From just an idea to reality…



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One of the biggest misconceptions about doing anything creative is that it relies only on inspiration. The truth is, if that really was the case, then very few people would come up with anything good, or at least, they wouldn’t do very often.

While we need inspiration, it isn’t the only thing required. For that, we’re going to need that h-word: hard work. If it sounds like a cliché, it’s because it happens to be true. Except, there are probably times when we’d like to think that isn’t the case. That all it takes to make anything creative, whether it’s writing a script or a novel, making a film or composing music, is that flash of inspiration and then – boom – the idea arrives in our brain, fully formed. No more work or effort needed, 100% complete. Finished before it’s even started, and absolutely no rewrites needed.

If you’ve ever attempted to create anything, you’ll know how far removed from reality that is. As enjoyable as writing a screenplay is (and that’s not to say it isn’t difficult) you can’t just write when you feel inspired to, or just simply when you ‘feel’ like it. To put it another way, imagine in any other line of work, going to your boss/manager and saying something like, “I’m sorry, I can’t work today. I don’t feel like it.” What sort of a response would you get? If you are serious about making a living writing (in fact, doing anything at all creative) then that means treating it like a job, whether you’re actually getting paid or not.

If you are getting paid, and especially if it’s your sole source of income, it must be treated like it. If you don’t write, you won’t pay the bills. Basically, if you don’t act like a professional writer and take it seriously, regardless of whether you are yet, your chances of becoming one are reduced.

We’re back to hard work, again. An idea may have lots of potential, but as long as it stays an idea, that’s all it has – potential. Before it can become a finished product, it has to be worked on. Ideas are unruly things. They need taming. For example, that idea for a screenplay might sound original at first, but with a bit of research, it could be that it isn’t as ground-breaking as you first thought, and in order for it stand out, it will require more development.

Another reason to work on an idea is to get the most out of it that you can. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a film or TV show where the concept sounds amazing on paper, but the execution falls short of what it could be. It can leave the audience with the impression that the writer(s) have played it safe, when they could have challenged audiences in some way, maybe even pushed a few boundaries.

So how can we make sure we get the most out of our ideas? How do we get past the dreaded the dreaded ‘writers block’? Below are a list of tips that I’ve found useful, and continue to do so, when writing:

* Ask yourself why you’re writing the story in the first place – what are you trying to say? what is your motivation? This can be especially helpful in keeping the narrative on track.

* Document the research process, especially how you came up with the idea. This will help keep the story grounded, especially if you get lost during the writing/re-writing.

* Give your characters backstories. Chances are you won’t use most of this, but it will help audiences feel they’re watching real people, with emotions and histories. It will also determine your characters goals, and how they will react to the events of the plot.

* Make writing a discipline. Write when you can, but not just when you feel like it. Even if most of what you write on those days is never used, write something. It can be edited later.

* Always remember why you started writing in the first place, what/who it was that inspired you. So on those occasions when you’d rather do anything other than write, this will hopefully remind you why you’ve chosen this career ahead of anything else.

Many thanks for reading. Please feel free to add a comment : )


All About The Profit?



At the time of writing, the latest entry into the MCU (or Marvel Cinematic Universe), Avengers: Infinity War, is smashing box office records like the Hulk smashes through…well, pretty much anything in his path.

None of this is especially surprising, given both the MCU’s box office and critical reception thus far, as well as all of the hype surrounding the third Avengers film.

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that we’re well and truly in the era of the tent pole blockbuster, big budget movies racking up big numbers at the box office, and breaking numerous records in the process.

However, the reverse is, sadly, also true, with some recent high profile ‘failures’: where films performed below their predicted box office takings. This is enough, it seems, to be regarded as having failed in the age of the billion dollar gross.

Amidst all of the talk about which films will make however much money, and which records will or won’t be broken, there is a danger that we’re missing an important question: is this a good thing for the film industry, and for its audiences?

