Sunday, 20 September 2015

Me and ME and the Writing Flea.

I have been quiet, haven't I?  Well it seems I won the Cancer war but it left me with a few scars.
One of these is that I now have ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). Another is a dead patch on my brain which puzzles the medical team but doesn’t give me any bother so we are all ignoring it for now.

I have been told ME is very common after a long battle with Cancer. However seeing all my friends recovering and getting back to relative normality has been hard to take.

So what did I do? I was my usual bloody minded self and fought it. The more I fought the worse it got. I tried to return to work full time and kept failing. My writing ground to a halt. I repeatedly fell ill. I became more and more exhausted. Everything went pear shaped.

It was reality check time. I now work part time, as and when I can. I have cut everything from my life that was not necessary or was a drain. I have learnt to ask for help and to pace myself. Only one task a day, if that.

The good news is that it should go. The bad news is that it might be 1 year, it might be 10.

Thankfully I am surrounded by family, friends and colleagues who are really supportive. I have also discovered other Cancer survivors online who are going through what I am enduring. I am not alone.

So how does all this relate to my writing?

Well the obvious thing is that when I am too tired to work I am also too tired to write so my output has severely reduced.

Now I could have got down in the dumps about this. Instead I have just readjusted my targets. If I manage one good script a year then it is better than making myself ill trying to force out four rubbish ones. I have learnt to concentrate on quality rather than quantity.

I love to write. It is the best feeling when your ideas start cascading off each other and a script comes together. Not in the first draft but in the 4th or 5th.

I will not let ME stop me writing. Don't let life stop you doing what you love either.

Oh and the flea? OK. There is no flea. But if you are really good boys and girls I will write a story about one next time 

Friday, 2 January 2015

LSF 2014 Part 2: What did I do?

See Part 1 for information on the event in general.

So what did I actually do? 
Well the event starts before the weekend with special day sessions. Because this was my first time I attended Pilar Alessandra’s Pitching Thursday which is a crash course on getting that pitch trim and fit. Wish there was something like that for New Year slimming. I then used that information through the week.

There are also special events running through the weekend and beyond that you can apply for. The first scheme was run by Hayley McKenzie of ScriptAngel. This was 6 months mentoring for one person. I was in the final 20 and this inspired me to apply for the Advance Mentoring Script Labs.

Each lab gives specialist mentoring for six people.  The lab lasts 3hrs on the day but starts before the weekend and continues after. Readers do the short list of 12 then the Mentor selects the six they want.  

 I got selected for Steve La Rue’s Fantastical TV. It was amazing and allowed me to refine my pitch and rework my script some more. Steve was inspirational and funny and made us all relaxed.

I did a Script Doctor session to discuss my script. These are run by Euroscript. The 1-2-1 slots went very fast but they then opened some where you share with three others and I did that. A good hour spent with Paul Bassett Davies who gave me great advice on my series structure.

THE BIG ONE - Pitchfest:

You don’t have to do this but a lot of people do. It is soooo worth it. You apply for a 90mins session and there are 5mins slots for pitching. A big clock does the countdown and a bell rings for all change.

There are about 2.7 people for each pitch table so you do need to queue a bit. I managed 6 people in the session because everyone raced into the middle of the room at the start and missed the tables at the front. I therefore managed to pitch them both in the first 5 mins! Yes it is possible. We even had time for a bit of a chat too.

Of the 6 I pitched I got one polite no, 5 took my one pagers and 2 asking me to send scripts when ready. One of the one pagers has come back with a “not for us” and I thanked them for considering me. I had gone to the session thinking of it as a learning exercise because I hadn’t done it before so that response was wonderful. One even told me I had a great pitch. I came out of the session buzzing.

Now this event really does need preparation. The organisers release information on the people you can pitch to as they book in. Because of business commitments this changes all the time with people changing slots, adding or leaving the event.

Keep track of who will be there and in what slot. Work out which slot will be best for what you are planning to pitch. Many of us resorted to spreadsheets with scoring systems for how much you wanted to talk to them and how many of your projects fitted what they did.

RESEARCH the people so you know who they are and what they do. There will be reminders at each table but think of them as memory joggers. There will be executives, producers, directors and agents at each session. They will be looking for different things.

The big boys (Sky, BBC, etc) turn up on Friday. I went for Saturday which had more independent producers. Sunday is the quietest and friendliest day. Many who are there on Saturday also go to Sunday. Don’t assume your best chance is with the big boys. From the feedback I got those of us who went on Saturday got more positive responses.

Once you have that sorted in your head the next thing is the race to apply for slots. They all went in 10mins. You need to be online ready for when the slots are released and work fast! I was on the chatroom with many of the others singing The Final Countdown, thanks Chris, before we dived over. REMEMBER TO REFRESH THE PAGE when the zero hour arrives.

If you get your slot then well done.  I danced round the room when my one was confirmed.  If you don’t get the slot then don’t despair. Some people book but never turn up or cancel so keep in touch with the organisers. Some people will also swap because  they may not have got the slot they wanted.

If you get a slot but not the one you wanted do not despair. The people in the room may surprise you. Be flexible.  Pitch anyway. Several I pitched to had a wider interest than was in their blurb and asked me to pitch one I thought they wouldn’t want. Remember to have fun too.

