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Most fiction authors have a dream of seeing their stories on the big screen – but it doesn't have to be a dream.
There are lots of things you can do to ensure your story has a chance of success in film/TV. In this interview, Lucy V. Hay gives us some tips.
In the intro I talk about the IndieRecon videos that you might enjoy, including my session on how to make a living with your writing; David Gaughran's post on Author Solutions; my mega-rebranding, re-titling and re-covering exercise with my first 3 novels and my JFPenn.com site; and a recommendation for The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you for your support!
Lucy V. Hay is a novelist, script editor, screenwriter, and blogger at Bang2write.com. She's one of the organizers of London Screenwriters’ Festival, and she has books on writing thriller screenplays and drama screenplays.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the interview on YouTube or read the notes and links below.
- What are the big differences between writing a novel and writing a screenplay?
- What are your options for exploiting your rights around film and TV?
- Producers are always looking for great stories – how do you get their attention?
- Tips on pitching – try to think of it in terms of concept, not all the details of the story
- The difference between a logline and a tagline – and how to construct yours
- What is a treatment? Why you need to think about sales and the audience who will buy the story for adaptation
- The reality of options and the chances of getting a screenplay actually made
- Should a novelist do their own adaptation?
- Why genre is so important in screenwriting
- Having fun and writing for entertainment. We don't have to be so serious all the time!
- Why you should watch all the movies in your genre and steep yourself in them
You can find Lucy at bang2write.com and on Twitter @bang2write
Transcript of interview with Lucy Hay
Joanna: Hi everyone, I'm Joanna Penn from theCreativePenn.com and today I'm here with Lucy Hay, hi, Lucy.
Lucy: Hi Joanna. Thanks for having me.
Joanna: Oh, no it's great to have you on the show. So just a little introduction, Lucy is a novelist, script editor, screenwriter, and blogger at Bang2write.com. She's one of the organizers of London's Screenwriters’ Festival, and she has books on writing thriller and drama screenplays.
So Lucy, you're quite awesome, as I was just saying, but I wonder if you can start by telling us just a bit more about you and your writing background.
Lucy: Basically I've always wanted to be a writer. I think a lot of writers say that, but certainly in my case it's true.
I remember being about eight and seeing the novels on my mother’s bookcase, and thinking, “Wow, I'd really like my name to be on there, and as I got older I really got into movies as well.
And I think I wanted to be a film director at one point. I remember being given a director's chair for my 13th birthday, and I really loved “Alien,” and even though they were too old for me really, I was watching them all the time and just thinking it would just be really cool to get involved in just story telling in general really.
And I went into screenwriting kind of by accident. I ended up going on the screenwriting for film and television course at University. And just really falling into script editing from there really ‘cuz I found, and although I love writing and I love writing novels, but in terms of writing screenplays, I did enjoy it, but not as much as like picking them apart for other people, I love that.
I love the structure of screenplays they’re so specific. Even when we change the structure of a script to something that's say, non-linear, it's still very specific. It's not so psychological as a novel. And I really like that kind of physical world, that visual world, and I like to approach that from the outside if you'd like as a script editor rather than a screenwriter.
Joanna: Yeah, wow, that's really interesting – there's so many things now that I want to ask you. Let's start by just what are the main differences – most of my listeners are authors of books …
What are the big differences between writing a novel and writing a screenplay?
Lucy: Well, I think the key similarity is that they’re all stories, so in that regard they’re the same. Very often, when you go to writers conferences, they'll say, “Oh, no screenwriters should write novels, and novelists should write screen plays.” And I totally agree with that, because if you can tell a story in one form, you can definitely tell it in another. But there are very certain specifics that you have to do in terms of, it's much more of a free for all, a novel.
There are obviously things you have to do in terms of telling the story, and anchoring your reader, and things like that obviously. But in terms of screen writing, I think a lot of people forget that it's a physical world, it's a visual world, and you have to render these psychological processes of the story using tangible elements as something that’s an image.
And so as a result, a lot of scripts that cross my desk, are really just chains of dialog, because that's all the writer can get a handle on. They think well, that's the physical elements of the screenplay, but that's more to do with theater. Theater is about characterization, about dialogue, not to say about structure as well, but it's not about imagery in the same way that screen plays are, and that's probably the biggest challenge that any screenwriter has is actually creating an image. It is a lot harder than it looks.