Of course, at this point we have to acknowledge that the film industry is just that: a business, and businesses need to make a profit to survive. Some might say that if studios earn millions from their blockbuster franchises, it allows them to channel these profits (at least in part) into smaller, less commercial fare.

Now, I’m not one of these people that thinks blockbuster automatically equals lowbrow entertainment. Not only am I a fan (especially of comic book adaptations), I think these films are subject to unfair and elitist criticism from some quarters. A great film is a great film, no matter the genre.

There have been a number of intelligent, thought provoking blockbusters in recent years, films that combine action thrills with weight themes. The Dark Knight trilogy, Captain America: Civil War and The Planet of the Apes reboot are just a few examples.

What does concern me is how, more than ever, what makes a film a success, is how much money it makes, rather than its creative and artistic value. Even whether it’s actually any good.

My fear is that we’re in danger of treating films like commodities. Yes, films need money, both in order to get made and in order to justify that budget. Surely though, that can’t be the primary goal of any film?

A film isn’t a product in the manner of a chocolate bar, a soft drink or a mobile phone. Good art should carry messages, and be made with a sense of creative vision, even if it is intended for a mass audience.

To aim for the bottom line at the expense of creativity is to run the risk of producing cookie-cutter films, made according to a template, designed to minimise risk and maximise profit.

Whether any multi million dollar film can ever be described as risk free is debatable, when even seemingly sure fire hits don’t do well. Situations like that, though, only increase the likelihood of films that look like they’ve been assembled on a production line, made to tick boxes by risk averse studios.

The problem isn’t blockbuster films, or big, crowd-pleasing franchises. The problem is when these films are made primarily with profit in mind, resulting in features that will very likely make their budgets back – and then some. Films that will break box offices, but won’t stretch the mind.

The price will be things like diversity of content, artistic merit and daring, creative voices that defy mainstream classifications. When that happens, we’ll all be counting the cost.

The Write Stuff


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Recently, I’ve been looking back through my old blog entries, and I was reminded of how many were about scriptwriting. It got me thinking again about how many books and articles there are, each one claiming to have the perfect formula to writing great scripts, and then selling those scripts. My blog entries are clearly just a tiny drop in the very large ocean of opinions on the subject.

It can actually be quite daunting, starting out as screenwriter (or a writer/director) and seeing all of this advice on the how’s and how-not-to-do’s of crafting a screenplay. What, if any, of it should an aspiring screenwriter take on board? Are there even any surefire ways to writing a sellable script? What about one that will be made into a box office dominating blockbuster?

The simplest answer is that it’s often hard to predict what will succeed in the film industry and what won’t. Many films have failed that looked on paper like they’d be huge box office successes. The filmmaking business is something of a lottery, so offering any kind of guaranteed strategies for success is at best naive and at worst irresponsible.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be open to advice however, no matter what stage we’re at in our filmmaking career. Everyone involved in the industry benefits from honing their craft, and listening to wise advice is part of how we grow as artists.

My hope with this article (and my blog as a whole) is to encourage people in similar situations, through advice that’s based on my own experiences.

At this point I should insert a disclaimer. I know that in writing this article, I’m joining (again) the cacophony of voices on the do’s and don’t’s of how to write a script.

However, what follows is a more of a practical guide to approaching screenwriting. You might find some of it works for you, and some of it doesn’t. That’s because every writer is different, and so what suits one might be a bad fit on another.

As always, I’d appreciate your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below this article.

Write something as often as you can. I know that life gets in the way, especially of best-laid plans. That’s even more of a reality when you’re having to fit your writing around another job. What I’ve found helpful is to set realistic, achievable goals. Try and write a bit each day. I’m currently re-writing one of my screenplays, and rather than trying to tackle large sections all at once, I’m focusing on a few scenes, or specific issues at a time. I try and think of it like this: even if I only write one scene today, at least it’s one more scene than I had yesterday.

Some writers prefer writing during the day, whilst others find they work better at night. Often you may have to organise your writing around other things, but make the most of the time that you have.

