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Hi Everyone A BIG THANKS to ALL who continue to make Write Camera Action productive and fun! and to our host venue the Centre For Contemporary Arts for their continued support and development which I’m delighted to announce now extends throughout 2011!!! Now then, to December diary dates…
THREE DECEMBER DIARY DATE NOT TO MISS!!! Mon. 20th Dec. 2010 at CCA
Calling ALL Writers, Actors, Directors, Producers &
Participants of Write Camera Action, past & present! Come to an evening of entertainment, networking and pure party to celebrate the amazing work achieved over the past year by those attending ‘Write Camera Action!’ including fabulous talent provided by our participants! A light buffet, comedy, singing, dancing, a winning prize and raffle on the night and lots of surprises! Get your tickets, get your glad rags on, and get along to WCA for some festive fun! Tickets (including free raffle ticket) are limited and it’s strongly advised you purchase in advance from CCA Box Office 0141 352 4900. Tickets to be purchased on the night must have been pre-booked for security guest list at the door and be booked via Linda at
Date: Monday 20th December Time: 7.00 – 11.00 p.m. Venue: CCA Tickets: £ 7, available from CCA Box Office. Tickets on the night MUST be pre-booked for security reasons (guest list at the door.) Cloakroom will be available for your convenience.
CYA ALL there – Cheers Linda ))
N.B. PLUS, don’t miss the last sessions for Scottishscreenwriters and Cafe Flicker for 2010:
Wed. 1st Dec.: Cafe Flicker. GMAC, 103 Trongate, 6.30pm. See your short films on the big screen with audience award on the night – priceless! 7-10pm. GMAC for further details on entry requirements & cost tel: 0141 553 2620.
Mon. 6th Dec: Scottishscreenwriters. CCA, 6.30pm. £3 further details @ scottishscreenwriters.ning.com Fab forum for all writers! Come along to workshop, network & raise a festive cup at this last session for 2010 and look forward to all the exctining opportunities that 2011 holds for scottishscreenwriters!
Tues. 7th & 14th Dec & weekly 2011: The Actors Bothy, ‘Meisner technique’, £5, CCA Clubroom, 6.50 pm.
N.B. ONGOING: Short script Comp. & short film comp. see details below
WCA Short script competition. launched on 18th October. Feedback on all scripts and the winning entry produced sourcing cast and crew from WCA and affiliated groups. Entry is now open until deadline January 14th. Further details on request from
WCA short film competition opens for submission 30th November, until deadline 31st March. Any film produced with support or collaboration from WCA can enter e.g. utilizing mailing list, wokshopping, casting, crew etc. Films will be screened at a WCA/CCA night on 22nd April 2011 with invited industry guests and cash prizes. Further details on request from
More snow is forecast for tonight, with no way of knowing when full services will be resumed.
A thousand thanks to the Council Tractor driver who had been working since 4.30 this morning and shovelled above and beyond the call of duty.
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The description of the location of a scene and the way in which the movement of the camera is described on paper is one of the most vital parts of a screenplay. Yet for all it’s importance, it seems to be one the poor relations of the practical screenwriting world. Why this should be I don’t know. Description is the first part of a script a reader sees, and if a script, especially a spec script, is a selling document, then the way that you invite your reader into the world of your drama through describing the scenes is a vital part of that marketing process. If you get the description and the scene setting wrong, you risk writing a boring script that won’t get past the reject pile on the first readers desk.
A script which doesn’t get produced is a dead document. It’s not like a poem or a short story or even a novel. It’s a partly finished plan of a film which never got made; a telephone message never listened to; a technical drawing for a fabulous palace no maharajah ever built. It’s the saddest loneliest piece of work in the creative world. I should know. I have lots of them lurking in boxes and shelves all round my study.
But, wait. It gets worse than this, because if you never manage to get a script actually made, you will never become a better screenwriter. Trust me on this. Only by seeing your mistakes up on screen , by watching them through clenched fingers , do you ever really ever learn not to make them again. To become a better screenwriter, getting the script produced isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only thing.
So if you want to at least get past that fearsome threshold guardian, the first reader, then you have to engage them immediately , and the way to do that is through your description. Make them want to turn the pages right to the end by writing taut spare muscular description which draws them in to your story. I can’t write it for you, but here are a few thoughts which might lead you in the right direction.
But before we start, what exactly IS description?
