Tag Archives: london screenwriters’ festival

Genre: Writing Steampunk Films by Steve Turnbull

Steampunk? What’s that about then?

In the late 1970s and through the 80s, three authors—K.W. Jeter, Tim Powers and James Blaylock—had been publishing science fiction/fantasy created with a Victorian/Edwardian viewpoint which Jeter, in a letter to Locus magazine published in 1985, humorously called “Steam-punk”, a reference to the Cyberpunk genre.

harrietedgbaston - steampunk

Illustration by Darrel Bevan

It took another twenty years for the explosion of what we now call Steampunk to take place. Steampunk is not merely a literary device for the telling of tall tales. It’s a complete sub-culture with groups of people, across the world creating their own characters, equipping themselves (the “maker” part is very important) and taking to the streets. Or, at least, convention halls. There is also steampunk music which can be anything from the world music to true punk to jazz-rock-indian fusion, usually it’s the lyrics that define the Steampunk-ness, and whether the band dress up.

In the 80s and 90s traditional book publishing changed from being about literature to chasing money, in exactly the same way as filmmaking. It became almost impossible to sell anything to an agent/publisher that wasn’t “marketable to an easily targetable audience”. Which meant the niche of Steampunk was a no-no, except to a few established authors.

But the advent of author-publishing (not to be confused with vanity publishing, which is very different) meant that any type of story could be published. And it was.

In the film world Steampunk barely gained a foothold, there are a few stand-out productions like the anime Steamboy, (some argue that many of Miyasaki’s wonderful films are Steampunk) while Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is strictly Dieselpunk (1930s retro-futurism). The biggest reason for the lack is simply cost: Steampunk is, by definition, “period” so even for a modest production you’re talking prohibitive money. Then there’s the fact that much of the genre depends on outrageous machines—which means CGI, requiring careful production and costly post-production. Of course this is not an issue for animation but if you want live-action you’ve got your work cut-out.

The difficult definition

Wikipedia fails to be definitive, the best it can manage is this:

“Steampunk perhaps most recognisably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era’s perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.”

A large proportion of Steampunk literature feeds on the popularity of the supernatural with vampires, werewolves and Fae creatures. A smaller selection works only with the “real” although playing with the laws of Physics—perhaps closer to “Scientific Romance”, the original term for science fiction.

If one axis of the Steampunk multi-verse is supernatural versus scientific, the other axis is whether the world adheres closely to the real world of the period, or diverges from it dramatically. Hence you get worlds where the Roman Empire never collapsed and has now entered the Steam Age; or the mini-ice age of the 1600s got worse and displaced the world’s populations; or everything is just as it really was, except for Faraday’s “Principle for the Partial Nullification of Gravity”.

Writing Steampunk

Like all stories if you don’t have good characters the story will fail. There is the risk with something like Steampunk in getting caught up with the technology and forgetting character.

If you can tell your story without a Steampunk setting, do you need it at all? If it’s film or TV, and you actually want to get it produced, you might do better using a cheaper setting.

But there is something that Science Fiction/Fantasy in general, and Steampunk in particular, can do: they allow you to tell stories highlighting modern issues in a framework that avoids the risk of sounding preachy.

If you will excuse me for using my own stories to illustrate the point:

My setting is very close to the real world and, as a result, it’s filled with full-blown and unapologetic sexism, racism and every other bigotry under the sun. Every protagonist I write is female, one is Anglo-Indian, and there’s a female Chinese airship captain. Much of the action in my stories takes place in India, with some in Africa, and Manchester. Plus I write diverse sexual orientations, another problem area.

Many Steampunk writers ignore sexism and miss out on opportunities for adding important and valuable conflict to their stories. And, although less true now, the majority is also Empire-centric which is again very limiting.

Those who attended the London Screenwriters Festival 2014 and saw Pilar Alessandra’s talk on female protagonists will know what I’m talking about: As she said, don’t avoid writing the female experience where it works both for and against the character. In a Steampunk setting this can be amplified a thousand-fold.

