I’ll be running a couple of screenwriting workshops. One for children, one for adults.
First up for the kids…
THE HERO’S JOURNEY – YOUNG SCREENWRITERS’ WORKSHOP
Saturday, 25 June 2016 – 11:30am
Author and screenwriter Mark Stay
Epsom Library, Ebbisham Centre.
Join professional screenwriter Mark Stay for a fun workshop where we’ll look at the ‘Hero’s Journey’, how one page of script becomes a finished scene, and we’ll create our own story using ideas and methods explored during the session. .
Mark Stay wrote the screenplay for the film Robot Overlords, released in 2014, starring Gillian Anderson and Ben Kingsley.
Robot Overlords is set in a world where Earth has been invaded by an occupying force of robots from another world. Every citizen has an implant in their neck that alerts the robots if you step outside. You get one warning… then you’re vaporised!
Suitable for ages 10-12. Epsom Library, Learning Centre.
Mark will be signing copies of his original novel Robot Overlords after the event.
Then, for anyone 13+ …
‘FROM PAGE TO SCREEN’
Saturday, 25 June 2016 – 4:15pm
Screenwriter Mark Stay
Bourne Hall, Ewell
Join professional screenwriter Mark Stay for a scriptwriting workshop and fascinating insider look at the development of a screenplay. Discover how one page of a screenplay becomes a finished film via storyboards, rehearsal, pre-viz, shooting, VFX, scoring through to the final scene.
Mark Stay wrote the screenplay for the film Robot Overlords, released in 2014, starring Gillian Anderson and Ben Kingsley.
Suitable for ages 13+.
Mark will be signing copies of his original novel Robot Overlords after the event.
I had good fun chatting with Steven Hesse over at the Geek Apocalypse podcast. We discuss the kinds of people you meet at MCM Comic Cons, 2000 AD, Pat Mills, indie movies vs Hollywood movies, film tie-ins, world building, plot holes, Robot Overlords and all sorts of stuff.
There will be a video version at some point and I’ll plonk it here when it arrives, in the meantime enjoy and, if you like drinking games, take a shot every time Steven says “super duper fun”, you’ll be plastered before you know it!
I’ve been meaning to do this for ages! The whole of the book’s prologue, featuring an excellent reading by Rupert Degas, is now on Youtube for your delight and delectation. Enjoy…
The full audiobook is available on Audible and iTunes, and if you’re a first time visitor to Audible then you can choose a FREE audiobook, so why not start with an epic story of Robot world domination overthrown by a bunch of kids from the UK? Go on. You know you want to…
It’s been a hell of a fun year, and one of the highlights has been attending a record number (for me) of festivals and cons to plug and pimp the ROBOT OVERLORDS film and book. If I was lucky enough to meet you, then thanks for taking the time to chat, if you bought a copy of the book, then you have my undying love, and if you torrented the film, then I hope your tiny genitals shrivel and die 😉 winky face!
The year ended with the biggest one of all, the MCM Comic Con at the Excel Centre in London. I was invited by fellow author and all round gentleman Kit Cox to join him selling and signing books for the whole weekend. Make no mistake, this is a huge event; the footfall on the Saturday alone is over a hundred thousand people, and they’re all eager genre fans, many in wonderful cosplay, and the feeling of belonging and bonhomie is infectious. I started keeping a tally of how many books I sold, but then started jotting down some of the comments made by those who visited my stall. It’s a brilliant snapshot of the kinds of people who come to cons, and I’ve broken them down into three sections: THE WONDERFUL, THE BIZARRE and THE HUMBLING…
Comments to make an author’s heart swell…
“Such a cool film, there’s nothing like it.”
“You had me at Robots and explosions!”
“I sell your book in Israel!” A passing Israeli bookseller.
“He’s buying this because he torrented the film after I recommended it!” A punter making his friend buy a copy of the book.
“I’d better get some cash!” A punter, after I pitched the book to them… and they actually came back and bought it!
“I’m Chris Lunt’s agent!” Chris is the show runner on the TV version of Robot Overlords!
“This is our first comic-con…” A slightly overwhelmed father and son (who bought a copy of the book).
“Can’t remember the last time I bought a book…” And he bought a copy!
“Where does the food come from? Where’s the booze? Can you imagine a completely dry country? It’ll never work!” A punter trying to pick holes in the premise. He bought a copy after I reassured him that we’d thought all this stuff through and that there was plenty of illegal hooch in a Robot-occupied UK.
“Dystopia is, like, my favourite, evah…” A wonderfully stereotypical emo teen.
“If it’s rubbish, I’m coming back.” A punter after buying a copy. He didn’t.
“I love your film!” Several people. I love you, too.