One area where I’m trying to improve is writing at regular times. For some, that would create too much pressure to come up with something good at the time. However, I think it’s important to try and set up some kind of schedule, even if it’s pretty fluid. If we only write when we want to or feel inspired, then we probably wouldn’t write much at all.

Find your place. For some, this will mean locking yourself away in your office or bedroom. For others, they enjoy writing in a public place, like a coffee shop or a library. You could be either one of those, or, alternatively, you might like to mix it up.

Are you sitting comfortably? It might sound trivial, but if you’re going to be spending lots of time writing at your desk/table (or wherever you choose) you need to be comfortable. Aside from it being a hindrance to your writing, it could damage you physically if you’re not seated correctly.

Take regular breaks. Opinions may vary as to the length of time, but make sure you take a break to rest your eyes. Yes, your writing is important, but your health is even more so. So try and schedule a break every now and then.

Invest in some screenwriting software. This doesn’t have to be expensive, as there are free options out there, such as Celtx. This is the software I use, so I can say that even a free to download option gives you more than enough to compose a script. It will make your work look professional, and they’re available for both PC and Mac computers.

Speaking of which, desktop or laptop? I write my scripts using my desktop Mac, but a laptop (or Macbook) will give you the advantage of being able to work on your script away from your desk. What option you choose may depend on budget or personal taste.

The sound of music, or the sound of silence? Again, this will be a matter of personal choice. Some people will find that listening to music while writing is distracting. Others find that some subtle background music helps, especially if it fits in tonally with whatever they’re writing. Ultimately, you should do what helps you write to the best of your ability.

Finally, do something with it. Setting deadlines are useful motivation for the actual writing stage, but it’s just as important to set a target for what you’re going to do with your script when you’ve got a finished draft that you’re happy with.

Are you going to submit it somewhere, perhaps to something like the BBC’s The Script Room, or a screenwriting competition? Or maybe you’ve got friends who are involved in filmmaking, and you’re all going to produce it together?

The point is that a promising script that never even gets seen, never mind made, is a missed opportunity. So take the plunge and show your script to someone who you trust, and who can help move it one step closer to getting made.

Joss Whedon, Batgirl and the question of diversity…


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So Joss Whedon’s move from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the DC Extended Universe looks to be over, for now at least. Whedon announced yesterday that he will no longer be directing the upcoming Batgirl solo film, citing a failure to come up with a story after a year working on the project. Reports are suggesting that the studio is looking for a female director to take over.

It’s easy to speculate that Whedon’s involvement with Justice League may also have played a part in his decision. It’s no secret that JL performed below expectations at the box office, and for some people, that might taint Whedon’s involvement in DC’s cinematic universe. At the very least, it probably didn’t strengthen his case, especially given the shake up at the top of Warner Brothers/DC following Justice League’s box office takings.

Some have also suggested that, as a male director, Joss Whedon would have been under greater scrutiny helming Batgirl, a film with a female lead character, than a woman directing the project would face. That this film would be coming out in the aftermath of the gender pay gap and Time’s Up debates that are ongoing in the film/TV industry, only makes this more likely.

It certainly raises some interesting questions, and for me, questions that go right to the heart of what diversity truly means. These questions are even more important now, given that they’re being asked against the backdrop of those aforementioned campaigns for gender equality.

Greater representation for women, both in front of and behind the camera, is an issue that certainly needs addressing, although it’s more than a little sobering that we’re still having this discussion in the 21st Century. It’s one of the reasons that this year’s Academy Awards nominations were so welcome, with nods for Greta Gerwig for directing and Rachel Morrison for cinematography (the first woman to be nominated in that category.)

Of course, the issue of diversity is complex, and a few award nominations, welcome though they are, don’t go anywhere near addressing all the problems women face in the industry. As the issue is so important, however, we must be clear about what diversity is. It might sound obvious, but it’s worth asking what we mean when we use that term, and call for more of it.

