London Screenwriters Festival

The London Screenwriters Festival was meant to be held in London in April. It's now been postponed to next year. In the meantime, the event has moved online with a mixture of script to screens, webinars and Q&As. It's working well, with about 3 talks a day. There's even some archive footage thrown in. 

Here are notes from three of the talks. The first is Scott Myers, an American lecturer and screenwriting guru who was one of the first to embrace the Hero's Journey. After that its Phil Hughes and Ted Wilkes who've expanded on their fairy tale-based work and final Raj Persaud, the likeable psychiatrist who talks about persuasion.


Scott Myers

Scott Myers was due to speak in person the day before the event, so instead they ran an archive video of the talk and then he joined for a Q&A. Here are some brief notes of the recorded session on Characterisation:

  • Begin and end with characters
  • Use the 5 stages of grief as a character arc template e.g. Groundhog Day
  • Are your characters willing to change and what happens if they don't:
    • Shawshank. Tim's character believes in hope so escapes. Red doesn't initially but then relents.
    • Pulp Fiction: Refuse change - you die (Vincent). 
  • Change agents e.g. Forest Gump, don't need to change as they're 'perfect'. Or at least self-fulfilled.


Scott uses this list of character archetypes:

  • Protagonist
  • Antagonist
  • Attractor
  • Mentor
  • Trickster


To develop your characters, you could interview them or write a stream of their consciousness. In all scenes, your characters must work in the background of the story's theme. It's DNA. They demonstrate their relationship to it, through:

  1. External: action and dialogue
  2. Internal: intention via subtext


Theme

You should have a central theme (CT) but can also have sub themes (ST) and adjunct themes (AT). So in Tootsie, the CT is 'he's a better man as a woman' but a ST is sexism, lying and an AT is acting, friendship.


Objects

Physical objects can have emotional meaning. Motifs can also enhance your story e.g. dialogue, music or visuals e.g. hand gesture in the Matrix.

In the Q&A, Scott mentioned how scenes in films have been getting shorter and are now often 1.5 pages on average. The typical length of a script is now 105 pages. So you need 155-160 pages. 


Phil Hughes and Ted Wilkes

I'd seen a great talk by these two through LSF's archive. They presented their thesis that there were only 5 types of inciting incidents on in their terminology, invitations (to the ball)They were:

  1. Become a swan
  2. Down the rabbit hole
  3. Take me instead
  4. Drink the potion
  5. Kill the goose


As you can tell, they use fairy tales as their method of explanation. It works well as we're all familiar with these stories. They're both screenwriting lecturers and the quality of their presentations is high. Their work will be published in a book soon.

In this new talk, they wanted to show how these 5 invitations link to another part of the story, the last throw of the dice. They demonstrated through examples that each invitiation is matched by a specific throw of the dice. But first, they talked a little bit more about the 5 invitations and what it means to the protagonist's behaviour.

  1. Become a swan: the protagonist doesn't believe in themselves
  2. Down the rabbit hole: the protagonist is passive
  3. Take me instead: the protagonist is willing
  4. Drink the potion: the protagonist is unwilling
  5. Kill the goose: the protagonist is an antihero


Modern film examples were given for each of these. For example, for Become a swan, The King's Speech or for Kill the goose, Joker.

When the protagonist reaches the last roll of the dice at about the three quarters point, their behaviour relates to the invitation. Here is the full table:


Invitation

Protagonist Status

Last Throw of the Dice

Become a swan

Doesn't believe in themselves

Transforms into a swan

 

Down the rabbit hole

 

Passive or ill-equipped

 

 

Returns home. Could have done all along

Take me instead

Willing

Burn the forest. Destroys everything

Drink the potion

Unwilling

Undoes deal, goes back on themselves, undoes harm

Kill the goose

Antihero

Things get worse. A) meant to be B) Regret


Raj Persaud

Dressed in a natty blue checked shirt and straw boater, he looked quite different from his time on This Morning. He gave a talk on persuasion in the context of how you might say, get someone to read your scritpt.

He explained that ther ewith the advice that there are 3 methods of persuasion:

  1. Reasoning
  2. Consequences
  3. Manipulation


So for example. You could say, "Read my script as I've won an Oscar so you can trust me". This works of course if you do have an Oscar or they trust your writing through other evidence. For consequences, "Read my script or I'll pinch you". Not a great strategy.

The final one is manipulation for which there are several techniques. One of the oldes examples, is someone on the street giving you something then asking for something in return. Heather used to one gift you'd get. Another tactic is to find out what they need. They key here is asking questions and listening to the responses.

Raj also talked about how many relationships are transactional and this is certainly an interesting way to look at scene construction. He also talked about taking advice. His take on this is unless you have an alternative to the advice, you can't reject it. So to go back to the 3 methods of persuasion, if 1 and 2 won't work and you don't have a number 4, 3 is your only option.