Tag Archives: script editing

Book Review: The Art of Script Editing by Karol Griffiths

This insight into the art of script editing is a must-read not just for aspiring script readers and script editors, but also for emerging screenwriters as they master the skills of rewriting and working with notes. In her hugely informative book, experienced script editor Karol Griffiths guides you through the world of script analysis and script editing.

the art of script editing

The book is that perfect blend of truth-telling and encouragement, walking you through the practical analytical skills you’ll need to determine what is and isn’t working in a script, whilst always keeping one eye on the writer who might be in receipt of your analysis.

There is a lot of information out there about script analysis and identifying weaknesses in the various script elements, from genre and story structure to theme and dialogue. While Karol’s book covers all of these, what makes it unique is her emphasis on diplomacy and delivery – essential skills for the script editor who must work with a writer to help them produce the strongest possible script.

While many people claim to know how to give script notes, too many have only ever had to write a written report and then walk away from the project and/or writer. What sets script editors (like Karol and myself) apart is having the skills and experience of delivering notes in a way that allows the writer to feel positive about the rewrite and turn in a much improved next draft. Her sections on how to prioritise notes and take a first meeting with a writer are hugely informative and give an insight into the real development process which is mostly hidden from emerging writers.

There are also fantastically helpful sections that are a valuable resource for the new script editor, including how to prepare a script for production, the reality of script editing on a fast-turnaround television show and what to do when your producer and writer don’t agree.

Whether you’re an emerging screenwriter curious about the professional script development process, or an aspiring script reader/analyst or script editor, this book is a valuable resource.

Karol Griffiths is a film and television script editor, providing script development support through her own script consultancy and at Script Angel, where she offers both a 3-Month Script Development Service and a 6-Month Screenwriter Mentoring Service.

 

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What Writers Can Learn from 4Screenwriting by Xandria Horton

One of the things that I love about Script Angel is its focus on opportunities for new writers, so the blog seemed an obvious place to summarise my recent experience as a Shadow Script Editor on Channel 4’s talent initiative 4Screenwriting – with some thoughts other writers can take from it.

4sw logoWhat is 4Screenwriting and why is it brilliant?

4Screenwriting is a broadcaster-affiliated talent scheme run by highly experienced script editor Philip Shelley, currently in its 4th year. For each year’s twelve selected writers, they are given six months to take an idea through two drafts of a commercial hour (46’) script, creating the first episode of a series or serial (ideally with Channel 4 in mind). The course also has a script editor training element; allowing shadow script editors a chance to develop their skills by working to industry-proven script editors.

The writers get a “sandbox” version of a script commission, with a small amount of funding, set deadlines and opportunities for notes from their script editor team at each stage – as close as you can get to a real script commission, without the production element.

Once the course is completed, writers can use their spec script as a calling card in the industry, creating a buzz with literary agents and production companies who are keen to be across talent coming through and hopefully resulting in meetings that further their careers. Success stories are numerous, most recently with alumni Anna Symon and Cat Jones, who have both gone on to write for primetime TV series.

So, with insights from me and my excellent fellow shadow script editors Carissa Hope Lynch, Harriet Davis and Joe Williams, I’ve pooled some tips writers can take from our 4Screenwriting experience:

Working with the professionals

The scheme introduces writers to the process of working with a script editor, which can be strange for writers used to working alone. It also introduces to writers the concept of the dreaded deadline!

What can you learn from this?: whilst you may have in place trusted feedback-givers, there’s really nothing like the impartial and constructive notes you will get from a good script editor or industry-proven consultant. In terms of meeting deadlines, it’s important that you make all and any writing deadlines you agree to. However, if something happens that is beyond your control, the best way to handle it is:

1/ to flag this as soon as possible to the appropriate person;

2/ tell them realistically what you can deliver and when; if one element is more urgent than the others, can you prioritise this and deliver within the original time frame?;

3/ agree a new deadline and move heaven and Earth to make it!

Network a.k.a. ‘it’s good to talk’

The scheme provides opportunities for writers to talk to others at similar points in their career, which can be greatly useful, both personally and professionally.

What can you learn from this?: Meet with your writer peers! Find or start a writer’s group on Meetup (they are all around the country) or attend events such as The London Screenwriter’s Festival or BAFTA Rocliffe and seek out friendly faces in the opportunities to mingle.

What’s in a TV idea?

Unsurprisingly, some ideas will only really reveal whether they will work in a series or serial format – if at all – after some exploration, so some writers had to use backup ideas or go back to the drawing board to find the right idea to progress to script stage.

What can you learn from this?: If you want to work in the industry, it’s essential you’re across British output; it’s as simple as that. Whilst it won’t ensure that every idea you come up with is a bona fide TV idea, you’ll get industry knowledge as to who is making what, and watching TV widely (UK, US, internationally) will develop your instincts on which stories intrinsically work in a TV format and which may be more suited to film or theatre. Even if it’s just the opening episode of every new series, it’s really useful to watch TV as broadly as you can.