I refer to Steampunk as a setting, rather than a genre because you can take any genre—thriller, mystery, action-adventure, or romance—and equip it with a pair of goggles. Regardless of what position on the grid you choose, writing Steampunk can be a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable adventure into an effective new world of storytelling.

~~~

Steve Turnbull is a novelist and screenwriter of SF, Fantasy and especially Steampunk. His Steampunk works, all in the same setting, now encompass a web-series (thriller, Manchester 1911); a Steampunk feature (action-adventure, London 1909); three Steampunk novellas (murder mysteries, India 1908-1909, novel-length fourth on the way); a Firefly-style novella series (India 1908-1909); and a girls-own adventure series (East Africa, 1895). Plus one horror short story (Berlin, 1933, Dieselpunk). He has far more ideas than he has time for.

Find out more at his website: http://steveturnbull.me

Script Angel in the City of Angels

Last weekend was the Screenwriters World Conference in L.A. It was a great opportunity for me and the 100s of writers attending to hear directly from the screenwriters, managers, agents and producers working in Hollywood today.

screenwriters world conference pic

There were many fabulous sessions on the craft of screenwriting; writing the spec, writing for tv, writing the micro-budget film, writing web series, writing subtext, writing the emotional core, writing compelling characters, writing horror. Whatever your screenwriting interest, there was someone with experience in that specialism there to help you get to grips with it.

What struck me was that not just the delegates but the speakers too were incredibly well-read on the craft of screenwriting. There was a strong sense that becoming a great screenwriter is about learning your craft. Most of the people I met, whether aspiring delegates or experienced speakers, have read a huge number books on screenwriting and continue to want to study the craft in order to become more skilled at it. It was not so much being a slave to a set of screenwriting rules but rather having as many tools in your arsenal as possible to help you tell the story you want to tell. I might have read 20+ screenwriting books and been a professional script editor for over ten years but I certainly came away with a big new list of screenwriting must-reads. TOP TIP: Learn your craft by reading screenwriting books, watching films/tv and reading scripts.

As well as honing their craft the delegates also had the chance to hear how to develop their screenwriting career. Certainly, the question that I get asked the most is; how do I get my writing noticed?  I know from experience the frustration that new writers feel on trying to ‘break in’ to an industry that looks like a closed shop. Of course it’s not, and new writers are getting noticed, getting repped, getting meetings and getting gigs all the time.  For me, the sessions on establishing a screenwriting career were of particular interest so that I can better help my writing clients to develop their screenwriting career in UK and the US in both film and television. TOP TIP: Learn who’s who by reading the trades.

My writing clients have had great success and got representation following wins or finalist placings in the prestigious screenwriting contests like the Nicholl Fellowship, but I was keen to hear whether the big managers and agents really take notice of contests. I made sure to attend the session on Getting An Agent with Jake Wagner of Benderspink, Josh Dove of Haven Entertainment, Zac Frognowski of Grandview and moderated by Script Mag Editor Jeanne Bowerman. Since none of these guys take unsolicited approaches, how do they find new writing talent? The answer was recommendations from colleagues, contest placings and other filter platforms like The Black List. TOP TIP: Learn who is getting deals for their writers by reading the trades.

Of course not all screenwriting contests are equal but they definitely see the most prestigious contests as a kind of vetting process. Jake makes sure he and his team take a look at all the finalists of contests like Script Pipeline. In addition, the Nicholls circulate the loglines and contact details of their quarter-finalists to the industry so if you do well in the big screenwriting contests your work is getting seen by people you couldn’t otherwise get access to. TOP TIP: Research the contests that give their finalists great exposure.

Many producers, agents and managers also attend pitching sessions like the one held at SWC, as well as at other prestigious events like Story Expo, The Great American Pitchfest, and the London Screenwriters’ Festival. Pitching at events like these can get you read-requests and, if they like what they read, that all-important general meeting and the start of a working relationship. TOP TIP: Attend pitching events to start meeting and building relationships with managers, agents and producers.