Joanna: Yeah, definitely and we'll come back to your treatment in a minute, because I've been writing a treatment, but let's take a step back. So what does the market look like right now, because we've seen an explosion in possibilities for movie, TV thing.
What are the current options for people with screen exploitation of rights?
Lucy: In terms of rights, then obviously the internet has opened everything up wide. And self publishers and Indie publishers in particular now have a lot more options available to them in terms of actually pursuing their own projects, and getting their own stuff made and adapted from their original source material into web series, television projects, various different short films, feature films, things like that.
And certainly there’s lots of really great sites now that people don't even necessarily need an agent to help them negotiate that anymore, because there's a lot information online. There's IPRlicense.com as well which is I think associated with Legend Crest. They do a great job of advising authors on their rights that they can sell to different market places.
And it's also worth remembering the different languages as well. Like one of my books sold in Germany for instance. A friend of mine wrote a bestselling mystery novel that sold the television rights over in France, for instance. So it's not just the English language or the language that you're writing in, it’s many, many different ways of exploiting things.
Depending on your audience as well, I think like merchandising rights, as well, toys and things associated with that story world. Like Harry Potter had all the different kind of maps of the story world, and the hobbits and all that kind of stuff. And graphic novels is a big thing at the moment as well.
So really the sky’s the limit and you don't necessarily need an agent, but you do have to have a strategy. You do have to decide what you want to happen next for your intellectual property, and how to go out there and get it, because anything can happen and if an audience wants it, you can get there.
Joanna: Yes, and what's interesting, I was just at the London book fair and I went to a session with a load of producers and this guy said, “Look, there just isn't enough content for us to put out there right now, for us to buy.”
And I was really surprised because I feel like, we all feel as authors that there's this kind of glass and there’s this tsunami of stuff, so obviously these producers and people like yourself don't go around reading all the books.
So how do we get the attention of the right people?
Lucy: Well, pitching gold is the key really, and getting out there and making sure that people know about your work, and know about its possibilities and know about how it can work for them. I think one of the reasons a lot of producers, and agents and people at the selling level feel that there isn't enough content is the pitching especially in the UK is really bad.
You know you go to a lot of conferences in your head, you ask the writers what they're working on and they give you this very long rambling kind of thing where you just come away and you think, “I didn't actually learn anything about that project at all.”
Writers need to understand that they're selling things at concept level.
Screenwriters get it a lot better than novelists a lot of the time, because they have to reduce everything to the log line which is like a little story sentence that kind of encapsulates what your project is. And I think it would really help a lot of novelists who want their work adapted to actually think of it in screenwriting terms. How to take it at log line level, to treatment level, to extended pitch level, taking it to these virtual pitch fests, or these conferences, book fairs and so on, and actually search out these producers themselves, rather than hoping that they’ll just randomly come to them.
Joanna: And of course, many authors are introverts and they’re the worst thing possible if you’re going to a pitching session, and I've been to one and it's actually quite terrifying.
Lucy: It is. [inaudible]
Joanna: And you realize how bad you are even if you practice.
What are some of your tips for one of those three-minute pitch sessions?
Lucy: Well, we run a pitch fest at London's Screen Writers every year, and so I'll often write pitch fest guides on the website, at Londonscreenwritersfestival.com. I think really knowing your log line inside out is absolutely key. A good log line is usually in the region of 25-60 words and having a good sense of tone, genre, the characters.
I talk about the three C's of pitching which is character, who your character is, what they want, the conflict, what they're up against, and then also clarity as well, because you've got to be clear and it's got to be straight forward.
They say you can tell a great pitch within the first thirty seconds.
And certainly that's always been my experience. If someone sits in front of me at London Screen Writers or any other writer in any other situation I usually go, “Yeah,” straight away or, ”No.” It is as quick as that. And sometimes a pitch can be really excellent, it’s not just very interesting to me, if somebody’s going to sit opposite me and say it's a zombie screenplay, I'm immediately going to go, “No.”
