Tag Archives: Chris Lunt

New Year Writing Resolutions

The world doesn’t owe you a screenwriting career. Harsh, but true. So, like everyone before you, you’re going to have to go out there and make it for yourself. And you can. Here are my top tips for new year writing resolutions to help you on your way.

Surround yourself with your biggest cheerleaders. Dementors are great in Harry Potter but not in your life. Avoid people who don’t believe in your dreams and instead spend time with people who do.

Find support groups online and in real life. Join a local Writers Group like Stratford-upon-Avon Screenwriters or Them There Northerners. Facebook and LinkedIn have numerous screenwriting communities and on Twitter search and use #scriptchat #screenwriting #amwriting to find other people talking about writing and screenwriting.

Make time for your writing every day. I know it’s tough with so many demands on our time, but you’ve got to put the hours in. And don’t kid yourself that you need a big expanse of writing time; if you wait for that to materialise you’ll be waiting forever! Carve out small chunks of time in your normal day, whether it’s your lunch-break, in the evening or early morning, even if it’s only for half an hour. But make it part of your daily routine.

Study the craft. Whether you take classes or self-study, there is a way to develop your screenwriting skills that suits you. There are numerous M.A Screenwriting courses; Creative Skillset list their accredited courses and any internet search will throw up hundreds more. There are short courses to suit everyone, anything from several months to one-day. If you don’t want spend money on a course, you can learn a huge amount simply by watching films and tv and reading their scripts. But don’t just be a passive consumer, be an analyst; break it down, work out how the writer has crafted their characters and story structure to manipulate you emotionally. Whether you’re watching comedy or horror, thriller or drama, the job of the writer is to make the audience feel (and hopefully to think as well), so how did the script make you scared, amused, excited, frightened?

Develop your screenwriting skills. The old adage ‘writing is rewriting’ really is true. So to make sure your rewriting is improving the script and you’re not just going round in circles, find people whose feedback you trust. That might be through peer review or via a paid-for script feedback like those on offer at Script Angel. If you go for peer review, make sure the person giving you feedback is at least as good a screenwriter as you, and preferably much better! If you opt for a script consultant, make sure they’ve got industry experience reading for well respected production companies and contests or have script edited professionally. Good feedback should offer practical solutions to the problems and weaknesses it identifies and should resonate with you as the right direction in which to take your project. Great feedback will inspire you to write the next draft.

Get your writing out there. No-one will know about your great script unless you make it visible to them, so do whatever you can to get your script as widely read as possible. Research the best screenwriting contests and target those offering what you most need, be that cash prizes or getting finalists’ scripts read by producers. The industry is looking for new writing talent and they’re looking to agents and the well respected contests as their filters. Target producers making the kind of films that your screenplay could become. I know the vast majority of production companies won’t take unsolicited material, but there are a handful that do and if they don’t, then get your script solicited by querying them. Don’t be a stalker but do be smart and tenacious in making yourself and your script visible to the industry.

Be true to yourself. Yes you should understand the market, but honestly, there’s an audience for just about every kind of film and therefore a place for every kind of screenplay. Of course there are more opportunities in some genres than in others but you don’t need to write a low-budget gangster thriller just because lots of them get made if that isn’t your cup of tea. Don’t write what you think others want to read. Write for yourself. Every successful screenwriter I’ve worked with has caught the attention of the industry with the script they were most passionate about. It might not be the thing that actually gets made but if it’s utterly compelling it will get you noticed.

Don’t give up. Anything is possible and as Lucy Hay wrote recently, ‘why not me?’. Someone is going to be the next big screenwriting talent to make a splash, so why shouldn’t it be you? The professional screenwriters I’ve worked with and interviewed for the Script Angel blog (Chris Lunt, Tripper Clancy, Robin Mukherjee, Jamie Crichton) all wrote on spec for years before their dreams of a screenwriting career became a reality. They didn’t give up, and neither should you.