From the adorable to the baffling…
“Do you mind holding my bow while I go for a wee?” A Katniss cosplayer.
“If he finishes it, he gets fifty quid!” A father determined to get his son reading books. Who am I to argue with this carrot-on-a-stick version of parenthood?
“Everybody’s sucking Chinese dick.” A fellow writer/illustrator on the current state of Hollywood film production.
“I hate to be the person who asks where another table is…” Several people who mistook me for an information desk. I was happy to help…
“Oh my God! Monkey Magic!” A punter who was distracted mid-pitch by some fantastic Monkey Magic cosplay.
Comments to bring the ego down to Earth with a bump.
Now, bear in mind that these comments came from folks standing right in front of a table with two showcards featuring the book, big piles of the book, and a bloody great quad poster of the film shouting ROBOT OVERLORDS in big shiny, silver letters with the release date stated plainly below…
“Is the film out yet?”
“Are they going to make this into a movie?” You never know!
“Are you the writer?”
“I think I’ve heard of this…”
“And that would make you… Mark?” A punter squinting at the showcard, then the book, then me…
“That’s a bit of a cliché, isn’t it?’ A kid on the title. I somehow resisted clipping the precocious little nerk around the ear’ole… Too many witnesses.
“I can’t finish long books.” A young boy. Try writing them, mate.
“When is this in cinemas?” Sorry mate, you blinked and missed it.
“Doesn’t look anything like her…” A punter looking askance at Gillian Anderson on the poster (who clearly hasn’t seen her in anything since The X-Files).
“Free book?” No. Buy one or fuck off.
“I haven’t got any cash!” from a punter after I spent a good five minutes pitching the story.
“I only brought thirty pounds!”
“I don’t read and I’m broke.”
“I’ve run out of money!” Everyone after 5.30.
“You’ve got bread on your nose…” My son, who pointed out that I still had some of my lunchtime sandwich attached to me after I spent a long and futile five minutes pitching the book to a couple who, perhaps understandably, spent the whole time looking at me funny.
I had huge fun at these cons, and sold a ton of books. I’m surprised the major publishers don’t have a presence at these. Certainly plenty of indie authors do pretty well, and I hope to do more in the future. If we should meet, don’t hesitate to ask about the film’s release date, plot holes, the state of Hollywood’s sexual peccadilloes, or where the manga books are sold, just don’t boast about torrenting the film, because I will have to kill you with the bow and arrow that nice lady asked me to look after while she was taking a whizz.
Getting these signatures was no easy task. Jon, Ella and I attended the MCM Comic Con in Birmingham in March, and we signed a few for punters then, but they were all gone before I could grab a spare.
And this was the first I had seen of the posters, which meant that when I was in the company of living legend Sir Ben Kingsley the previous week for his publicity stint, I didn’t have one for him to sign!
I did get manage to get some for EasterCon in April, and clung on to the three I had left over with a cunning plan to get as many of the Robot Overlords stars to sign them over the coming year of cons and festivals.
Next up was the London MCM in May, and this was when I hit Robo-star paydirt. We were interviewing some of the actors for DVD extras, and I was lucky enough to nab Craig and James in between shooting and they were gracious enough to sign my posters. Next up was Gillian Anderson, but her schedule was so incredibly tight that there was no guarantee she would have the time to sign. Indeed, the very second after she arrived, she was swept away for a series of interviews, such is the nature of these high-pressure press days: everything is timed to the minute, and I would have to choose my moment carefully if I was to crash in. Next she had a panel with Jon, where she received fan-love, chocolates, and a proposal from James…
And then after that she was swept away for an interview with James for the DVD. By now, her car had its engine running (she was about to fly off to make something called The X-Files… you may have heard of it), and my window of opportunity was rapidly closing.
Luckily, our publicist Marek came to the rescue and somehow found a gap of 76.5 seconds in the schedule. We threw the posters on the floor, threw a bunch of silver Sharpies at Gillian and while I held the posters flat she kneeled down and scribbled her autograph on them. There was even time for a fanboy pic…
… and then she was gone!
I carefully rolled the posters into their tube… But I wanted more!!
My other targets were Ella, Callan McAuliffe (Sean) and Milo Parker (Connor). But they were all off making other movies: Callan’s made five films since Robots, Milo was away with Gandalf making Mr. Holmes, and Ella had a big costume drama lined-up… But then it got bumped to next year! Her delay was my good fortune, and she kindly popped into the Gollancz offices where we put the world to rights over tea and brownies, and she signed the posters.