It doesn't matter how good it is, I'm not interested in zombies. So doing research of who you’re pitching to is another key element. Someone came to me the other day and said, “I've got a screenplay. It’s female protagonist,” obviously I'm interested in that. “And she's powerful, she's sexy, she gets her kicks off, I know you like all of that,” he says. And I said, “Yes I do, I do like all of that stuff. I like sexy thrillers, I like the solving of mysteries, I like female protagonists.”
So immediately he's kind of setting the scene, making me interested in what he's got. So that can help as well. So that plus knowing who you're pitching to, doing your research, setting the scene, having your three C's, your characters, your conflict, your clarity, all of those are key in getting someone interested in your idea or pitch level.
Joanna: Can you actually give an example of a good log line?
Lucy: Oh, goodness, most of the log lines that I read have got NDA's attached which means Nondisclosure agreement, so I'm not supposed to talk about them, but if you actually Google log lines, you'll find the log lines for many different movies that were already made.
For example, one I use frequently in class is probably for “Alien,” which would be everybody knows, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” But that's actually the tag line. That's got to do with the PR campaign. That's not actually anything to do with the log line, and that's something that writer’s mistake all the time.
And log lines are not tag lines, so if the tag line of “Alien” is, “In space, no one can hear you scream,” then the log line is, “Seven space truckers pick up an alien, a hostile alien life form, which picks them off one by one.”
Joanna: So it's more of a description of the overall description of the whole book, which is actually really hard. It's really, really hard.
Lucy: It's very, very hard.
Joanna: Yeah, and it's so interesting learning about this stuff, because part of me thinks, well, you should start with the log line.
You should try to write the logline before you write a novel. You should write the log line because when you try to do it the other way it's really much more difficult.
Lucy: I actually do start my novels, my own novels with a log line. I always try and write it that way and certainly I think screenwriting can help novelists a lot. So I always actually would recommend any novelist do even just a short screenwriting course, a crash course if you'd like, or read a book, or a way of actually working their way through their novel as they would through a screenplay, I think can pay dividends, definitely.
Joanna: Yeah, I've got a whole stack on my desk at the moment of screenplays. I've got “Terminator 2” and “Thelma and Louise” on my desk.
Lucy: Those are great ones.
Joanna: Can you explain what a treatment is, because it’s definitely something that most authors won't have come across before.
Lucy: Well, I mean a treatment is kind of like an outline really. A treatment it does depend who you're speaking to, traditionally a treatment is a selling document. And basically it’s a blow by blow account of the plot and how it works out in the screen play.
Ideally it should be between, we talk a lot these days about sizzlers, which are like three page treatments, and they’re supposed to sizzle as their name suggests, and they’re supposed to be really, really interesting and tell the story blow by blow, and actually draw you into that world. It's something that agents can read, that producers can read, that investors can read without necessarily having to read the entire screenplay.
So it's kind of like a diluted version, but a lot of people think it’s, then they've got to write it very boringly, but you can’t, you’ve got to write it in a really interesting way that really grabs people.
That makes investors in particular want to part with their money. So 3, 4 pages is about, I used to get away with like 10, 12, 15 pages, but these days it’s 3 or 4, you know it's always changing, all the time.
Joanna: Oh dear, mine's seven, so I might have to revisit that.
But, it’s so fascinating and what's interesting as well, you talk about that’s a selling document and the word investor which is something you don't really hear in the literary world so much, but this is what I also like about screenwriting because it is about getting the work made, isn't it? It's about getting people to fund it.
Can you explain the reality of how many of these get optioned and how many of these get made and how it all works?
Lucy: Well, how long is a piece of string?
If you get your screenplay optioned at all, then that's pretty cool, because probably I wouldn't even say 10% of scripts get optioned or made at all. It's really, really hard and certainly people will actually promise you money, and then money will disappear. There's lots and lots of false starts when it comes to movies.
I think I was talking in my book about drama screenplays about how “Dallas Buyers Club” was the most stalled screenplay in Hollywood, for 22 years, and how the producer Cassian Elwes lost the money three, four, five times. He actually ended up having to basically strong arm money out of somebody whose job he'd given 10 years before. You know the guy didn't even want to make Dallas Buyers Club, he was just, “Give me some money any money, I don't care.” Then he was like, “Oh, all right then.” [laughs]
Very often, what will happen is if you want to make, a lot of writer/directors will just make their own film. So they'll bypass all of the option process and getting other people interested, they'll set themselves up. They'll attach a producer. They'll go after money often with private investors, or with BFI or screen agencies.