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TV Drama Writers’ Festival 2014 – A Review by Kulvinder Gill (Part One)

This was the fifth TV Drama Writers’ Festival but the first one to be hosted in London. The first four festivals were held at the Leeds College of Music and were spread over two days – this time round, the venue was Central St Martins in Granary Square behind King’s Cross and it was a one-day affair.

So was this another example of BBC cuts? The 2014 schedule comprised a total of 22 sessions – compared with 30 at the 2013 Festival. This year a writer could attend a maximum of 8 sessions – compared with 10 last year. In purely quantitative terms, the Festival was about 25% smaller but the BBC also reduced the ticket price by an average of 40% making what has always been an excellent value for money event, even better value. (Indeed, a few days before the Festival, the BBC Writersroom website confirmed that the event had sold out.)

Despite this leaner Festival, there were no cut backs in the quality of the speakers, not surprising, given that the Festival agenda and schedule is driven by a team of writers – refreshed every year – making it an event organised by writers for writers.

As much as I enjoyed the annual trip to Leeds, I prefer this streamlined one-day Festival and found the new venue much more spacious and practical.

I attended 7 sessions, missing only the final “Unstoryfiable” talk by Adam Curtis. I chose sessions based on my main interests – specifically new media and obtaining practical advice on selling scripts.

The sessions I attended were:

  1. Keynote speech with Tony Jordan
  2. So You want to Write a Feature?
  3. Writers for Sale?
  4. Drama on YouTube
  5. The Two Tones with Tony Hall & Tony Jordan
  6. Selling Your Idea
  7. New Markets: Do we still need broadcasters?

1. Keynote

Last year at the 2013 MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, actor and producer Kevin Spacey spoke about TV enjoying its “third Golden Age” and declared that the “King of television is the creatives“.

For his own keynote speech, Tony Jordan the 2014 Chair of the TV Drama Writers’ Festival, followed up on Spacey’s pronouncement and asked : “If Content is King, Where’s Our Crown?”

Jordan’s point is that at a time when the demand for scripted drama is greater than ever resulting in drama actually defining channels – both on traditional TV and the new online platforms – why is the business side leading the way and not writers?

Tony Jordan decried the industry’s obsession with brands and wanting instant hits. He referenced the famous William Goldman quote “Nobody knows anything” – as well as Henry Ford’s (probably apocryphal) “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Jordan was unimpressed with Netflix’s claim that they “ran the numbers” and knew their subscribers would watch House of Cards – citing the counter example of Chris Chibnall writing hit drama Broadchurch as a spec script because he wanted to tell that story and not because of audience data.

Whereas Spacey in the MacTaggart Lecture offered examples and pushed the case for art and commerce collaborating together to make great work – Jordan was more bolshie, arguing that it was time for writers to pick a side – creative or commercial – or as he put it Freddie Mercury or Bananarama.

Tony Jordan urged writers not to chase commissions blindly – not to cynically search for that the gap in the market or the “next big thing”. His rallying cry to writers was “Be creative” and seize the crown by doing good work.

2. So you want to write a feature?

A session on writing feature films might seem out of place at a TV Drama Writers’ Festival but this was specifically about writing low budget features for the latest three-year Microwave scheme – a partnership between Film London, National Lottery, Creative Skillset, BFI and BBC Films. The BBC Films contribution means the Microwave produced features will have their TV premiere on the BBC.

The session was presented by Olivier Kaempfer who was the producer of Borrowed Time, a Microwave funded film and is now a senior executive at Microwave itself – giving him a unique insight into both sides of the scheme. Kaempfer also brought along guest Jules Bishop, the writer and director of Borrowed Time.

In its earlier funding rounds, Microwave produced a total of 8 films – all of which received a theatrical release – the best known probably being Shifty (2009) and ill Manors (2012)

Over the next three years, the new round of Microwave plans to select up to 36 film-making teams for training and mentoring, with the ultimate aim of producing six features with a budget of £150,000 each. Microwave will provide £100,000 with the individual producers of each film having to raise the remaining £50,000. Also for the first time, there is development money (up to £10,000) for the shortlisted film-making teams plus an additional £25,000 for each completed film to help with distribution and marketing.