The big take-away for me was that yes, it’s tough but it is also possible to make it. If you hone your craft, write killer material and develop a strategy for your career then becoming a professional screenwriter is within your reach.

The Script Angel Journey So Far…

kindnessIt’s been a little while since I announced that Script Angel was expanding. After years as a solo business I took the step of inviting the brilliant Xandria Horton to join me. So I thought it was time to share with you how I got here and what might be next for Script Angel.

How Script Angel came about. Being really honest with you, the sole reason I established Script Angel in 2009 was to enable me to carry on script editing (as I had been for nearly ten years by then) without having to work away from home. It really was that simple. I love script editing; I love working with writers, helping them make their script the very best it can be. I also love variety; I love working on a thriller one day, a crime series the next and a comedy the day after that. As a result I would take jobs because they interested me and that often meant living away from my family Monday-Friday which isn’t much fun however much you love your job.

What’s the Script Angel ethos? I knew what I wanted Script Angel to deliver for me and, importantly, I also had a very strong sense of the kind of script editor I was by then. I can be tough when I have to be but I don’t get a kick out of making others feel crap. When I give script notes I do it with honesty and a desire to ask the questions that will inspire my writer to find for themselves the most interesting solutions to the problems in the script. Script Angel’s nurturing ethos is a reflection of my values and how I work.

An overnight success? The reality was that even with nearly ten years of professional script editing credits to my name it took a while before there was enough work coming in that Script Angel was a full-time job. Even then my rates were so low compared to the hours I would spend on the notes that I was earning well below minimum wage. But I stuck with it and kept plugging away.  It took more than three years before the demand reached a point where my rates could reflect my experience.

With success comes new questions. Last year was a huge turning point for me and for Script Angel. I was consistently booked up three months in advance but I’d hit a brick wall. I couldn’t help any more writers because there was no more of me to go around. I was turning down extraordinary full-time script editing offers on some amazing shows because of the detrimental affect it would have on Script Angel. So I was kind of making a choice, without realising it, that Script Angel was no longer just a way to script edit while my children were little, it wasn’t a way to put my career on hold, it WAS my career.

What was the solution? I knew the demand was sufficient that I could put my rates up further but that would make me unaffordable to many aspiring writers and I don’t want my help to be available only to the wealthiest. Running the Script Angel-LSF Screenwriting Competition is another way I overcome this issue. The alternative was to expand. It sounds so simple and a no-brainer but in truth it was something I had mulled over without taking the leap for nearly a year.

What was stopping me expanding? My biggest fear was of turning into the type of script editing service I dislike – big, impersonal, corporate. It might suit some people but I knew it wasn’t the kind of script editing business I wanted to be part of, let alone create! So how could I keep the nurturing reputation Script Angel had if it was no longer just me providing script notes?

Finding the right people. I realised that I needed to find someone who naturally worked with writers the way I did. If I could find the right person maybe expanding Script Angel would mean being able to do more of what I was already known for?

Why Xandria Horton? I’d first met Xandria when she was Development Assistant at Eleventh Hour Films (Foyle’s War) and I was looking for a production company to take a client’s project to. We chatted about screenwriting, about writers and it was immediately apparent that she was really bright, knew her stuff and knew how to work with writers. I asked Xandria to send me sample script reports (with confidential information redacted, of course!) and I was really impressed. She was as articulate in the notes as she had been in person. Xandria’s notes are insightful and her style of delivering those notes is, like mine, designed to ensure that writers feel positive about moving forward with their project.

