Inside The Chaos: Rabia Khan and The Pilot Project

“ I have a very low tolerance for bullshit,” states Rabia Khan when we begin our interview. It’s a great start to the next two hours of fascinating conversation as I hear all about Khan, the life that led her into the world of Canadian Film and Television, and her latest upcoming project: The Pilot Project.

 

But before we jump into The Pilot Project, I want to learn more about Rabia Khan. Born in Pakistan, Khan is a child of the world, having lived in San Francisco, Dubia, and England before moving to Canada. She started her professional life working as a flight attendant in British Airways. “I dress for the airport as though I might crash on an island” she remarks- a philosophy she has carried into other aspects of her life- that is to say, she is always prepared. Yet Khan was not destined to stay in world of air-travel.

 

“I lived in the Corporate world as well” she adds, remarking on her varied professional career. Her experiences have shown her that all industries always come down to the bottom lines: the consumers needs, and the resources available.

 

Which brought us to the topic of Canadian Film and Television. The Canadian film and television Industry, which generates two billion dollars annually in Toronto alone, is in an interesting and exciting place. Internationally, Canadian content doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Khan has some strong ideas as to why. “We don’t push ourselves enough”, she explains. “Can you tell me what a Canadian Story is?”

I thought about the question. And I had to say I found a difficult to answer. American film congers up a very specific set of images, as does Indian films, Korean films, etc- but although I have no short supply of great Canadian-made movies that come to mind- I had a hard time conjuring up a general concept of what sorts of films are “Canadian” – without my mind jumping to a series of inaccurate cliches. Khan has a surprisingly response to that.

 

“There is no such thing as a Canadian Story.”  She explains, “What Canada has is a massive collection of human stories.” And when we think about it, Canada is a massive melting pot of diversity, that can pull from the cultural and historical influences of countless places across the globe, as well as from a rich history of the earliest peoples in this country. “I chose to come to Canada, because I could be myself in this country. I couldn’t be myself in my own country. So I am from Pakistan. But if I make a film, I am a Canadian Filmmaker…That’s the best way I can give back.”

 

Khan continues, “The Canadian industry creates very safe content, because we are pulling from the same sort of grants and funding bodies…But if we look at what the consumer wants and work backwards from that, we can see the desire in the audiences for the type of content that can attract private funding, more risks and ultimately stronger stories.”

 

The Pilot Project, founded and created by Khan, is a passionate attempt to address the need for bigger, better, bolder, stories within Canada. Now in its fourth cycle, The Pilot Project is a competition open to all writers in Canada who have a strong pilot script. The script is submitted and put through a rigorous set of criteria, if it scores high on all the areas of consideration (Originality, Clear sense of story, defined structure, etc) it moves forward to the finalist round. Finalists get the chance to have their work read by leading Canadian Content generators in the industry, with notable names like Karen Walton, Jeff Biederman, Adam Till and many more. The finalists also get coverage, notes and feedback from the panel, to help take their pilots to the next level.

 

What is truly special about this particular competition, outside of so many others, is that it is absolutely free. There is no entry fee, no submission costs, and Khan receives no profits from any part of the competition. Neither does the panel. Every single expert reading the scripts is volunteering their time, for no other reason than to help provide guidance and assistance to the next voice of Canadian storytellers.

 

“It’s all about creating pathways.” Explains Khan. “There are natural storytellers with amazing concepts who have good scripts, and might just not know what to do with the story, where to take it, or how to polish it up to get it the attention it needs. And there is a panel of leading Canadian professionals willing to volunteer their time and expertise to help make that pathway possible.”  Khan makes an excellent point. To a storyteller with drive and passion and unsure of how to tap into the world of writing for the Canadian Film and Television industry, the bubble seems unfathomably hard to burst. The Pilot Project seeks to break down that concept- because reaching out and getting feedback from a leading industry professional may only be one submission away.

 

So, what kind of writers should be submitting their work to The Pilot Project? Khan has a clear answer for that as well. “People who understand the craft, and feel confident in it, and have done their homework. They have a solid script that they feel reflects their ability to utilize that craft. They have a Pilot script for an idea and they think this NEEDS to be on TV!!! We want those people and we want those scripts. We need solid and completed Pilots, though. No treatments, no one pages, no bibles.”

 

Rabia does make a point to mention that only around 2%-5% of the scripts submitted make it to the finalist level, but says not to get discouraged by that number. “If you don’t make it to the finalist round, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It means keep going.”

 

The Pilot Project has two categories: 30 minute comedy and 60 minute drama. “It has to follow the format and structure of these two genres.” Khan notes, referring that the complete guidelines, checklist and breakdown for the competition can be found at the-pilot-project.simplesite.com. “Your piece may not be ready to be pitched, or it may need one more polish or set of revisions to hone your craft, but if you have a well structured piece you’ve put a lot of work into, then this competition is for you.”

 

To break it down for all interested writers:

 

WHO: Rabia Khan’s THE PILOT PROJECT (www.the-pilot-project.simplesite.com)

WHAT: A pilot competition, where finalists have the pilot read by top Canadian TV professionals, who will give feedback and notes on each piece.

WHERE:  Open to all interested writers in Canada

WHEN: Deadline opens April 15 and closes April 18 2018.

HOW: Submit your polished and completed pilot script to

The Pilot Project Submission Page

 

If you have a concept you love, have strong completed script for it, and are looking for the chance to get honest feedback from Industry professionals, The Pilot Project is the competition you are waiting for. Luck is what happens when preparation and opportunity meet. An opportunity approaches. Get your pens ready.

