Monthly Archives: November 2011

Cutty Sark blended scotch whisky scholarships 2012

I had this via email this morning, not particularly useful to me since I live about as far from Scotland as it’s possible to get (without living further away) and am not Scottish; but it may be of use to some of you:


We are now seeking nominees for Cutty Sark Scholarship’s 2012!

Are you an emerging Scottish or Scottish based Filmmaker?

Then perhaps we have the opportunity you have been looking for…

Cutty Sark Blended Scotch Whisky, in partnership with EIFF and Arts & Business, is offering three emerging Scottish filmmakers the opportunity to attend a film festival of their choice. The scheme is designed to allow filmmakers to challenge financial constraints that may prevent them from attending key festivals, and to use these events to their maximum potential in promoting their film projects and establishing industry contacts. This opportunity includes flights, accommodation, subsistence and a full festival pass.

To apply please see the EIFF CUTTY SARK BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY SCHOLARSHIP Application Form, making sure you complete all sections and follow all instructions. Please also make sure you have read the Application Guidlelines clearly before applying.

How do I apply?

Complete an application form and send with:

• A biography/experience and achievements

• A completed equal opportunities monitoring form

Applications and all supporting documents should be sent by e-mail to: with ‘Cutty Sark Scholarship’ in the subject header. Unfortunately we will NOT be able to accept applications sent by Fax or Post.


If you have any questions on the application process, please contact

Cutty Sark and Film

The Cutty Sark Scholarships are part of the brand’s commitment to film and filmmakers. Cutty Sark is a major partner to the EIFF and supports many other initiatives that nurture film making talent.

For more information visit:

Categories: Opportunity | 4 Comments

Fade In (Redux)

Three weeks ago, I wrote a post about Fade In scriptwriting software  – this post, in fact:

The headlines were:


Works similarly to Final Draft including all the bits I don’t use.

Can open .fdx .rtf, .pdf and .celtx

You can specify the page size instead of relying on printer settings.


Syncs with Dropbox

Android and iPhone app so you can write on your phone.

App also syncs with Dropbox so you can seamlessly move from one to the other.


No ruler for easy line tweaks.

No button for quick case change.

Page count discrepancy when converting from .fdx to .fadein and back (which I guessed was to do with the defaults in the demo version).

About five days after I wrote the post, Kent Tessman (the developer) dropped me a line about the review. We had a brief email exchange and that was pretty much that.

Or so I thought.

Yesterday (two weeks later) I got another email telling me the latest version of Fade In has the ruler and the case change button.

Just to clarify this: at that point I hadn’t bought Fade In, I’d just tested the free demos. Nor had I actually contacted the developer to complain or suggest new features, it was just an unsolicited review on a blog normally full of swearing and producer-induced frustration.

I don’t know about you, but I love that kind of pre-emptive support. Adding features to a program, not on request, but on the vague, rambling whim of a guy who isn’t even a customer? Come on, that’s pretty good!

So I’ve bought the full versions now and I love them. The ruler is actually slightly better than Final Draft’s – you can see out of the corner of your eye what the margins are. The workflow between PC software and Android app is seamless – I can close a script on my laptop and immediately carry on on my phone – love that.

The page count thing is nowhere near the issue it appeared in the half-featured demo version. There is a slight discrepancy; but it’s about 3 pages over a 100 page script which isn’t the end of the world. I think it’s because the Courier Final Draft font is slightly wider spaced on Fade in than it is on Final Draft. Dialogue is pretty much the same; but action can creep onto the next line.

However, the bonus way of looking at this is if you write in Fade In, when you save it as an .fdx you actually reduce your page count.

Mind you, that’s assuming the producer has got his printer set for the right paper and they’re using the right version of Final Draft – different versions seem to display scripts differently anyway. One project I was working on, the script was jumping from 93 pages on my machine to 152 on the line producer’s.

Turns out the Courier Final Draft font was mysteriously missing from their machine and Final Draft was randomly selecting a different font. They just thought I was a moron who liked to write in a unique font in a pathetic attempt to be different.

So a couple of pages difference? Neither here nor there.