The film-making team must consist of a writer, producer and a director – with a minimum of two people – so writer-directors are acceptable but one-person taking on all three roles is not. Also a full script is required and the writer and director cannot have had a feature theatrically distributed before. Applications have to be made via a UK registered limited company based in London. Full details are on the Microwave site.

The deadline for the 2014 round is 30th July – so unless you have a film-making team with a completed script ready to go – there is probably not enough time now. However, the scheme is running again in 2015 and 2016 – so getting teams and scripts ready for the next round is a more realistic goal.

Getting the right mix of writer, director and producer is crucial as the film-making team may have to work together for three years or more. Jules Bishop’s Borrowed Time for example was submitted to the 2009 round, shot in 2011 and distributed in 2013. To assist with the formation of film-making teams, Microwave have set up a Facebook group called Film London Talent Connect to help writers, producers and directors to network.

Olivier Kaempfer described the perfect Microwave film as one where if there was more money available, the film would still be the same but the crew and cast would be better paid.

The challenge for writers is to write with the constraints of the budget in mind. The example Kaempfer gave was of a scene set at night in a moving car. Kaempfer suggested that writer should ask themselves a series of questions: Does the scene have to be in a moving car? Can it be in a parked car? Does it have to be in a car at all? Does it have to be at night? This is a process not unfamiliar to television writers!

Kaempfer said Microwave is looking for scripts that “resonate as a London story” – this does not necessarily mean social realism as they are very keen on “diverse genres”. At the end of the day, the script “just needs to be brilliant”.

Note – for film-makers and production companies based outside London, there is the iFeatures scheme which funds films with budgets of up to £350,000. The deadline for this year has passed but there may be future rounds – the website to bookmark is here.

3. Writers for Sale

Although the Writers for Sale session featured two writers and two execs, Bryan Elsley co-creator of Skins dominated the debate with his quietly pragmatic and authoritative take on the industry.

Also on the panel with Elsley was Levi David Addai who wrote My Murder for BBC3 and co-created Youngers for E4 and Sophie Gardiner Channel Four’s Drama Commissioning Editor. The BBC Drama Executive Producer Hilary Salmon chaired the session.

Salmon began by continuing the “Content is King” theme with mention of a “Sellers’s Market” for drama. Bryan Elsley responded that writers never feel like it’s a Seller’s Market. He cited production companies wanting more and more initial work such as treatments for free.

Salmon also asked how writers decide who to send a new script to. Elsley said it was all about personal relationships – about working with people who believe in you – “belief is at the heart of everything”.

Levi David Addai agreed – it was all about the people behind the production companies – and getting on well with them – rather than the production company itself.

Bryan Elsley also stressed the importance of money. He spoke about how some production companies now no longer pay the 100% future use fee on the first day of principal photography – an advance that many writers absolutely rely on. Elsley added that writers are aware of and remember the companies that do not pay the future use fee – and this obviously impacts on how loyalties and relationships are formed.

Elsley said that his own production company pays writers for everything – but he also cautioned writers that when they are paid for something, that is when they lose ownership. He suggested that in some cases, having the freedom to walk away and keeping your project can be to a writer’s advantage.

Sophie Gardiner observed that the industry was not very good at giving writers on soaps other opportunities. It was also mentioned that going in the opposite direction, writers with lots of experience had to start all over again when writing for soaps.

Levi David Addai spoke of his own unhappy experience of working on a soap – he felt it wasn’t his characters, it wasn’t his story and in the end writing continuing drama wasn’t for him.

The subject of the writers’ room on dramas was also raised. Elsley’s opinion was that here in the UK, the writers’ room is still unfinished business, a half-way house that pays lip-service to the US model. Elsley believes that writers are not in the room just to write but also to produce. He made the point that US shows have no traditional UK producer role – with the line producer taking on the technical and administrative duties and the writer being the creative showrunner.

However, Elsley also warned that the UK should not slavishly copy the US writers’ room model – he pointed out they were “editorially narrow” with a lack of diversity in participation and editorial control.

