So, yesterday someone asked me for screenwriting advice. Never mind that I have no movie credits to my name (yet), but the news that I’ve co-written a script that’s going into production was enough to send a 22 year-old I’d never met before, pelting down three floors of our office building to seek out my sage wisdom.
I was flattered to say of the least, and my ego puffed-up to full as I prepared to dispense pearls of wisdom to this young neophyte. But, as I opened my mouth, I realised that I was one microsecond away from becoming a pompous Robert McKee type, and managed to stop myself.
The truth is I don’t have a bloody clue. I managed to piece together a chronology of how I managed to get where I am today, but anyone can do that, and everyone’s story will be different, so what use that is, I have no idea.
The only vaguely useful advice I could give was, “Er… Write, keep writing, and eventually you get better at it, and one day people start to take notice of it, and maybe you’ll get some work.”
I also urged her to meet and befriend other writers. Not only are they fun, if slightly mentally unhinged, but we all have the same doubts and fears and share them on Twitter when we know full well we should be working to a deadline.
Then I started reeling off lists of podcasts I listen to (and I’ve shared them below), because this has been a big part of my education in writing in the last few years, and these guys all know a lot more than I. And that was it, really. I was all out of advice.
I’m collaborating on a new script with a new writer. It’s his first, my umpteenth. And the thing I must not do is start telling him how to write. I have more experience, yes, but to tell him how to write is tantamount to telling him how to think, and that’s how cults and religions and very bad things start. Why do you think they call them script gurus?
MY FAVOURITE PODCASTS:
You can get all of these on iTunes for free, but it’s worth having a look at their related blogs, and do follow them on Twitter too.
Scriptnotes with John August and Craig Mazin:
What sets these guys apart from the Syd Fields and Robert McKees of this world, is they’re actually working as writers in the film industry, so they can talk with authority about how the industry works. This one covers everything from writing techniques, to agents, managers, lawyers, the WGA, writing software, and even fonts (John August also develops apps). It’s been running for a couple of years now, and it’s worth dipping into the backlist, though you can jump in at any time. This is a very American podcast, but if you’re thinking of working in the States, this is very useful.
Scriptwriting in the UK with Danny Stack and Tim Clague:
Danny has one of the best UK scriptwriting blogs out there, and, in this monthly podcast, he and Tim Clague talk about writing in the UK.
Danny is clearly smart, professional and knows his stuff. Tim now seems to mostly write for games, and never fails to mention that he once won a Bafta for a short film he made years ago (and, to be fair, neither will I when the day comes). Not as zippy or slick as the US podcasts, but invaluable for insights into the UK film and TV industry.
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith:
Jeff gets an amazing roster of writers talking at great length about how they started, their careers and their latest film. This is American too, but he gets loads of British writers on the show. These are often recorded after a screening, and the audience get to ask questions.
He previously presented the Creative Screenwriting podcast, which no longer seems to be on iTunes, but I’m sure you can find it if you go digging online. They were terrific, essentially the same format, but presented in association with the magazine Creative Screenwriting.
Not a podcast about writing, but these guys love popcorn movies. They watch them on Netflix (which can skew what kinds of movies are available) then get together over Skype to dissect them. They’re really good at pointing out tropes and plot holes, which is invaluable for a writer. I’ve lost interest recently, as they don’t seem to be covering movies I particularly like, but the earlier episodes on films like Superman and Wrath of Khan are outstanding.
Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review:
Probably the best film show on radio. It goes through phases of being overly self-referential, but Kermode really knows his stuff (even if he never shuts up about bloody 3D), and Mayo keeps him in line. Hello to Jason Isaacs.
I bloody love Empire, and this podcast is huge fun. Their reviews tend to be more forgiving than, say, Kermode’s, and the interviews are always good. The hour long specials are wonderful. The Terence Stamp one is a gem. And Helen O’Hara should have her own show.
*Okay, so I’m not exactly Jabba the Hutt, but I have a bit of a tum, and boy, do I love to eat.