A male director making a film with a male lead character, or a woman director doing the same for a project with a female main character, might look diverse to some, in the sense that the woman director in question is making a film, filling a role in which women are still underrepresented. It would also have a female lead, which is also still a rarity.

I wonder, though, if this diversity might also be achieved by a different scenario. Imagine if WB/DC announces a sequel to Man of Steel, and that the director will be a woman. Maybe even that the screenplay will be written or co-written by a woman, or that there will be a woman in the role of DOP or editor.

There haven’t been many examples of women directing comic book films that have a male in the lead role (I can only think of one, Lexi Alexander, with The Punisher: War Zone. Please correct me below if you can think of any others), so this would be a long overdue and noteworthy thing to happen.

It would make it clear that gender is truly no barrier when it comes to hiring anyone in the industry, and that gender shouldn’t matter. Now I’m not suggesting that someone like Patty Jenkins was only hired to direct Wonder Woman because she’s female. What I am suggesting is that I don’t believe that there should be such a thing as a ‘man’s film’ or a ‘woman’s film.’ In fact, I think when a film like Wonder Woman comes out, or a notable release like Ladybird, then there’s every reason for men to see it, in the same way that it’s important for white people to see Black Panther.

This is because stories, in whatever form they take, are important, and the messages they carry should be heard by as many people as possible. As a filmmaker, you should also want to explore stories involving all people, and not just people like you. To me, that’s true diversity

This doesn’t mean I think Warners is wrong to replace Joss Whedon, or look for a woman to direct Batgirl. I just worry that, inadvertently, this actually makes the gender of the director more of an issue, when it shouldn’t be at all. Instead, it should be factors like their talent, their vision for the story, their enthusiasm for the project and their experience that matter.

There are many talented female writers and directors in mainstream and independent cinema and television who would be a fine addition to a franchise like the DCEU. Would they be a good fit for Batgirl or any of DC’s other female characters? Absolutely. But they’d also do a good job with one of DC’s male characters as well.

For example, Ava DuVernay has shown a strong political slant to her work, which would be perfect for the socially and politically conscious Green Arrow. Kathryn Bigelow’s talents would be perfect for the gritty tone that is a big part of the DCEU, whilst the futuristic world of Altered Carbon is a great showcase for Laeta Kalogridis’ talents for science fiction. Talents that could be well utilised for the upcoming Cyborg or Green Lantern Corps films. If anything like this were to happen, that would be a big story.

On second thoughts, maybe we’ll all know when gender and diversity are becoming less of an issue, and that progress is being made, that when this does happen, it isn’t a big story.

As always, please feel free to leave your comments below.


Finding your style…


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First of all, apologies for my absence. The past few months have been a bit busy ‘off camera’, hence the lack of updates. However, with my short ‘Runner’ in pre-production, I’ve been thinking a lot about the look I want it to have, and how I might visualise the other projects I’ve got planned.

That has led me to think about style, and how a director finds her or his own voice enough to stand out. Then, how this is affected by such things as camera and lens choice, angle, lighting and so many other things. More than once, I’ve come to appreciate how it feels like picking up a whole new language without words, or a ‘visual language.’

Now when you start learning any language, your command of the grammar is basic, as is the range of your vocabulary. You know what you want to say, but you don’t have the knowledge to say it yet.

It’s the same with filmmaking and the ‘visual language.’ You have all these ideas, all these things that you want to say and stories that you can see in your mind. The problem is that you lack the technical knowledge to bring those ideas to life. As with that beginner language student, you know what you want to say, but you don’t know how to say it yet. At least, not in a way that will do it justice.

Running alongside this is that, when you’re a beginner, you tend to wear your influences very clearly. A big reason for that is what I covered above: as a novice, you don’t have the breadth of technical know-how to turn your ideas into reality. You are then more likely to be more of an open book regarding the people who’ve inspired you.

Of course, it’s not wrong to have influences as a filmmaker. It’s part of how we end up developing our own artistic voice, as well as being, at least for some, a major reason that they got into filmmaking in the first place. Then there’s the fact that the people who inspired us would also have had inspirations of their own.