Also, if you’re ever in a pitching situation (e.g. pitching to a producer for an episode commission on an existing series or pitching to a production company your own series ideas), however married you are to your favourite idea, it’s always useful to have a couple you’ve worked up a little as well in your back pocket, just in case you need them!

Writing to act breaks – a punctuation metaphor

For 4Screenwriting the brief was a script that would fit within a Channel 4 schedule, rather than a BBC full hour slot, so it was a new experience for many writers to write to ‘act breaks’.

What can you learn from this?: how this works this will vary depending on your story (and your broadcaster). However, we came up with a useful way of thinking about the shape of the story with act breaks:

If your story is a paragraph and each scene is a sentence, how you utilise punctuation is a great metaphor of writing to act breaks; ending those sentences before a break to ensure that the viewers’ interest is piqued. What’s the screenwriting equivalent of scene ending with a ‘?’, an ‘!’ or a ‘…’?

Many thanks again to the input from my fellow shadow script editors on this article; to the very brilliant and experienced script editor I worked to, Jamie Hewitt; to the three brilliant writers I was lucky to work with; and of course to Philip, for tirelessly working to make the course go as smoothly as it does each year. If you ever see him at a 4Screenwriting networking event, he won’t miss a moment to connect a writer to agents and production companies that might be useful to them. 4Screenwriting is a brilliant experience for writers and script editors coming through – long may it continue!

 

 

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.

BBC TV Writers’ Festival 2012

This year’s festival kicked off with an inspiring opening speech from the brilliant Peter Bowker about ambition in television drama.

I then headed to a session with Lucy Gannon titled ‘Get Real’. Lucy’s list of television credits is awe-inspiring but I could also recollect a period when her name seemed to disappear from the authored television drama landscape so I was interested to hear her thoughts on sustaining a career over such a long period of time.

Lucy was honest and frank about the highs and lows of writing for television.  She’s worked with some brilliant producers, directors and script editors over the years, and some not so brilliant. Lucy was adamant that a good script editor can make you run, rather than plod and that their job is a hard and valuable one which should be respected.  She said being a successful writers brings you into the spotlight but that the spotlight could just as quickly move off you and onto others. But even when she wasn’t being commissioned she never stopped writing. At the time it felt like everyone else was wrong but looking back she wonders if perhaps what she was writing during that period was not quite as brilliant as she might have thought it was.  In a later session on making disability visible in television drama, Lucy felt strongly that successful writers are privileged to have a voice that will be heard and that they have a responsibility to use that opportunity wisely. Her passion for writing was clear as she said that she would not live long enough to tell all the stories she has to tell and that is “really annoying”.

The brilliant Ashley Pharoah did a session on the art of pitching with some great tips and very funny anecdotes. While in the U.S pitching is a very polished process, in the UK his experience was that it didn’t matter how much you mumbled and laughed and struggled (though I wouldn’t recommend the mumbling bit!), as long as your passion for the project came through. Interrogate your idea before you pitch it and then have faith in it. Most importantly, you have to know why you want to write that project, what the truth is you want to tell and why only you can tell it.

There was an interesting session on Comedy Drama – a term that everyone concluded was reductive but was a useful way into the conversation. The panel was chaired by the lovely and talented James Wood and included Danny Brocklehurst, Sally Wainwright and Ben Stephenson who, to his credit, was there for the whole 2 days of the festival. All of the panel agreed that the shows we would classify as comedy dramas are really dramas with a sprinkling of comedy and a lightness of touch in the execution. Ben felt particularly strongly that a sixty-minute comedy drama couldn’t just be situational (as a thirty-minute sitcom might) but had to have a strong story motor. In a later session Toby Whithouse remarked that ‘Being Human’ is often referred to as a comedy drama but while his twenty gags in an hour of drama is considered funny, twenty gags in just half an hour of a sitcom but make it a spectacular failure.

To round off day 1 there was a keynote debate titled ‘Changing The Face of Drama’ in which a talented and passionate panel made a plea for the industry to represent the 10 million disabled people in this country in the dramas we write and commission. Lucy Gannon and Jack Thorne have both written television dramas that were about characters with disabilities but felt strongly that it was the responsibility of all writers to do more. Also on the panel was actress Lisa Hammond who gave a brilliant, articulate speech which really pinpointed many of the obstacles that appear to be in our way and offered solutions to each and every one of them. From my experience it is a fear of getting it wrong that most hampers us from even attempting it. Lisa also felt strongly that writers should just write brilliant characters and then advocate that those characters could be played by an actor with a disability.