 

Inside The Chaos: Breaking Save The Cat (Cinema Structure)

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by Kierston Drier

Today, we are doing something that has been done by screenwriters everywhere at one time or another- but it is no small feat. People have been attempting to crack the holy grail of cinema structure, basically, since cinema has begun.

 

   Well, technically, it goes back to the beginning of storytelling itself. We could spend hours breaking down the Epic of Gilgamesh, or The Iliad and The Odyssey. But we digress. For the sake of time, we are going to move our breakdown ahead by a few centuries.

 

The history of film is long, rich and fascinating, but- to be very brief, the first films came to light in the last decade of the 1800’s and they were total novelties for the common audience member. Animation would appear right before the turn of the 19th century. Typically under a minute long and made without sound, the pull to these films was that they were simply incredible feats of technology for the time. The first film with sound would be The Jazz Singer in 1927, which helps to illustrate the world of early film as being very simple, silent and much more similar to a theatrical stage performance than the cinema we see today.

 

But where does that leave the story? To condense down a massive amount of history, industry, and technology into an impossibly small time-frame, suffice to say- there was no hard and fast rule on “how to tell a story”, in cinema’s early days. Yet, as the film became more profitable and its audience grew, as well as the advancements in technology, stories became richer, fuller, deeper in context and more realistic. The end of “silent films” and the development of “talkies” would usher in a more life-like sense of story telling.

 

Doubtless, there were schools of thought, instructions, books, and guidelines for writing movies and shows, but one of the major game changers was Blake Synders’ Save The Cat, which breaks down the Hero’s epic journey. The book has had multiple reprintings and has topped the charts on best-selling manuals for screenwriting (ex- the number one selling book on screenwriting on Amazon in 2015)

 

Synder’s Save The Cat is an Icon. Primarily because it acts as a minute-by-minute breakdown of the hero’s journey. Better yet, the pattern Synder lays out can be seen in famous movies like Star Wars, Toy Story and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and countless others.

 

But what is so magical about Save The Cat? Let’s break it down to see:

 

  1. The Opening Image (p.1)- The strong, sharp, efficient image that sets up the world of our character.

 

2.Theme States (p.5) -A subtle line, usually by or to the main character that will undertone the main conflict or crux of the story.

 

  1. Set-Up Section (p.1-10)-  We fully meet our main character and see their life right before it gets taken for a turn by the epic story they are about to engage in. We need to make up are mind about how we feel about the character in this section, and we need to see the problem that will ultimately push them into action

 

  1. Catalyst (p.12)- The problem that was hinted at earlier now has to come fully in the face of the main character- compelling them to act. Their world has been shaken and they must act.

 

  1. Debate Section (p.12-25)- The main character must come to terms with their new situation, and battle (either with themselves, their world, or other external elements or people) to decide on the next forward moving action. The outcome must be their decision to push forward with conflict, for better or worse.

 

  1. Break Into Two (p.25)- We enter Act two of the story, and the character is now completely out of their element. Whatever they have done in the plot has propelled them into an utterly new situation and they are well outside of their comfort level.

 

  1. B Story (p.30)- the establishment of a B story takes place. A B-story may have been hinted at earlier, but now we allow some time for that secondary plot to establish itself and hint that it may create more conflict later.

 

  1. Fun and Games (p.30-55)- Whatever genre your story is, this is where the conventions of that genre get played out- Action movie? We have a car chase where our hero is triumphant. Horror film? We have some spooky supernatural events, some deaths, and some narrow escapes. Romantic comedy? Some events that compel us into some screen chemistry occur.  A suspenseful mystery? We have some juicy clues and red herrings that propel us into a certain direction. Bottom line; whatever tantalizing bits of your movie that would go in the advertising trailer- those bits happen here.

 

9.Midpoint (p.55)- The stakes rise! Everything for the character gets more complication. Things will get worse if they don’t act, and act soon.

 

  1. Bad Guys Close In (p.55-75)- Whatever your character is fighting against (themselves, their world, others) is rapidly getting bigger, worse and uglier. Whether the character ignored the warning signs, or the problem itself is far out of control, the Problem now must be resolved or may already be too late.

 

  1. All Is Lost (p.75)- The problem reaches a crisis level and everything falls apart. Our hero has seemingly failed. Whatever they have tried to do has backfired, and they are to blame.

 

  1. Dark Night Of The Soul (between p.75-85)- Hopeless and dejected, they are at their lowest point in the film, emotionally, psychologically and metaphorically.

 

  1. Break Into Three (p.85)- Entering the third act, your character is brought hope, whether it be in a supernatural, introspective and external form. If the B-story hasn’t crossed directly into the line of your hero yet, this is the time for it to happen. The character is revitalized- not all is totally lost.

 

  1. Finale (p.85-110)- In one last attempt to fix the major problem, the Hero summons their strength, armed with any new lessons they have learned along the way and sets off to defeat the problem. This time they succeed!

 

  1. Final Image (p.110)- We close our script on an image similar to our opening, except that it now includes our newly changed Hero, now grown wiser and more mature from their experience. The world, or their world, has been altered forever. They are now the master of their own destiny and now long hurled to the whims of fate.

 

NOW TO BREAK DOWN SAVE THE CAT

 

WHY SAVE THE CAT WORKS

 

– it creates a simple, yet highly customizable template that maps out a hero’s journey from start to finish, including their victories and defeats.

 

-It builds on an established set of tropes that can be examined a large variety of films regardless of their genre

 

Yes. Sure. But WHY does Save The Cat work?

 

This is a highly subjective issue that can be debated till dawn breaks a hundred years from now. This reviewer will argue that Save The Cat works for three basic reasons:

 

1)  It Makes Us Feel.

