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Ian Kennedy at BAFTA

Since it’s their results week too as we publish this, here’s a pic of Ian Kennedy, our Director of Worldwide Development, at BAFTA for a recent meeting with our founder Alex Ross!

Announcing results is the tough bit… especially at the Quarter-Final stage, where we have the most decisions to make, and the most people’s to disappoint about their writing submissions. At WriteMovies we make it our job to constantly open a door for writers and push their work to the next level, and take the ones that are ready into the international industry – but everyone is starting from a different place and whatever level a writer reaches they always have further steps to take to succeed and sustain themselves in the industry. To help you understand our logic and tips for how to make your work stand out to us, our Director Ian likes to write articles about “What Your Writing Has Been Telling Us” over this time. (Click here to read a past one – are you still repeating any of the common issues we were noticing in submissions back then…?). They’re intended to help you understand common mistakes that we feel many writers are making right now, and simple fixes you can make that will make your script more solid and original quickly, so it can advance it much deeper into our contests and potentially towards representation and success in the international industry.

After this, if you’re still unsure why your script isn’t getting the breaks you expect, we strongly recommend you get one of our Mentoring/Consultancy reports, to show you where your writing currently stands, what’s standing between you and your goals, and how to fix it. We’ve kept the prices as low as we possibly can to help you with this, with BIG recent discounts which have cost us but which we’d like to extend if we can make them viable. Everyone has their own opinion, but our reports are drawn directly from industry formats and standards to give you the strongest indication possible of how the industry would currently respond to your script. Check out our packages HERE. If you value your time at all, how much does it cost you to put six months of your free time into something that was impossibly flawed – yet fixable – from the start? Take $69, divide it by the number of hours you might have wasted otherwise, and think about the value that adds to your use of the same time. We believe that all serious writers should see the value of commissioning reports like these. Even if you don’t agree with what our analyst concludes – you’ll probably need to convince the industry about the same kinds of thing, if you want to succeed, and they have plenty easier ways to get what they want.

We especially recommend that if your concept is a bit ‘out there’. There may be only a few solvable issues between your originality and a commercially viable project – but if they’re serious issues (and with ‘out there’ concepts, they almost always are, at first) your submission will be coming out below a lot of less interesting submissions until they’re fixed, but might really fly once they are.

Firstly, even if you’re not sending a screenplay or teleplay, at WriteMovies we’re still judging your submission on is its screen potential (this is a screenwriting contest, after all). How well would this project pitch and adapt to become a production with international potential. Can this storytelling be carried purely by images and spoken words? How effectively? Has the writer fallen into the easy traps of exposition and literary/narrative devices, or have they found ways to tell their story through what we see and hear and the voices we’re following?

Many writers need to trust readers and audiences to see and recognize the meanings and significance of things in their work. It’s not helpful to provide lots of extra information, that can’t be seen or heard on screen – too often it betrays a lack of confidence in your material or a lack of originality in your telling. Exposition-heavy dialogue, of course, falls into the same trap – there’s always a better way to reveal your information, and make it as implicit (and hopefully visual) as possible. What marks the top writers out isn’t always what they tell – but it almost always includes how they tell it: we the way they get us to ‘trust the teller’ to reward us for our time. They just engage us and connect us to their storytelling, whatever they’re writing about, in ways that most aspiring writers just don’t yet. It’s worth looking again at your favorite movies or show pilots, and focusing on HOW they achieve the effects they do on you. That will teach you much more about how to write, than almost anything else we can suggest right now. How do they involve and engage and stimulate and teach us? Why do we feel it matters, when things change for these characters, compared to the hundreds of scripts we read where the same kind of event doesn’t? Look at how they build their story world and make it unique and distinctive, so we WANT to spend time there even if it’s an unpleasant place we’d never want to be ourselves. Give us reasons to care and be fascinated. Look again at our Insights articles for interesting ways that great screenwriting uses point of view, distinctive angles on their subject matter, the underlying logic of what happens in their storytelling worlds, personal identities and dialogue to enrich our experiences as audiences. Try and give us a reward or surprise on every page for paying attention and mapping our own thoughts and expectations onto your characters and stories and issues. Give your characters distinctive voices and approaches to life’s challenges – and test them out with experiences that challenge and disturb them.