For me, I think of description quite simply as “what the camera sees”. No more , no less. I constantly see scripts written by inexperienced writers which spend line after line describing incidents, details and action which will never actually feature in the finished film. I don’t like laws and rules of writing normally. Any good writer breaks rules, that is what they are for. But there is one rule which I think you should always adhere to. I call it……
No see? No write!
If the camera won’t see it, then the writer shouldn’t write it. End of.
Pause for effect as your forehead furrows.
“Me no Leika !“ , I hear you cry. “ I am not a camera, I am a writer. I want to drink in and communicate the richness and depth of the humanity I see unfolding in front of me in all these wonderful locations I have researched populated with unforgettable characters I have created acting out original pulsating stories. I cannot be constrained by the arbitary needs of a mere optical instrument!”
Oh yes you can.
You are writing a plan for a film, and films are a technical exercise in creativity, so your task as a screenwriter is to describe and create only what the camera, and hence your audience, will see. Think of your script like an architect’s plan. If you need to design the cellar because under the house because that’s where we meet the bogey man , then put it in the screenplay.But if you are not going there, don’t . From the first scene to the last, you are describing what the director will shoot within the camera’s frame, because that is what the viewer is going to see, and that is what you will describe in your screenplay. That is why the frame is first dimension of screen description, so lets talk about it.
We are organic creatures . We tend to think in tones, themes, loose images, deep metaphors. How do you write about a thing as prosaic as a right angled, rectangular frame? Quite simply this, if you have decided to write a script,( and believe me, it’s not the most obvious thing to do in the world), then you have to think of telling the story within the frame. Here’s how you do it…..
Don’t be embarrassed at this bit. Go to your location,(or one like it ) and stand where you would like the initial point of view to be from , then take your thumb and forefinger of one hand at right angles and with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand, make a rectangle at arms length, and select the frame. You now have a wonderful steadycam at your fingertips. Your job as the screenwriter is to describe what the camera will see, as it moves and follows the action of your screenplay within that frame. But it’s not as simple as that, because not everything in the frame is of equal importance. This brings us to the second dimension of description, the rank.
It’s not vital that you literally know how to compose a shot. Don’t get too hung up on zooms and pans and close ups .That’s the director and DOP’s job . What IS important is that you rank what the camera will see in order of importance. In other words if the crucial content of a scene is that fact that there is a dead body lying in the middle of it, then don’t spend too much time describing the curtains. You are the writer, and you have to decide what’s important in the scene, and then describe it. The director will shoot it the way she wants to , but at least you made the initial decision about what is important in the scene.
But as well as the frame, and the rank, there is a third dimension in description. Yes, you guessed it. Time.
You may not hear it, but from the moment your screenplay opens, a clock is ticking. A timeline starts as you remorselessly tell your story in the present tense as it happens. (and yes, flashbacks are told in the present tense too!). A painting can hang in a gallery for a hundred years, frozen until the watcher looks at it, a poem sits snugly in its book waiting to be opened and read, as fresh as a daisy, but a screenplay is not frozen like that. It is a dynamic document, where each line is a second or two of very expensive screentime, and you have to be constantly aware of the constraints of this.
With that screen clock ticking remorselessly, eating up your reader’s(and hopefully your audience’s) patience, you must master the third dimension of Screenwriting description as efficiently and quickly as you can.
So to sum up Screenwriting Description. Describe what the camera will see, in the order that it is important, and at the time that the narrative demands.
I had a wonderful creative afternoon in Hawick on the 30th of October with my colleagues at the Eildon Tree New Writing Festival. The festival, organised around the Borders New Writing Magazine, is a celebration of the past 11 years of new writing in the Scottish Borders. The three hour practical TV Writing Workshop I held included creating ideas, narrative structure, script formatting and how to get your script marketed in these straitened times.
The workshop was attended by amongst others, a documentary film maker embarking on his first fictional drama, a poet looking to create a short film, an actress developing her career options, three 21 year olds making a sketch show, as well as a couple of novelists and short story writers for good measure.
As usual with these events, I learned more from them than they did from me.
There is a vibrant creative writing community in Hawick and it’s surrounds, and it was a privilege to be asked to share their hospitality in the environs of the wonderful Mill Tower building. I am indebted to Tom Murray, Julian Colton and Carol Norris of the Eildon Tree for their invitation, and to the attendees for their energy and creativity.
There is an interview with me by Tom Murray in the latest copy of “The Eildon Tree”. Page 10.