Day two started with a fast, articulate and insightful masterclass from John Yorke on Storytelling Physics. Here are the titbits I tweeted on the day:

“Out of our quarrels with others we make rhetoric, out of our quarrels with ourselves we make poetry” – WB Yeats, in other words, from the conflict within ourselves we make art.  Conflict lies at the heart of us – we are all animals (with primal urges, needs and desires) but capable of rational thought and trying to moderate our behaviour to live in a group/society. Look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for an overview of this.

Great characters are at war with themselves – there is a battle between who they really are and the facade they wish/choose to project to the world. There is a clear relationship between a character’s want and their facade and between their need and their flaw/true self. The traits that prop up their illusory self are what create their problems and the traits that they suppress are those which will allow them to overcome the obstacles, heal them and make them whole. Inciting incidents are explosions of opposites – the protagonist is confronted by the embodiment of everything they are not. In archetypal stories characters go on a journey to get not what they want but what they need and the ego-driven goal is abandoned.

John ended this tour-de-force with the bombshell that “none of this will make you a better writer”! I’d argue that it should never be used to at the beginning of the writing process but that understanding how archetypal stories are structured will give you the tools to fix stories and make them more powerful and more satisfying to an audience. As a script editor, they’re invaluable!

Next up was ‘The Reality of Film’ with the very talented and approachable Joe Oppenheimer. Joe’s opening statement was a brilliantly honest one that in film “you’ll earn less money, have less influence in the project and fewer people will see your work than anything you do in television”. It’s the director (not the writer) whose name will attract other talent and finance and drive the project forward.  Joe pointed out that the maximum production budget for a UK film that was unlikely to export well would be roughly £5million and that audiences have to spend just as much to see a low-budget film as they do to see an expensive, shiny, Hollywood blockbuster. Writers (via their agent) can approach BBC Films directly but they are not producers so they prefer to receive projects from production companies.  BBC Films are looking for films which embrace the specificity of being set in Britain but which have a universality that will allow them to export well. You also have to remember that because of the finance involved and the number of production partners required, the number of people who have to say ‘yes’ to a film is far greater than it is in television. I would also add that everyone who’s putting money into your film will want (and have a right to have) a say in your script. Expect a lot of notes!

Next up was ‘Meet the Commissioners’ with  Ben Stephenson (BBC), Laurie Mackie (ITV), Sophie Gardiner (Channel Four/E4) and Huw Kennair-Jones. (Sky).  All made clear that projects reach them via their in-house development teams or via independent production companies. Laura Mackie stressing the importance of finding the right production company for you and your project. All the commissioners are looking for a range of projects and all were adamant that a project needed to really feel like it fitted their channel and that the writer/producer understood their channel’s output. Chair Peter Bowker asked how they felt about projects that had already been rejected by other channels and none seemed to have a problem with this. Huw Kennair-Jones stressed that he wanted a Sky project to feel like it couldn’t work on any other channel but all agreed that if their channel felt like the right home, it didn’t matter if it had been turned down elsewhere.

Last up for me was a very funny and informative session with Jack Thorne and Toby Whithouse talking about ‘The Rules of Reinventing the World’. Both felt strongly that you must have a really strong vision for your piece and that establishing the rules of the world are a key part of the development process. Jack had to evolve the mythology of his world as the production budget restraints became apparent – from a character disposing of bodies by turning a lake to acid (shimmering gold) to setting fire to them in a caravan. Both found that the necessity of working on very low budgets made them better writers, forcing them to be creative in the solutions to production problems and constraints.

The BBC TV Writers’ Festival was a great opportunity to hear from those at the top of their field, to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Thanks to BBC Writersroom for organising it and see you there next year!

I’ve written a script, what next? Part One – Theatre

That’s the question I’m most often asked by writers just starting out.  Here are my top tips:

1) Put it away.  Let it gather dust for a few weeks, then take it out, brush it off and get your red pen ready.  Do that several times until you can’t make it any better yourself (or you’re going barmy, whichever comes first).

2) Ask an expert.  Get the opinion of someone else, family and friends don’t count, unless they’re experienced writers, directors, producers or script editors.  If you don’t know anyone in the industry, then have a look online at some of the experienced industry professionals offering script feedback (Script Angel and others).  Don’t be lured in by the one with the jazziest website or the lowest rates, but do your homework.

Who will actually read your script, what’s their name?  Look them up on IMDB to check they’ve got the credits they claim to have. What length of report will you get for your money?  Some may claim to give you a 4 page report but what you actually get are a couple of pages of synopsis (you already know what’s in your script so that’s a waste of money) and only a page or so of useful feedback.  Beware of lazy ‘reader’ reports which are generic, littering their reports with phrases like ‘naturalistic dialogue’ (or lack of), characters needing better delineation.  That’s fine if it is followed by tangible examples of what you could do to change it.  You could ask to see a sample report from several and compare them.

