How to write 1,000 words a night in 3 easy steps – GUARANTEED!

I know, it makes those calculations easy right? If you want to write a 60,000 word book, you’ll have to write for 60 nights. If you want to write a 25,000 word book, you’ll have to write for 25 nights.

I could go on.

So, if like me you want to totally NAIL that book in an “easy to calculate” kind of way, then here is my three-step programme.

Ready?

  1. write 998 words every night;
  2. write “STOP HERE” at the end of each night’s work;
  3. when you have finished your work, edit it so that the words “STOP HERE” actually form part of your story, so they don’t need to be deleted.

If you use my three-step programme for Nanowrimo you MUST credit me.

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The Seven Secrets of A Successful AuThOR PicturE

I have been doing some research into this “author” thing, now that I am adding “author” to my “screenwriter” title thing.

And I’ve come to a simple conclusion:

There are a lot of rubbish author photographs out there.

Which is why I decided to come at it from a completely different angle, and get some images which achieved two happy outcomes:

  • make me LOOK like a professional, can-do kind of author, and
  • blow the “author photo” paradigm out of the water.

After venturing into a couple of dark caves, sleeping on a mystic mountain etc I came up with the theme of my new image extravaganza.

It’s called:

“MASTER OF ALL TRADES”

And it means that I have seven different author pictures, each one of which allows me to OWN a different author genre.

So ladies and gentlemen, I give you the definitive collection. Remember this day – this is the day that the back of your next book changed BEYOND ALL RECOGNITION.

I've Just Done Poetry

I’ve Just Done Poetry

Let Me Welcome You To The Horror That Is Prison

The Majesty Of The Magna Carta In Twelve Volumes

Funny Place Names I Found During My Folk Music Adventures

Funny Place Names I Found During My Folk Music Adventures

Kids - Share Your Worries With Me, I Can Help

Kids – Share Your Worries With Me, I Can Help

My Political Satire Could Have Been Written By Jeffrey Archer

My Political Satire Could Have Been Written By Jeffrey Archer

This Is The Future Of Fantasy Right Here

This Is The Future Of Fantasy Right Here

Spot The Dog, Part II

Spot The Dog, Part II

The thing that amazes me is that no-one came up with this before!

Thanks to the awesome Vic Butt for the pictures … 

The Five Essential Differences Between Novel and Script

Writing a script is NOTHING like writing a book. I should know: I am a produced scriptwriter and a published author, but I am also a generous soul, which is why I have decided to share years of hard-earned wisdom with you.

I want the world to know that it IS possible to be an excellent writer in both media (plural of medium), but you need to know the pros and cons of each of these two mediums. So I give you:

The Five Essential Differences Between A Novel And A Script

  1. Books are made to be held in the hand, films are made to be watched on a screen.
    This means that a book needs to be better than a film. Why? Because if the reader or watcher (known in professional circles as “the rube”) finds a book boring or offensive to their eyes, it’s a lot easier to drop the book to the floor, whereas with a film they are going to have to leave the cinema/turn off the TV/cut out their eyes. So the lesson is: try hard to make a book good, don’t bother with a film.
  2. Books are made up in the head, whereas films are made in the studio.
    Or on location. Either way, the head is a much, much cheaper place to write a story. In my latest book I’m working on, I have included a dragon which looks suspiciously like a pug. Now, in the book version, the sum cost of the special effects equals zero, because the rube is making the story up inside their head! In the film, the Producer would have to find a dragon that looked like a pug, or train a pug to do dragon things, or use CGI (Computer Graphics Imitation) to make a pug/dragon hybrid, which would cost millions. So if you want to write an epic fantasy with battles and dragon pugs, write … a film. Because if it costs THAT much to be made, then there’s NO WAY it’s going to be allowed to fail. It will be too big, just like the banks or Andre the Giant.
  3. Books are made of paper, films are made of discs or rolls of film.
    There are many differences between these materials, but the main one is that paper burns in a much more symbolic and visual way than Blu-Rays or films. So if you want to offend someone, try to pick the medium that they are least likely to want to destroy. Nazis and Southern Baptists tend to like to burn paper, so if you want to write a comedy Nazi musical or a … comedy Southern Baptist Musical, make it a film. Gangsters tend to bury things in concrete blocks, so you should slag them off in books (plus they can’t read which helps). Of course you could write an e-book, which are made of electronic and don’t burn, so they are read by no-one, apart from people who want to sit inside pubs and still be able to read without being sent outside.
  4. Books tend to have more words than films.
    Your average 90 minute script is somewhere in the region of 16-20,000 words, whereas a book could be anything from 100 words (Very Hungry Caterpillar) to around half a million (War and Peace). That’s a huge difference, and can cause a real problem for the writer. If your idea is about a hungry caterpillar, but you want to be remembered as a writer of epics, you’re going to have to do lots of B stories (Caterpillar Gets Married, Caterpillar Goes To The Moon, Caterpillar Spends a Chapter With Tom Bombadil), and make sure that you use plenty of words to describe simple things. So a cabbage is not just a cabbage, but a key character on your hero’s journey, who deserves 10,000 words of backstory. And it’s not a cabbage, it’s a veiny jade brain-flower. And when the Caterpillar eats it … that’s 100,000 words right there about the cosmic joke that is life as a vegetable.
  5. You can smuggle things inside books.
    Which means that they tend to appear in prisons more than films do. Which in turn means that your average book is going to be more widely read – but try to make sure that all the good words are around the outside of the page, because the middle is likely to be removed to accommodate files, stone hammers etc.

There – my wisdom is now your wisdom. If, however, there is just TOO much good stuff to remember, just take this one fact away from you:

Films and books are different beasts. You can be a good Novelist, a good Scriptwriter or a good Crossover (like me). But in the history of books and films, only ONCE has the world got it just right in both spheres at the same time. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the novelisation of E.T. by William Kotzwinkle. Read it – and then throw away whatever you were working on because you’ll NEVER be this good.

Many thanks.

Pray silence please, for the Dalton Light Orchestra …

A J (Adam) Dalton is the Godfather of Metaphysical Fantasy (my words, of which he would probably approve). He self-published the Flesh and Bone trilogy, and sold thousands of copies to no little acclaim. He then wrote the Chronicles of a Cosmic Warlord (Empire of the Saviours, Gateway of the Saviours and Tithe etc etc), which has been published by Gollancz and has sold around the world.

A(dam) J’s next project, The Book of Orm, is freshly published by Kristell Ink. It’s a collection of his short stories, along with a couple of guest posts by up and coming poet and author Nadine West, and hairy-assed troll Matt White.

I spoke wrote to Adam and told him to tell me some things I didn’t know. And he did …