 

Ultimately, every film needs to do one major thing- make the audience feel.  The structure, when followed makes it necessary to establish a connection between the audience and the hero, which makes the audience care. In between The Set-Up and The Debate we have seen the character go from comfortable- too uncomfortable, to dealing with internal conflict- to making a choice. This natural progression allows the audience time to develop an emotional connection with the character. We may hate them, we may love them- but we feel something for them. This means we have become invested. In short, we care about them, and we will care about their outcome.

 

2) It Utilizes Archetypes

 

Without getting too philosophical, Archetypes are basic concepts that reoccur all societies regardless of time period or cultural differences. Think stock characters like The Trickster and The Wise Elder that get shaped and reshaped in all our favorite films over and over again. The Trickster is Bart Simpson (The Simpsons) is Arlechino (comedia Del Arche) is Jim Halpert (the Office). The Wise Elder is Yoda (Star Wars), is Rafiki (The Lion King) is Gramma Tala (Moana).  They are all different individual characters, but they are built on the same foundation.  And why do these characters keep coming up over and over again? Because they somehow tap into the collective consciousness of human beings as story-tellers. Somewhere in our collective brains resides a comfort in these classic characters that help convey stories, pass along information and tech lessons.

 

In the Save The Cat breakdown, we walk our main character through the steps that turn them from ordinary to extraordinary. We move with them, in secret, and we share their failures and their successes. We have unfettered and VIP access to our hero as they leap from what is average, to what is great. This plays into two archetypes, The Underdog and The Hero, and joins them together. It is a combination that audiences naturally enjoy watching, and the story that develops from it satisfies the viewer.

 

3) It Creates Wish Fulfillment

 

When we follow Save The Cat, as it is written, we begin our story with a character we can relate to. Even in a high-concept fantasy, where we are living in a totally unrealistic world- even if the character isn’t human- the “hero” is still relateable. They may suffer from human flaws or insecurities. Yet they overcome those problems and rise to the occasion to triumph against all odds. It is the concept of the “everyman” winning the day over the terrible foe that makes the story so inviting. The audience wants to relate to the hero because they want to be the hero. They want to believe that they too, could rise to the occasion and beat the odds. The viewers, however, are safe and watching the hero- their hero- win the day in their place. Following Save The Cat means we see the character when they are their most relatable, and watch them grow into the hero. We get to live their adventure with them, and they fulfill our dreams. Save The Cat creates a Wish Fulfillment pattern that makes the viewer feel as those they are part of the Heros’ main journey.

 

So why does Save The Cat work? To be brief- because of its clean, concise and does the equivalent of a Jedi-Mind-Hack on our emotions. There are other outlines that work well too- like Dan Harmen’s Story Structure 101, or, going back even further, Aristotles’ breakdown of comedies and tragedies. And they work too! But we can talk about them next time…

 

Inside the Chaos: How To: Shift Careers within your field

shift careersby Kierston Drier

Are you in your desired profession, but not in your desired career? Maybe you want to be a Director of Photography one day, but you are stuck as a set P.A. Maybe you want to be a food stylist but you are toiling away at a Craft job to pay the bills. Maybe you want to be a writer, but all you’ve managed to get is a few self-produced pieces while you wait tables part time? Or perhaps you’ve had a happy and fulfilling career in one area of the industry you love already, but it’s time to move on- you’ve worked in distribution for years and now you want to be a producer. Or you’ve had a successful career as an editor, but you want to try your hand at writing? How do you make the shift from working that job that pays the bills, to working the job that pays the bills and fuels your passion?

It is not always easy and smooth to change career paths, and it doesn’t always happen over night. But with research, patience, and planning, you can maximize your efficiency in the transition. Below are a few steps to get started.

Know Your Goal. And What It Takes To Get There.

Take some time to envision exactly what you want. It might already be crystal clear, or it could still be very nebulous. Figure out if what you desire is a single goal (Ex: I want to be a writer on a Comedy Show) or something more fluid (Ex. I want to be working in content-creation, in a leadership capacity.)

Next, figure out what skills you need to achieve this goal. What soft skills and hard skills do you already have? What do you need? Can you get these skills through your own research, or will you need more professional training?

Engage Your Network.

There is nothing wrong with learning from your network. Attend events, mixers and social gatherings that are centered around your main goal. Be friendly, kind and polite and read the room. Be curious about other people and their roles in the industry and ask them about their experiences. Even if they are not in the career path you are interested in, there is always something to learn from someone else. People can be invaluable sources of both insight and inspiration. Clubs, online groups, forums, organizations and committees are all great places to begin expanding your sphere of contact as your change careers.

On the topic of engaging your network, be active in the community you are interested in. Are their volunteer or part-time gigs that you can engage in that will help build your skill set or make connecting? Are there industry-related communities that offer networking, mentorships or internships in your desired field? Tapping into these areas may be time-consuming, but a slow-and-steady approach to changing careers can pay dividends as it allows your your network and contact base to grow.

Innovate And Market Yourself.

You have skills. And you probably have some very good ones. How can you turn those skills into marketable products to get you closer to your desired goal? It may take an afternoon (or several) to come up with some unique ways to get yourself out there, but may be the most beneficial tool you have. Make a reel, or a demo, or a strong pilot piece and put it up on your own social media. Host or livestream a reading of your work (or a mixture of your work and others), contact companies you want to work for and inquire about their hiring process or if they have any freelance opportunities. It may be highly subjective, depending on what goals you are aiming for, but marketing yourself is a crucial step.

Plan For It To Take Time.

Sometimes an opportunity knocks and we simply cannot say no. Be prepared to take the opportunity when it comes! Until it does, however, have a plan to help sustain and support yourself while you tackle your new dream. It may feel like having two jobs- the job you work at, and the job you are aiming to work at. It is important to be practical; as the saying goes, Empires are not built overnight. Yet, all dreams that are worth having are worth working for!

