimes, though, it is cyber-burglary, but I’m not going to dwell on that, even if it was by a successful German writer-director with an impressive list of films under his belt and possibly a bigger cock than mine. I’m over it. I’ve moved on. I’M FINE.

So, it’s quite simple. There are endless stories out there with varying basic motivations for telling them, but my immediate motivation lies in writing them before some other fucker does and I get my nose rubbed in it by The Hollywood Reporter. And you know what? It seems to be working. It’s helping me to get stuff done.

However, I do have another motivation that started long before I began writing for the screen, and it’s just as inspirational. I want my mum and dad to live in a big house by the sea and never have to worry about getting stuff done. That one helps when the bus journeys get longer.


Published in Scriptwriter Magazine, September 2006.