So there you have it, fair reader. If you are the lucky winner of this poster, please bear in mind all the times I had to lug a poster tube on the underground, all the miles and miles of Sharpie ink, and all the nerves and tension wondering if I would get those rare signatures. Frame it, prostate yourself before it every morning, give it a dust every now and then, and then flog it when you’re old and grey and I’ve won all those Oscars.
Click here to go to the Gollancz blog to enter (UK-only, I’m afraid, but I’m sure you overseas folk have friends in the UK who can enter on your behalf, and if they win they can pop it in the post after they’ve first gazed upon its awesomeness, yes?)
I’ll be in the Comic Village at the mega MCM Comic Con at the Excel in London. Come along and say hi, ask me about the behind-the-scenes secrets of the Robot Overlords, and get yourself a signed copy of the book (or, if you’ve already got a copy, or a DVD, or Blu Ray, then bring them with you!) this will be your last opportunity before Christmas! (After this I’m having a lie down…)
I’ll be in the company of the splendid author and illustrator of the Union-verse books Mr. Kit Cox (who kindly invited me along with the promise of good times and tea and biscuits).
Now, here comes the complicated bit… I’ll be there all day Friday, Saturday afternoon, and all day Sunday. I won’t be there Saturday morning, because I’ll be here instead…
Join me for a post-breakfast panel (bring your own croissants!) – should be good fun. Here’s the blurbery…
Robot Overlords is an unusual beast: a British indie family science fiction adventure movie starring Sir Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson, with a hefty (for the UK) VFX budget.
Join co-writer Mark Stay to see how this idea evolved from a two-page pitch to a finished film that premiered at the London Film Festival and topped the home entertainment charts.
Topics Mark will cover in-depth include:
Writing pitch documents
Working and writing with a director
Writing for VFX
The perils of British distribution!
Read the script (available in the booking & submissions page) then watch the movie on DVD/Blu-Ray or digital download ahead of the session to get the very most out of this in-depth dissection of one of the most ambitious UK genre films of the year.
This has just been added so grab your tickets now! If you’re a writer, this day is gold dust. If I weren’t already going, I’d be first in line for tickets. Top writers and agents (and, er me!) talking about their craft. Unmissable…
On our week of release, I was over the moon to be told that ROBOT OVERLORDS, the film I co-wrote with director Jon Wright, leapt to #3 in the UK Blu Ray chart, and #7 in the DVD chart. This news came just over 5 years after getting an email from Jon asking me if I’d be interested in working on the project. So now seems as good a time as any reflect to reflect on the things I’ve learned from writing my first movie…
COLLABORATION IS EVERYTHING
I expected a good level of collaboration with Jon and the actors, which was fantastic, but some of the most surprising and rewarding stuff was getting emails from the production design team asking for names for castles, banks, names of towns on maps, the date of birth for our hero for a sheet of paper, all of which are barely seen on screen. This was great fun as you’re made to delve a little deeper into the world you’ve helped create, prompted by a team of people whose sole purpose is to make it look as believable as possible, and who think of all those details that add texture and depth to the environment.
GET ON SET
To be honest, most days on set a writer feels like a fifth wheel: that paper script of yours no longer exists and the cast and crew are too busy trying to make it into a movie to accommodate you. But you’re on a movie set! For a film nerd like me this was heaven, especially on the day we shot at Pinewood, where I strolled around like I owned the place.
I was on set about eight days out of an eight week shoot (they didn’t have the budget to have the writer hanging around, plus I had a novelisation to write!). Jon and I had discussed protocol for dealing with any script changes on set/location, and agreed that he would take care of the day-to-day minor tweaks, but that we would collaborate on anything major. In the end, there was only one occasion where we had to make a major change and I happened to be on set that day. I was despatched to a trailer (I had my own trailer! For a bit…) where I worked on the revisions. I felt very important for at least forty-five minutes.
And the catering. Don’t forget to make the most of craft services. I put on quite a bit of weight.
PEOPLE THINK YOU’LL BE FAMOUS
“You’re going to be famous,” friends and relatives would say. I’d then ask them to name three screenwriters (that weren’t also directors) and most of them were stumped.
Screenwriters just don’t have the same profile as authors. Film is a director’s medium. And authors can’t be fired from their own book, whereas screenwriters get fired all the time, even from projects they originated! This time I managed to stay the course.
DIRECTORS AND PRODUCERS ARE THE HARDEST WORKING PEOPLE IN SHOWBIZ
There’s an alternate universe where our producer Piers Tempest didn’t option the film and Jon and I are musing “That Robot Overlords idea could be a goer, y’know.” Without Piers’ tireless work this film would never have been made. And Jon spent pretty much every waking hour either writing, sketching, pitching, listening, re-writing, answering roughly twenty thousand questions a day before, during and after the shoot. Over a period of about four years. That’s hardcore stuff and I don’t think he put a foot wrong.