It may be hard to get out of a stagnant career rut. In contract-based industries it can be very hard to shift gears, and move yourself forward. It is our dreams and aspirations that fuel or best creative moments. It is rare that the path to our perfect job goes smoothly- but it is all the more wonderful when that goal is achieved.

Inside The Chaos: How To Make The Most of Your Time As A Freelancer

freelancerby Kierston Drier

Film and television production is a freelance industry. And freelance industries are complicated for the people they employ. In one corner, we have making your own working hours, as much free time as you desire, and the potential to make a lot of money when you do work. In the other corner we long stretches without work, the stress of a feast-or-famine work frame and FOMO when multiple jobs come our way at once. And worse still, if we are looking to advance our careers while still getting calls for the same type of work. How do we manage in the high-octane, fast-paced world that is freelance?

As a freelancer who has made a good living in an expensive city I’m here today to share a few tips with anyone is struggling or juggling to find balance in this intense industry.

The 80/20 Rule

This is my golden rule. You see it in lifestyle-diets : eat eighty percent healthy and twenty percent whatever you want. I correlate this to my working life. Eighty percent of the time I spend work that keeps my lights on. I like all the jobs I take but these jobs have a primary purpose- they pay my bills.

The other twenty percent of my working time is spent on passion projects. These passion projects fall under a number of headings- work I do on a friends’ project, work I do for free as a favor, or work I do for lower than a normal rate in order to gain a new skill of polish an old one. Some of them go on my resume and some I do just be help out a buddy. But all together- these are professional or semi-professional jobs I do, that I do purply because I want to. What has been wonderful about this twenty percent rule, is that every so often, this jobs or favors, lead me to a lucrative gig that I also enjoy doing, that can bleed over into the eighty percent of my jobs that pay my bills. That is a wonderful place to be in!

2. Utilize your weekends. Mostly.

The traditional Monday-Friday 9-5 is quickly disappearing. And while some people mourn that, freelancers may embrace it. You may not have a traditional 5 day, 40 hours work-week. You may be working 12 hour days, or you may have shifting schedules that don’t give you two days off in a row. No matter how crazy or unpredictable your schedule can be, you can still utilize these tools. I use this strategy when I’m working a standard set-based 12 hour day with two days off.

Pick two days where you can carve out free time. Even if it is only for a few hours.
On one of these days, plan to do nothing related to work. Seriously. Go out, see your friends, read a book, watch TV, take a bubble bath, go for a run. Live your life.
On the other day, divide the free time in half. Spend one half cleaning up your life, in whatever form you may need- manage your meal prep, check your emails, do your laundry. Whatever you have to do that you can’t find time for when you are working night-shoot crazy hours and have barely had time to wash the sweat off.
In the other half of the last day, do a work related thing that matters to your personal development. Work on a script you’ve been developing. Edit a reel you’ve been working on. Coordinate with creative partners on creative projects.

The bottom line here, is use maximum efficiency with the free time that you do have while still being able to live your life. If you have an off season, where you can potentially have weeks at a time free, have a plan of attack to devote more time to your creative projects.

3. Build Yourself A Float

Another vital rule I utilized early on in my career and reaped benefits from later. I did whatever I could when I had an influx of jobs to live below my means. I put aside a small stipend of liquid assets to utilize when lean months came. This helped me out by cutting down on the stress and panic that comes with the mindset of “I need a job, any job! I have to pay rent!” It allowed me to carefully weigh my options when jobs came my way, and gave me the freedom to choose to the best professional option for myself.

Understandably, this isn’t always an option everyone has access too. Sometimes jobs are scarce and you need to take whatever comes your way. Take the jobs you need, and set aside whatever you can for a rainy day. A good plan in freelance is have two to three months of basic living expenses saved up for when jobs are harder to find.

4. Find An Inspiring Side Gig.

Get a hobby for those dry spells. And make it something you love. Whether you blog about your favorite TV shows, write reviews for a local paper or online magazine, do freelance editing or script covering on the side, whatever helps keep your creative passions sharp and inspired. If it adds a little money to your pocket book as well, all the better. Freelance is all about versatility. Not just in taking on different jobs with different people, but with your ability to be hired for your many professional facets. What starts as a hobby today, can become a marketable and valuable professional skill later.

The freelance game isn’t always easy, but it can be hugely rewarding! For better or worse, our society is moving more and more towards a freelance and contract-based economy. It is a system, but with a little work and strategic planning, you can make it work for you in a very effective way.

Do you have any freelance tips? We’d love to hear about them!

Inside The Chaos: Gems You May Have Missed – Mary and Max

mam1.jpgby Kierston Drier

If we had time to spare in our busy lives, many of us would never be behind on any good show or film, but sometimes even the best pieces slips through the cracks. While it is highly acclaimed (and with good reason) if you haven’t seen MARY AND MAX, do it.

Mary and Max, a 2009 animation drama coming out of Australia has a pedigree of awards long to make even the shrewdest movie goer seek it out. Director Dam Elliot took home the prize of Best Director in a Feature Film, from the ADG for the work in the same year, and the piece won Best Animation Feature Film at the Asian Pacific Screen Awards, and received numerous honors and nominations besides. Yet that might not be enough to sway you to see a film.

An animation with startling and breathtakingly effective visuals, this piece is a lush feast for your eyes. Detailed and subtle, with a charming yet oddly other-worldly tone to it, it plays out in muted blacks and whites with bright accents of color. It’s music, emotive nature and whimsical touches bring it into a child like world of imagination- yet it’s subject matter and emotional complexity is anything but childish.