But how do we stand out, and develop a voice of our own? It’s an important question, especially so given the competitive nature of the film industry, and how difficult it is to break through.

I have to confess that it’s a question I’m still wrestling with myself. One thing I’m discovering is that watching so many films and television shows can actually be counter productive if we’re not careful, in that we can end up as little more than a collage of our various influences.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t watch films or television shows. If we love the medium enough to want to make a career of it, then it would seem strange to avoid watching the work of others. As long as we’re not deliberately copying ideas from other filmmakers, then an interest in the art is important. Not only will it stop is from being excessively focused upon ourselves, it will also open us up to new techniques, styles and ideas that will help to contribute to our development as filmmakers.

The simple answer to avoid becoming little more than a tribute act to our favourite directors, writers, cinematographers etc, is to have something to say of our own in the first place. It’s like that novice learning a new language again, dropped in the middle of that country and needing some help: they know what they want to say, but not how to say it. Now think how much harder it would be for anyone helping this person if that individual didn’t know where they wanted to go. If, in short, they had nothing to say?

As a rookie filmmaker, you will have gaps in your knowledge. Leaving aside the fact that every filmmaker is learning throughout their career, the more inexperienced you are, the bigger those gaps. But you must still have something to say to audiences, even though you’re still finding your voice.

That means that, along with our stylistic and creative influences, we have to be interested in people, and in the world around us. We must have ideas to share. The technical expertise will grow, and eventually that individual voice of our own will emerge. However, if we truly want to stand out, we have to make sure that when it does, we’re saying things that matter. To us, and to our audience.


As always, please feel free to comment below! : )

Another casting controversy


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You wait for one controversial casting choice, then another one comes along straight after.

The internet was still in fits of hysteria following Jodie Whittaker’s casting as the 13th Doctor, when Disney announced the leads for their live action version of Aladdin. It hasn’t gone down well.

Joining Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Will Smith as the Genie is Naomi Scott as Jasmine. Scott, star of the recent Power Rangers film, is of British/Indian heritage, a fact that has upset some fans. Although the setting of the story is the fictional city of Agrabah, it’s still accepted that it is meant to represent a Middle Eastern location.

All of this means we’re having to discuss the issue of race-swapping characters again, and when – and if – it’s ever acceptable to do so.

On the one hand, it’s often done to update certain characters and stories for a modern setting. For example, Jon Watts, the director of Spiderman: Homecoming, wanted his cast to better reflect the racial diversity of 21st Century New York.

As laudable as those ambitions are, however, there is the view that altering the source material to that extent alienates some fans, who want to see their favourite characters on represented on screen as they are on the page.

Of course, there is a big difference between altering a character’s race in order to increase diversity (and doing so in a way that serves the story), and doing so in way that actually limits diversity.

Princess Jasmine’s race is important to the story in the sense that Aladdin is set in the Middle East, and therefore it’s logical that the characters will be a reflection of that setting. That is surely true of any fictional film: the characters are a reflection of the setting of the story in which they are taking part.

None of this should be read as a critique of Naomi Scott’s acting abilities. However, the casting is a disappointment for two main reasons. The first is that it’s rare to have a Hollywood film with leads of an Arabic or broadly Middle Eastern background, so in making this casting choice for Jasmine, Aladdin has missed the chance to fully embrace the opportunity for diversity that this film offers.

Secondly, the underlying implication (intentional or not) is that Hollywood sees all non-white actors, especially those with brown skin, as being more or less the same, and therefore interchangeable. It doesn’t matter what your actual background might be, if you don’t have white skin, then you’ll fit any non-white role.

The result is a kind of race-swapping that has the worst possible outcome: it denies a certain section of society a voice and representation. on screen. The fact that it’s happening to a group that is often under and miss-represented just adds further insult.