Tell us a little bit about yourself …
Hmm. I am handsome, sensitive and probably the best person on this miserable little planet. I’m also an outrageous fibber. The truth, I suspect, lies somewhere in between… or underneath, or behind the sofa (and no one should ever go behind the sofa, no matter how scary this week’s episode of Doctor Who is). I loathe grimdark fantasy, but love gothic fantasy. I am an atheist, but believe in the power of the human spirit. Consequently, I write metaphysical fantasy, which has strong psychological and philosophical dimensions (don’t be scared, it’s not so bad). Oh, and to pay my bills, I teach English Language at Manchester Uni, and Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan Uni.
* * *
What’s The Book of Orm all about?
Well, it’s dedicated to the memory of British fantasy author David Gemmell. I grew up reading his stuff. The story in The Book of Orm entitled ‘Warrior of Ages’ is definitely a homage to Gemmell’s character of Druss the Legend. And the story entitled ‘The Non-dragon’ is in the style of the glorious Sir Terry Pratchett (RIP). Beyond that, ‘Orm’ is a story about the weakest of the mountain trolls – and there is a fair bit of Norweigan mythos throughout The Book of Orm collection (including the tales of ‘Rusalka’ and ‘The Nine Rules of the Nisse’). Basically, there is much shared by British pagan mythos and Norse mythos that has not really been explored previously/properly. Tolkien obviously had an interest in this area, but took a very ‘elf-centric’ (is it okay if I use that?) approach.
* * *
Which do you prefer to write – short stories or novels?
Well, I’m known as a novelist obviously (Empire of the Saviours, Necromancer’s Gambit, etc), but those who know my work know that each of the chapters in my novels has an arc of its own. My chapters are like short stories, but all the short stories share the same characters. Yes, I write episodically in that sense, an approach which is very suitable to fantasy, of course. Precious few fantasies can be written in ‘real-time’ of course… although George R.R. Martin is giving it a good go.
* * *
What does your typical writing day look like?
I write 2000 words a day, 5 days a week. That’s 10K words a week, which is 40K words a month. That is the same sort of schedule as Stephen King and Ian Rankin. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. You should treat writing like a job (if you can afford to, of course!).
* * *
Which character from literature would you most like to be?
Oo. Not sure. Ah. Belgarion from the work of David Eddings. Hands down. Wizards rule.
* * *
A publisher gives you a big advance to “write the book you’ve always wanted to write”. Once you’re over the shock, what do you write?
Hmm. Well, there are actually loads of books I want to write. It’s always a case of choosing which one should be next. Actually, the one I’ve just written called ‘Lifer’ is the one I always wanted to write. It’s about a guy who has Satan as his prisoner, and has to anticipate and resist all of Satan’s attempts at manipulation and escape. The guy manages it, but only by becoming far worse than Satan himself. Ultimately, they swap places, and the guy ends up in Satan’s prison. ‘Lifer’ is currently being read by MacMillan and Head of Zeus. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written, and entraps and plays with the reader, to boot. It’s scaring many publishers. Predictably, as it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, it’s the book that’s struggling most to get a publishing deal. My mistake, you see, is trying to write good books rather than erotic fiction that will sell in the millions of copies.
* * *
What’s next on your writing horizon?
I’ve started a great new Gothic fantasy called ‘The Charnel Child’. For those familiar with Necromancer’s Gambit, it’s more in that style. I’m not gonna give the plot away here, I’m afraid. Publishers who are interested can contact my agent, Margaret Hanbury, init.
* * *
A few quick questions …
  • Dog or cat?
    I eat neither of them.
  • Lion or tiger?
    Wolf.
  • Wallpaper or paint?
    Oo. Paint… but I could be wrong.
  • Flat shoes or high heels?
    I look great in both.
  • Teaching or learning?
    Teaching.
  • Pigs or blankets?
    Is this a sausage or bacon question? Definitely both, as long as the bacon is smoked. Of course, if there’s steak going, I’ll have that instead… or as well. BBQs are obviously wrong, but I love them. I know, I know. I’m getting treatment.

Adam’s website is HERE!
The Book of Orm is HERE!
Adam’s Amazon page is HERE!
Kristell Ink’s page is HERE!
YOU ARE HERE! Should you be here?

My annual (cough) round-up service

Well, what a year that was.

Remember that time, just over a year, when I told you that this blog was going to become an annual, rather than a monthly project? Well I did, OK? I definitely wrote that, but I think that the Internet gremlins perhaps rubbed it out. So you didn’t know about it, or you forgot, but I forgive you. Let’s just start again and pretend that nothing ever happened.

So, how was 2014 for you? I hope it was exceptional and lovely. Mine has been … significant.

My first feature film was completed and released. As in, the first full, feature-length film with real actors and crew and everything with my name on as co-writer, The Final Haunting, was completed, produced and co-written by Sue Green and directed by Flaminia Graziadi. It looks pretty damn great, and was recently shown at the Mumbai Women’s International Film Festival. It’s also up for festivals and with sales agents around the world, so it’s all looking pretty fabulous darlink. Well done to Flam, Sue and the whole squad down there, you guys have done yourselves proud!

Here’s the trailer

But as the Final Haunting team moves on to their assorted projects and happy futures, I find myself moving in a slightly different direction. I’m still “developing projects” as they say, and Sue and I have a very exciting kids’ TV thing which a major company loves … sort of. But life has delivered a slightly different abandoned kitten to my door (I don’t know what that means).