Making Script Angel more affordable. The other reason for bringing Xandria on-board was that I wanted to make Script Angel available again to those writers who had used me in the early days when my rates were low but who I’d lost as I’d become busier and more expensive.

So how’s it working out? Well, the great news is that Xandria’s Script Analysis Reports have been really well received. You can read testimonials of her work here. I also read Xandria’s notes before sending them out and we talk about anything that might need clarifying.  I feel very lucky to have a talented young Script Editor working for me at the early stage of her career.

What have I learnt? You can expand without losing your core values. It’s not easy; it’s taking as much effort to grow Xandria’s workload as it took to grow Script Angel in its early days. But I am thrilled to be able to offer Xandria’s script analysis talents to the Script Angel writers.

What next? My aim is to get Xandria as busy and in-demand as I am. I want to keep growing Script Angel but without ever losing the very personal relationship we have with our writers, and finding Xandria has proved to me that it’s not only possible but hugely exciting and rewarding.

Script Angel / LSF Mentoring Competition – WINNER

Congratulations to REBECCA HANDLEY who wins 6-months of script development and mentoring.

I was hugely impressed by Rebecca’s writing. The opening ten pages of her script combined exciting action and edge with strong characterisations and poignancy.  I’m very much looking forward to working with Rebecca to help develop her projects.

In addition, I have decided to offer runners-up DANIEL SUNLEY and KRISTINA DAY free feedback on a project (script or treatment) of their choosing.

The standard of entries was incredibly high and I was impressed by the strong writing style demonstrated by both Daniel and Kristina. I’m delighted to be able to offer my help to both writers.

Script Angel / LSF Mentoring Competition – Top 3

We’re delighted to announce that the top 3 writers are:

Daniel Sunley

Kristina Day

Rebecca Handley

We’ve been hugely impressed by the standard of entries so thank you to everyone who entered and congratulations to the top 3.

The winner, who will receive 6-months script development and mentoring with Script Angel’s Hayley McKenzie, will be announced later today.

Script Angel / LSF Mentoring Competition – Top 25

A big thank you to all the writers who entered the competition. It was great to see entries from across the world – as well as many from the UK we had writers from Switzerland, Canada, France, Australia and the US.

We’re delighted to announce that the top 25 writers are:

Amanda Duke

Annas Eskander

Carys Davis

Claire Yeowart

Craig Donaghy

Daniel Sunley

Dee Chilton

Gareth Meredith / James Merigan

Jason King

John Morrison

Jon Ryan

Katia Hadidian

K T Parker

Kristina Day

Leon Metcalfe

Liz Holliday

Maggie Innes

Mary Evans

Philip Miles

Rebecca Handley

Richard James

Simon Underwood

Stephan Burn

Tracey Flynn

Trina Grosvenor

The standard of writing was extremely high and many who didn’t make the top 25 still showed a lot of promise – so don’t give up!

Congratulations to the top 25 writers. I’ll be reading all those entries again and will announce the winner on Tuesday 7th May.

Want free professional help with your script?

I love helping writers to develop their scripts, be it a feature film or a television show, and I know I’m really lucky to do it for a living. I don’t apologise for charging for my services and I think my testimonials and CV speak for themselves. However, I often get  approached by writers who want me to give them feedback on their script for free. If I said ‘yes’ to everyone who asked I’d have a full-time job earning no money and I just don’t have that luxury. But I won’t pretend it’s easy to write those replies – I feel bad when someone asks for help and I can’t give it.

So, a few months ago I got to thinking about how I could help someone who can’t afford to pay for my services. That’s when I teamed up with the London Screenwriters’ Festival and we decided to offer my services for six months as a prize to one LSF 2013 delegate. I could of course just pull a name out of a hat but I want to offer my help to a writer who I feel has the most to gain from it. We’re asking writers to submit a ten-page writing sample and a one-page outline of the project they want to develop. Check out the London Screenwriters Festival Mentoring Competition page for information on the submission process and what’s on offer.

So, if you want professional help developing one script over multiple drafts plus several other projects to treatment and advice on your screenwriting career then get your entries in quick. Deadline is just one week away – Friday 19 April.  Good luck!