Mary is a young Australian girl in the 1970’s, who flees from a life of loneliness, parental neglect and solitude by seeking a pen-pal out of the phone book. She sends a letter to Max Horowitz, in New York. Max is a forty-something jewish atheist who struggles with social issues. The two strike up an unlikely, but enduring friendship.

What follows is the true story of two people at odds with a world they do not conform to. And the result is heartbreaking, breathtaking and maddeningly beautiful. Some films are greater than the sum of their parts. We can analyze each character, deconstruct the plot and the style, and brilliant directing- but there is an inexplicable, unknowable quality in this movie that makes it’s line replay themselves in your head long after the final credits roll.

If you love animations or drama, watch Mary and Max. If you love films that will make you laugh, cry and think, watch Mary and Max. If you love films that break the mould and set the standard bar of cinema a little bit higher than they were before- what Mary and Max. Watch it. It is 80 minutes of a life incredibly well spent.
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Inside the Chaos: Cinema writing 101- 5 Things About Overwriting

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Everyone who has ever put fingers to keys on a computer with the attempt to write a cinematic piece has probably had to deal with overwriting. Everyone has overwritten something and it’s nothing to be ashamed about- as long as you know how to correct it.  But in this reviewer’s’ time as a script coverage provider, it is surprising how much, (and how easily) overwriting happens. Below are five things about overwriting you might want to refresh on for your next revision.

  • YOU DON’T DIRECT YOUR STORY

 

Writing is often considered to be playing God to a very tiny universe. In novels, this is certainly true. Collaboration pieces, where many hands touch the work before it is seen by the eyes of the masses, such as stage plays or screenplays, have a slightly different approach. Specifically for Screen writing, the script provides dialogue, setting and action- the combination of which creates story. But it is important to understand the parameters of that confine: you don’t direct the piece.

BASIC RULE: In cinematic writing, you want to avoid overt descriptions of the way a character moves, delivers or reacts to their lines, their micro expressions or mannerisms, or excessive details of their minute actions.

 

EXAMPLE: It is established that Character X always rings their hands when they lie. They are lying in this scene and Character Y needs to find out. Then you can write “Character X rings their hands. Character Y sees.”

 

EXCEPTION: If a scene or line is otherwise ambiguous and clarity can only be reached with a direction, or that direction is crucial to understanding the context of the scene.

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  1.  DON’T TELL US WHAT WE DO NOT NEED TO KNOW

Sixteen years earlier the mother of Character A and the Father of Character B had an affair, but no one knows or will ever find out and it’s all water under the bridge now. Characters 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 are staying at the Bed and Breakfast once owned by character 3’s great-great-grandmother whose husband fought in the war.  The details that make your characters rich, robust histories might be incredibly satisfying to read about in a novel, where we have hundreds of pages to bring out full deep back stories and elaborate web. But Cinema has time constraints. Constraints on the reader, and constraints on the audience. Stick to the story that is relevant.

 

BASIC RULE: If it’s not going to show up directly in the story, then we don’t need to know.

 

EXAMPLE: If it’s important, have a character make reference to it. If it’s not important enough to waste a line of dialogue on, or if the plot is not directly entangled in it, don’t bother putting it in.

 

EXCEPTION: Historical pieces, where details about characters’ based on real life people may, in fact, be needed. Consider adding them into a director’s’ note at the end of the piece instead of building them into a scene.

 

  1. BE CONCISE WITH YOUR ACTION

It is absolutely okay to reference that action in your scene, but you must say it plainly and to the point. Elongating the piece by over explaining the work only hurt the piece in the long run.

 

BASIC RULE: The Best Cinematic writing will create the clearest and most vivid images necessary, with as few words as possible.

 

EXAMPLE: Character X punches Character A in the face. Character A falls hits the floor. Their nose is broken and bleeds profusely. OR: Character X punches Character A. A crashes to the floor, smashed nose bleeding, instantly plastering in blood.

 

EXCEPTION: It is not unheard of to see the occasional flowery sentence in the scene description. Use the greatest discretion with these; one per page is often enough. If you use a more flowery or poetic line in your work, make sure it draws together the scene clearly and purposefully.
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  1. SHOW, DON’T TELL, and TRUST YOUR AUDIENCE

Anyone who has ever had to write an essay gets caught up in over explaining ourselves in order to make ourselves perfectly clear…and fill up those huge required word counts. But you want to disregard that training in cinematic writing. Utilize the power of suggestion and trust your audience is smart enough to pick up the clues. Don’t have Character 1 tell his buddies he’s going out on the town to cheat on his wife. SHOW Character 1 ignoring his wife’s calls, removing his wedding band and offering to buy a girl at a bar a drink.

 

BASIC RULE: Consider how’d you get this information across visually- then describe exactly what you see.

 

EXAMPLE: (After slug line establishes Character is at the Bar) Character 1 removes his wedding band, puts it in his pocket. Gestures for two drinks from the bar tender. Sees a call from his wife. Ignores it.

 

EXCEPTION: “On-the-nose” Lines, or lines that are overtly obvious, can be very impactful and incredibly useful WHEN USED SPARINGLY. Like, once an entire piece kind of sparingly. For an example, check out TV shows like BOJACK HORSEMAN. This show employs excellent and tactful use of on-the-nose lines. They are always emotionally compelling because they are done strategically and with exceptional care.

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  1. REMEMBER- OVERWRITING HURTS YOUR PIECE

 

Overwriting can hurt your work. Excessive or unnecessary details can weigh down the action of your script, making your piece read heavy and slow. The quicker your story starts into the action and more fluidly (and clearly) that action moves, the stronger your piece will read.

 

BASIC RULE: Be clear, quick and efficient. Show, don’t tell.