ACTORS ARE AWESOME
I had a week of rehearsal with Callan, Ella, James and Milo, working to tailor the dialogue to their strengths. It was an absolute joy to see them take ownership of their characters, and the backstory stuff we worked on formed the basis of the first part of the novelisation.
And then the likes of Gillian Anderson, Geraldine James, Roy Hudd, Tamer Hassan and Sir Ben Kingsley start saying words that you wrote. That’s a series of pinch-yourself moments right there.
I have so many favourite lines in the film, but the one that makes me giggle every time is just one word. “Fecund.” And Kingsley delivers it with exactly the kind of filthy relish we were hoping for.
VFX IS ALL ABOUT TIME
You can do it well, cheap or fast, but not all three. Visual effects is a much-misunderstood industry, not least by me at the beginning of this project. The team at Nvizible pulled off nothing short of miracle bringing our metallic invaders to life on a budget that would barely pay for the Incredible Hulk’s pants on certain other movies. And they did it with meticulous attention to detail in a craft that’s a curious mix of hard science, pure art, teamwork, and all done with a rigorous pride in finessing stuff that might only register subconsciously with the viewer, but makes all the difference. They also have a terrific understanding of story and character. So much so, that I’ve even written a script with one of them.
PREVIEW SCREENINGS ARE BOTH TERRIFYING AND EUPHORIC AND ABSOLUTELY NO INDICATION OF THE FILM’S SUCCESS
We ran the gamut from children running screaming from the room (from one scene in particular, which became known as “the torture scene” by the producers) to others declaring it to be the best film they had ever witnessed.
We had the most amazing preview screening at the BFI Southbank: over 300 kids whooping and cheering and bursting into applause at the end, but we still didn’t manage to get the kind of nationwide distribution we wanted. Why? Myriad reasons, but it largely comes down to money. Marketing to 8-14 year olds is very, very expensive business (probably in the region of two million quid) and there wasn’t a major distributor in the UK willing to take the risk on an original idea. A shame, but that’s the reality of the British Film Industry at the moment.
REVIEWS ARE HILARIOUS (AND NEVER READ THE COMMENTS)
I read all the reviews and you’re soon able to discern if it’s going to be a good or a bad one in the first paragraph. There’s nothing more wonderful than when a reviewer latches on to what you were aiming for and sings your praises, there’s nothing more sobering than a critical review that nails a problem that should have ironed out before production, or might not even be the production’s fault at all, simply a compromise made due to limitations of time and money. And there’s nothing more hilarious than the cretinous remarks by the Simpsons Comic Book Guys who troll the comments pages of Youtube and IMDb and have yet to learn that not all films are made for males aged between 20-35.
The hardest bit has been keeping my mum away from the bad reviews, because she will hunt down and kill the reviewers.
FILM PIRACY IS RAMPANT AND MOST PEOPLE THINK THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH DOING IT
Somewhere along the line, someone managed to pirate a rather poor quality publicity screener of the film, and it was suddenly all over the torrent sites. We should have been flattered that it topped the torrent charts for some time, but the crummy quality of the pirated copy simply does no justice to the film.
What was remarkable though, were the number of people who would talk online about downloading/streaming the film from torrent sites and then tag our Twitter and Facebook accounts in their conversation! When you politely pointed out that what they were doing was illegal they became very apologetic and promised never to do it again, but there’s clearly a vast swathe of the population who enjoy their movies highly compressed with tons of digital noise and diabolical sound quality. Each to their own.
PEOPLE THINK YOU’RE RICH
I’m not. I still have a day job to pay the bills. And based on what I was paid for this gig, I will need the day job for some time. Screenwriting is not a get rich quick scheme. It might not even be a get rich slow scheme. Ask me again in thirty years.
WRITE THE NOVELISATION IF YOU CAN!
When Piers first suggested a novelisation of the film I raised my hand like the swottiest kid in class, “I’ll do it, let me, let me! And I know just the people who can publish it!” It’s been a privilege working with the Gollancz team to write a book that I hope stands alongside the great movie tie-ins I read when I was a kid. And you never know, if enough people like it I might get to write another one.
Mus is one of the most passionate filmmakers I know, and there’s nothing he loves more than a great, heartfelt, commercial movie. Just, whatever you do, don’t get him started on BACK TO THE FUTURE: if you think I can go on about STAR WARS, you ain’t heard Mus bang on about BTTF!
Jon and I had really good laugh chatting to Mus about how we got started and how ROBOT OVERLORDS got off the ground. You can download the podcast from iTunes here, or stream it on Soundcloud: