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I am delighted to announce that my new play, “The Empty Charcoal Box” will open the new season at Oran Mor on Monday August 28th.
“It all started with the empty Charcoal Box. But that’s not where it started for Eddie. For Eddie, it started with Sonja Kristina……”
“The Empty Charcoal Box” is the tragi-comic story of how a long-hidden event of extreme violence 45 years ago has haunted the lives of three Ayrshire Schoolboys ever since. A contemporary crisis mean that Billy, Eddie and Deansy are finally forced to confront that age old question which determines our path to wisdom: Should we look backwards to try undo our mistakes, or forwards and try not to repeat them?
The play will be directed by myself and will feature three of Scotland’s most talented actors, Ryan Fletcher, James McKenzie and Gavin Jon Wright.
The play will use sound, movement and live music to tell this darkly comic tale of guilt, retribution and rebirth. Amongst others it features the work of Curved Air, Pink Floyd, John Kongos, Sham 69 and The Ramones.
Ryan Fletcher has most recently been seen on the stage as Phil McCann in “Cuttin’ A Rug” at the Citizens and in “Milk” at The Traverse, and has appeared in “River City” , “Gary Tank Commander” and “The Limmy Show” on the small screen.
Gavin Jon Wright is just back from the US tour of “Titus” where he played the title role. He played “Spud” in Trainspotting at The Citizens, and features in the role of Hugh Kirk in the recent three part ITV Drama “In Plain Sight”.
James McKenzie was last seen onstage at the Oran Mor and The Traverse as John Wilkes Booth in “His Final Bow” . He also appeared in the NTS production “Rites” and will be familiar to “River City” fans for his role as Gary Trenton.
The play runs from August 28th till September 2nd.
Full programming and booking details here at Play, Pie & Pint
Over the last 4 years, the University Of The West Of Scotland has hosted regular Weds Afternoon collaboration workshops in our TV studios at UWS Ayr.
In that time over 400 participants, the majority of them International Students from countries all over the world have participated in the workshops. These student volunteers have collaborated together to record, edit and present the work of the BA(Hons) Contemporary Screen Acting Degree students .
Full details of the StudioLab process can be found here
I am pleased to announce that next Wednesdays StudioLab will be the 100th session . We will have a film crew down to record events . Look out for details of how we plan to celebrate our 100th Birthday .
Contemporary Screen Acting Students in our recent Rail Safety project
Just got this on the hotline from my colleague Dr David Manderson
“Congratulations to Kirsty McConnell, a graduate of last year’s Honours Screenwriting/Film-Making degree, for winning first prize in the London Screenwriters’ ‘Fifty Kisses’ short film script competition for her short script ‘Enough.
You can read her script and the judges’ comments here:
Well done Kirsty! A career beckons.”
I have wrtitten previously about the setting up of our UWS collaboration project “Studio Lab” at our new Television Studios at University Of The West Of Scotland in Ayr . We have now reached Week 3 of the project and it is developing at a breathtaking pace.
Ten 4th year (level 10 ) Contemporary Screen Acting Students have worked on creating the scenario, characters and script of a live recorded studio production of approximately 30-60 mins in length. Readers will, I hope, appreciate that this is a substantial piece of work.It will be recorded “as live” at UWS Ayr Studios on December 5th. It will be directed by professional TV Director Michael Hines , who as well as being one of Scotland’s leading directors, also lectures on our Camera Acting Techniques and Screen Drama modules. All the improvisational materials and exercises are being been recorded , edited and disseminated online to the performance team by volunteer Film Making & Screenwriting students as part of this crossover collaboration. The volunteer recording team have put in literally hours of work to ensure that the acting team have the material in an edited form in order to reflect, and then deepen the characterisations which will be eventually reflected in an improvised shooting script to prepare for the live recording.
As the project progresses closer towards shooting, Broadcast Production students will become more involved, so that by the time we record, I expect a team of about 20 strong production team to be part of the behind the scenes efforts to capture the live recording of this experimental drama. Thus around 30 UWS Creative Industries students will have had the chance to take part in an authentic hands on experience which we hope will arm them for the challenges of the Professional Creative Industries.