And there you go, I’ve switched to Fade In and so far it’s working really well. There’s a free demo of both program and app, and the actual program is dirt cheap anyway. If you’ve got time or haven’t yet settled on a writing program, you should give it a go. I’d love to hear what you think.

Categories: My Way, Software | 8 Comments

Free books!

I had a clear out the other day and donated/sold an entire bookshelf’s worth of books … without leaving any space on any shelf in the house afterwards.

Which should tell you how cluttered the bookcases had become.

You see, I’ve always wanted my own library. A private one, obviously. I don’t want the general riff-raff wandering in and getting their grubby claws on them. Something like this would be nice:

Basically, the sort of thing which involves killing a large forest and several cows to make.

In preparation for the glorious opening of my fictional library, I’ve collected a lot of books. Some I’ve bought, some I’ve been given but most I just find lying around on planes and trains … but rarely automobiles. Generally, if you have to smash a window with a brick to ‘find’ a book … best to leave it there.

The upshot of this is a lot of creaking from bowed Ikea bookcases and a hell of a lot of books I will never, ever read. I used to read everything I found, fact or fiction; but then life got in the way. Now, I’m selective and probably worse off for it.

Actually, the penultimate upshot is a boot full of books destined for a charity shop.

The final upshot is an offer to you, yes you!

Among the piles of books by briefly popular crime authors are five scriptwriting books. These ones I have read and they all have something useful to add; but I’ve read them now and aren’t particularly interested in reading them again. I think a few of these may have been review copies, the others I bought; but regardless of their origin, their final destination is in your hands.

Basically, I don’t want these. If you want them, I will post or hand them to you free of charge. The books are, as follows:

And for those of you reading this on something which strips out pictures:

Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

The Sequence Approach by Paul Joseph Gulino

Writing Drama by Yves Lavandier

Your Screenplay Sucks! by William M. Akers

Celtx: Beginner’s Guide by Ralph Roberts

These are the rules:

  1. The books are free to anyone who leaves a comment on this post saying they want them (unless postage to your country is so expensive it’s cheaper for me to order them for you off Amazon. In which case, you can’t have any).
  2. If only one person wants all five, you can have all five and well done you.
  3. If more than one person wants the same book, then I’ll pick the one I like the best based on how much your comment tickles me or whether I’ve seen you being nice to people on the Internet.
  4. If you want more than one and your first choice isn’t available … don’t fucking cry about it, that’s just life.
  5. If no one wants any of them, they’ll go straight to the charity shop.
  6. I’ll post them when I can be arsed, which will probably be in December.
  7. Probably.
  8. If I forget or change my mind, sorry. I probably won’t.
  9. Probably.
  10. Anything else which gets me out of being held legally responsible for trying to be nice to people who might get shitty and litigious.

So there you go, free stuff. Have at it!

Categories: Opportunity, Someone Else's Way | 10 Comments


I’ve just read Michael Piller‘s unpublished manuscript Fade In: From Idea to Final Draft – The Writing of Star Trek: Insurrection … and it’s awesome.

Seriously, if you haven’t read it, you really need to track down a copy. Oh look, there’s one there.

It’s a really candid and in-depth account of what it’s like to spend two years writing a film which turns out to be merely adequate. Some people loved the film, some people didn’t. Some say it’s just an extended TV episode, others say it’s a victim of the curse of the odd numbered Trek films.

That last bunch can, of course, fuck right off. Odd-numbered curse my withered arse-muffin.

Whatever your view on Star Trek: Insurrection, this account shows you how much work goes into every film and (hopefully) allows you to understand why vitriolic statements can be needlessly hurtful and upsetting. #

There’s no apology for the way the film turned out, neither is there any finger pointing or real opinion on the finished product. It’s just a study of how a film goes from idea to screen via the minds of everyone involved. Along the way it illustrates how an initial idea can be subtly altered by the wishes of the producer/director/cast/heads of department/budget without anyone actually behaving stupidly or with anything less than the best interests of the picture at heart.

The lesson it drove home for me is one I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while – trust your instincts.

Unless your instincts tell you the first draft is a flawless work of art; in which case, take your instincts outside and give them a damn good kicking for they are stoopid.