Very often people will only offer up half the money and there's lots of really complicated laws where somebody can't just give you a stack of money to make a film because of tax and things like that. It’s really complicated. And so they'll say, “We'll give you half.” So you've got to match it from another source or you've got to get, from other places.
You've got to get a certain amount of stuff that’s encoined as well like free people working on it or free equipment. It's balancing all these crazy things all the time. There's also private investment companies whose job it is just to fund movies, and they’re like tax losses for other companies, and then there’s banks who offer loans to make films that are kind of like mortgages basically, but then the bank owns the film.
But once you’ve paid them back, then the film is yours, but it has to get into a certain amount of profit, and oh, God it’s so complicated, it's crazy. And then there’s all the different options as well, at like the base level.
A lot of writers, especially first time writers, will find themselves signing free options to a producer.
So a producer will come along and say, “I want exclusive rights to this screenplay for a certain amount of time and I will work at, try and raise the money to make it, but I don't have any money up front. So your payment will come when I raise the money.”
Those can be great deals or they can be terrible deals. It does depend. Certainly I've signed on projects that are free options that have worked out brilliantly, and that has catapulted people into situations where they could command a lot of money later or on projects later in their careers as well.
But if a writer is signing a free option, I always say to them, you've got to work out how good that option is for you.
Never let a producer have your script like five years for free, six months to a year I think is enough time, maybe 18 months at a push, but certainly no more than that.
And also do they have a good track record for raising money? How many films have they made before? How well did they do? Is this their first film? Just because it's their first film doesn't mean they're not good, so find out from their peers if they’re any good.
There are some sharks around definitely, but most producers just want what you want, which is to make film, and to get out there, and it be really successful, and make lots of money or hopefully get some cute Oscar awards, or whatever their strategy is. I find usually it's either money or awards. It's rarely both.
Joanna: Same with books.
Lucy: Yeah, So it depends what type of story this is. Sometimes people are going for the kudos, they want the awards, they want Oscar, BAFTAs all that kind of stuff, or they want to do something that has like issues attached that’s really big, and important and it has a big message to it. That it might be for that reason. Other times they want to get in the DVD channel, they want to be able to sell lots of units. I don't think either side is worse than the other. I actually like to work on projects that do both. I've been involved in projects that are award winners and I've been involved in projects that have made a lot of money. Both have their own challenges and both are equally interesting.
Joanna: And just to recap that often people will get an option, among the author community people will say, “Oh, I got an option,” but actually that means pretty much nothing. It could be a free option, they could get no money, it might never get made. It's not that big a deal to get options.
But the follow on question there, if you only write the book, but you don't write the screenplay, does that effect how the money works out later, because obviously someone will need to adapt that.
Do you recommend the authors do at least the first draft of a screenplay because of the writing credit?
Lucy: It can depend, sometimes authors like to be really involved and sometimes they don't. We all know about Gillian Flynn for example, and she's done stupendously well on her adaptation of “Gone Girl.” It was amazing, and everybody loved it and it was a very, very good adaptation.
And I don't know her and I don't know anything about the background of that project, but I would imagine that she probably instructed her agent that she wants to be into this adaptation from the start. And so I would imagine if David Finch hadn't approached, she would have probably packaged it up with a first draft, and a treatment, and a one page pitch in a whole package to show that she could do it. And that she was a serious person who could do it, because it’s all about can you deliver in screenwriting.
Screenwriting is, when it comes to meetings it’s all about can you deliver by a certain amount of time. So I would imagine she packaged it all up in advance. So if you're dead set on being involved in your own adaptation, I would say that was probably a good idea. That said, there are other ways of doing it.
Certainly, I've known writers in the past go to their agents in particular, especially if their agents represent screenwriters too, and say, “I really want to do an adaptation of my book, and I want you to pair me with a screenwriter to write it with them or to package it with them. Can you make that happen?”
And I've seen that happen lots of times at my agents. Like Freedman, there was Tricia Walker’s “Benedict's Brother,” she wanted to adapt her own novel and she did that. She got her agent involved to actually get her a screenwriter to advise her on that process.
