Tuesday, 21 June 2016

A Scottish Ode to Ronald D Moore

Part of my job as producer at London Screenwriters' Festival is to help Judy and Guy determine which screenwriters and filmmakers would best inspire and educate our delegates, and encourage us writers to strive on, write on, film on.

For me, and many others, one of the names that immediately springs to mind is Ronald D Moore. The screenwriter and producer has worked on everything from Star Trek, Roswell and Carnivale - all of which had a major impact on my teenage years - to Battlestar Galactica and Outlander - which punctuated my adult ones.

We're super-keen to get him to the Festival this year, and so, to show my enthusiasm, I have penned him a poem - in Burns' Stanzas, no less, since he's currently showrunning a TV series about burly Scotsmen.

(Yes, this is what I do in my day job.)

A Scottish Ode to Ronald D. Moore

Oh thou! A mighty god of TV – 
Outlander, Star Trek, BSG – 
Come doon frae Highlands I beg ye
As Headline Speaker:
An L-S-F-16
Guru and teacher.

You’ve touched our lives since we were bairn,
Your bonnie char’cters were our freins,
The Bonding that ensued – you ken? –
We’ll ne’er forget.
You inspired us to take up pen,
Gold standards set.

Lang may yer lum reek, Ronald D. Moore
For tho’ you’re Sassenach to these shores
You understand the human cause
And are a king
Of TV shows, of SFF lore,
Aye, everything! 


Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Why do I always leave X-Men films with a renewed desire to become a ninja?

I wrote a blog for London Screenwriters' Festival. Here it is again...

I was quietly typing away last week when Judy, LSF Manager and all-round awesome boss, announced she’s had an invitation from Bryan Singer to attend a special X-Men screening.
Hello, what?

When Judy told us that in fact she couldn’t make the screening, and perhaps Zsofia and I would like to go instead, I all but hit my bonce on the ceiling.

DOYOUKNOWHOWBIGANXMENFANIAM?

And so it was that last night, Zsofia and I headed, with a skip in our step, to Odeon Leicester Square for an advance screening. The little green stickers on our tickets meant that we also skipped the queues, and we were soon shimmying up the backlit staircase to our seats in the VIP section of the 1,600-seat cinema.

We had to hand in our mobile phones at the entrance – they are taking great care to prevent any piracy. However, when you have colleagues with Odeon connections (like Zsofia does), you can still snap a photo or two in the strictly-no-phones zone (or ask one of her very friendly connections to).

Us doing our X-Men thang.

Of course, I can’t say much about the film itself, because (a) I don’t think I’m allowed to, and (b) I don’t want to spoil the ride.

What I can say is that there is:
  • A cool baddie 
  • Some super sad moments 
  • Inspired use of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 
  • LOTS of CGI explosions 
  • The most hilarious slow-mo scene EVER 
  • A hilariously meta joke referencing the Star Wars trilogy 
  • Hair loss! (Sorry, should there have been a spoiler alert there?) 
I do have my qualms about the ever-bigger, ever-badder superhero action movies, and this film does live up to its apocalyptic name. However, I also admit that I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish, and experienced some hair-tingly moments (did they turn the aircon down at points?).

I always leave X-Men films with a renewed desire to become a ninja. My mind will normally go to montages of me pummelling punchbags and doing one-handed press ups. This time, however, I just came out thinking: I want to do THAT (“that” being filmmaking).

So… go see X-Men: Apocalypse, because it will give you goosebumps and make YOU want to be a filmmaking superhero. And then come to LSF, where Chris will imbue you with Wonder Woman powers of persuasion and perseverance.

We can take over the world, guys, one screenplay at a time.

Friday, 29 April 2016

The key to life

… is a fat, black, rectangular thing, with a retractable blade. It fits into the keyhole on the doors of a silver Fiat Ducato, kitted out with a Timberland interior.

Meet Libby, my campervan.*

This photo was taken when she was young and carefree, and sitting atop the South Downs

When I got the job at London Screenwriters’ Festival, I knew I couldn’t go back to commuting every day. Those tiny train seats… those not-so-fucking-personal-headphones… those caffeinanimated undead…

Luckily for me, I had Libby, a magical, moveable home, perfect for my London shifts.

“I’ll have my pick of back gardens,” I smugly told friends. “I can take a morning stroll round Hampstead Heath, or sip my coffee looking out over the Thames.”

My announcement was met with a mixture of amusement and genuine concern – for both my mental and physical wellbeing. “Are you mad?” “Is that safe?” “Is it even allowed?”

“Sure it is. I’ll find a nice quiet alley and…”

Cue rising eyebrows.

Perhaps because of these worries, I didn’t stay in Libby the first two weeks at LSF – instead, I crashed with an old school-friend, Sarah. To be honest, my friends are so kind and generous that I probably could have continued sleeping in spare bedrooms and on sofas in perpetuity.

However, a part of me loved the idea of freedom, of total self-sufficiency, that came with sleeping in the campervan, and so I determined that Wednesday night would be the night.

SPOILER ALERT: MISADVENTURES ENSUE

I’d been invited to the Sci-Fi London Film Festival launch that evening, so I headed to Stratford Picture House, Jeremy in tow, leaving Libby patiently parked on a road in Mile End.

There were drinks, the announcement of the Arthur C Clarke Fiction Award, and the debut of Capsule (a fantastic Brit Sci-Fi flick). Jeremy, who needed to drive back to Canterbury, snuck away before the Q&A, whispering apologetically, “I’m working early tomorrow.”

It was raining by the time I got back to Mile End. I realised then that I had left my coat in Jeremy’s blood blister of a car, and I cursed silently: it would mean I had to go cold for the next few days. I hurried along, getting damper and damper, and suddenly…

“Shit crap bollocks!” (I cursed aloud, this time.)

The key to my new, agile London life was in the pocket of my coat in the back of Jeremy’s car. 

I stood in the rain, without a coat, and with very little phone battery. “Please, Jeremy, it’s an emergency…”

The pub we agreed to meet at was closing by the time I got there, but the kindly barman let me wait inside while he tidied up. Forty minutes later, Jeremy arrived, looking tired and – understandably – a tad peeved. “Want to crash in the camper?” I asked. He didn’t.

I decided to make the drive over to Ealing before going to bed, to avoid the inevitable crush-hour traffic, and I parked up on a quiet, tree-lined avenue at around 1am. I pulled down the leather sofa, threw the duvet onto it, and crashed down – although not before the obligatory first night photos:

I freaked out a bit about the blindingly bright light. What if someone called the police?

Me skulking. 

What I failed to notice at 1am in the morning was that there was a pretty severe camber in the road, so I clung, rather than sank, to sleep. Also, cold leather stays cold…! Next time I’ll put the bedding on properly.

Me yesterday morning

Even with the slight technical issues, I’m in love with my urban campervanning lifestyle. And if it means I get to work for LSF, then I’m not going to complain one bit!

* Tonnes of thanks to my grandparents for giving her to me.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Screening Calls

As a business manager, you quickly learn to screen certain calls; salespeople are more persistent than a drunk guy trying to get laid... and far less entertaining. At the beginning, I was eager to hear about the "fantastic special deal" on offer which would propel our business into the stratosphere. These days, however, I usually have better things to hmm and harr over, like the summer holiday timetable, and wholesale supplies of toilet roll.

My "office"

Apart from rather irritating salespeople, my now-not-so-new job has been a lot of fun. Last month, I finally got a deputy and administrative assistant, and we've also hired three regular tutors, so the Centre is a-buzz.

One of four classrooms

The kids seem to be enjoying themselves (they leave with their grins intact), and they're actually learning something, too, which is wonderful to see. 

I'd be happy enough having left corporate law for Bright Young Things alone. But, in fact, I have lots more to be excited and grateful for, because... 

Screening calls!

Or rather, screenwriting does.

In the months since I last blogged, I've been plugging away, writing, reading, and speaking to people about the film industry. I've been a woman possessed, staying up into the early hours, providing feedback on scripts, and redrafting my own. I've made wonderful, new acquaintances, who have been generous with their time and advice. I've eagerly taken on the role of Project Leader for Create50's latest initiative, Singularity50. And now...

I've got a part-time job with London Screenwriters' Festival!*

LSF's motto: "Do the Wonder Woman pose!"

Bright Young Things, who are as lovely and flexible as this woman, have allowed me to switch to a part-time management role, so from Thursday I'll be heading to Ealing Studios two days a week, to scratch my creative itch. 

Full speed ahead!

*It does mean I won't be going to the Himalayas, but there comes a point (I admit begrudgingly) when one needs to focus.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

50 things I learnt from Create50

I recently took part in Create50’s Impact:50 initiative. For those who don’t know, Create50 is a global competition where screenwriters are asked to write two-page scripts on a theme. For Impact:50, we were asked to come up with stories about people’s final hours at the end of the world. Basically Armageddon without Bruce Willis and a drill.