 

EXAMPLE: *Taken from Graeme Manson’s Pilot script of Orphan Black.

Shower running.  Sarah undresses.  Beneath the clothes, bruises hint at a rough exit from her life with Vic.

 

EXCEPTION:  Historical, fantasy and Science-Fiction may require a slightly full description to establish world building.

 

Writing is a craft, and art and an on-going process. First drafts will always be rough and ideas will always need polishing. The clearer and quicker you can be, the better your work will read.

 

Inside The Chaos: Networking: Keeping in Contact – Part 3

Jesus that was exhausting, wasn’t it? But YOU MADE IT.

It’s not as easy as it sounds!

  • You went to the Event/ Party/ Industry Night
  • You talked to People
  • You grabbed contact information

But now what? How do you bridge the gap between casual meeting and business contact? The last part can be the most tenuous, but also the most rewarding!

This secondary phase contact depends greatly on several factors

  • The context in which you met
  • The context in which you exchanged information
  • The difference in your professional status’s
  • Contextual Needs

Context in which you met:

  • Did you meet at a Party? A wrap party? A swanky professional conference?
  • Did you talk professionally or about only topics directly related to your work or the field in general, or, was your meeting more relaxed and talked about a variety of topics?

Context of exchanging your information:

  • Did you exchange your information because that was what was happening all around you (everyone passing out lots of cards)? Or did you exchange based on mutual interest?
  • Who offered to exchange first?

Professional status:

  • Is this person at the same level as you? Or do they have considerably more or less experience?
  • Are you in directly related fields, or peripherally related?

Contextual needs:
–  Do the two of you have positions that can mutually benefit each other.

What to do:
– Wait for 18-48 hours before writing.
-If they offered a preferred form of contact, use that  (Facebook, email, etc)

DO:
-Personalize your contact with thoughtful details (Ex:
(Ex: Hello (Name) is was so nice to meet you last (weekday/weekend) at (Event Name). I really enjoyed our conversation about (Topic) and (Insert comment on topic). It would be great to  (Bump into you again/ grab a coffee sometime to talk more about (insert topic) I‘d be happy to buy you a coffee sometime and hear more about (Industry Item)/ etc).
– If you have the ability to talk about something other than the industry, include that too!
-Spell check.

DON’T:
-Directly ask for a job, favor or professional courtesy (UNLESS they specifically told you they were looking to hire/asked you to send in your resume/offered to do favor for you in person)
-Use more than one mode of contact (email them AND text them AND add them to facebook. Do this gradually)
-Make off color humor (even if you were raunchy-humored in person, it may translate poorly through text)
-Panic if you don’t hear back. Deep breath. They may honestly be busy, they may remember you next time you bump into each other!

Inside The Chaos: Networking: Conversations Tips – Part 2

We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

You’ve finally made it to that big party/event/social and you desperately need to/want to talk to people for any number of reasons. It may be to get yourself noticed, spread an idea of yours, talk up a new accomplishment, gather opinions or simply make friends. It’s a difficult thing, and as easy as it looks in the world of television, it can be really hard to turn your brain thoughts into mouth words.

I am by no means a conversation expert– I certainly have stuffed my foot into my mouth on a handful of occasions. I have also been on the awkward end of a terribly sentence when the whole room shuts up at once and suddenly everyone important hears the Alphagetti Vs. Zoodles debate you were slightly drunkenly having with your neighbour. It’s okay. It happens.

But I can say that, on just as many (if not more) occasions, my conversation has gotten me business cards, interviews, coffee meetings, important contacts and yes, even jobs. So take this with a grain of salt, but below are my tips and tricks of how to hold a conversation with a near stranger, how to engage them, and, most important, how to get the heck out of there when it’s not going well.

PHASE ONE: Open Your Mouth

This is the hardest phase. Even for an extrovert, sometimes you open your mouth and stupid things come out and panic ensues and you suddenly find yourself running into the valley to nervous-puke into your own handbag. Relax. You’ll be fine. Probably.

At crowded Parties

  • Sidle up to a group of people who you’d like to speak to, stand to the side of them and listen to what they are saying. Notice who is dominating conversation, or if they are all having half-conversations with each other. Wait for a catching note– meaning a topic that you either a) have an opinion one b) want to learn more about.  Consider the following,
  • ” Oh sorry, where you talking about (Insert topic) I just heard about that on  (Insert place, newspaper, radio). What have you heard?”
  • “I’ve seen that (insert movie/show/play/ and (insert how you felt about it)”  OR ” I’ve heard (good/bad/mixed) reviews on that, how did you find it? Did it have a good plot”

Now, ice breaker over, move into deeper things.

  • “That’s a fascinating point, what do you think makes the best writing/photography/technical design/plot twist.  I’ve always thought (insert brief opinion)
  • “Well I don’t know much about that issue, however I always assumed (Insert general opinion on topic you may not be totally informed it. If that is the case, be honest, but acknowledge that you are unread in this area and are open to learning about it) “

Phew. At this point you’ve engaged one or more people in some kind of conversation. Congrats!

PHASE TWO: Develop Context With Your Mouth Words

You’re succeeding in talking to a person or people. You’ve connected with them on a personal basis. Great! Surprisingly, it is NOW that you ask the get-to-know-you questions. If you ask them first time you  open your mouth, you risk jarring the natural flow of the conversation. Insert them casually, and after communication is already underway.

  • So you work in /at/ worked on  (insert industry event, social event name, wrap party production name). Awesome, how long have you been doing that?”
  • *My personal favorite* “How did you get into that line of work? There are so many positions in this industry I love hearing how people  fall into which areas”
  • “I’m (Insert name) by the way!”