Firstly – I got a new job. A full-on, “time is money and you’re on borrowed time” kinda job. It’s great, but it takes up a lot of the old energy. So I’ve not been able to commit to writing projects that required fast turnarounds, or many stages of development and speculation. So scripts, with their collaboration and the need for turnaround times as people rely upon you, are not as attractive to me right now.

And secondly – I had a moment. At some point during post-production of The Final Haunting, I took a step back and looked at the whole film industry, and I thought ‘some parts of this are barmy’. Sue Green wrote an exceptional script, we developed it together, and then an award-winning director came along and made it. End of story, right? Wro-ong! Just getting to the first day of the shoot was, and I know ‘cause I saw it, the most painful, squeaky-bum experience you could ever wish to see. There’s ducking and diving, and forms and paperwork, and cajoling and selling and persuading. And that’s just a day in Sue’s life.

It’s an amazing process, but going through it made me realise that, for a while at least, I’d like a closer relationship between the words that I write and the outcome.

Maybe it’s the writer’s ego talking. Or it’s just my ego talking. But it’s also a realisation that, for the moment, I feel better about writing something different.

So over the last eight months I’ve been writing … drumroll please … books.

Which rather undermines the title of the blog, but there you go. At least it wasn’t called mattwhitewillneverwriteabook.wordpress.com, because that would have been a proper bridge burner.

I’m up to the second draft of a Chapter Book, which I have co-written with the woman who is illustrating it right now, and who is a wonderfully talented designer and fashion guru (that’s my wife). That one’s in the top drawer until we’ve got some illustrations then we’ll look at the story again.

I’ve completed the first daft of an MG comedy. That’s in the top drawer until I come up with a better way of telling the story. I love the story, but it’s quite surreal, and I’m not convinced that the level of oddness really matches the characters and the target age, so I’m letting that one percolate. I’m currently … 12,500 words into the first draft of a YA ghost story. It’s really floating my boat. What, you mean that this writer of ghost story scripts is enjoying writing a ghost story in book form? As Count Arthur Strong would say, wonders might never … cease.

Oh, and I’m about to have something published. My excellent friend, the internationally published fantasy author AJ (Adam) Dalton, has written a fantasy anthology, “The Book of Orm”, for Kristell Ink. It’s a great collection of short stories and novellas, and it’s coming out in the first half of 2015. AJ (Adam) has generously invited a couple of his good friends to contribute shorts – so from award-winning poet Nadine West we have “Rusalka”, an intense and, yes, poetic, story. And from script writer blah-blah Matt White we have a domestic comedy of monsters, called “The Nine Rules of the Nisse”. At some point in 2015 I will write some more about how I came up with nine rules for the Nisse, and what a Nisse is for those of you who don’t have Google.

So happy new year to you all, and here’s to us all getting published or something! Let’s rock!

My Magic Day!

Yesterday I paid my first visit to the set of The Final Haunting, the Fierce Cat Media/Lonrom Films co-production wot I co-wrote.

Despite having been a script writer and teacher for years, and having a few of my scripts turned into shorts, I’ve never visited a set before. So lie back, enjoy a nice deep bath … and JOIN ME.

I should get the obvious thing out of the way: hearing my words … or Sue‘s words (we did so many drafts that we can’t always remember who wrote what) actually being spoken, by professional actors, with a professional crew doing their thing … was one of the most exciting moments of my professional life. I was a big jellied back of squee, as some of my friends might put it.

So the squee is done, now let’s get down to business.

My Magic Day

Challenge number one was getting there. Last week’s shooting was in London, this week things moved to a big old house deep in the North Wales countryside.

North Wales hmm? I live near Wales. Can’t be hard …

But have you seen my car?

binky01

It was a 220-mile round trip. And on a couple of hills I worried that it would be a one-way trip.

But I made it. Well, almost. Took me half an hour of shuttling between different – lovely – old buildings to find the shoot. And then another ten minutes finding a parking space. And then, a short while later, ANOTHER five minutes of manouvering after I’d discovered I’d blocked someone’s front drive.

