Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 41: Applying Myself to My Craft

I’ve been taking a break from my crime work, last week and this, to prepare a development funding application that I, a director and a producer are submitting to Federal (Screen Australia) and State (Screen New South Wales) film funding bodies for me to write a first draft.

There is no prescribed way to find money to write film. For the screenwriter, it’s part of the business-end of the writing business and you’ve got to get professional at doing it, but I digress.

The long synopsis (20 pages) that I’ve written is for a film called The Age of Enlightenment, a love story between a young woman who lives in England of 1870 and an urban Aboriginal man, living in Sydney in the 21st century. I’m sorry but it’s neither the time nor the place to explain how and why boy-meets-girl, but let’s just say that the “meeting cute” scene is a little different.

I first came up with this idea and spitballed it with a friend some fourteen years ago. The idea was jotted down on a file somewhere on my Mac that I owned at the time (an SE). Occasionally I’d open up the file in a moment when I was tired of whatever it was that I was working on at the time, and I’d fiddle. The file was then transfered to my Blueberry iMac Laptop in 1999 (still the fastest computer that I’ve ever owned, including this one that I’m working on now) and again, de temps en temps, I’d click on the folder named The Victorian Girl and I’d tweak it a bit and dabble in the idea.

FInally that file and folder have ended up on this iBook G4 and the story is ready to go to a First Draft screenplay; it has a producer attached and a director, the same friend that chewed the idea over with me all those years ago. Neat, huh?

We’re very lucky to live in a country where we have a Ministry of the Arts that commit to funding film projects and film practitioners. I have personally been very lucky in that they have funded me on several ocassions over the years on different drafts of various screenplays. But I was never always successful in my applications, in fact, for a long time there I got knock-back after knock-back and became quite the cynic. Who me?!

That was until I heard a friend talk about a friend of his who was being a repetitively successful recipient of film funding monies and put it down to “mastering the art of the application”. My ears sprung up when I heard that and I set about making it my business to also develop this facet of my writing craft. I didn’t think that there was a secret formula or recipe and I didn’t go and talk to the successful friend of the friend, although I could have. What I did, was put as much care and applied equal diligence into the writing of my application - the CV, Biography and all-important Script Development Notes that accompany the application - as I did the writing of the script.

I figured out that I couldn’t force anyone’s hand and make them say “yes” to my application, but I could make it very, very hard for them to say “no”. It’s a nuanced difference and I’ve continued to have as many losses as I’ve had wins, but it’s forced me to hone my skills in writing the one-line, one-paragraph, half-page, one-page and three-page synopsis and learn how to pitch myself and my film stories. As a consequence, if you’re a producer, investor, director or financier, depending where and when I bump into you and how many seconds or minutes you’ve got to hear me out, I’ve got THE pitch for you.

Day #41 Tip: “I Have Numerous Projects In Various Stages Of Development”
Back in 1999, I stumped up the Aus$400, or whatever it was then, to attend the DOV Simmons (see picture above of a man that looks more like a magician than a some ways he is!) 2-Day Hollywwod Film School. Sounded great; he promised to tell you everything they take three years to tell you in Film School, over just one Saturday and Sunday.

That noise I just heard....was that the door of your open mind just slamming shut?

I can’t remember much of what DOV rattled through at high speed with incredible chutzpah (I think the notes I made were on that old SE) but I remember him telling us keen and assembled filmmakers that we need to have “...various projects in numerous stages of development”. And if I didn’t have such projects, I at least needed to memorise the phrase so if ever asked what it was that I was working on, I could at least trot out that sound-bite to give the impression that I was a pretty busy writer.

I have made it my business over the course of my screenwriting apprenticeship to squirrel away ideas and gently nudge them along to different stages of being and store them away in files on this computer, because they’re the embryos that will wonder develop into my ideas that might grow to be screenplays that could eventually make it to a cinema near you. It's the currency of my business.

Last year, I was able to put together a document that held thirteen synopses of feature film ideas, two of which are now moving forward. It’s a far cry from me, the writer, that used to have all his eggs in the one basket. Like most of us, I learnt the hard way; when that one script (the one egg in the basket) was moving along, so was I. When that script was floundering, (the basket had tipped over) strangely enough, so was I.

Nurture your ideas, scribble things down and stash them away, type them up when you’ve got a few minutes to spare, open up a file, collect visual images, come up with titles, then forget about them and get on with the stuff that’s in front of you. As I write this, it sounds like motherhood adviceme, and to a degree it is, but I don’t mind writing it down and I certainly don’t mind hearing it again.

My recollection tells me that DOV was worth the money, for inspiration alone, check him out.

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