We make and watch films for many different reasons. One of those is surely to give a voice to people and subjects that need it, so that we’re all better informed. In denying a voice to anyone from any group or community, the film industry is failing in this most basic and fundamental of its obligations.


On Acting…


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Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be auditioning a number of actors and actresses for our forthcoming short film, ‘Runner.’ Whenever I get to this stage in the pre-production process, I always think about what makes an actor/actress suitable for any role, and what I look for when I’m casting someone.

Obviously, that will change depending on the role, but ultimately it comes down to whether or not they can truly ‘become’ the character. This is one of the most important things I’ve learnt since I began my career in filmmaking: there is a big difference between an actor/actress just playing the part (where you can tell it’s still them), and an actor/actress becoming the character, and really getting inside their head.

In my opinion, acting isn’t just about remembering lines. It should be about taking on a character and fleshing him/her out, to the point where the audience can accept that it’s no longer that A-list megastar they’re watching. If merely delivering lines can be compared to putting on a coat, then ‘becoming’ a character is disappearing inside that coat.

One recent example from traditionally blockbuster territory would be the late Heath Ledger, playing the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Proving the initial doubters wrong, Ledger fully embraced the role, to the extent that it seemed as if the Clown Prince of Crime had walked straight off the page and on to the screen.

There are many more examples. The work of famous method actors like Robert De Niro and Daniel Day Lewis. Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Walk The Line.’ Charlize Theron in ‘Monster’. Rooney Mara in the remake of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’

As a budding filmmaker, I look for collaborators both in front of and behind the camera. The performances that I mentioned above surely only came about through preparation. To that end, things like read-throughs are a good way for your cast to delve into their roles alongside one another.

However, it’s more than just the intellectual, and it’s certainly more than just remembering and then delivering lines. It’s about discovering the character, and connecting with him or her on an emotional level.

Above all, I want a cast who are interested in both the story we’re telling and the characters involved. Writers and directors should have motivations for making their films, and actors and actresses should also have reasons for appearing in those films.

Now I understand that people take on acting jobs just to pay the bills. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. What I’m saying is there’s a big difference between an actor/actress just phoning it in, one eye on the pay check, or appearing in something that they don’t really want to do, and someone playing a part they love, in a film in which they really believe.

My role as the director is to assemble a cast that will be interested in the story that we’re telling, as that will engage our audiences. That means guiding them through their performance, so it matches up with my vision of the character, whilst also giving them the freedom to feel their way into the part, coming up with ideas of their own along the way.

Yes, it’s a complex process, and often the approach varies with the style and personality of the directors and actors involved. However, when it’s done correctly, the results are more than worth it.




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Rejection is a fact of life. It’s also very much a fact of working in the film industry. Anyone who’s serious about working in film has to expect to be turned down.

Of course, it’s not easy. Arguably, it never does get easy, no matter how long you’ve been involved in the industry, what level you’ve reached or how many times you’ve been knocked back.

The hardest thing I’ve experienced as an aspiring writer/director is that it doesn’t just feel that it’s you that’s been rejected. That’s because, to put it bluntly, it isn’t. It’s your idea that’s been dismissed as well.

This is particularly tough to take , as your ideas, and the projects that come as a result of them, mean something to you. Some might even be extremely personal. Other ideas might have taken a lot of time to produce. In the case of a script, it could have gone through many drafts before submission.

Rejection is also something that you can’t really avoid when you’re starting out in the film and media industries. However, to be blunt again, if you want your ideas to be universally loved and respected, don’t show them to anybody. Leave the script in the bottom drawer, and the finished edit of your film on the portable hard drive. Or only show it to your family and friends. That way, everyone will like it. (Unless you have really honest relatives and friends, of course.)

So, whether it’s submitting a script or applying for a job, there is always the chance that you won’t make the grade.

As hard as it is, getting a knock back can also be an opportunity to get even better at your craft. For example, if a script that you’ve submitted isn’t accepted, think of it as another chance to look at it again, to see if anything can be improved upon. If a film you’ve sent in to a festival for consideration is rejected, there may be many other festivals who are willing to show it.