The instinct I think you should always listen to is this:


All too often I’ve fretted over a scene or sequence in a script during a restless night. In the morning, I re-read the script from the beginning and convinced myself the problem isn’t a problem in context.

But it is. If you think it needs work, it does.

I’ve even handed a script in saying I didn’t think it was right and was a rough interim draft … only to be told it was perfect and a work of genius. Obviously, you don’t argue with that kind of opinion; but you should.

If you think it needs work, it does.

On that occasion, the other producers got hold of the script, (rightly) tore it to shreds and hired someone else.

Don’t listen to other people (unless you really, really trust them), don’t let you talk yourself out of it because it seems like a lot of work. Seriously, if you think it needs work, it does.

Tattoo that on your face.

Then get a couple of mirrors set up over your desk so you can read it.

The vague feeling it isn’t working is a warning sign – don’t look for reasons why that instinct might be wrong, look for ways to change the script. Even when no one else on the production thinks it’s a problem – it is.

Unless it isn’t. In which case, don’t bother; but do bother to read Michael Piller’s manuscript – it’s a fantastic read and highlights exactly how much of a dude Patrick Stewart is.

In fact, the only time you shouldn’t listen to your instincts is when Patrick Stewart tells you you’re wrong. Tattoo that on your face:


Except, you know, when he isn’t.

Categories: Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | 3 Comments


The Strippers vs. Werewolves promo has spread across the net and seems to be generating a fair bit of interest. This is it, if you haven’t seen it yet:

Some of that interest is positive, some of it’s negative.

Some people chuckle at the concept and are expecting a comedy. Some people salivate at the implication of nudity (because it’s sooo hard to see moving images of naked women in the 21st Century) and are expecting to be aroused.

Some people pour scorn on what they perceive to be a badly made serious film. A few even get very irate when they realise the film didn’t have a huge budget and seem to be of the opinion films shouldn’t be made for anything less than millions.

I kind of expected all these opinions, to be honest; but the opinion I find odd is the aggressive hatred aimed at some members of the cast for being *gasp* ex-soapstars.

It’s very weird. The press love ex-soapstars. So do a lot of real-world people, you know, the ones you can actually meet and interact with. Show them a trailer with some recognisable faces in and they get excited. But not online. Online (or at least the portion of online folk who comment on horror-comedy promos) think ex-soapstars are scum and proof-positive the film-makers are scraping the bottom of the barrel.

There’s this idea that once an actor leaves a soap, they’re unable to get work again. Yes, that’s sometimes true; but then the default status for most actors is unemployed – it’s not a condition reserved for ex-soapstars.

From a UK film-maker’s point of view, soapstars (ex or otherwise) are a good thing. They increase the likelihood of financing and distribution, garner a lot of press coverage *and* they can act.

Apparently, some people dispute the acting part; but I think that’s unfair.

Okay, so the truth about actors is the same as it is for writers. Possibly even more so: line up 1000 actors and you’d be lucky to find one who can act.

If you can remember your lines and frown on cue – congratulations! You’re in the top two percent of actors!

Given the sheer volume of bad actors in the world (including all the people who say they’re actors despite never having acted in anything) and it’s statistically correct to round it up and say all actors are bad actors.

But not actually true. There are also a lot of good actors in the world.

Competition for roles in soaps is intense, it’s not like they can’t afford to pick and choose. A lot of already well established actors have their favourite soap and would love a guest role. You don’t get a role in a soap if you *can’t* act.

That’s not to say all soap actors are great actors either. In the same way not all painters are great painters – just because you’re not a genius who resonates throughout the ages, doesn’t mean you’re not good.

One thing soap actors are good at is getting it right quickly. The nature of the soap environment means they have little time to learn their lines and have to nail it in as few takes as possible.

By comparison, theatre actors may have months to learn their lines and weeks to rehearse. Film actors may have to learn their lines overnight but have multiple takes to get it right.

The script on a film can change massively between the first day of shooting and the last. Actors change, locations fall through, whole sequences are dropped because the schedule is too tight – it’s in a constant change of flux.

The schedule on a low-budget film (and in the UK, they’re all low budget) doesn’t allow for multiple takes. You rarely get time to film the whole script, let alone shoot extra improvisation takes.

