Spent the weekend at 360 Narratives, a new initiative run by Playwrights' Studio, Scotland with the motto "challenge, collaborate, create". Among the guest speakers was UK script development guru Phil Parker. Here on my rough notes on what he said:
Storytelling is the thing that connects us all, but originality is being killed by adaptation.
A study found £125 million had been spent on development in UK films but with no upturn in box office. So UK film companies abandoned UK screenwriters, abandoned commissioning new, original work. They now only develop true stories or adaptations.
But screenwriters now have opportunities people never dreamed of before…
There’s this notion that stories can just be moved from one medium to another. But PP believes some stories fit certain media. Cited Jeanette Winterson’s quote that adaptation is smashing a beautiful vase to make a teacup and saucer.
Adaptations are liked because those stories already have an audience. It de-risks the screenwriter is the perception, because the stories already exists, the characters exist. What can go wrong? We’lll just play with it. All an original piece of work has going for it is the screenwriter’s track record.
Originality is being crushed in our culture – but there are opportunities. It’s a new era.
Got a Youtube clip into the Top 10 globally and you get paid $150,000.
There are no gatekeepers – you just need a platform. It’s the new world. It’s not coming, it’s here – but UK writers haven’t woken up to this yet.
Angry Birds went through 54 iterations before it was a massive success. What changed? It took off when they added a backstory, when they added narrative.
PP looks for the communality in things. Angry Birds was about justified revenge. Every single person has been treated unfairly at some point in their lives, they can empathize.
Give your character an undeserved misfortune and the audience empathizes with them. This goes all the way back to Aristotle, but it still works today, all over the world.
We were all powerless as children, and felt we were treated unfairly at some point. You carry that childhood experience as part of your adult emotional core. Those emotions stay with you for the rest of your life.
Audiences react emotionally to a character who suffers an undeserved misfortune, it makes them care about the character.
PLATFORMS – and how do you place yourself on them
THE SHORT – used to be the short film, heavily funded by regional film bodies like Scottish Screen. Now the short is found on Youtube. Funny dominates short forms.
THE WEBISODE – stringing together short pieces to form a narrative. Check out Angry Orange on Youtube, 20+ eps, made by guys in Oregon, now a worldwide hit.
THE E-BOOK – these enfranchise writers. Web publishing is a different game. You need to know your audience, your genre or sub-genre. You need to market to that audience. Anyone with wi-fi can access your story from anywhere in the world. A hit e-book makes the writer a fortune because it cuts out the middle man i.e. publishers.
LOW/NO BUDGET FEATURES – according to the BFI Yearbook, 143 no/low budget movies were produced in the UK during 2010, although none of them made any money. What makes a movie stand out? The writing. Technology allows you to make it now. Distribution is still problematic in the UK, however.
Screenwriters should either be writing massive Hollywood spectacles movies – or films that can be made for £500,000. If the latter, pick a genre that suits low budget – horror or very character heavy drama. Great plotting and directorial style will elevate them. Most low budget plotting is terrible.
Collaboration is the key for 360 degree narratives, but it doesn’t happen overnight.
Intellectual Property [IP] ownership is a real issue. You need ot define everyone’s IP ownership within a collaborative project.
Genres are real, you are always working within a genre and you need to understand it.
PP argues there are essentially only 4/5 genres – horror, thriller, romance, drama and the personal drama. He believe the desire for love or validation are the two key emotional focuses of the last decade in film narratives.
Where are we going? That’s in the lap of the gods. There are no enough good, low budget screenplays in the UK. Quality in development is crucial. So is writer’s ambition. Need to get past Scottish miserablism.
Want to get on? Say ‘sod ‘em” to broadcasters and other gatekeepers for funding. Those gatekeepers are scared. They’re retreating into their caves, waiting for the storm to pass. People with their little empires – 360 narratives are anathema to them. Circumvent them.
Marketing yourself is a problematic area – but crucial. You have to connect to the relevant online community, place yourself in their spaces and keep going. This is where collaboration is crucial.
Marketing yourself – you should be doing it instinctively, it’s not somebody else’s job to find you work or funding. Collaborations – think of yourselves as a team, not as a gathering of individuals. Everyone has to contribute.
PLATFORM? Go with the one you can afford. Find your audience and what they like. Put up a chapter a week online, building to a larger story. Build your audience online and then move to offline. You can experiment like crazy – why not do it?