The competition ended in a flurry on 7th January, and of the 2,000+ scripts currently being judged by the panel, eight are mine. Ultimately, fifty will be chosen to be part of a feature film. The odds are pretty small. 

However, even if I don’t get anywhere in the competition, it’s been an incredible experience. The Create50 set-up - entrants are required to provide feedback on other scripts, and are allowed to upload two redrafts - means I’ve learnt tons and tons of stuff just by participating. In fact, I reckon I can make a list of 50 things I learnt from Create50.

Yes, that's right. FIFTY!

In no particular order...
  1. Less is more with parentheticals.
  2. Sometimes, silence is golden.
  3. "On the nose" dialogue is where your characters say exactly what they mean, and is (often) to be avoided.
  4. The quality of scriptwriting is pretty humbling and...
  5. There is some fierce competition but...
  6. We are all in this together.
  7. Think too much about end-of-the-world scenarios and you'll start to believe it's actually the end of the world.
  8. Especially if you're suffering insomnia due to overexcitement about Create50.
  9. Get rid of those pesky MOREs and CONT'Ds.
  10. There’s no room for passengers in your scripts.
  11. Read, re-read and re-read again for typos...
  12. And you probably still won't have spotted them all.
  13. You only need to capitalise a character's name the first time you introduce them.
  14. Some of the best scripts don't have any dialogue at all.
  15. Have an idea for a story? Now imagine it set in a squash court/spa/bakery, rather than in a living room. 
  16. The little details lift a scene off the page.
  17. Story beats are the points of action upon which you hang your story and...
  18. You should space them out where possible.
  19. KT Parker is the queen of detailed feedback.
  20. A "greenie" is a recommend.
  21. Reading other people's scripts and feedback teaches you A LOT.
  22. There are some vivid imaginations out there.
  23. A lot of sirens go off at the end of the world...
  24. A lot of people have sex...
  25. Quite a few babies are born...
  26. And the ISS gets pretty crowded.
  27. There's light at the end of the tunnel.
  28. The Create50 tribe are awesome!
  29. The Create50 tribe are friendly!
  30. The Create50 tribe are inspiring!
  31. I'm pretty sure Chris Jones must be a machine.
  32. Lone words dangling on the end of paragraphs are ripe for deleting.
  33. You don't need to use CUT TO.
  34. Courier 12 is king.
  35. Kill your darlings.
  36. Constructive criticism is your friend...
  37. So don't take things personally.
  38. I need to watch The Graduate. 
  39. Things get real scary near deadlines.
  40. Like, wholly cow, how many? scary.
  41. It's going to be a tough competition to judge.
  42. Filmmakers are going to have a lot of fun making the final fifty.
  43. People are generous with their time and feedback...
  44. And three amazing women have each reviewed over 1,000 scripts.
  45. The first positive review from a stranger will make your heart soar.
  46. As will the first 5* / Recommend.
  47. Tie your script up tight and make sure there are no loose strings.
  48. Humour is needed at the end of the world. 
  49. Don't try to be clever. 
  50. Say something true.
And a bonus one:

   51.  I FRICKING LOVE SCRIPTWRITING!

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Bello Marco

I flew out to Italy last weekend to run the Florence Marathon. I signed up the week after I left Hogan Lovells, thinking I'd have oodles of time to train in my new law-less life. Well, you can take a horse to water, but when it's cold and wet outside, other projects - which don't require you to move from the comfort of your living room - seem to cry out for attention. In the end I found myself on the start-line not quite as prepared as I'd anticipated, wearing this fetching (and disposable) number:


Still, I'd had a lot of oats and was channeling Paula, and as the starting horn blew, my gaze fell on my target - a bunch of blue balloons bobbing in the air, 3:30 emblazoned across each one. "È possibile" I murmured to myself, my hands balling into determined fists.

SPOILER ALERT: it wasn't.

The first half of the race was great. I positioned myself just in front of the blue balloons, and - since I didn't have a Garmin - found a little old(ish) Italian man to follow.

"Que tiempo te gusta?" I said after he had shot me a third suspicious side-glance. I had already decided Italians must prefer terrible Spanish to better English.

The little old(ish) Italian man frowned at me.

"What time do you want?" I said slowly.

"Tre e trenta," he replied.

"Cool. I'm sticking to you, then." If he didn't understand my words, he understood my gesticulations. He shrugged and turned his attention back to the road. That's okay, I thought. I can deal with brusqueness. Just as long as he keeps good pace. 