I found my way onto the set – and found a friendly, buzzing place getting ready to shoot a very tense scene. It’s a quiet, almost hissed, argument early in the film between Sam and Tim, played by Bella Heesom and Josh Burdett, whilst our heroine, Lilly (Pearl Chanda), listens in … and notices something pretty eerie on the stairs. It’s a very important scene – it helps set the tone for the movie to come, and we’ve hidden plenty of plot points in there too …

So it has to be right. And it includes Steadicam shots (Oliver Hickey). And it’s being shot in a cramped, narrow hallway, with steep stairs. And Flam (director Flaminia Graziadei) is aiming for that super high-quality, big budget look.

And it’s cold.

And I’m there.

It’s a miracle they managed to get anything done.

But they did. A film set is a halfway house between Concorde and something straight out of Heath Robinson. A group of highly skilled technicians and artists, who ALL know what they are doing, but when so many things have to happen so quickly, and every new location brings a new set of challenges, then there’s always something waiting around the corner. It might be a hitherto undiscovered angle, meaning that a wire is in shot, or creaking floorboards, or gobby writers holding forth in the kitchen whilst the shoot is under way …

As Stanley Kubrick once said, it’s hard to learn from the previous film you made, because every film brings a new set of challenges.

So to everyone on set who were so welcoming and tolerant, particularly Taz (First AD Tariq Ayoub), James (Location Manager James Lucas) and Paris (Second AD Paris Wharton) – thanks chaps. It was great watching you work.

Some snippets from the set …

Josh Burdett playing creepy and sneaky but also OWNING his suit, earning the nickname James Bond from some of the crew. Pearl Chanda working her way into the mindset of a very troubled character – not easy in a bustling, busy house, where hubbub disappears and silence reigns at the drop of a hat. And Bella Heesom doing depth and reality in a couple of lines … in a dressing gown … in a freezing hallway.

This:

cot01

James … just knowing everything. Being on top of so much, apart from the owner of the green car.

The variety of languages. We’re almost talking a British/Italian co-production here folks.

This metal Triffid:

lamp01

Ollie on the steadicam – working on that opening shot, loads of times. Saying he’s happy to shoot the rehearsals (Flam: I love you Ollie!). EVERYONE apologising to Ollie when a take goes wrong. Ollie coming back into a freezing cold room … dripping with sweat. Telling us how useful a compressed air can is when you fancy a G&T in the desert. Explaining why so many Steadicam operators wear Vibrams.

Creepy Welsh candles:

candles01

Graham the stills photographer … packing a very fine camera. Working his way around a film set for the first time, and getting some absolute killer shots. Two, in particular, around Pearl working her way up the stairs, were reminiscent of this …

exorcist

And this …

nosferatu-4

Graham – I want those pics!

Discovering the key to a successful shoot – food. Sue turns up with a collection of home-made food, including cakes (the recipe for which will go to the grave with her) and roughly 1.4 sandwiches per person, a quantity that goes up when you remember that I didn’t eat one. And in the blink of an eye … it all went. By the time I packed up my stuff to leave arrangements were being made to bring on the Stroganoff.

So I would say that I learned three lessons from my first set visit:

  1. be quiet;
  2. ask everyone about themselves … you’ll meet some proper characters; and
  3. never … EVER leave before the Stroganoff.

Where have all the wallflowers gone?

This weekend I did something that I’ve never done before: I willingly went to a conference. It didn’t call itself a conference, but the London Screenwriters’ Festival still has conference-y things, with some of the biggest professionals telling us about their work, and hundreds of delegates swapping notes, presenting their work to others and getting drunk.

Having moved to the sticks a year ago, I wanted to use the conference to make some contacts, pitch my projects to some production companies and agents, and generally reinvigorate the whole writing thing. So I took six pitches for projects, my best Garth Merenghi t-shirt, and went all urban.

I was rather nervous about going, but it was nice to know that The Final Haunting is going into production next month, and some of the projects I was pitching have been developed with Fierce Cat Media, so, I knew I had a tiny smidgeon of industry ‘heft’ behind me.

I’m not going to talk about all the wonderful people I met whilst there – I’ll just stalk you lot online.

Instead, ladies and gents, I bring you:

The London Screenwriters’ Festival: Wot I Did

There were millions of sessions; I couldn’t attend them all, so I’m summarising the sessions I saw, some stand-out moments from them, and discussing the shocking price of London beer.