In any case, the most important thing is that it helps you develop the discipline to persevere, and learn to deal with criticism. Taking on constructive advice and criticism is one of the best ways to grow as an artist, especially when it comes from people who’ve been in your chosen field for many years.

Setbacks are part and parcel of being a filmmaker, from creative differences to budget problems, to location issues and actors pulling out, making films is fraught with potential difficulties.

What matters is how you deal with them. Do you get disheartened, and want to throw in the towel? Or do you carry on, remembering why you love films and filmmaking in the first place?



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One of the biggest challenges that I’ve faced (and continue to face) as an independent filmmaker is with casting my films. However, it’s an essential part of a film, and one that you obviously can’t ignore. Here’s a brief list of what I’ve discovered to far. Hope it helps!

  • Know your story and your characters: This makes all the difference. If you have a sketchy idea about a particular character, or if they’re aren’t very well developed, then the casting will reflect that. The more you know your characters and the world they inhabit, the greater the chances are that you (and your casting director/ producers) will cast well. Also, how can you guide your cast as they become their characters, if you don’t have a final idea of how those characters should be portrayed?  As an example, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman fits in with Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, and the world he oversaw in that portrayal. The same is true of Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises: Hathaway’s Kyle belongs in the ‘Nolanverse’ in a way that Pfeiffer does for Burton’s vision. Switch the two around though, and it wouldn’t work. Know your vision, and you’ll know who to cast.
  • The director should have the final say: Even if your budget stretches to hiring a casting director to advice you, (or if you take advice from your producer (s) ), I still subscribe to the view that, as with everything else in a film, the director’s word is final. By all means accept advice and suggestions, (in fact, all good directors need to be able to listen and recognise good creative advice when they hear it),  your decision should be the final one. You can’t truly direct actors that you don’t really want in your film.
  • Scour online casting sites/local drama groups:  Casting Call Pro and Star Now are two good suggestions, and it’s possible to use both with little to no expense. It’s also worth contacting local drama groups and societies, especially those at universities. Be aware that there is a significant difference (as many actors will tell you) between theatre acting and acting for camera. However, as long as you can find someone with the ability and/or experience to cross over from the stage to the screen, then these groups are a good resource.
  • Your actors need to work well together: This links in with my first point. Every actor should not only fit the world and the tone of the project, but they should be a good fit with the rest of the cast, especially if they’re a main character. How many romantic comedies/dramas have been ruined because the leading man and leading lady had zero chemistry? This is where doing read-throughs with your actors (even if it’s just a few scenes) can give you a really good idea of who is – and isn’t -working together.
  • Be bold: The thought of discovering acting talent that has gone under the radar is something that excites me as a director. Obviously, you shouldn’t cast someone just for the sake of being different, or for risk’s sake, but don’t discount someone just because they don’t have a long CV, or come from a theatre background. Be open to taking risks, and cast your net wide, and you’ll be rewarded.
  • Video auditions: This helps cut costs if your budget is tight. It also means that you are less restricted to a specific area. As far as the audition material goes, I’ve used both the actual script, as well as excerpts from other films that are consistent in tone with my own. Other options are auditioning two actors together, and getting the actor/s to prepare their own material. You can even do more than one of these options (such as get the actor/s to audition from your script, and also something that they’ve chosen to bring in.)

Please feel free to add your own comments below, especially if you have any advice of your own : )

Beginnings and Endings….


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It’s been a couple of months since I’ve blogged about anything, but in that time I’ve been working on a script that I’m going to submit to the BBC’s Script Room, which is the station’s forum for unsolicited scripts. So in other words, I hope I have a good excuse….

Anyway, the past couple of months have reminded me of something that I’ve always struggled with in my writing, and that’s starting and ending the piece. The interesting thing is that I’ve had this experience no matter whether the piece is fiction or non-fiction.