For an hour or so, this was how it was. I stuck to his heel, and he plodded on, occasionally looking back to see if I was still stalking him there. Keen to prove I was a nice, normal person, I tried again:

"I'm Emma. What's your name?"

"Marco."

We had swapped names. This was progress!

However, what I wasn't doing was progressing round the course quickly enough. 25 kilometres in, I was horrified to see a sea of blue balloons bob past. "Urgh," I groaned, trying to keep up. But the balloons - and the crowd of runners surrounding them - seemed to be accelerating. Even Marco was pulling away. One metre. Then two...

Suddenly, Marco turned. He glanced about. Then his gaze fell on me, and... he beckoned me on. "Dai, Emma. Dai." *

* During the race a lot of spectators shouted "dai". Apparently this means "come on" and not, as I initially thought, "drop dead". 

I pushed on. The 3:30 balloons gradually disappeared, but Marco didn't. Every time I considered easing up, he turned and said, "Dai."

"Go, go," I told him at Kilometre 30. "You wanted tre e trenta."

Marco shook his head. "This is my twelfth marathon," he explained in Italian. "It's okay."

Marco offered me his water. He encouraged me to eat. He said, "Dai, dai", and pointed to his forehead as though to say, find your inner strength. Marco became my Yoda. My Mr Miyagi.

Marco ran with me all the way in, so that we crossed the finish line together, 3 hours and 42 minutes after we'd begun. I hugged him, and said (at least half a dozen times), "Marco, grazie mille." I felt bad that I'd stopped him getting his tre e trenta. He had given up his own race to help me run mine. I tried to say as much to him.

"It is okay," he told me. "I am happy."

We chatted to each other - a bizarre mix of broken English, bad Spanish and dynamic gestures - as we filed out. Then, "Ciao," Marco said. "See you in another marathon." And, just like that, he disappeared into the world.

I was able to find Marco's full name by looking at the marathon rankings. He is called Marco Bello, which I think is fitting. He is a beautiful human being.

Marco, wherever you are, GRAZIE MILLE!

Friday, 20 November 2015

Days like today

Wowser, the weather this week! It’s as wet and windy as a flatulent arse, and there’s no doubt that winter is coming. Whenever I bump into our lodger – who is from Reunion and rather horrified by England’s climate – she’s swathed in ten layers of clothes and clutching a hot water bottle. “Haha,” I want to say, “wait until January hits.” But I don’t want to frighten her away, so I keep my lips zipped.

However, amongst all this gloom, a ray of sunshine has arrived in the form of Jess Wynter Bee who, although she is now THIRTY (shock horror), is still up for a game of Stuck in the Mud and a “casual” 50km cycle before work. Because a 50km bike ride before heading into the office – yes, I now have an office – is an actual possibility these days!

We headed out at 9am this morning, missing most of the rush hour (hear that, Londoners?), and parked the car in St Nicholas on Wade, where you can join a section of the Viking Coastal Trail. Soon we were zooming towards Reculver, whooping and gushing (just like that abovementioned flatulent arse) about the utter awesomeness of cycling.  

Here’s Jess looking heroic:


We followed the coastline round through Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate, stopping to answer a couple of work calls – no one seemed that fussed about the howling gale on my end of the line – and to take a selfie:

 
We arrived back at the car just as it started to rain. This photo says it all:


Anyway, during the cycle, when we weren’t talking (or whooping or gushing), I thought about the career – nay, the life – path Jess has taken. Jess studied Medicine, and after finishing her F2 year (which, in layman's speak, is after two years of paid doctor work) she and another friend, Nick Shipman, decided to climb onto their bikes and CYCLE ROUND THE WORLD! Mental.

When Jess announced her plan she found that people’s attitudes were mixed. Many were impressed. Many wanted to know “Why?!?!” Others thought she was mental and would definitely, absolutely die. A lot of people used expletives. The hashtag #JessIsMakingABigMistake was trending in certain networks. The idea was bandied about that if Jess were to take a few years out she would somehow fall down a gap (this one without a one "yar" end-date) and transform into a Permanently Unemployable Person. Or at least make it a helluva lot harder to get a good job when she eventually tried.

This was, of course, pish posh. Jess and Nick have now returned to the UK - with all their limbs still attached - and Jess has sauntered into a GP training programme in Bristol. Which just comes to show: it's okay to take time out. Especially if you cycle round the world.