The discussion also turned to the touchy subject of script editors. Bryan Elsley thought the role of the script editor had changed over the years. He felt that script editors used to be on the writer’s side but are now on the producer’s side. Elsley blamed the problem on lack of training and development of script editors and particularly their disempowerment – they were reduced to passing on messages from the producers with no editorial power themselves.

Sophie Gardiner criticised the lack of opportunities and entry-level schemes for new or emerging writers. Channel Four received some kudos for their Screenwriting Course and also their Coming Up series (on which Addai got his first television commission).

The session ended on an uplifting note when writer Chris Lunt spoke from the audience to point out that his script Prey for ITV which starred John Simm was his first broadcast credit – demonstrating that it is still possible for a new writer to get commissioned and produced.

In the next article I’ll review Drama on YouTube, The Two Tones with Tony Hall & Tony Jordan, Selling Your Idea and New Markets: Do we still need broadcasters?

Kulvinder Gill is an Indian-born, Scottish-educated, London-based writer specialising in comedy, sci-fi and horror. His Writers’ Guild profile page is here and his Twitter handle is @KulvinderGill.

Screenwriter Interview – Chris Lunt

preyHayley: Huge congratulations on the green-light from ITV for PREY. Can you tell me a bit about the project and its journey from idea to production?

Chris: Hello and thank-you. I’m afraid I can’t talk too much about the specifics of the drama beyond saying it’s the story of a copper, Marcus Farrow (played by John Simm), who stands accused of a crime he didn’t commit. He goes on the run, desperate to clear his name for the sake of his family. I’d spent a long time developing various drama ideas, being a massive nerd and sci fi nut they all tended to be high-concept. I was working closely with Red Productions and one day they called me in. I was told that, regardless of how good my ideas might be, they’d be difficult sells in the current market, so I should try to come up with something a bit more traditional. I went away, had a think, then suggested we do something like The Fugitive, one of my favourite movies. I was also very intrigued by acts of bravery, how far ordinary people could be pushed in extreme situations. Marcus Farrow is an absolutely ordinary bloke; he isn’t a superhero or Bruce Willis type. That was a lot of fun, creating these incredible, high-octane set pieces then dropping an ordinary bloke in to the middle of them. The road from concept to production was actually quite smooth. I’d been writing since about 2001 but only became a ‘professional writer’ through redundancy in April 2010, I pitched the idea for Prey in May and then developed the first episode via a treatment, scene x scene and script. It was pitched to Steve November in Spring of this year, I think. They asked me to write a second episode, which I did in less than a month and they greenlit it very quickly after that. It was tough not to talk about it until the official announcement in August. We’ve been shooting for almost three weeks now; it has a phenomenal cast and crew working on it, and is looking absolutely great so far.

H: Can I take you back and ask, what was the first script you finished and what did you do next with it (agents, producers, etc)?

C: The first script I wrote was called MOONSAILOR and was a science fiction movie. That spun its wheels for a long time going no-where, as I didn’t really know what to do with it or how the industry worked. In the end, MOONSAILOR worked well in opening doors, I suppose it acted as a spec script demonstrating what I could do. It was quite character driven, but with action and adventure. I think it’s where I first started developing a voice. I firmly believe that someone should recognise your work without actually seeing your name on front of the script.

H: What was your experience of trying to get the industry to read your script?

C: I’ve usually teamed up with production companies, and have spent a lot of time cultivating those relationships. I’ve very rarely sent something unsolicited. I find that sending an email with a brief overview of the idea – literally a paragraph – is enough to gauge an interest. If there is interest I’ll write a treatment, anywhere between three and seven pages. I’d then hoped to be commissioned to write a more detailed treatment or script.

H: How did you get an agent?

C: This was when I was an amateur writer, say 2006. During that time I met various production companies to pitch ideas and managed to get a script for QUATERMASS commissioned by the BBC via Red Productions. While I was writing that we learned that the BBC had actually lost the rights, so it fell through. I’d realised that an existing IP was easier to sell than an original idea, especially high-concept stuff, so I went after a couple of IP’s, one of which was BIGGLES. By a happy coincidence, the owners of the rights to BIGGLES were looking to develop it as a TV series. I sent MOONSAILOR to the agency that represented the estate, got the gig and ended up signing to the agency.

