Kate Leys – Working on a script

Notes from Kate Leys workshop about working on a script:

Have perspective – investigate the story and ask the difficult questions.

Be clear and honest – Look for the things that don’t work.

Read a lot of screenplays – it’s totally different from watching the film.

Causality – everything that happens builds from all that came before.

Unity – everything is unified by the central theme.

Theme – helps build the story.

Use structure – to focus on your theme and story.

Who’s story is it?

What do they want?

Why can’t they just get it?

What do they need to learn / understand / get over?

Go in close, be specific. If you can still ask why? you haven’t gone in close enough.

What happens is less important than why it happens.

It’s the pull between want and need that creates drama. – You can’t always get what you want but you get what you need!

Dramatize the problem, don’t telegraph it.

What does the character have at the end of the story that he doesn’t have at the beginning?



The single most useful thing you can do is tell your story to yourself out loud. Record it and listen back to it. This will help you see the problems.

Tell the story to other people and get them to tell it back to you – see if they’ve picked it up, is it clear, or are they forgetting bits, getting confused, changing things -for the better?


Keep it short – microbudget – 80-85 pages. Studios – 90-100 max

London Screenwriters Festival – Day Three

First off –  went to see Chris Jones interview Eddie Hamilton – a film editor who worked with Matthew Vaughn on Kick Ass and various of his other movies as a producer. Also with Guy Ritchie. He was very interesting  on editing and on how he reads spec scripts for friends projects and gives feedback from an editors point of view.

Then there was – a comedy writing panel discussion with – Dean Craig, Andy Riley and Kevin Cecil chaired by Paul Bassett Davis. This again was a great informal discussion on writing comedy, process and how to get into it as a career. 

In the afternoon I went to Chris Jones talk – Winning your first Oscar – a bit of a hyperbolic title – but as Chris pointed out every year some unknown does win an Oscar for a short film/animation – so it is within the realms of possibility. The talk was about making and distributing Gone Fishing – his brilliant short – and how they planned a festival campaign with a view to maximizing their chance of an Oscar nomination. They end up sixth on the shortlist, just missing the nomination. But his  views on how to work the film festivals ‘system’ were interesting and pragmatic.

Then I went to a talk on crime writing. This was something I know nothing about and a random choice. I thought they might talk about crime structures in features, but it was mostly about developing concepts for long running crime TV shows and how to keep them interesting and varied. I found it a little dull as it’s not really my area of interest.

I didn’t stay for the very end of the festival, but overall it was a very enjoyable three days and I met quite a few writers – all of whom were very friendly –  most also starting out, and in the same boat as me. 

The first time organizers did fantastically well to put on such a festival and I would definitely consider going again.

London Screenwriters Festival – Day Two

Started with – in conversation with Barry Keith on the Long Good Friday. I arrived late and just caught the end of this. They showed some clips from the movie – I have seen it, but a long time ago – in my mind I had it mixed up with Mona Lisa. Barry Keith was very interesting and talked on writing about social issues for theatre in the seventies and eighties.

Then – Non Linear Story telling with Linda Aronson who had lots of great tips on structuring non linear and multi protagonist stories. She was trying to cram too much material into her time slot and it became a bit much for me in the end. I think she should have stuck to the basics more but having said that I left with a few stand out revelations about structuring these kinds of movies.

After that I took a break – I needed to stop brain overload. I went for lunch and chatted to a few people.

In the afternoon – there was a brilliant panel discussion on writing for young people, which was much more informal and chatty. Panelist – Danny Stacke, Gayle Reynard, Chris Hill, Andy Briggs. There was lots of advice from the panelists on breaking into shows for young people. Be it animation, childrens drama or teenage drama shows like Skins.

London Screenwriters Festival – Day one

I Started off seeing – Tim Bevan in conversation with Michael Gubbins. A very interesting potted history of Working Title going from My Beautiful Launderette to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – and there was me thinking they only produced Richard Curtis/Bridget Jones/ Rom-coms and Bean movies. Tim Bevan also talked about the Film Councils demise and how he thought this was a regretable decision (which he would as he ran it) but he’s yet to hear from Jeremy Hunt what the alternative is going to be.

