Category: Indie Film


In this weeks post I’d like to talk about script-writing and the personal processes through which I go when writing a script and how I believe that those who study writing at pretty much any level often lose a sense of creativity within their writing which can lead to unoriginal and sub-standard media.

This opinion is one that many people will disagree with as there are countless successful writers who did study their craft in order to perfect and that’s fine; however although what they write may be decent and audiences respond to it on a large scale; the ideas are often not original and often rely on the re-working or combining of clichés or tricks which I often find too obvious.

I would like to start my argument by looking at the sheer volume of courses, books, blogs, seminars and so forth which claim to teach you ‘How to write a successful screenplay’ and yes some of these are written by professional writers who have valid opinions on what makes a good script it or not; but often they are written by people who aren’t talented enough to write/sell their screenplays so instead sell their advice which is bad advice due to their lack of talent, if you follow. It is a vicious circle that leads only to poor writing and the reason why so many formulaic films are made.

Now I am not untouched by the study of film writing – although if I could go back in time I would – I have a Film Production degree in which one module was based on script-writing. This module did have a few advantages in that it taught me useful things such as how to format a script properly, this is a skill that needs to be learned as if your script doesn’t match the formatting standards no-one is ever going to read it; but its easy to learn and software like Celtx is free and does most of the work for you.

The script-writing module mainly consisted of information that I didn’t want to know and regretted learning. For example it covered areas such as the ‘Three Act Structure’ – which can be applied to any film, if you study it hard enough. This structure as its title suggests splits the narrative of the film into ‘three acts’ forcing a writer to decide on key plot points and work their script so that these occur at certain points in the script. When I attempted to write with this in mind I found it extremely limiting as I found it to be tedious that the length of my exposition was dictated by some book; if you’re characters need extra time to become established let them have it, the book going to watch your film is it?

Now when people read the above they will probably think that I’m telling people they shouldn’t plan their screenplays but I’m not; everything I write is planned but the amount of planning I do depends on my mood and the ideas. You should remember that with computers nothing is permanent so if you’re inspired to write something at half 3 in the morning after drinking eleven pints, write it. You may find yourself presently surprised when you wake up in the morning (or most likely late afternoon) and if you don’t like what was written, or can’t make sense of the drunken mess then you can always delete it.

Instead of studying writing people should sit down and actually write; plan a story however you want be it by creating an extended breakdown of each scene or (as I’ve found works best for me) a simple hand-drawn flow-chart showing what’s going to happen. I often have only a vague idea when I begin a script and will go through at the end and re-write it so as the twist ending makes sense or the characters become more fully developed.

As I continue with this rant, I would like to point out that I am not an experienced writer in any way.  Although I often write, I have only a mediocre YouTube sketch channel and a single short film to my accreditation and therefore have very little to back up my opinions with experience wise.

It’s just one thing that people seem to like about my scripts are there originality. Rather than re-hashing Twilight with zombies instead of vampires; I’d rather write about a headless man haunted by evil chickens (that is the actually the idea behind a short film I once wrote, however for obvious reasons it never got made). Obviously not all my ideas are good and many of my scripts don’t work for a variety of reasons; however when I do pull one off they are praised by others; with my most recent creation – a film about a guy whose transported into a bottle of wine – being made and reasonably successful with audiences responding to its weirdness.

The writing of this film ‘Pinot Rouge’ is actually a perfect example to showcase why I believe films should be written without study. For as long as I can remember I have been writing short stories and films, pretty much anything I wanted; however just when I was taking my scriptwriting module (for which I submitted one of the worst scripts I’ve ever written) I found that I couldn’t write anything decent. I would spend an entire night planning out a script in the way we where taught; writing a detailed synopsis, carrying out character studies for each character, deciding exactly where my plot-points would be etc. Then exhausted I would go to bed. When I awoke I would look at the notes I had made; notice that one aspect didn’t quite make sense (a character had no motivation for example) and discard the entire writing. This was because I just wasn’t passionate about the idea anymore; it seemed a long way before I could actually write something and as a writer that’s what I want to do. This process of planning and not writing went on for some time before eventually I wasn’t even inspired to plan.

Then one night I went to the pub, got drunk and came home. Sat at my computer I decided to write something, so I looked around my room spotted an empty bottle of wine and typed away for a few hours before falling asleep. Waking up the next day with a groggy head, I looked at what I had drunkenly typed and was actually happy. Sure it needed work to be a decent script but the basics where there; a narrative that mostly made sense and two characters who could easily be developed. This time I didn’t feel like discarding my work, why would I? I had a ten-minute film written!  I took inspiration that the problems could be fixed and after several drafts I was happy with the results and ultimately happy with how the film looked when it was made.

