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The London Screenwriters’ Talent Campus: A Look in the spec pile by Lucy V

Supported by Creative Skillset’s Film Skills Fund, which is funded by the BFI with National Lottery funds, through Skills Investment Funds.

Every time LondonSWF runs a writing initiative, competition or scheme, Bang2write’s Lucy V and her crack team of readers dive into the pile and then later offer up some thoughts on what they found.

So without further ado, here’s this year’s reflections from the LSF Talent Campus submissions … enjoy!

LSF Talent Campus offers 27 lucky LondonSWFers the opportunity to undertake two months’ mentoring on their feature or TV screenplay, along with the chance to pitch production companies and agents at the end of that time period.

Applicants had to submit:

  • A completed application form
  • A one page pitch
  • The first ten pages of their screenplay

So, in other words basic stuff, right? And I’m glad to say the majority of applications weren’t absolute shockers BUT there were still some crashingly obvious things that counted against writers, as well as some intriguing coincidences on story. Read this and weep, my friends …

1) Application Forms

Perhaps because the majority of applicants were British and we’re actively taught to HIDE our lights under bushels, a whopping majority of screenwriters actually TALKED THEMSELVES DOWN. They rated themselves consistently as “poor” and “average” on the skills section of the form, plus many wrote – shall we say – OVERLY honest appraisals of themselves and their place in the industry in the personal statement section.

Look. I’m not saying you should LIE about these things – absolutely not. I’m also not suggesting you should say you’re the “greatest” and come across cocky and arrogant either (because otherwise why would you benefit from this mentoring opportunity!). But you SHOULD own your own writing, career and be POSITIVE. It’s the easiest thing in the world to be negative.

SO: Don’t talk your applications down. Own your place in the world and BE a writer who can bring great stuff to the table, rather than plead to be rescued.

2) Applicants’ Fears

The application form specifically asked what applicants’ main fears were that they felt were hindering their progression, so it’s here they should be honest and I’m glad to say many were … And interestingly, they pretty much all had the SAME fears! These were:

  • Rejection
  • Failure
  • Guilt
  • Worries that writing is “worth” the effort

SO: I can relate to every single one of the above, too – ALL writers go through this, so don’t ever think you’re the only one.

3) Loglines

So loglines aren’t taglines … which writers are finally beginning to get: I think I only saw one or two of the latter in the submissions this year. But far from this being a good thing, I’d actually venture approximately 70% of the one page pitches had NO LOGLINE AT ALL. This is a mega shocker, guys. Always, always include a logline on your one page pitch. That’s just basic.

SO: Don’t forget your logline on your one page pitch! Check out The B2W One Page Pitch Reference Guide HERE, as well as more tips on how to write one, HERE.

4) Format

This year, only a few applications came in that weren’t industry standard format, but there WERE lots of horrible, scrappy presentation niggles on applicants’ pages. The main issue was overly detailed sluglines (aka scene headers), with several screenplays having sluglines that went on for 2 or more lines!! In addition, there was lots of random capping, bolding and underlining going on. Some spec scripts had scene numbers. Again, basic stuff that’s easy to avoid.

SO: Avoid weird niggly format things like the above. Check out The B2W Format 1 Stop Shop for more on this.

5) Concepts & Craft

We scored applications out of 24 and one of the sections we gave weight to was CONCEPT, another was CRAFT. In other words, how marketable it was, but also how clear it was and what a writer’s storytelling ability was like via the pages in terms of character, dialogue and so on.

The average score for Talent Campus applications was 15, meaning the craft was *generally* fine, but many were let down on concept in that they just weren’t clear. This was often in part down to the lack of a logline, but also because one page pitches were often pretty muddled as well.

SO: The Talent Campus is about the business side of screenwriting as much as the craft, so concept is absolutely paramount here. Check out why your concept means everything, HERE.

6) Dialogue

A lot of the pages were chains of dialogue, with few visuals. Many had no opening image, or had very prescriptive scene description, rather than ACTION. This is a shame, because it should be a SCREENplay remember … We’re not writing theatre.

In addition, there was an extraordinary amount of swearing in the screenplay pages from the offset. The “F” word was the most popular, turning up in some ten page samples as much as 8 or 9 times, even in TV screenplays!! But think on this for a minute: with a few notable exceptions, how many scripts START with this much swearing??? Time to get real.

SO: Invest in your scene description from the offset: grab us with a brilliant opening IMAGE and ensure your scene description is scene ACTION. Be visual. That’s how to wow script readers. And try and avoid loads of swearing, especially in the first ten pages.

7) Genre & Zeitgeist Stories

Comedy and Thriller (particularly crime/mystery) were big favourites in the pile this year. It’s good to see these genres rising to the top, because they’re often in demand by producers. True stories also made a big splash, especially biopics with intriguing female historical figures. It’s good to see writers switching on to these possibilities at last.

Weirdly, a lot of the comedies were mega DOWNERS as well, full of terminal illnesses in particular. I get that writers want to provide pathos as well, but seriously?? Plus I suspect BREAKING BAD may have had some impact here as well, cos a helluva lot of male characters had inoperable lung cancer!

Intriguingly, there were several what I call “Zeitgeist stories”, concepts that rose to the top as being particularly popular this year, yet were written by unconnected writers:

Features. A female protagonist worries she has killed someone or lost someone important in her life (like a sister or a child), but it may all be a figment of her imagination and/or people are out to trick and manipulate her.

  1. A dysfunctional family goes on a journey of some kind, often a literal road trip, where they have to discover what’s important about life and love.

Also (for both):

A prissy or prudish female character has to do something that’s totally out of her comfort zone *for some reason*, like burlesque or pole dancing.

SO: Going for Comedy and Thriller is a good move at the moment, but DO research your genre and try and stay away from those things *everyone* is doing … or find a way to BUST that genre wide open, to stand your best chance of getting noticed.

In conclusion:

  • Be genuine, don’t ever lie but be positive, too
  • Believe in yourself – not, “why me?”, but “Why NOT me??”
  • Never forget your logline on a one page pitch
  • Make sure your one page pitch is clear and ROCKS, it’s your second chance to really SELL your idea “off the page”, don’t squander it
  • Make sure you clean up the page when it comes to presentation and format – there’s loads of resources online that will help you avoid niggly annoying things that wind script readers up
  • Make sure you give your concept as much, if not more, weight as your craft
  • Don’t write chains of dialogue and stay away from uber-swearing
  • Be visual
  • Make sure your genre is well researched and stands out in some way, don’t blindly copy what’s gone before

Lucy V
www.Bang2Write.com

This programme is supported by Creative Skillset’s Film Skills Fund, which is funded by the BFI with National Lottery funds, through Skills Investment Funds.

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