Events I missed?

The Actors Table Reads done by professional actors and directors. You submit your sample and they select you. Professional actors and directors do the reads. I kept doing a double take seeing familiar faces walking down the corridors. Note you can only attend if you have one of the selected scripts in the slot.

The Legal Labs where you book a slot to discuss legal issues about your writing

Pitch Factor. You put £5 in the hat then go on stage and pitch to a panel of Hollywood bigwigs. If you win you get the hat. I had planned on doing this but was too exhausted to stay. Maybe next year.

Elevator Pitch: You have the time it takes to go up and down in the lift (90sec tops) to pitch and get the card. You have no idea who is in there. I arrived too late so missed pitching to Joel Schumaker. Note that 15mins before it starts is already too late. I missed getting a place by one person. Again next time.

This is not a comprehensive list of events but hopefully gives you a taste of what happens in a very busy weekend.

So don't be scared. Give it a go. Everyone will do something embarrassing at one point during the weekend. My embarrassing moment was to be too tired at the end of the day to read "Go away we are talking" vibes from two guest speakers. They must have thought I was so rude as I hovered. Eventually my brain cranked back into gear and I slunk off blushing. I still cringe about it now and hope they don't think I am some kind of weirdo.  I witnessed others too but you pick yourself up and carry on with consoling pats on the back from the writers round you.

I would like to thank the LSF team who worked so hard through the year to organise this event. I know they were working long hours the week leading up to it and I was amazed how they kept smiling through the weekend too.

Hope to see you there next year, feel free to say hello, and remember to have FUN!!!

LSF 2014 Part 1: What is it?

Well it seems ages ago I said I would keep you posted on the London Screenwriting Festival 2014. I now know why people rarely blog while they are there. It is EXHAUSTING! There is so much to do from early in the morning until late at night.

Because I am still recovering from my treatment I could not manage a full day and had to take frequent rests. Even so I got so much out of it I have already bought my ticket for next year.

So what is it?

You probably know it is an annual event from Friday to Sunday in October run by and dedicated to writers. The day lasts from 8am to 7.30pm followed by networking events until late. You can get your ticket in one payment or instalments and they are going fast. See details here.

It takes place in the beautiful Regents University, sat in the corner of Regents Park behind Madam Tussaud's. The venue is a quadrangle of buildings and two marquees so everything is in easy reach. There were delegates with a range of mobility issues and we all got the help we needed so no-one missed out.

There are about 700 delegates and 100 speakers but it does not seem crowded except for the odd rush to the next session. There are lots of volunteers to help you get around (yes I got lost on the first morning). Everyone is approachable. Most speakers come and mix with the rest of us when they are not on stage.

I am actually quite shy when surrounded by strangers, stop snickering at the back, but decided to dive in and chat to everyone. First person I spoke to was in a café queue on the first morning. Sarah Gilani and I are now friends and she was a great intro to networking. I was therefore brave enough to keep at it.

So I practised pitches with fellow delegates in the canteen, shared jokes in the queues, thanked speakers for their presentations when I bumped into them, handed cards to anyone who couldn’t run away fast enough, sat and chilled in the quadrangle while people popped by to chat (some old friends and some became new friends).

What I did NOT do is corner everyone to push my script. Networking is getting to know people, not to harass them. We shared advice and information and funny stories instead. 

I met some fascinating people. Some were already making their own films, some had years of experience and were happy to share, some were just starting out, some had been banging their heads against the wall for years and came away with ideas for how to demolish it. I was also surprised how far people had travelled to get to the event. They were from all over the world which shows how much people value the event. Even those in the US that could get to LA.

What happens?

There are presentations all through the day, four at a time.

Some are showings of films while you discuss them with the writers – I attended Lost Boys with Joel Schumacher and Silence of the Lambs with Ted Tally but missed Finding Nemo with David Reynolds.

Some are discussions within the panel. Others have a lot of interaction with the audience. Usually the presenters then move to a separate room after for a script chat. You can talk to them with only 10 or so other people there. I sat next to John Lloyd!!!

There was so much information given out. Some recorded for later viewing, some edited out or not recorded at all that contained juicy gossip or to protect ideas.

The speakers are all really approachable through the weekend. I chatted to quite a few. To make the most of it you have to lose the fear and talk to anyone. I made lots of new friends and met up with old ones. 

Take lots of cards.  I took 300 and must have given out about 200.

Attendee site

So you can keep up to date on what is going on and get to know people. There is the LSFConnect site. I used the group area a lot.

I am in “Them There Northerners”, a great bunch of supportive writers but there are now similar groups for many areas of Britain and for abroad too. You can help each other prepare before the event. “Noobies” is for first times but also has regulars there to give advice. Without Dee Chilton and Liz Holliday I would have missed a lot of what is going on. There are also groups for Radio, Comedy, etc.

The chatroom becomes lively the closer you get to the event. Great to get questions answered and for courage. I told fellow newbies to feel free to just come up and say hello to me and they did.

Most important is planning, planning, planning. Treat it like a military operation.  If you want to meet someone specific then get in touch beforehand and arrange to meet or you will keep missing each other. It took 2 days to meet one of my friends and another only found me just before she had to leave.

Part 2 will tell you about the extra events and what I actually did.