Friday

Opening session – introduction by festival director Chris Jones.
Chris bounced around the stage and showed us how much energy you need to make something so huge work. As well as getting all the housekeeping out of the way, it was Chris’s chance to fire us up for the festival. And it worked: Chris is great with a crowd, and I think we all left feeling a little verbally hugged.

  • One moment: falling into women in coffee shops works every time.

Hollywood Stories: How a Script gets to the screen.
Should probably have been called How making Hot Tub Time Machine can give you a migraine and a go in a bear suit.

Luke Ryan, Hollywood hotshot, took us through the complex, maddening and sometimes amazing process by which Hot Tub Time Machine got commissioned, written, re-written … and re-written again and again and again.

Sometimes those re-writes were done to make the script better. Sometimes … other, less noble factors got in the way!

As Luke says, the much maligned ‘Hollywood Exec’ is not a crazy person – they’re usually a very smart person working in a crazy system. And he proved that to us, deconstructing the entire movie production process with forensic skill, turning it into a great story, showing how it’s the distribution and marketing costs that can often scupper a film, and reminding us of the key mantra of the film development exec in Hollywood: don’t get fired.

  • One moment: don’t drink two bottles of water before you go into 150 minute session that’s too damned interesting to walk out of.

The League of Gentlemen and Beyond.
Comedy legends Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton talked about their writing and performing lives, nicely interviewed by comedy writer Paul Bassett Davies. They are a great pair, who are so committed to not only making great comedy, but keeping things fresh, constantly challenging themselves and always putting on a good show. And just so damned … nice!

  • One moment: sitting at the back of the room thinking … OMFG, that’s Tubbs and Edward! And also not mentioning Benidorm.

Hollywood comes to London – how to play the players.
Define stellar – I dare you. Then throw together a panel with credits like:

I’ll do Anything, Ondine, Apocalypto, Last of the Mohicans, Cabin in the Woods, Hot Tub Time Machine, Local Hero, The Killing Fields, The Mission, The Fifth Element, Children of Men, The Fountain

amongst MILLIONS of others, and you’ll think that your definition of stellar is probably looking a little tarnished and pathetic. You worm.

Ned Dowd, Iain Smith, Luke Ryan and Brandy Rivers discussed how the writing process works in Hollywood at the moment, and how this world is going to develop.

Some interesting snippets: Hollywood is “high concept low culture” at the moment. Writers who do well develop very close relationships with producers. And … the intelligent mid-budget movie will probably make a comeback soon. The movie companies make content, and in Luke’s opinion they are ripe for takeover by big companies that already own millions of screens and have millions of customers and users crying out for content. Take the distribution and marketing costs out of the equation and suddenly those films become financially viable.

  • One moment: watching a quiet, modest man being asked what film he was most proud of, hearing him say that it was a toss-up between Local Hero and the Killing Fields, and managing to not spontaneously combust.

How To Get A Feature Film Funded, Filmed and Released in Britain
Richard Holmes is one of those people. He reminds me of the perpetually cheery folk who works with dangerous animals: doing amazing things in trying circumstances … and then happily coming back for more.

Richard has produced plenty of low budget British movies, and took us through the extremely fraught process of getting them funded, made and distributed whilst working out of your home office. Now … quite a few of my fellow delegates found the session a little depressing, but I thought it was inspirational!

Here’s my precis of Richard’s presentation: when he makes a low budget movie everyone who works gets paid, does something they can be proud of and investors are exposed to relatively low levels of financial risk. It rarely makes people absurdly rich, but … and this bit is key … everyone gets paid. Can’t be too bad!

  • One moment: learning how a film can cost $5 million to buy, take $25 million at the box office … and still end up $9 million in the red … even though no-one seems to have lost any money … and nothing underhand has taken place!

Then it was on to more networking drinks. More lovely people to meet, more funky conversations, and more monologues about how in Shropshire it doesn’t cost £3.50 for a small bottle of silly beer.

Saturday

Bleugh my head. Sofa surfing is for young people.