I think she wrote the adaptation herself in the end, but she had a screenwriter with more experience advising her in the process as to go along, other times it's more kind of equal and it's two people together, a screenwriter and a novelist together. And it's all about proving that you can do it, that you can deliver.
Joanna: And let's say for the first time any of us do anything it's never very good. And learning to write a screenplay is a different skill. So this is something I think about all the time. Part of me really wants to write a screenplay and then the other part thinks if I write another novel I know I can make money on that. Whereas with a screen play there’s no guarantee that you're gonna make money is there. There's no guarantee it would sell. And as you said most of them don't actually. [laughs] Which is crazy.
So you have your book writing and selling a thriller screenplay, and you also have the drama screenplay has a great discussion on thriller and genre.
A lot of authors shy away from genre, but maybe you could explain why genre’s so important with screenwriting.
Lucy: When it comes to screenwriting, we talk about genre and then we talk about drama basically. Genre is all about those kind of big stories, those high concept stories, whereas drama is the pretty much the minutiae of life and everything else. You know the biopics, and the struggles of famous people, and inspirational stories against adversity, things like that. It's the little things, about little people and the human emotions, is drama.
Genre then is those big things and it's all about convention.
Every type of genre has its own defining characteristics, because audiences need to know what they're signing up for.
When a big movie like, “Jurassic Park,” for instance, you don't get more “genre-fied” than that. It's a big gigantic movie about dinosaurs running amok on an island, and that's what people want. They go for the plots and they come away happy because of the characters I think.
So I think it's really important to be able to actually sell up front what your story is about in genre. There's a reason that drama movies don't do as well as genre.
Occasionally you get break out hit dramas like “The King's Speech,” for example, did really well at the box office. So that's usually a bonus. It's not gonna happen as standard.
And the reason that people don't sign up in droves for dramas is because they don't always know what they’re about.
You can actually look at the box and you go, “Oh, okay, I get it. It's a love story or it’s a story of a man who did whatever,” but it's not got that kind of visceral pull. It's about curiosity really.
And you go to see these movies, something like “Blue Valentine” for instance an extraordinarily, devastating movie about a marriage break down, and it's really realistic and it's brilliantly done, and it's beautiful, and devastating, and completely and utterly depressing. Who wants to see that at the end of a week?
I was watching it pretty classically, wonderful. It was beautifully acted, beautifully written, beautifully directed and I was crying buckets, but you have to be in the mood for that.
Whereas I would love to go and see Jurassic Park, whenever.
Who doesn't want to see people being eaten by dinosaurs? I love dinosaurs and I love high-octane chases.
And yeah, there’s some actually, some quite deep philosophical stuff in Jurassic Park. They talk about the rate of the natural world. They talk about discovery. They talk about power and illusion of control. Quite deep stuff, but ultimately it’s about dinosaurs eating people. That’s what it’s about. Who doesn’t want to see dinosaurs eating people?
Who wants to see a marriage break down?
Your marriage might be breaking down right this moment, you don’t wanna see a movie about it as well. You might wanna see a dinosaur eating someone who looks like your ex-husband, you know, maybe.
Joanna: And this is actually really funny. And I said to you before that your website is really good for that kind of light heartedness around stuff because I feel like we all get so serious all the time.
And everyone’s like, “We have to write something serious and prize-winning-ey, but realistically we’re writing entertainment. Isn’t that what it comes down to?
Lucy: Absolutely. Entertainment is absolutely key. And the entertainment aspect of submitted screenplays in general is extremely low, really, really low. Most of the time I’m reading stuff that is far too serious for its own good. And even stuff about dinosaurs eating people would be really, really serious. And it’s we want to be entertained.
We don’t want to be educated necessarily. We don’t want to be shocked necessarily. We don’t want to be inspired.
We just want to be entertained. We want a good story, well told. That’s all we want.
And obviously that means different things to different people. It means different things in story contexts. But at the end of the day whatever you do within that context. You have to do it well, and you have to do it in an entertaining way.
The reason that so many big directors in particular are so popular, the Michael Bates, the Steven Spielberg’s, Christopher Nolan’s, doesn’t matter what you think of them. They are masters of entertainment.
They know who their target audience is. They know how to entertain them and they do it well, regardless of whether we personally like it or not.