After writing the Pinot Rouge was when I realised that I was over-thinking the writing process. I was letting advice written in a book lead to the way I wrote and becoming annoyed because the plans I had made didn’t stick to some formula that ‘could’ help my film become a success. So I decided to screw it and attempted to forget everything I had learnt about film writing and just write what I wanted to, unfortunately this cannot be done and I still often find myself annoyed when my writing doesn’t conform with the three-act structure, however never annoyed enough to change it.

So my advice to any person who wants to be or is a writer is just write whatever you want. You can always delete it or re-write it at a later date. If you like to plan, plan. Just don’t plan to a formula; decide on a beginning and an end and go from there.

Apologies for rushing this post; but I’ve been super busy the past week trying to secure locations for a film I am making.

This weeks subject is location scouting, which obviously a key part of the filmmaking process as good locations add production value and realism. I also find it much more fun to film on location over a set as there is something freeing about it.

In the past week I’ve spent four days locations scouting and hours sitting at my computer sending out e-mails. This is the first time I’ve needed to do a proper location scout and it has definitely been a fun and interesting experience as I attempt to secure rights to film in perfect locations for no cost; with varying degrees of success.

Before talking about the scouting itself I’d like to explain why I was scouting. Last weekend I entered a Coventry based competition entitled 2Weeks2MakeIt and as the title suggests the competition gives me just 2 weeks to a make a music video for a band.

Drawn out of the hat, the band to which my group was assigned was a young singer-songwriter who had written a pretty little song. After discussing ideas we decided that a forest location would be the ideal setting; as the mood of song would require a balance between prettiness and desolation.

Therefore last Sunday I headed out to Sutton Park that has a wonderful forest area and scouted around for locations. The park is a lovely location and after hours of exploring; several locations where found which would have looked wonderful for the video.

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However on Monday due to some unforeseen circumstances all the plans where halted as our musician was forced to withdraw from the competition. The lovely people who run the competition paired us with a new band and extended the deadline accordingly. However this did mean we had to begin planning from scratch.

The new band being a rap/hip-hop group obviously wanted a more urban setting and with song being a love-song the narrative which was chosen was to have two couples going on terrible dates before meeting each other and finding their ‘true love’. This story meant that two locations for these bad dates needed to be found – some kind of competitive one (e.g bowling) and a more casual one (a restaurant).

On Wednesday I was off scouting again and this time it was a very different experience to the first scout because rather than simply wandering through a forest; this time I needed to speak to people and negotiate with them.

This is something I was extremely nervous about – I am not only the most confident person and have a tendency to mumble. But I took a deep breath and entered the first location. After a brief chat with the manager; he agreed that we could film if needed and contact details where swapped. I was surprised by his reaction and he seemed really interested in the fact that we wanted to make a film. I think this is most likely because to an outsider the idea of a film crew coming along is quite snazzy and exciting; whereas to me working it doesn’t feel to impressive.

So after this first acceptance I went from location to location and made lots of contacts. Emails where consequently sent out and each place sent us a list of available times and this is where problems arose. Although the locations where fine with us filming; the fact that we needed to film this weekend – because of the competitions time constraints and that the band work full time jobs – meant that many locations wouldn’t allow us access and would prefer us to film in the week.

It also doesn’t help that the weekend is a bank holiday meaning they will most likely be busy; this makes the shoot a scheduling nightmare as many venues had only small availability.  The idea for the video has consequently been adapted meaning the crew, are now going to spend the day location hopping and filming small segments at each location.

The one thing that surprised me the most with a majority of the venues is that they where willing to let us film free of charge. This was odd as I was expecting to have to pay extortionate amounts for locations or at least spend some time negotiating. Most places however just seemed happy for advertising in the video; which is ideal and extremely easy for us to offer.

During this week I’ve learnt many valuable lessons about location scouting and discovered that obtaining rights is a lot easier than I expected; if next time I need to scout we have a confirmed date then the entire process would go much more smoothly.

 

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Those of you who read my blog will know that generally the only posts I make are regarding Alfred Hitchcock and the ‘Year of Hitchcock’ challenge which I am currently undertaking.

Whilst these posts are fun and I am thoroughly enjoying the challenge and love watching and reviewing each and every Hitchcock film, it is only a small part of what I do with my time and I’ve decided that from this week I’m going to start updating more regularly on my other passion; filmmaking.

I apologise for the length of this post but it has been floating around in my subconscious for some months but with university and other commitments is only just being written.

With this weeks blog I’d like to provide a little background information on myself, the work I do and the sort of posts which you can be expecting in future weeks.

So here goes…

My name is Jacob L. Williams and I have recently finished a degree in Film Production & Technology at Birmingham City University. For much of my three years working on my degree I have not been impressed by my course; I love University life and the people I’ve met. However since one particularly moment in my second year there has always been a sense of dread and pointless about both my course and my future after university.

The moment which filled me with this feeling came when we got to meet a successful graduate from our course – he worked as a camera operator on the BBC show Merlin, which is pretty cool. The graduate came in and spoke in detail about his career after finishing the course and during the discussion revealed that in all his time working he had never once mentioned the fact that he had a degree to any of the filmmakers who employed him. He had got to the point at which he was purely by being confident, lucking and knowing the right people.