How to Drench the Page in Theme and Cinematic Imagery with Julie Gray.
First things first – Julie Gray is a force of nature! Super funny, insightful and clearly with the potential of being a hardass. This session was about the things you can do to make your script a much more compelling and fun experience for your real audience: the script reader.

Julie showered us with tips for turning an already finished script into a tool for manipulating that reader. Clever use of the thesaurus, powerful imagery, directing the reader’s ‘eye’ around the scene and even formatting tips. The whole purpose is to get the reader turning the page and feeling the emotions that your genre requires … excellent stuff.

Julie’s great – she’s got a website here: http://www.justeffing.com/

One top tip: frame your theme as a question. Remind yourself that you don’t resolve that question until the end of your script.

  • One moment: Julie telling us how her website got its name …

The Elevator Pitch!
I was due to pitch my ideas to producers and agents etc on Sunday, so I decided to take every opportunity to practice. One ‘open’ pitching session was the much feared elevator pitch. The rules were simple: you step into a lift, where you find an exec. You’ve got until the lift gets to the top floor then back down to ground to pitch a project.

Easy! And terrifying. And short – apparently they used a different lift last year; this year’s lift was FAST.

Queuing was like waiting for a scary rollercoaster called ‘The Humiliator’ or something. You near the head of the queue and the banter with your fellow attendees peters out. Then it’s nearly your turn and you’re ushered into the lobby, surrounded by staff … it reminded me a bit of the speed of Thomas More’s execution in Man for All Seasons.

Anyway … the lift opened, and there was … Hollywood power player Brandy Rivers! I got into the lift, began my spiel, and then stopped – and waited for the door to close.

Then I began again. I’m taller than Brandy, but she coped with a big ginger Jesus spitting and ranting through a tale of bad rock bands fighting evil.

I finished just in time … and Brandy was ace. There was NO WAY this project was high concept enough for her line of business … but she ended with ‘nice elevator pitch’.

Which was a good thing.

The Writing British Cinema Cookbook: The ingredients for a home grown hit.
What could be better than a session with two writers who wrote things like St Trinian’s, Calendar Girls, Kinky Boots and Burke & Hare, being interviewed by Alex Zane from the tele?

Nothing, that’s what.

Tim Firth and Piers Ashdown are working a level or two up in size from Richard Holmes’s films – theirs are the big British scripts, usually funded by US money.

They shared a load of insight into living as a writer at this level – bit British films and decent-sized US films too.

Some great stuff here, but the thing that really stuck with me was Piers’ advice for breaking into the market: write something that’s crazy. Do something that’s got a voice, or an idea, that no-one’s seen before. Do it well, and make us care about the story too, and you’ll soon make a name for yourself.

  • One moment: admiring Alex Zane’s delivery style, and his very pointy shoes!

The Pitch Factor
Elevator pitches? Pah! I spit on your elevator pitches!

Try this for size: 150 people in a room. One stage, one microphone. Ninety seconds to impress Ned Dowd, Luke Ryan and Brandy Rivers. Feedback given right there and then.

Spare pants are YOUR responsibility.

Yes I got in line. Yes I shook and my heart hammered. Weirdly, when it was my turn to get on stage I grabbed the mike … and went into a happy bubble filled with … horrid spiders.

Yep, I broke out a pitch I hadn’t intended to even mention during the weekend. And then I thought ‘stuff you world!’. So I gave them, effectively, the logline, reasoning that a few lines would leave a greater impact than excessive detail. So here’s what I went with:

A bullied 13 year-old arachnophobe is crowned King of the Spiders by mistake, and plunged into a furry billion-legged nightmare. He has to ‘man up’, face his fears and realise that there’s more to being king than terrifying your enemies before he unwittingly unleashes Spidergeddon on the world.

And the crowd went wild!

Well they didn’t, but I liked it. Ned’s response was: my grandkids would watch that. Brandy and Luke agreed that they liked the idea and the pitch, but they wanted to hear more. Specifically Luke said I could have used more of the 90 seconds to tell us about the setup.

And with that I was done! Ironically the worst moment was coming off the stage – the adrenaline had gone, and suddenly my knees felt less than solid.