So that’s what we have to do. We have to find out who are audience is.
Who we want to speak to, and we have to know what we want to speak about. We have to do it in such a way that we can entertain our target audience, and I think the average screenwriter who’s yet to break through, haven’t really grasped that, and doesn’t know what they want to talk about, who they want to talk to maybe their audiences.
The end result, if you don’t know who your audience is, you can’t entertain them.
Joanna: Do you recommend that authors watch the movies that they want to write, to break them down and work out why they’re so popular?
Lucy: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Very often, somebody will come to me and say, “I really want to write a supernatural thriller or a supernatural horror.” I haven’t watched any because I don’t want to be influenced. It’s like, “Seriously?” You can’t break new ground without knowing what’s gone before. You have to steep yourself in whatever genre you want to write in or whatever type of story. If you want to write a drama, you have to watch loads of drama.
You have to identify the movies that you like, and the stories that you like, and take from that the best bits and actually put your own new slant on them. And you can’t do that if you don’t know what’s gone before.
So and yes, people will absolutely insist that they can’t because they’ll just end up copying. And yet the irony is they actually end up copying because they just absorb stuff in their peripheral vision that they then just churn out and just stock characters, stock situations and it’s just cliché after cliché and it’s just so boring.
Joanna: So what’s your favorite… So I write thrillers but what would be your top film that you’re like, “Go watch this. Read the screenplay.”
Lucy: Oh, god. There’s so many. It depends on the day. I love “Thelma and Louise.” I remember watching that as a girl and just being, “Wow, it’s amazing.” I love “Alien.” “Alien’s” a great film. I never get bored of watching “Alien.” I saw the 35th anniversary screening in London last year, and that was a massive thrill because I got to see it on the big screen for the first time.
The work of Ridley Scott’s [inaudible] of the ‘80s and the early ‘90s was just exceptional. It was really good. And there’s stuff like “Legend” and other things like “The Abyss,.” James Cameron’s “The Abyss” I love that. It’s one of his forgotten films. Now “Avatar” and “T2” have eclipsed it. “The Abyss” was just so special and wonderful, and had a real human element in storytelling that maybe wasn’t in other pieces of his, for me anyways.
I really loved the work of Oren Peli, the guy who did “Paranormal Activity.” I love the stuff that’s coming out his studio. Things like “Sinister” and “Insidious,” stories about parenthood, and negotiating parenthood, and keeping your children safe and maybe failing them. ‘Cuz obviously that’s a big concern for parents.
He really got into that kind of psyche, that element of supernatural horror really, really well with Mr. Boogie in “Sinister” in particular he was great, loved that character and the whole actual traveling thing with “Insidious.”
I thought the first “Saw” was really awesome. I thought that changed the horror genre. Not necessarily for the better in the long term, ‘cuz it turned really nasty for a long time with torture con sort of genre. But that first “Saw” was real exciting. This thought that you could take 50 grand or whatever it was and just turn it into this massive franchise. Amazing.
That’s everybody’s dream, to take a tiny little Indie film and turn it into this massive seven-picture franchise that everyone was obsessed with for so long. And there’s just so many great things.
And also RomComs I think are really cool at the moment, and they went through a stage where they were a bit too blokey for may tastes, the Seth Rogen kind of stuff.
And now we’re into stuff where maybe the men are more naked than the women, which is nice. In things like “Friends with Benefits,” Justin Timberlake, loved that. I loved, oh, that one with Steve Carell and Julianne Moore, “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”
…good human stories there about love that were real and seemed relevant, that aren’t just all fairy tales all the time. Stuff like “500 Days of Summer” was a great film. Really relevant to me. Really, it was an “anti-rom-com” if you like, and I thought it was really cool.
Joanna: Oh, great. Well, and you’ve given such a lot of things that you like which is brilliant. And I also love your enthusiasm.
Tell people a bit more about what they can find at your website, Bang2Write.com.
Lucy: Well, my website is about demystifying the screenwriting process and the writing process in general. I don’t write predominantly about novel writing, so much as just creative writing, although I do write the odd post about novel writing form time to time.
Especially about description because when I do read novels from people, I find the description is the usually the thing that needs the most work. But I cover structure as well because that’s my thing.