Big thing here is ASK QUESTIONS. It generates interest in the other person, engages them and opens up context for you. If you’re here solely to network (Which I personally don’t recommend) then you can fast track to see if this person is someone you would like to establish a business relationship with, or not.

PHASE THREE:  Share

At some point, the person will likely ask about you.  BE HONEST. Suuuuuper important here, do not lie, do not let your “mouth overload your ass” so to speak. That being said, if you are currently in between jobs or it’s off season and you’re a barista at starbucks and you don’t want them to know that, then say the most recent industry job you had.

  • “Me? I just finished up/finishing up my last contract on (Insert show)
  • “Oh, I work in (Area of the industry)  mostly, I worked on (Insert last show)”
  • “I freelance, so I’m really doing anything in the industry I can get my hands on, I haven’t found a job I don’t like yet!”
  • “I enjoy production work/office work/ post-production work and my main focus is”
  • “I work at  (insert company) and (insert title) “
  • PHASE FOUR: Continuing and Closing (or brain thoughts meet mouth words)

    The basics are covered now. You’ve made introductions, established common ground and are in a conversation. Keep it up by using the following tips.

    – Go into every meeting looking to make a FRIEND. Don’t network with anyone you wouldn’t honestly want to have a drink with. Why? Because it’s a business based on friendships. Having a high profile industry contact is well and good, but people call crew into work when they A) know them, B) Like them, C) like their attitude. Being friendly is the best way to get a feel for that. Be a genuine person, with a genuine curiosity about others, and let the pieces fall where they may.

    -Be honest. Talk about your strengths, but don’t lie  and say you are more skilled and better trained than you actually are.

    – Humble bragging is great. But use it sparingly. If you don’t talk about the things you do, people may not know, but once you’ve said it once or twice, let your accomplishments speak for themselves.

    – Wherever possible, and when the moment feels genuine, offer to help others. Ask them to link you to their website, youtube channel, twitter feed and offer to like, share or retweet them. Do this for people who share similar interests to yourself and people you’d like to support professionally. It can be worth it’s weight in gold to support the people you believe in.

    -TALK ABOUT STUFF THAT’S NOT WORK. I know it’s hard. If you actively work in the industry, then sometimes it is difficult to have non-work related things. But talk about hobbies, interests or topical issues. Allow the other person to see you are not a robot, and you have lots of opinions, thoughts and ideas about the world around you, that you engage in the world around you and that you have a LIFE outside of work!

    When you’re about to leave or exit the conversation and you would like to grab the person’s information, be careful. If the person is someone you consider to be VERY high profile, or someone with little connection to you, it may be best to simply shake their hand, thank them for their time and wish them success in future, or comment on working/seeing them around again. That’s it. Then leave. If you see and speak to them on several more occasions in a fairly short time, then maybe you can dabble with adding them to Facebook, it is very context based. Don’t rush anything.

    If it is someone less higher-profile, then a good thing to do is offer them your card, or another form of contact.

    – ” I’m heading out soon, but it was so nice to meet you. Will I see you again at the next (insert event)
    – “I’ve got to go say hi to a friend, but it was lovely bumping into you, if I don’t see you again, I’d love to grab your  (insert card, Facebook, etc. **warning— some people only use Facebook for personal reasons, and don’t add people they just met. Be prepared to offer alternate forms of contact)”
    – “I’m grabbing another drink but if I don’t see you again we should exchange  contact information. It’s always good to know  a (insert their  occupation)”

    IF ITS GOING TERRIBLY WRONG

    If they are a stranger you have never met before and they’re mean, rude, not talking, not making eye contact, giving you a weird vibe, making you otherwise uncomfortable,   best bet is to get a way out. Try the following  – “I’ve just seen a friend I promised I’d say hi to, enjoy the party!”
    – “Will you just excuse me for a moment, I’m grabbing a drink/need to take a phone call/ have to leave”
    -“Hope you’re evening turns around, I really have to get going.”

    Happy mingling, my partygoers!! NEXT INSTALLMENT: Following Up with Your Contacts and How To Work That Room!

Inside the Chaos: Networking: How to Work a Room – Part 1

Like many people new to the television industry, I hear all the time about the importance of networking. “You’ve got to meet people! It’s all about who you know!” It can almost sound disheartening for a young aspiring person in television, as some of us who do not “know anyone” may have felt. Here are some of the tips I’ve found in my travels. I am by no means an expert and when it comes to “working the networking room.” There are multiple ways to talk, meet and mesh with the right people, but if you find some of my tips helpful, take them, good reader!

PART ONE: Getting IN

GO TO EVENTS

-This is where you get out your planner, your phone, and Google and start looking up industry events in your area that are free. Ink Drinks, People and Pints, Relaxing Events, Meet and Greets, open launch parties, etc. Google them, pencil them in and then get out your phone and text your film friends to come! Do this for several reasons. 1) Opening the offer to friends increases your friendship. 2) Going with other film-industry people around you assists your game plan.*

*THE GAME PLAN – Get your friends together and, if you don’t already do this, give it a try (but use caution). When you go to an open event with friends, make sure you both know what the other is doing in the industry. When you start mingling, refer to your friends accomplishments and vice versa. Talk each other up. Get your friend’s name out there. It’s a great way to span your potential sphere of influence. Just remember, do not over talk anyone, boast without cause, or lie. An example: “Oh, you work in post? My friend is doing that at [insert show] and loving it! They are here somewhere. How did you get into doing post…”

GO TO PARTIES

Yes, parties and events are different, of course, but both offer different fertile ground to work with, networking wise. By parties I mean short film launches, film festival launches, wrap parties, studio launch parties, etc. These might be harder to find as not as many are widely publicized and they are typically much smaller, more intimate gatherings. My advice here: if the invitation or opportunity exists and you are able to take it, take it! If your a PA on a show and get a mass email to a team event like going to see a show together or a baseball game, don’t think, “Oh that is just for the upper management!” YOU GOT THE INVITE, YOU ARE INVITED. I once got a mass invitation to a launch party for a show I was on. We were still in prep and I had yet to meet anyone on the shoot. I went and ended up at a party with all the executive producers (the only people who came!) and for the rest of the show, they always smiled, nodded and said hello to me by name when they saw me.