Then I saw – in conversation with Gub Neal ( ex C4 – now an indie producer) and Ben Stephenson (drama commissioner for the BBC) . It was interesting to hear about how the commissioning process worked at the various TV channels and what they looked for. Both had good things to say about the state of TV drama.

Then I went to Kate Leys workshop on script editing and process. Which had some good tips on script development – I have written up in another post.

Then meet the BBC writers room – which was all about finding your voice, and also about BBC writers room submission process. By this time my brain was pretty fried.

The day ended with Chris Jones interviewing John August over skype. It was slightly surreal seeing this projection of a big talking head from LA , Chris said it was rather like the Wizard of Oz. John had interesting things to say about working practices and being a Hollywood writer. I am already an avid reader of his blog and think he gives good down to earth advice.

Finally ended with a drink in the bar and met a few more delegates. Everyone seems very friendly and open to chat. I have met quite a few people already. A good – if mind frying first day!

Sawako Decides

Saw this at the London Film Festival today. An inscrutable Japanese comedy.

Sawako – A downtrodden girl  works in Tokyo and dates her colleague a man-child who knits jumpers. She is always apologizing and not standing up for herself and she has a drink problem.

Her uncle calls to say that her dad is dying and she must come home to take over his clam processing business. Her boyfriend is fired and goes with her, he brings along his five year old daughter. Sawako cannot relate to her.

Things pan out as you would imagine but with various troubles along the way. The moral and character philosophies are distinctly Japanese  and humour comes from subtly lampooning their  politeness and conformity.

In the end Sawako speaks out for herself and explains her life philosophy –  I’m just an average ‘lower -middle’ (class) and should just put up with what I can get.

The film was way too long at two hours but had some subtle light humour and a few broader moments that still had that low key Japanese feel.

The kids Are Alright

Saw this today also at the film festival. Lisa Chodolenko’s film about Lesbian parenting and the troubles that occur when the two teenage kids decide to contact their anonymous sperm donor dad. His arrival creates conflicts within this seemingly perfect family.

A very funny script. There are lots of jokes at the expense of right on parenting and LA therapy speak. Three amazing leads all charming, funny and cool.

Ruffallo plays a kind of older, more successful version of his character from You Can Count On Me – a debonair ladies man, together on the surface but trouble underneath. Annette Benning is brilliant as the uptight perfectionist mum of the ‘mums’ and Jullianne Moore is the dippy hippy one who is more of a laissez-faire buddy parent, but they really feel real as a couple. The kids are good too.

I really loved the movie. My one criticism Although the plot – Lesbian moms, sperm donors, is new for Hollywood. Everything else around this is totally Hollywood.

Everyone is drop dead gorgeous, they all live in amazing houses. Mark effortlessly runs a trendy organic restaurant despite the fact he is supposed to be a bit unreliable. Moore and Benning have token ‘bad points’ Benning drink too much but only a little, Moore is a flake, but other than that they’re all pretty perfect.

I guess the moral is alternative families can be succesful too and if the drama is too great or the characters are too out there that obscures the message. Overall though a funny heartwarming film.


This is the film I was most looking forward to at the London film festival and I was disappointed. In fairness we were sitting in the front row right up against the screen, so this may distort my experience of the film slightly.

I love James Franco, he’s a great actor and just gorgeous too. Although I don’t think he looks like Alan Ginsberg. I love Howl. I bought and read it about five or six years ago after reading On the Road by Kerouac. I read it again recently after doing some poetry classes.

It’s a stream of consciousness poem and in my mind I read it quickly. It has a fast syncopated rhythm, and the images flick quickly like jump cuts or a train journey. It also crackles with gay sexual energy.

So the worst thing about this movie was the tedious lumpen Disney Fantasia style animation, that illustrates literally every line of the poem as it’s read – very slowly. Impressionist painted skies and graphic phallic shaped buildings sit behind Poser style CGi characters. All having straight sex or blowing on saxophones or worse still, flying through the sky like Angels from What Dreams May Come.

It’s not avant- garde, or Gay or sexy, it doesn’t even have rhythm or reflect the look or feel of the era in which the poem is set. It just utterly shit.