We listened to … somewhere between 20 and 35 pitches I think. Some didn’t go so well, some were excellent, a couple were pure theatre. Well done to the winners – awesome work! But everyone who got up there was as brave as all heck, so I say to all of them: well done you.

I didn’t win, but I didn’t really care as the pitch went well … and a few people had word during the night to tell me they enjoyed it – which left me feeling warmer than the bottled beer. Did I tell you it cost £3.50 a bottle?

That night I intended to go home and sleep before my bit pitching day.

So I ended up in a club in Dalston and danced and drank until two.

Sunday

The Great British Pitch Fest
Struggling in to Regent’s Park with a killer hangover was a great way to prepare for my pitchfest session. Well, ironically – it was. It cleared the mind. And after yesterday’s pitching terrors the idea of SITTING in front of a SINGLE person … well I just chewed that up and spat it out.

I got to the room and hour early – and joined the queue. Second from the front. Good boy Matty!

My fellow pitchees and I shared war stories, pitched to each other and worked out a cunning plan so that we would all get to see top choice pitchee pretty early in the game.

I’m not going to do names here, but my plan was: pitch something to the agent in the room, then approach the representatives from interesting sounding companies with the right script from my selection.

The only problem with my plan was that I didn’t really know what I was going to pitch to each of them. I had six pitches with me: one horror, one comedy horror, one ghost story, two black comedies and one supernatural TV show. Actually I had seven: after Saturday’s pitches I decided to try King of the Spiders again – but this time with more detail.

I sort of planned to wing it. And I think it worked. I made five pitches (the ghost story twice, the black comedies once each and King of the Spiders) and got five requests for one pagers.

Result. Let me say that again.

Result.

One request was a bit qualified (like the idea, not sure about the plot but let’s see), but the other four were all positive and wanted to see more. They were all very nice and patient people, asking the questions that made me think and being very encouraging.

I left the room feeling pretty funky, and treated myself to a packet of crisps!

  • One moment: hearing a fellow delegate from Australia talking about having a ‘tanty’. I lived in Australia for four years … and that was one of my favourite words.
  • Another moment: one development exec asking about my background, hearing the pitch and then asking for the background again. When she realised she’s already asked that she said she’d forgotten because she was so engrossed in the pitch.
  • Another moment: same exec … I told her that this pitch might be a ‘one metre’ pitch, in that when I finished she might be a metre further away from me than when I started.
  • A final moment: noticing that being able to say “I”ve co-written a feature film that’s being made next month and has a distribution deal” really does get peoples’ attention!

The Epic Spec: How to EXPLODE onto the Hollywood scene
Stuart Hazeldine … what a dude. I loved this session. Stuart’s one of those people who just seems to burst into a room, dazzle everyone, make them think and laugh, and then walks off to save a kitten from a runaway bus or something.

Stuart just went big from the word go, aiming high with VERY ambitious (and, for very good legal reasons, unfilmable) scripts, but using them to get attention and work with people like Alex Proyas, Michael Mann and Steven Spielberg as a result. In his session he told us about his writing process, the experience of working on huge epic stories, and the pros and cons of being a writer for some of the biggest directors ever.

Stuart Hazeldine – I hate you! Not really. No honestly, not really.

  • One moment: hearing Stuart make a very similar point to Piers Ashdown the day before: if you want to work on big films, write a big spec.

The End
This was my last session at LSF, and it summed up every session that went before. It was packed with insight, humour and value. And it was inspirational to see that the people who’ve written films watched by millions of people … are just normal, intelligent and humble types.

And they smashed that old cliché of the wallflower writer out of the park.

There were more sessions, but the weather was looking bad, I had a three hour drive home and I hadn’t seen my wife for a week, so I thought I’d call it a day there.

I went home, we went to the pub and won the quiz – twelve quid!

Which bought me a lot of – very reasonably priced – beer.

In summary … the festival was everything I’d hoped it would be. Wonderfully run, staffed by angels and the best writerly kick up the ass you could ever wish for.

Thanks to everyone who worked on the Festival – you are all a credit to yourselves, your friends and your families, and you made this old man very happy.

I’m off now to write that huge spec. Think it might need more spiders though.