Getting to the latest draft of my current screenplay has made me think about why this might be the case. When you start your screenplay, it’s the culmination of many months of research and preparation of building your plot, your characters and the world they inhabit. It’s understandable that when you sit down in front of your computer/laptop (or pen and paper if you’re old school), then you feel the pressure: you want to do your idea justice.

What I’ve discovered is you just need to put something down on paper. If you remind yourself that, in all likelihood, what you’re writing will change, then that should take a lot of the pressure off the first draft. After all, it’s only draft one, and you are extremely unlikely to produce anything that is ready to be filmed (or submitted/published) at the first attempt.

As for endings, it’s the feeling of taking an idea that you’ve developed and taken to the writing stage, and now it’s over. The writing process may have taken over much of your life, so completing your script may leave you wondering what you’re going to do to fill the time.

However, although a screenplay may be finished in one sense, in another, the idea isn’t. The screenplay is only one part of your story. The production stage will bring your words to life, not least when shot choices are made, or when actors interpret your dialogue. There is also the possibility that the production stage may require alterations to be made to the script. Although rewrites during a shoot can at times suggest a production is in trouble, on some occasions it’s in response to a sudden flash of inspiration from the writer/director, or a suggestion from the actor.

On that note, I’d advise being open to any suggestions from your collaborators, be they actors or directors. As someone who is hoping to write and direct, it’s probably easier to change the script, whereas it can be a ‘challenge’ if you’re a writer when someone changes your work. Sadly though, that’s often the lot of the writer (especially in big studio films), which is why aiming to write and direct, thereby maintaining creative control of your work, is worth considering.

So, whether starting or ending a script, writing a screenplay is a challenge. However, it’s only one part of the filmmaking process, and when the cameras start rolling, it will all have been worth it…


Creating characters…


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It’s one of the most important aspects of telling a good story: creating a cast of well drawn characters that will engage with audiences, causing them to care about what happens to them. You can have stunning cinematography, or the most fast-paced and action-packed story, filled with brilliantly choreographed fight scenes, but without strong characters, the chances are it will leave viewers empty, and they might as well be watching someone playing a video game.

As with many things in screenwriting and filmmaking as a whole, it’s not an exact science. There will be many films that looked promising on the page, but bombed at the box office. However, one of the best ways to create three dimensional characters is to give them a rich backstory.

I’ve heard it said that you won’t use most of this material in the actual story, but it will all help to create characters that actually feel like real people, rather than just stereotypes that spout dialogue that doesn’t come from anything authentic. It will then give the impression that they are two dimensional and interchangeable, to the point where any line could be spoken by any character.

To start with, it’s helpful to think up names for your characters that fit both the individual characters themselves, and the world in which the story is taking place. There are plenty of websites that provide tips on how to come up with names for your characters, and how this is influenced by things like genre, age of the characters, location and the time period of the story. As an example, giving a young character an old fashioned name could work if you have in mind a character who is quite quirky and individual, so a slightly archaic name will help bring out these qualities more clearly.

Another important detail is your characters goals and motivations. It’s worth writing out some sort of a profile for your characters (especially the principle characters) that includes what each character is trying to achieve. It will help to create a more compelling story if some of your protagonists are trying to achieve contrasting goals, or if they want the same thing, but have drastically different ideas about how to get there.

Giving your characters a biography will also help. So sketch out details on family, friends, schools, universities, colleges, etc, as well as their work history. What hobbies do they have? Do they speak any foreign languages? Do they have any phobias? What hopes and dreams do they have? No detail should be too large or two small to consider. Now, most of this material won’t make it into the actual story, which may make you wonder: is it not just a waste of time?

Think of it like this: when creating a character, you’re creating someone who should feel like a real person. Real people have goals, things they hope for and fear, family history, friends, hobbies, past traumas and things that motivate them. These things shape us, our character and behaviour. The more this is true of your fictional creations, the more realistic they will feel, no matter how fantastical the story might be. When that happens, your audience will feel like they are watching real people, and care about where they are when the credits roll.