Above all, give us reasons to care about your characters and what happens to them, fast – and no, pitying them definitely doesn’t count. Here are a few things we saw in a number of scripts:

  • Openings were a common issue this time. Yeah, the industry needs to get to the thrust of your story faster than ever now. But please, please warm us up before you hit us with something shocking, tragic, magical or crude (unless the shock is designed to establish a mystery at the heart of the story – which is fine if so). Make us care and get fascinated with your main characters and their world first, so it immediately hits us what a difference it’ll make to people who we already care about.
  • Then there’s the openings that have started to engage us and show us something interesting – and then jump straight back to a tedious time that feels a long wait away from when the cool stuff happens. That’s a let-down, unless you’ve established some important mystery we care about, which the backstory will later resolve for us (that’s a useful tip: provide something to make us care or wonder with fascination, that will make even the little details of the past matter and resonate forwards). Otherwise, maybe look for other devices to bring the backstory into what matters NOW to the characters, or seed the twists ahead more naturally into the early stuff. If your worldbuilding and characterization are strong enough from the start, we’ll love your story even if the gold isn’t gonna come through till later. Trust in your storytelling abilities – and in HOW you’re telling your story.
  • There were several here with a vehicle smash at about the page-10 mark. Sure, it adds shock value, disruption and life-changing consequences, in otherwise mundane settings. But was there a more original or involving way that the writer could have done to involve us more in their story, without needing the expensive shock tactics? Any good screenwriting book will tell you that plot developments should arise from your characters’ own decisions and actions, not having plot ‘dropped on them’, in order to win and keep hold of our audiences’ empathy and emotional involvement.

A few other general points:

  • Why are so many aspiring sci-fi and fantasy writers drawn to grandiose statements and speechy dialogue? Keep it real and relatable: one of my tips is that every scene should contain someone who is responding to what’s happening just like ‘someone like us’ would if this happened in the real world. That can still be someone with special powers or alien background, and it should be different characters at different times: watch how the AVENGERS movies do this by giving the superheroes’ perspectives on each other, and conflicts between them. Keep it real and relatable – even if your premise IS grandiose, your characters should still be recognizably like real people within that world.
  • If you’re writing to evangelize about something, make sure you give equal balance and weight and credibility – hell, more even – to the antagonists of your story, or your story just won’t feel convincing enough to achieve the changes you’d like to see in audiences’ mindsets.
  • Maybe predictably, many writers’ choices of subject matter plays out familiar topical themes with wide resonance – but the way they’re telling these stories are often taking familiar approaches that aren’t so different from any good journalism – so again, invest the extra time in the WAY you’re telling your story, and your unique take on the world, especially if it’s the kind of issue-drama that’s never far from the news agenda. If we already agree with your opinion about your subject, before we’ve seen your story, then think about what value you are adding.
  • For romance and romcom, make it MATTER that this kind of story is happening to these characters. They should interest or fascinate us for some important reason, in themselves, so we care that they find completeness. Also watch out for attractive supporting characters who ‘see something’ in a less-than-charismatic protagonist: I sometimes wonder if this is some writers’ fantasy playing out in their plots. Either way, it takes away the protagonist’s ownership of their own journey and learning and self-fulfilment: which makes them less empathetic and the story more arbitrary from the audience’s point of view.

And while we’re talking about it – writers as protagonist characters – you’d think that writers made up a substantial audience demographic, from the amount of appearances they make as protagonists in the submissions we’re sent. We know why it’s tempting (“write what you know”, and maybe to fictionally realize your own dreams sometimes…!), but if you’re going that road, make sure the characters always feel noticeably distinct from the storyteller, and have some distinctive angle on life that justifies their professional aspirations. Don’t give them breaks and an easy ride to fixing their problems. Sadly, the world doesn’t. That’s the toughest aspect of our job here…

I hope some of these comments have been above all supportive and useful to you, even if perhaps difficult for some… good luck and we look forward to seeing your improved work next time around. If you’ve slipped into any of the issues I’ve discussed here, just know that they are actually easily fixable, and we can always help you to do that without having to throw away any of the things that matter most to you about your writing.

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