The poetry is a smash of words and they could have used graphic design and film clips and fifties drawn animation to reflect this. They should have had someone like Jonathon Cauette to make these sequences. They should be a collision of Genet drawings, Warhol 16mm, period stock footage, graphics, Tom of Finland, porn movies, and National Film Board animation mashed together.

But really, the best solution would be not to make the film at all, because the rest of the story is just a few set pieces – James Franco as Ginsberg gives the first reading of the poem. The obscenity trial. A talking head interview two years later. Plus a few clips of him hanging out with the other beats.

All of these are based verbatim on transcipts and tapes that have been made into the script. So why do it? Why not use the material to make an avant garde documentary? These guys are documentary makers after all?

The end was good. A charge of emotion but it’s the end of the poem that creates this, not the movie. Maybe poetry is better as poems and films as films. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a good mix of the two.


We saw this today at the London film festival. It is a low budget high school comedy/ dance movie.

A young intersex girl – nicknamed Spork who is teased at school. Decides to enter a dance off.  Her black neighbour – Tootsie Roll and her gang teach Spork to crunk (or is it crump?) She finds love with the school gay boy and with the help of her new friends goes on to win the dance comp and defeat the horrible blonde beatches. 

A typical high school plot is livened up by bright colours sassy performances and some John Waters style humour. It has a definite queer sensibility and is somewhat like Napoleon Dynamite, but not quite as good.

The great thing about that film is John Hedder does his own dancing at the end and he is brilliant at it. Here Spork is body doubled for some of her dance and it seems to make it less authentic.

Some scenes felt too long, and although Spork herself  was great some of the other characters felt under developed. Also, it is hard to have a sassy knowing wit about the genre cliches and then to treat them seriously in more heartfelt scenes. I felt it sometimes doesn’t quite pull this off.  

I am trying to write a similar story in this genre and to me it was interesting to watch for both it’s strong points – the off beat humour and characters and it’s weaker – the emotional depth.

Mary and Max

I saw Mary and Max yesterday at the Odeon Covent Garden – great film, grotty cinema!

It’s the animated tale of two unlikely pen pals. Mary a lonely eight year old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne and Max an obese middle aged man with Aspergers living in New York. Mary and Max tell their stories to each other through letters and as Mary grow up their friendship strengthens, breaks and is finally rekindled. 

A claymation film and the feature debut of Adam Elliot, who won an oscar for his animated short – Harvey Crumpet. The broad cartoony looking characters have real emotional depth, thanks to the great vocal performances of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Max, Toni Collette as Mary and Barry Humphries as the narrator. It’s funny and full of pathos. I even had a tear in my eye at the end.

Heatbeats or Les amours imaginaires

Heart Beats poster
Heart Beats poster
Heart Beats poster

We saw this yesterday at the London Film Festival. The film is a comedy about  three close friends who are involved in a love-triangle.

Francis ( Xavier Dolan, cute in his sixties suits ) and his best friend Marie (Monia Chokri, styled like a French nouvelle vaugue starlet ) meet the enigmatic and beautiful Nicolas (Niels Schneider) at a party and both fall for him. They try everything they can to subtly seduce him and he leads them both on, in wide eyed, mischevious, faux innocence.

The film is directed by Xavier Dolan a talented actor/director and at twenty one this is already his second film! His first –  I killed my mother  (which I’ve yet to see) was the toast of Un certain Regard at Cannes a year ago.

It has beautiful photography of stylish people in  chic apartments and coffee shops. The acting is sometimes mannered and owes a debt to Godard and Truffaut – both Jules et Jim and Bande a part – even knowingly riffing on this for comic effect.

To break up the main narrative Twenty-somethings give faux interviews on love – like in Harry and Sally. The film is full of other stylistic tricks too, all executed beautifully. Ultra slo mo tracking shots that everyone loves now days and, formal stylized sex scenes.

Overall I found it enjoyable and gorgeous to look at, but shallow – rather like the characters themselves. It’s thin on plot development, resulting in a very flat ending. Dolan is sickeningly talented and obviously one to watch out for in the future!