H: Many new writers who want to write original drama for television are told that you won’t get a commission unless you’ve got writing credits on other people’s shows. Did you ever feel under pressure to ‘work the ladder’ writing for continuing dramas in order to get your own projects made?

C: I entered the industry pretty pig ignorant of the rules and regulations. My ambition was always to produce authored work. I wasn’t really interested in writing continuing drama. Even when I had an agent and the opportunity to be put forward for that kind of work it didn’t really float my boat. In the end, I stuck to my guns and it paid off. I’ve no doubt it’s the hardest route, you certainly have to have plenty of irons in the fire to earn a living wage, but I think writing stuff I was really engaged and enthusiastic about kept me going.

H: How many projects are you actively working on at any one time?

C: I’ve just worked this out and it’s pretty terrifying – I’m a bit of a workaholic. I’ve three script commissions I’m working on, three optioned treatments, and three projects I’ve been commissioned to write but need to schedule this next year. And I’ve not stopped yet. As a rule I can handle two scripts at a time. I’m also working with one of the broadcasters to develop a new and quite exciting continuing drama that I’d advise any new writer to try to work on!

H: Are you focused on television drama or writing for other platforms, like feature films?

C: I’ve recently had a feature film called THE MARTIAN AMBASSADOR optioned, I’ve also written the script for GETTING EVEN, a heist movie for Simon West, but that’s in development hell at the moment. I’ve become involved in adaptations somehow, two of the gigs I have lined up for next year are book adaptations. That wasn’t by design, but it is quite exciting work. THE MARTIAN AMBASSADOR is also a book adaptation. I’ve just remembered I’ve another movie to write next year, a thriller set in China!

H: Do you always have to write a spec script to pitch a project to a producer or are you pitching with a two-line idea or a treatment?

C: I have a very specific process which works well for me. I’ll either meet a producer to brainstorm or I’ll send them a paragraph outlining the idea – I’ve actually had ideas optioned from just that, so it’s a skill that’s well worth developing. I’ll then write a treatment, which is an overview of the characters and a synopsis – none of which is wholly set in stone. I think of this as a sales document, so it’s snappy, and I try very hard to make it reflect the tone of the piece. It’s now that I’d expect a production company to commit in some form to the project. I either then write an extended treatment / bible, or if I’m lucky I’ll then write a scene by scene. This is where the real hard work takes place. I’ll write the sc x sc in final draft, and it’s literally what it says on the tin, a scene by scene outline of the entire episode or movie. This document runs to pages and pages and certainly takes up most of the development process.  Ultimately, once the producer has signed off on the sc x sc it’s just a case of adding the dialogue and that can take almost no time at all. The strength of this process to my mind is that no-one should ever be surprised by the script. If they’ve signed off on the sc x sc then they know what’s coming, so although there’s still the usual dozen or so drafts, they’re never massively structural as a rule! Touch wood!

H: Finally, what advice would you give to new writers?

C: Network as much as possible, it’s a very small industry and a good network is essential. Be prepared to listen to Producers, they know what the industry wants better than you do. No one criticises for the sake of it, never take criticism personally, they wouldn’t bother if you were crap. Try to be original, try to make your script stand out. Work on creating a voice, a good script should be like a piece of music, you should recognise the composer. Find yourself a good script editor. I can’t stress this enough. I’ve worked with some brilliant script editors such as Richard Fee at Red Productions and there is no way on gods earth that PREY would be being produced if it wasn’t for Richard Fee, Nicola Shindler and Caroline Hollick. The third idea is always, always, better then the first two. Be prepared to work a decade to become an overnight success. I did. There are absolutely no short cuts.

H: Thanks Chris and we can’t wait to see ‘Prey’!

Chris is represented by Rob Krait at Casarotto Ramsay