Ideally your script editor should be keen to keep working with you, helping you to develop as a writer.  Drop them a line and ask for a chat to see if you actually get on with them. Most good editors are approachable and helpful and don’t hide behind anonymity.

3) Rewrite. The feedback should be constructive, giving you ideas on how to make your script better (not just telling you what doesn’t work) but it will also be critical and that’s hard to take.  Develop a thick skin, remember the criticism is of the work and not you.  Take heart from the fact that the very best writers at the very top of their game still get notes. Now take your precious script, and your feedback, and rewrite your script to the very best of your ability.

4) Get it out there.  Many people think that the next step is to get an agent – after all, you can’t get your work produced until you’ve got an agent can you? Well, actually, for most writers it’s the other way around. As you’ll see from Michelle Lipton’s Q&A with agents, most of them are interested in writers who are already getting their work out there, not writers who have just written one spec script.

So, you want to get it noticed, but how?  There are three main ways that spring to mind – theatre, screenwriting competitions and production companies accepting unsolicited scripts.  I’m going to concentrate in this blog on the first of those, theatre.

Most of the successful applicants for the BBC Writers’ Academy are already writing for theatre and radio, so ignore these media at your peril.  Writing for theatre is a fantastic way to develop as a writer, and there are many theatre production companies dedicated to putting on the work of new writers.  They get exciting new talent, you get your work professionally produced – it’s a win-win situation.

Here is a list of theatres and theatre production companies specialising in new writing.

Paines Plough, London

Bush Theatre, London

Hampstead Theatre, London

Royal Court Theatre, London

Theatre Royal Stratford East, London

Soho Theatre, London

Finborough Theatre, London

Theatre503, London

Zeitgeist Theatre, London*

Tamasha Theatre Company, London (specialising in new British Asian writing)*

Talawa Theatre Company, London (specialising in Black British writing)

Kali Theatre, London (specialising in new writing from South Asian women)

Out of Joint (touring theatre company for new writing)

Sphinx Theatre Company (touring new writing, specialising in strong roles for women)

Clean Break (new writing commissions on women whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system)

New Venture Theatre, Brighton

The Nuffield Theatre, Southampton*

Warehouse Theatre, Croydon

Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

Watford Palace Theatre

Bristol Old Vic

Show of Strength Theatre Company, Bristol

Barbican Theatre, Plymouth

Northcott Theatre, Exeter

New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Loft Theatre, Leamington Spa

Sherman Theatre, Cardiff (joining forces with Sgript Cymru to create a new organisation ‘Contemporary Theatre & New Writing Company)*

Everyman Theatre, Liverpool

Royal Exchange, Manchester

Rocket Theatre, Manchester

Contact Theatre, Manchester*

Northern Gap, Derbyshire

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Red Ladder Theatre Company, Leeds*

Theatre in the Mill, Bradford*

West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Hull Truck Theatre

Live Theatre, Newcastle*

Druid, Galway*

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

That’s just the ones I know of.  If you know of any others, please let me know via my Script Angel website and I’ll update this list.  Those marked with * have been added since the list was originally published on 30th July 2009.

In later posts I’ll look at screenwriting competitions, where to send your unsolicited script and how to get an agent.

Screenwriting: from the outside looking in.

Having set up Script Angel, my own script consultancy business, I recently decided to join The Word Cloud – a forum for experienced and aspiring writers. What struck me was how hungry for ‘insider’ knowledge the writers are. There may be information out there for aspiring writers but how do they know where to look?

Over the past ten years I’ve been lucky enough to earn my living as a professional script editor on a variety of UK television dramas. Now, taking a break from the hectic pace of script editing on dramas in production, I’ve set up my own script consultancy business. What’s struck me is how cosy it is inside the world of television professionals and how hard it is for writers on the outside to even understand how it works, let alone to break into it.

I’ve been very fortunate to work with hugely talented editorial teams and, most importantly, exceptionally talented writers. They, and I, earn our living from writing/editing drama that millions of people will watch – and it’s only now stepping outside it (albeit with my foot firmly lodged in the door to stop it closing) that I appreciate how impenetrable the whole industry must appear. The writers I work with, without exception, have earned their position as a professional writer by combining sheer creative talent with hard work and determination. But what we take for granted is the knowledge, gained after years in the industry, of what to do to turn an idea into something that will ultimately get made.

Through my blog and Script Angel I’d like to help writers find the information they need and understand how the industry works. I want to help them get their scripts into the best possible shape so that when they do decide to send it to someone in the industry (agent, production company, etc) their work is the best it can possibly be. Over the weeks I’ll blog not only on my experiences as a script editor but I’ll also try to pull together as much information as I can about what to do to become a professional screenwriter.

As well as checking out Script Angel, it’s other worth checking out Michelle Lipton’s Blog – a talented writer just starting to get her first commissions and helping others to understand the process as she goes through it.