Monday, 16 July 2012

BBC Writers Festival

I've left my blog about the BBC writers festival for a few days, just to allow myself to process the events. I arrived the night before the festival, on the Tuesday, and three days later was spat out the other side full of information and fizzing, like a shook up can of pop, with excitement. I've now had enough sleep that I have sorted through everything that happened and can hopefully put it into some semi coherent order.

Drinks on the Tuesday involved meeting lots of lovely writers and since this was the first time at the event for me, meeting other writers was an exciting highlight and to hear what they were working on and to share Twisted Showcase with them was quite brilliant. We might not have put the world to rights, but we put TV & Film to it.

The main event started midday on the Wednesday, but not after breakfast at a pub that claimed to have the 'best sausage in Leeds', they were good but if that's the best sausage Leeds has to offer I'll be surprised. The writers festival kicked off with an opening speech from Peter Bowker, which can be found on the Script Angel blog, thanks Hayley.

After that it was every writer for themselves, as there were choices as to what talk you wanted to go to. Choices which almost everyone i spoken to had forgotten which one they were in. Luckily boards were in the foyer letting you know which talk you were in, I was in Creating Contemporary Coppers.

Chaired by Toby Whithouse, this session featured Ashley Pharoah and Stephen Butchard, and everyone was treated to a tense and brilliant clip from Stephen Butchard's upcoming TV Cop drama 'Good Cop'. Other advice I picked up from this session was to have something unique about your police drama pitch, but don't try to be too unique, which reminded me of what Steven Moffat had to say about Elementary the CBS adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. On the flip side of creating cop shows with a unique element, both writers admitted that a return to the traditional cop show could be the way to go.

The next session I went to was by Peter Bowker and Patrick Spence, entitled Hanging in There and was about really believing in your ideas, your script and doing as it says in the session title. For evidence of how tough it can be Peter Bowker offered up his experience writing Occupation with took four years, twelve drafts with eight of those drafts being from scratch. Ouch.

There was plenty of choice for each session and I won't go into detail on all the session i went to as what is equally important about the festival is meeting new people and chatting in between sessions and across the road in The Wardrobe, which is actually a pub not a wardrobe.

I won't list the people I chatted to, and went on to one of the best curries I've had, there are far too many. By the  end of the night i must have told the story of how we made Twisted Showcase for no money and then got named in the top 25 in the. Guardian at least a hundred times.

Day 2 of the festival started early. I count 9 am as early, after a cup of tea and some more good chat I was ready for another day which kicked off with a John Yorke masterclass. After which i went to The Reality of Film a session with Joe Oppenheimer, Executive Producer for BBC films. He revealed that BBC films have an annual budget of 11 million, are obsessed with cast, they have stopped doing romantic comedies, make 8-9 films per year, amongst other advice and statistics.

The last two session involved Meeting the commissioners of BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky, and then an entertaining session with Toby Whithouse and Jack Thorne about setting up fantastical worlds where one of the main messages was that budget necessity can become a virtue.

So, all in all, a great festival with interesting sessions, but the highlight for me was probably meeting so many interesting people all with the same passion as me, writing. Also I got to introduce many people i admire to Twisted Showcase including Toby Whithouse and Jack Thorne and then to put the cherry on top since I wasn't sure of my way to the station a walk and a chat with Peter Bowker as my guide. Who inspired me just as much on that walk as he did in his introductory speech.

Bring on next year.