This came as a shock to me as a degree is sold on the premise that it will enhance your future career; however if the most successful graduate from our course didn’t use his degree in such a way; what was the point?

I did however persevere with my degree; mainly because I was already halfway through and I was having a lot of fun. The rest of second year passed and third year began with a heavy weight of dissertations to be written and a 10-minute group film to create. This ten-minute film proved to be the saviour of my future as it re-ignited the passion for filmmaking that was lost on the day of the talk in second year.

In October 2012 I came home from a nightclub at 3am; extremely drunk, sat down at my computer and typed out a fifteen page screenplay – well it was barely a screenplay what with several pages of drunken typos and a lot of nonsensical language there was very little to it. However upon waking up (with the predictably hangover) I trawled through what I had written and realised I had come up with an idea that was very original.

The film which would later become entitled ‘Pinot Rouge’, has the simple premise that it follows an alcoholic who is for no real reason is transported inside a wine bottle – I know, it sounds crazy? Inside the wine bottle he finds himself in a labyrinth of red corridors and is pursued by his demons (mainly appearing in the form of a rather threatening Red-suited Man who speaks in strange metaphors that don’t quite make sense).

A sober re-write in which plot-points where adapted and meaning added to certain parts the script was pitched to my to my group of friends who where to be the crew.

I should probably explain here that for the assignment the course was split into groups of six and each member was given a specific role for which they would be marked i.e. director of photography, editor etc. As I’m a rather organised person I was given/chose the role of producer (which was thoroughly enjoyable).

Anyway back to the script; as I’m obviously not the only wannabe scriptwriter on my course, there where other member of my group who has also written short films which they wanted to be made. In the interest of fairness each member of the group was given the opportunity to pitch a ten-minute script and then a vote would take place. Two members of the group abstained, as they did not feel confident enough in their own screenplays. This meant that Pinot Rouge had competition from three other (very strong and different) scripts. Upon reading my coursemates scripts, the confidence I had for my own strange David Lynch-esque work being picked waned. Somehow, however it was chosen and a meeting with the Director – the very talented Mr. Jordan Cochrane – was set-up to discuss ideas and a direction for the film.

Around this time I had some reservations about being writer/producer on the film rather than the typical writer/director; which every other group on my course opted for. However Jordan quashed my fears as in our first few meetings as he knew exactly what he wanted and showed originality in his plans that I would never of dreamed off (when I direct things – although I believe myself to be competent I sometimes lack a little imagination – Jordan suffers no such issues). Collaborations with Jordan turned out to be very simple because he showed extreme respect for my screenplay and ideas whilst also bringing originality and fresh ideas to the table.

Upon Jordan’s advice and the feasibility of actually being able to make the film, re-writes where undertaken; this mainly included the cutting down of scenes taking place in the corridors, it was important for the story that the corridors were red and no such corridors could be found.
These cuts proved a brilliant decision as their removal helped the script move away from a final episode of ‘Twin Peaks’ rip-off (which admittedly it kind of was) and allowed the addition of extra set-pieces which would in the end make the output less pretentious, more fun and the metaphors stronger.

I won’t go into too much more detail onto the production of the film (that is for another post) other than to say after many problems the film was successfully made and has been well-received by all that have seen it. Recently I achieved one of my lifetime ambitions and watched it on the big screen at the wonderful Electric Cinema (which also happens to be the oldest cinema in the UK); the response from the audience at the screening was just incredible, there reactions to each scene truly surprised me laughs, screams and groans in all the places they should have been. This filled me with a tremendous sense of pride and joy. The compliments I received afterwards for the story where also incredibly gratifying and unexpected with many people finding it hilarious that I was drunk when the original draft was written. We are currently looking at entering the film into some film festivals however if you are interested you can watch a teaser trailer: http://www.vimeo.com/purplecamera/pinotrougetrailer

The main point however of this post is to say that the creation of such a well-received film has inspired me for my own future and my own filmmaking and alongside Jordan and a few others from my group we are starting up our own production company – Purple Camera Media – and are looking to build on our success (and hopefully make some money).

In future weeks on this blog I will be updating more information about the company and aiming to give an insight into the trials and tribulations which an indie filmmaker goes through when setting up a new company and creating films and music videos.

Purple Camera Media also recently entered our first competition a West Midlands music video one called 2Weeks2Makeit. As you can guess from its title it essentially means we have two weeks to make a music video for our artist. We’ve been paired with a wonderful acoustic singer/songwriter called Hollie Aires and I’m really looking forward to creating a video in the next two weeks (expect a post about this also).

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and will check back for more updates; for more information and keeping in touch follow one of the twitter accounts @PurpleCamera1 (not run by myself but very interesting) or @PinotRouge (which is run by me and therefore not very interesting) and check out my posts about Hitchcock Challenge!