We have now reached week 3 of the project. So far students have worked on Object, Situation and Interactive improvisations. This has produced approximately 3 hours of edited material. The first part of each session is taken up by watching, discussing and reflecting upon last weeks material. All the edited material has been previously posted on a closed Facebook Group where all the participating students, both voluntary and assessed, take part in creative online discussions through the week.Screen Acting students are tasked with creating three dimensional authentic characters with a backstory, personna, and psychological underpinning which will propel them into the creation of a fully integrated live drama.
Having now gathered a wealth of material, students are engaged in the process of “locating” the precinct within which the final production will be based. Will it be an airport? An institution? A city street? A Spaceship? Inside John Malkovich’s head? The decision of what, where and how the precinct will be will evolve over the next two weeks, so that by week 6, students have a firm grasp of the creative parameters of the project. By weeks 7 and 8, the now located script will be further improvised, developed and honed. At this point, UWS Screenwriting students will distill all the material into a developing script, so that by the time we get to the Technical Rehearsal in Week 10 on Nov 28th, we will have an agreed shooting script which fully reflects the creative input of all participants. We are then planning a final screening in our Campus HD 7:1 Movie Theatre in Week 12.
Next trimester, all the Contemporary Screen Acting students are tasked with writing a 4-6,000 word Ethnographic survey of the lived experience of the entire process. This part of the process is has been devised and delivered by my colleague Dr John Quinn at UWS.
The combination of the two processes, Recorded Artefact and Ethnographic Survey will combine in a 40 Credit Module to complete the Contemporary Screen Acting Research Project. We plan to have all student work submitted in a digital form and be deliverable online in the first ever truly paperless I will update progress with the StudioLab project as it develops.
This is an expanded version of a talk I gave at a Glasgow University Theatre Film and TV Student Employment Forum At Gilmorehill Church On Monday 21st March 2011
Tip 2. Change yourself from a consumer to a creator.
Tip 3. Investigate the blogosphere.
Tip 4. Think Small.
Tip 5. Think Big.
Tip 6. Be Passionate.
Tip 7. Network.
Tip 8. Hang out with creatives.
Tip 9. Be Flexible,
Tip 10.Have a backup plan.
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.
Due to the three year success of workshops at Write Camera Action, with such fantastic writing, talented cast and enthusiasm from all directors/producers and participants involved, it has sparked some amazing collaborative no/low-budget projects being made. WCA would like to encourage and support more independent productions with two new initiatives:
1. Open Script Competition
All scripts entered will be given feedback. A winning script will be voted by the panel to be produced sourcing cast and crew from WCA and affiliated groups, with equipment provided by Moniton Pictures. The finished film will be ready for festival entry and be a calling card for all parties involved, with the writer retaining copyright of all material included.
Submissions open from 18th Oct. 2010. Deadline closes 14th Jan. 2011. The entry fee of £15 per script will generate the funding to produce the winning script. More than one entry is not only allowed – it’s applauded! The winning script will be announced at WCA networking night at CCA on 29th Jan. 2011. Entry criteria and more details on request from
2. WCA presents a night of Film screenings & Networking
A lot of you have embraced the ethos of WCA and have formed collaborations to get those ideas work shopped at WCA actually produced, with some currently in production, WELL DONE! Some of you are still thinking about it, WELL DON’T! Now is the time to get them made, get them finished and let’s show them! WCA announces an evening of film screenings from WCA collaborations to be held on Friday 22nd April 2011 at the CCA with networking at the CCA bar afterwards.
The evening will be open to the public with specially invited industry guests. It will be ticketed to generate two cash prizes, 1) for the winning film voted for on the night by the guest panel, and 2) the winning film of the public vote from the audience. More details and reminders next year but this early announcement will allow people to get their films finished and/or into production in time to enter.
Submissions open from 30th Nov. 2010. Deadline 31st March 2011. Collaboration can mean utilizing mailing list, casting, crew, work shopping etc. Entry criteria and more details on request from Tickets £10, limited and available from CCA Box Office.