Monday, 9 July 2012

10 tips for creating a top 25 web series

We were very surprised when the Guardian named us one of the top 25 web TV shows you must see. I think we’re one of only two British entries, the other being the legends that are Vic & Bob (I haven’t checked this so if you’re a British web series that we’ve missed that was included please let me know). We never dreamed of being included on such a high profile list, but we were so I guess we must be doing something right; here are some things we tried to do or learnt from making the first batch of Twisted Showcase films that might help with your endeavours. I hope they do.
·         Script – It all starts with the script. It really is the most important aspect. If the script is bad there is no way the film is going to work. Each script we used got extensively drafted. At first we were nervous about asking for rewrites. Who were we to ask people to change their scripts?  Well, we were the people making the series who had a vision of what they wanted, what we thought worked, and didn’t. We know there are better looking web series’ all over the internet than ours, we were only a small team working with no budget, and hence why we put so much emphasis on the script. If there is interest we will put the drafts for Eyeball up on the website as that script went through the most drastic changes as me and Rhys Jones sent drafts back and forth between us.
·         Aim high – We made Twisted Showcase with what we had, which was literally nothing. We borrowed cameras and begged favours. Sometimes we were turned down, a cameo appearance on Casualty scuppering us on one occasion.  Then Gareth David Lloyd said he would be in an episode, something we never felt possible and which elevated the series.  As well as casting we also felt we aimed high whilst promoting the series, getting far more coverage than we anticipated. Much thanks to SFX, Cult Box, Dread Central, Gores Truly, Blogtor Who, Doctor Who magazine, Guardian Guide, Blazing Minds and anyone else who covered us, it was all unexpected.
·         Involve people – Another early decision was to make Twisted Showcase inclusive. We could have gone and wrote every episode ourselves, once you start getting weird and strange ideas it’s quite addictive and they just seem to flow. But we wanted to work with other writers, we also wanted to let as many people who want to work in the crew come along and help. And people who watched the series and enjoyed it, we wanted them to feel a part of the Twisted Showcase world too, and twitter was a great way to do this. Just another reminder, we’re open for scripts at the moment, have a look at our episodes and get submitting.
·         Look good - We are very lucky to have a brilliant logo by Jonathan Edwards. We asked for something that mixed the domestic with the weird. And he delivered. I still like looking at it, and you can get it on a T shirt here. We’ve kept our website pretty basic at the moment, but it’s something we keep looking at expanding and making better.
·         Hard work- The most obvious one I guess. March (was it that long ago), was an intense month, which we probably didn’t prepare for as well as we could. We were still editing some of the films, putting together the title sequence, the trailer was a last minute thought, and we were putting together lists of where to send the press release as we were doing it. Every day was a day to come up with ideas of how to get the name Twisted Showcase out there. That’s only half the story; setting up these films can be difficult. Getting everyone to be available on the same day can be a nightmare, but it’s so rewarding when people see your hard work.
·         One day shoots– This is a difficult one, and one that you could most easily disagree with. It works for us, and make you really work and honing that script down into a an easy to film short film, because it’s so easy to write a script and not think about budget or anything, and it is the strangest things sometimes which are difficult to film. If something has multiple locations it can become a nightmare to get done in a day. Being clever about this was pretty tough, Fear of Living for example all takes place within one house but uses nearly every room of that house. We decided early on to have that juxtaposition of the domestic and mundane to frame the eerie and weird and this helped make shoots a little easier, and hopefully scarier to as the everyday being infiltrated with something to fear is often worse than your most flamboyant imaginings.
·         Catchy title – Twisted Showcase say all you need to know about our show really, and it’s really catchy. Short and to the point. We think so anyway.
·         Have other stuff to put up– Someone might be interested in any aspect of the production. We’ve had commentaries, which usually result in giggling, behind the scenes (also giggling),Outtakes (giggling),  alternate takes,  podcasts, (giggling), interviews, preview pictures, behind the scenes shots. Anything else you’d like to see let us know. All this should keep people checking on the site, although nothing beats the thrill of a new episode.
·         Coherent world, theme, tone – We don’t have an ongoing storyline. We don’t even have a set genre, and hopefully Bob Dracula surprised a few people after the psychological horror of Fear of Living the week before. But we felt something held these episodes together, they could all happen within the same world or something about the tone of the series made them Twisted Showcase. They were all weird tales, they fitted. However disparate your web series is/will be make sure something binds it and makes it coherent something that the audience relate to your name.
·         Luck- We know that getting in the top 25 web TV shows in the Guardian guide must have involved a lot of luck. We’ve made the series with no budget and not spent on advertising it, we relied on our press release getting us out there. Every bit of coverage we received was down to luck, and getting the shoots done on time each time was all down to good luck and some great talent in front and behind the camera. So many things can and do go wrong, sometimes you need a bit of luck.

Finally, something I think is second nature to any creative person, be it film maker, writer, or whatever, everyone always tries to get better, and not to get complacent. This is what we tried to do with Twisted Showcase, to push ourselves in every aspect, make films, learn from mistakes, get better, try different things, try and surprise people, which hopefully we’ll do even more when we return. This isn’t a comprehensive list but stuff that occurred to me and may help you and your web series, or any project you may have on the go. Get out there, do it is the best advice anyone can ever give. Then let me know about what you’re working on in the comments.