The best actors, from a UK film-maker’s perspective, are ones who can take a script at short notice and perform it to a the best standard possible in very few takes. Ones who’ve had years of practice of working in high-pressure, time-starved environments.

You know, soap actors.

The fact they come with built in press attention and pique the curiosity of a large swathe of the population is no bad thing either.

A lot of very good films fail to get distribution or never get the audience they deserve because no one’s heard of anyone in the cast. One ex-soapstar generates inches of column space and can make the difference between financial success or failure.

The funny thing about people leaving negative comments about the cast on an online trailer is the cast have done a portion of their job – they’ve raised awareness of the film. Even if a percentage of people hate seeing ex-soapstars in a trailer – at least they’ve heard of the film and at least the film got financing and distribution for them to actually see it.

I’m not saying every film should have a soap actor in it; but I do feel fortunate to have worked with some over the last few years and I love watching the thrill of recognition on people’s faces when I show them a soapstar-laden trailer.

I can’t wait to see who’ll be speaking my lines next.

Categories: Industry Musings, Strippers vs. Werewolves, Things I've Learnt Recently | 5 Comments

Scrivener and me

In the spirit of trying new things, I’ve been playing with Scrivener. Now, I know you Mac people have been using it for years and maybe even some of you Windows spods have been fiddling with the beta for a while, but it’s completely new to me.

Strongly recommended by LVJ director Chris Taylor, I’ve got to say Scrivener is an awesome program. If you’re not familiar with it:

Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.

Basically, it’s a single program which allows you to collate ideas, research and scribbles, allowing you to move from random notes through index cards to an outline and onto screenplay format. It’s fantastic at organising information and does some really clever things with searches and tagging various elements of a story.

If you aren’t already using it, you really should check it out. It’s very, very clever … and absolutely no use to me.

Which probably sounds odd, I know; but I have a process which works for me and part of that process involves not importing information from one stage to the next. I tend to follow the same stages every time:





Occasionally I do some character profiles; but generally I only do those if the producer asks for them; or I haven’t actually started the script and need to knock out something fast which looks like I’ve been working hard instead of watching telly. Everyone works differently, but for me the stages run like this:



This needs to be a stand alone document at some point.

It will probably go through at least four drafts before scripting and maybe one or two afterwards.

Apart from the producer (and, sometimes, the director) it gets sent out to investors, sales agents and all the other people I imagine have to wear a suit on a daily basis. Sometimes, it even ends up on the back of the DVD cover.

It makes no odds what software this is written with, any word processor will do.



Scrivener does this really well. So does Final Draft or Celtx or Fade In … I don’t like to use any of them. I like physical cards I can scribble on with a pen for several reasons:

  1. It gets me away from the computer. Anything which allows me to not stare at a computer screen for 12 hours a day is a good thing.
  2. I can get an overview of the whole film … and still be able to read individual cards. I can’t do that on a monitor – the monitor-size/eyesight equation doesn’t work. If I do it on screen, I can see overview or detail but not both.
  3. I find them easier to move around and place correctly. If I have a card which belongs in the second half of act two, I can put it there with nothing around it and know exactly where it is in relation to the other (non-existent) cards.
  4. There’s something about changing from one medium to another which fires me up and makes it all seem fresh.
  5. Trundling down to Staples to buy new cards/pens is a vital procrastination technique which also counts as exercise. Honest.

I only tend to do one version of the cards, but they get shuffled a lot during the process. It’s probably equivalent to another two drafts.



Again, this needs to be sent out on its own, so needs to be a separate document at some point. It’s as easy to write it in a separate document, as it is to expand the synopsis and compile it to a separate document later.

Any word processor will do, it doesn’t matter.

I tend to refer to the synopsis to make sure I keep the theme and the overall story at the forefront of my mind; but generally I just take each index card one by one and write up the scenes. Usually this process allows me to spot missing scenes or sequences and fill them in.

I try to stick to one page of treatment = ten pages of script … but it doesn’t always work out that way.

The treatment will go back and forth to the producer (or director) a few times, frequently there’ll be three or four drafts before everyone’s happy.



