Thursday, November 04, 2010

Rewrite notes #2: working with producers

In October I went to Rewrite, a day-long seminar in Edinburgh for screenwriters about working with script editors and producers. Here's my second set of notes. Kieran Parker [KP] is a producer with Black Camel, makers of hit Nazi zombie film Outpost. Turan Ali [TA] runs his own production company, Bona Broadcasting. [See my first notes here.]

KP: You don’t qualify as a producer – you just do it, just go out and produce. [Outpost director] Steve Barker and I met at art school, did film stuff together and I became a producer.

TA: Producing is not just about the money. You’re involved in casting, sometimes directing, often in the edit – it’s all part of the whole creatively. My only interest is what’s the writer’s vision? In film and TV that – the writer’s vision – can easily become muddled. Getting the thing to happen is the biggest part of the producer’s job.

Funding the project is the best part; the most frustrating thing is you can’t get that project made. Someone at the BBC told me recently any queer content adds two years to getting your project on screen.

Most projects we develop ourselves at Bona, then bring a writer in. We get a lot of ideas every week. Most are vague, unspecific. You have to know your medium, your craft – which network, which slot. If you don’t have any credits, you need someone to give you credibility – that’s where a producer can make all the difference.

What’s at the centre of all this is persuasion. A good story persuades. Emotional persuasion – people have to feel they can take a punt on you. Intellectual persuasion – what’s the logic in taking a punt on a new writer? The answer is originality.

KP: It’s about passion, if you can communicate that. You have to persuade people to join you. You have to get across your passion for the story, communicate that. Do you research on what companies want, don’t waste people’s time. Understand the companies you are targeting. It’s about relationships, building connections.

TA: The heart of a good writer is subtext. For me, if there’s no subtext there’s nothing for the director to do. Good writers give the actors and directors something to work with.

At the moment of climax in your story, is there a universal truth being communicated? How can you write a story unless you know what it’s about? Original universal truths mark out good writers.

Writers should hold back from dialogue until the last possible stage. Writers get over-attached to scenes because they have gone to dialogue too soon.

KP: Black Camel is starting to work more with new writers. You have to court a bit, it’s a two-way seduction. It’s a long road, there are ups and downs along the way. Money for film is so scarce. That means people do it for passion first, and hoping to get paid later.

Writers should stick to their guns with an idea. The producer has to buy into it, otherwise why bother? They must be able to defend every aspect of your script. You and the producer are a team. Don’t say no too quickly.

TA: Every moment in a script has to earn its place. When there is conflict, I try to identify what’s the source. You are never arguing about what you are arguing about – that’s a good universal note. It’s surprising how often writers don’t know they characters.

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