I find a lot of Indie authors in particular write great characters, but maybe their structure’s all over the place.
So I’ll often advise about those two things. So I’ll write about those in terms of novel writing, but also I’ll write about writing careers, and strategies, and submission processes in general, because I’m very often the person on the other side of the submission process, either for screenwriting competitions or when people submit various pieces for my consideration.
And some of the processes that people go through are very strange. Very strange indeed. So I write a column for “Script Mag” it’s called “Submissions Insanity.” And it’s all, I’ll write about that on Bang2write as well about how not to submit to people, especially agents, because I’ll often be talking to agents about the crazy submissions that they get. Because I get the same at competitions and various initiatives. Especially at London Screenwriters.
So yeah, I’ll write about just the notion of being a writer as well, because it’s hard. It’s very solitary, writing. You have to be, if you want other people’s validation, you’re not going to get it. So you have to remember that you have to be your own biggest fan.
And I find that a lot of female writers will often come to me and almost like a counseling kind of capacity. It’s like, “You can do this. You can do this. You can get out to the other side.”
I also list free writing resources as well. There’s downloads that people can access and I’ve made lists of various podcasts I’ve been in, like this one. And videos, there’s some videos there from London Screenwriters, things like that, that people can access for free, and e-libraries and Pinterests as well. I’ve got very specific interests and stories about representations of masculinity in film, representations of women in film things like that. And crazy stories. Because truth is stranger than fiction. I love to actually collect mad items of news as well, things like that, which all can be accessed at Bang2write.
Joanna: It’s a brilliant resource. So just, give people the website address again and also your Twitter handle.
Lucy: Okay, it’s bang2write.com, and then I’m bang2write on Twitter as well.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for you time, Lucy. That was great.
Lucy: Thank you.
Phil Kassel says
As a point of reference for my comment, I worked as a writer-director in Hollywood for most of my adult life. My feature-length screenplays have been optioned by major studios and production companies (for money) but never produced (as yet), and I have been produced in both animated and live action television. I found your discussion with Lucy V. Hay interesting and entertaining. Many of Lucy’s examples of screenwriter experiences, business deals and “how to pitch” rang true. The pitching discussion rang painfully true.
Regarding the use of screen treatments, if a novel author aspires to actually write the screenplay of their novel, I strongly recommend that they skip the treatment and write the screenplay. A treatment may help convince a producer to take on your project but it will not help at all in securing you the screenwriting assignment. As Lucy mentioned, the film and television industry is all about, “Can you deliver?” The studio or producer wants proof that you really can write a quality screenplay. It may be different in Britain, but this has always been my experience over some 30+ years working in Los Angeles.
I haven’t written a treatment in many years and it was interesting that Lucy mentioned they can be 4 or 5 pages long. The length really does vary. I have a copy of a treatment written by Paul Henning for a Doris Day-Rock Hudson vehicle titled “Lover Come Back” that is over 50 pages long. Why the extreme length? Henning and his collaborator, Stanley Shapiro, already had the writing assignment; the treatment was simply the first step in obtaining story approval from the executives so they could move forward with the screenplay.
If I can offer any screenwriting guidance to you or your fans I would be more than happy to do so. In addition to my professional experience I taught screenwriting several years for the Act One Program in Hollywood and at Glendale College in Southern California. Thank you for all your work with the podcast.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Phil – I appreciate the comment. I agree with you on the treatment thing as well – but I’m not personally ready to take on screenwriting at the moment. The big thing that puts me off is the fact that so few get made. You may write something amazing and it may never see the light of day. Whereas I can write a novel and people will pay for it and read it. Gratifying to my soul and to the bank account! I would like to write a screenplay one day – but not yet!
Sean Carlin says
Great interview, Joanna. Ms. Hay is clearly very knowledgeable and I enjoyed getting her perspectives.