And then there’s the script.

I use Final Draft, I’m thinking about switching to Fade In; but probably not just yet.

I know some people use Word or whatever, but software designed specifically for writing scripts tends to be easier and faster to use than generic software which has been modified.

Or at least, I think so.

I went through a brief phase of cutting and pasting the treatment into Final Draft and then expanding each paragraph into a scene (or scenes) but this made for some really bad scripts.

I find it’s much better to write the script by referring to the treatment rather than copying it, that way I’m in touch with the natural flow of the story and can easily spot gaps in the logic and fill them. I find if I expand the treatment into a script, then mistakes go unnoticed and the story is dull and frequently nonsensical.

I find no benefit in using the same software to write the script as used to write the treatment. I want to take the information from one place, run it though my brain and splurge it back into the computer. It’s just better for me.

What I like about my process is the first draft of the script is actually the tenth or eleventh draft of the idea.

The ethos of Scrivener, one program to do it all just doesn’t appeal to me. I like the ability to keep everything in one project … but that’s kind of what a folder is anyway, so it’s not enough to make me want to use a new program.

However, this is just my process and everyone’s different. If you like the idea of organising all your research in one place and using one program to go from idea to script … then you should definitely give Scrivener a go.

Categories: My Way, Software, Someone Else's Way | 2 Comments

No stupid notes

I know I sometimes go off on long rambling rants about stupid notes and how annoying they are, but the truth is very few notes are stupid.

Sometimes, the ones that sound stupid, the ones that you think prove the idiot giving you them hasn’t read your script, actually highlight sections which either aren’t clear or are just badly written.

If someone asks you why a character doesn’t help in a particular scene when they’ve been dead for thirty pages – it could be the note-giver hasn’t read the script properly; but it’s more likely they just haven’t understood what you’ve written.

There’s a crucial difference there. One is their fault, the other is yours.

Yes, you could argue that if someone is too stupid to understand the script, then they’re the wrong person to make it. But equally, if they’re not getting it, maybe other people won’t either?

Maybe, instead of calling them names, you should just make the script clearer and … well, better.

I’m not saying you have to simplify the story (although you should certainly consider it – you should at least consider every option) but rather you should ensure the events of the story are written in a way which make them memorable and understandable.

If a note-giver can’t remember a character is dead, then maybe that character’s death isn’t entirely obvious on the page? Maybe you’ve had someone loom out of the shadows behind the character with an axe … and then cut to something else. In your mind, they’re dead; but to the note-giver … maybe not. Maybe they escpaed or are locked up somewhere?

Maybe the problem is that the character dies so quickly it’s just not memorable? Or even worse, the character wasn’t memorable to begin with?

And this isn’t limited to just characters being dead or not-dead; it refers to everything you write down. There’s no point getting upset because you think it’s obvious. If any aspect of your script fails to lodge in the note-giver’s mind … then it needs to be re-worked until it does.

I’ve often heard (and used myself) the argument: it’ll be less confusing on screen. The problem with that is it isn’t on screen. Not yet. It has to get from script to screen and to do that, people (investors, producers, actors, directors, distributors) have to like it. People tend not to like things they don’t understand*, it would be like admitting they’re stupid.

Or maybe the note-giver is just an idiot after all? Maybe they are incapable of remembering something which happened two pages ago? Maybe they struggle to breathe and read at the same time?

But you shouldn’t automatically dismiss someone’s criticism as stupid. They had a problem with your script – take that seriously and see if there’s room for improvement.

The bottom line is, someone didn’t understand what you wrote. What’s clear to you isn’t always clear to everyone else and sometimes it takes an idiot to point out the obvious.


* This is isn’t true.

Some people love things they don’t understand.

I’ve had conversations with people who love a film but can’t explain exactly what happened or hadn’t realised the plot made no sense at all.

I’ve done it myself, I thought Transformers was great; but I haven’t got a fucking clue what it was about. All I know is, every time it got bogged down with plot, a giant fucking robot burst into the room and smashed shit up. That’s the kind of confusing I like.

Categories: Industry Musings, Things I've Learnt Recently | 4 Comments

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