VOLUNTEER

Use your best judgment with this one so as to not get taken advantage of. When I first started out in the industry (the first six months or so) I did a variety of free work for specific credits I was looking for. Some of them led to paid work down the line, and some of them did not. But offering people your time, at your discretion, and on projects you are sincerely interested in, can help create new networking strategies. Offer to read over an idea to a peer, offer a day of PA work for a non-union gig, offer some names for volunteers you know who might be interested in a project or event offer to tweet, like, or promote someone’s idea. Everything helps to instill you as a person who goes out of their way to support others in the industry and that is a valuable aspect in any instrumental friendship.

MAKE FRIENDS

It’s not any easier now than it was in grade school, so I get why that is, for some people, a terrifying notion. But here’s the thing, never feel like you are using people in the industry. I’ve heard a lot of friends express concern that “networking” feels very artificial and lacquered over. I’m sure it can be, but try to re frame it in your mind. Do not look at a person and think, “Hmm, what can they do for me?” Look at the person and think, ” What can I learn from them? What can we learn from each other?” And when you talk to them, sincerely listen. And sincerely care. As a general tip, talk to everyone you can, but network with people who you would legitimately want to grab a non-work-related beer with.

Part Two: Conversation Tips for Networking will be coming up next time

Inside The Chaos: 5 Rules for Your Short Film

We’ve all heard it before – your short film is a calling card for your work in your industry. A highlight reel of your best work. Many of us come out of school having made one, or on our way to making one. We often pour our hearts, hopes, souls, and paychecks into their creation. But are they good?

Today we will be analyzing the very first step of making a film: Crafting the script. Below are five major things that help shape a good script into a great script.

*Note: Rules are meant to be broken. There will always be films that make it big that transgress the general rules. But it is also true that the elements below will be found in more successful films than not.

effeciency.jpg1. EFFICIENCY

Bow down before this God. Your film must be efficient. What does that mean? The baseline definition follows ” to accomplish something with the least waste of time and effort; competency in performance” (Dictionary.com)

What does that mean for your short film? There must not be a wasted line, useless character or excess action. Every act and every sentence must do one of three things 1) assist in the goal 2) conflict with the goal 3) Pass on crucial information.

Even in comedy, where banter can be a source of humor, that banter must be directed towards the task at hand, and it must resolve with information being passed.

Consider Abbott and Costello’s Iconic “Who’s on First” sketch. This piece is nothing but quick and witty banter about a confused identity, but at the center, both characters are attempting to pass along vital information. Every line either assists that goal, conflicts with that goal, or passes on information.

originality.jpg2. ORIGINALITY

This is a tricky one. It can be argued that there are no new ideas. And countering against that, film genres like Romantic Comedies have been successfully exploiting the same plot arch for decades. Bottom line: Make sure your idea hasn’t been done before. And if it has, look for a way to get your emotional goals across in a slightly different way.

Research your concept! Has it been done before? If it has, find out how well it worked and why? How can you make your concept be the story you want to tell, without being a story that has already been told.

spoon feed.jpg3. DO NOT SPOON FEED YOUR AUDIENCE

A classic rule of cinema is “show, don’t tell”. Don’t tell us character X is having money problems. SHOW character X’s credit card being declined at the grocery store, show them digging in their pockets for bus money, show them walking past a pile of “urgent” bill notices in their hallway. Trust the audience. They will get it.

make us feel.jpg4. MAKE US FEEL

Like any true art form, there is some unknowable sense of magic in this element. I once went to a stand-up comedy class where the teacher said, “I cannot make you funny. But if you are funny, I can teach you tricks to make your funnier.” This is, essentially, the same deal. From the most novice writer to the most advanced, this is the jewel of a short film.

Whatever you are writing- comedy, tragedy, drama- we need to care about the character’s goal. We may hate them, we may love them, we may want them to win, we may want them to fail- but we, as the audience, need to want something from the character and their goal.

How exactly does a writer accomplish this? It is a highly subjective debate. But it starts making the character unique and still relatable. If your character is a jerk, they need to be a jerk in a way that everyone in the audience can relate to. If they are unknowable and horribly evil, they need to have a moment early on where they imply their reasons for being evil- and they have to be understandable, even if horrible. (Ex. “There is no good and Evil. Only power and those too weak to seek it”) If they are the dramatic hero, we need to see a human element of the hero within ourselves.

It is a tricky thing to accomplish, but if your work can make us feel, you have accomplished your primary goal.

take risks.jpg5. TAKE RISKS! (but educated ones)

Take some risks! Start your piece in the middle of the action. Make your main character a deplorable villain. Leave us on a cliffhanger or twist ending- but make sure these risks are measured, educated and, most importantly, well executed.

Your film should have one major over-arching goal: Leave the viewer with a feeling. You can take chances in your attempts to get there. The only guideline is to make sure those chances work. Want your characters to have a big twist ending? Great! Make sure it works sensibly and clearly, and that twist is air tight.

CLOSING

Short films are their own unique beasts, but a good short film can scream out to the industry that you are a professional who knows your stuff. These five guidelines are good ground rules for anyone taking the initial steps in crafting a film