I’m an experienced screenwriter who’s recently turned his attention to publishing. The problem with Hollywood right now is that it has become nearly impossible in this IP-crazed atmosphere to sell original material anymore (even WITH a noteworthy attachment). The studios have their branded franchises — and now, God help us, “mega-franchises” — and that is all, at this moment in time, they care to pursue; there is no interest anymore in cultivating new voices or original stories. (I wrote about this in a blog post called “Attack of the Clones”: http://www.seanpcarlin.com/why-hollywoods-creative-approach-is-in-need-of-a-reboot/)
So, the only point to writing original specs, since the likelihood of a sale is so low, is as a “portfolio piece” that can help you make a name for yourself around town so you might vie for a chance to pitch for what are known as “open assignments,” meaning if you’re a comedy writer, you might be summoned to pitch a take on the next FOCKERS movie, or a solid action spec could score you a pitch opportunity for, say, a FAST & FURIOUS sequel or the next TRANSFORMERS.
The problem there, of course, is that those plum assignments typically go to the same dozen A-list writers — screenwriting’s top 1%. And even if an aspiring screenwriter can beat the odds and land a spot in that hermetic club, do you really want to spend your career writing sequels to reboots of yesteryear’s franchises? That isn’t writing stories, in my view — it’s milking corporate assets. And every creative decision requires so many levels of approval, from managers to agents to producers to studio execs (and even, on occasion, toy manufacturers!) that it’s a wonder ANY films EVER get made, let alone good ones on occasion.
All of that is why I packed up and set out for more creatively hospitable landscapes (like, certainly, self-publishing). If one has the skill set to write a novel (and most screenwriters, even the talented ones, DON’T), you are better off developing your ideas in THAT forum — far away from all the shouting voices — and making Hollywood come to YOU, as E. L. James and Andy Weir have done. But, without some kind of social proof or brand awareness — like a film project based on a novel or TV series or comic book (no matter how obscure) — a naked spec screenplay has very, very little chance of selling, and even less of ever being produced.
“Why must we go on forever writing only about gods and legends?” Mozart asked Joseph II’s court in AMADEUS. Given the endless slate of superhero films on deck between now and at least 2020, I can only imagine what he’d have to say about contemporary Hollywood. But, self-publishing is restoring the balance: It is putting the power back in the hands of the content creators. THAT’s the new, fertile model. Let Hollywood cannibalize itself and then come crawling to US for new ideas…
Joanna Penn says
Thanks for the considered comment, Sean. I definitely prefer writing novels as I know I can get them into the hands of readers and (shock horror) even make some money of them within a decent timeframe. That sounds as if it is completely out of your control in screenwriting. As you say, if you have a mega hit like Andy Weir or Hugh Howey, they will come to you anyway. Let’s just keep on creating!
Sean Carlin says
That’s really what it comes down to: control. When you work for Hollywood, you’re playing by THEIR rules; when you self-publish, you are beholden only to yourself. Yes, you are shouldering more responsibility in the latter scenario, but that’s the price for A) creative freedom and B) a guarantee that your work will eventually see the light of day. But, the one thing I know for certain is this: Don’t bother peddling your wares to Hollywood directly — they simply don’t want them anymore.
Deborah Rogers says
Film rights – I was wondering if film rights work the same way in terms of territories like they do for the books. For example, can I sell film/tv rights of my story to a production company in Australia, and to a production company in the US. I’m thinking of films/tv that have an European version and an American version like The Bridge or The Killings.
Matty Dalrymple says
Hi, Joanna! As always I really enjoyed not only the interview but also your opening remarks. I have been catching up on past episodes and had just listened to your interview with Charlie Gilkey and his great discussion of “core tasks” versus “satellite tasks”–there have also been a lot of references in recent podcasts to the benefits of a virtual assistant. So I was surprised when in your opening remarks you suggested that to truly be an entrepreneurial author, one needs to be willing to manage and upload one’s own book files. This seems like a satellite tasks perfect for assignment to a virtual assistant, so I was wondering about your thoughts behind that. Thanks for another helpful and inspiring presentation!
Joanna Penn says
I think uploading your own files is a must do because it’s not just about the files, it’s also the metadata and all that, which I think the author is best placed to do. A VA could do that but you would have to say what the fields were, so faster to do yourself. As to formatting, I’m just very careful about mine and if someone else did it, I would have to check all the files anyway – just call me a control freak! Obviously, this is a personal choice – like most things indie!
Matty Dalrymple says
That makes sense to me–thanks, Joanna!
T. R. Robinson says
Thank you for sharing this interview. Really interesting especially to someone like me who has been told more than once their book would make good film/TV Drama.