Writing animation – part 1

May 21, 2019
Bob Eckhard

Hello,

Today, we begin a 3 part series on writing animation which will be delivered as a drip feed over the next two months as my own project develops (see below). The attached notes on ‘Writing for Animation’ were taken during a session with Barbara Slade and I’d really recommend you attending one of her seminars should you get the chance as her teaching and insight into the industry is excellent.

Now, I’m not sure sure how this opportunity came about but a few weeks ago I was approached by an animation company to flesh out a storyline for their feature. True to the Hero’s Journey, I refused the call – moreso because my experience of animation is limited to a couple of spec scripts for children’s cartoons – but relented when they explained how it’s a compelling ‘story’ they are looking for. I offer that last moresel as herein lies one of the keys to getting work read and produced.

Now, back to the writing!

Find my notes from Barbara’s class here

Building a TV Series Bible

May 14, 2019
Bob Eckhard

Hi all,

A few years ago at the London Screenwriter Festival, Jeff Norton did a session on how he pitched his TV Series idea and episodes using powerpoint. In this, concept, characters, plot, theme and story were all portrayed visually using a range of pictures harvested from the Internet (though Pixabay and others platforms now offer an alternative way to avoid infringing copyright).

While I don’t have Jeff Norton’s powerpoint on How to build a TV series idea – actually, I don’t think he offered it – I do have his notes on the session which he worked through in regard to his TV Bible for one of his YA (young adult) actions books. Find Jeff’s notes  here.

All the best!

 

 

Agency – Conflict of Interest?

May 5, 2019
Bob Eckhard

Hi all,

Came across this infographic the other day and thought it might be of interest to those writers who long for the day when they will be represented by an agent. Now, while this deals primarily with writers operating in North America, it is worth watching for reason that

  1. the same thing might catch on here
  2. your great TV series might get picked up by a US production company and you end up across the pond with an American Writer Agency
  3. it’s good to know what agents are doing so you don’t get fleeced by agreeing to  something that is to their benefit and not yours.

Click below to see how having an agent might not work out for everyone…

 

 

What are the benefits of blogging?

April 30, 2019
Bob Eckhard

Okay, time for a short break from the pros and cons of writing different formats. Instead, let us consider the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of writing a regular blog which (in terms of social media) is a great way to grow your online presence, make friends, assist others and hopefully come to the attention of people in the industry.

Now, I’m guessing most of you think I only have this website. Well,  actually, I have 4 websites and post a different blog on each one every week – my four websites includes:

  • a writer website (this one),
  • two theological websites (with infor and ebooks, apps etc)
  • a production website (for plays and short films).

Initially, my interest in social media was fuelled while attending Talent Campus course (2.0). It was 2016 and London Screenwriter Festival’s Chris Jones was leading a session on social media – actually, the whole course was excellent and I’d recommend it all but this aspect particularly appealed to me as I realised I needed to start being more proactive both in networking in person but also online.

What follows are some handy notes taken from the session with Chris but what I really want to convey is that since I have started blogging, it seems to be generating interest on both Google and Linkedin with more of my projects showing up in search engine results. Okay here is the skinny to getting started.

  • Do get yourself a website or blogging page
  • Do write all your blogs in advance (Set aside a day and write blogs ahead of yourself so your creative writing is not interrupted)
  • Do give regular updates
  • Do befriend influencers and become one yourself
  • Do know your audience
  • Do be authentic, honest and entertaining.
  • Do make sure you have something to say in your blogs
  • (Key) Do contribute and interact
  • Do create new relationships
  • Do consolidate existing relationships
  • Do create extra value for yourself (influence, reach, relationships)

and the things to avoid

  • paying for social media consultants
  • bland posts with no aesthetics
  • asking others you hardly know to re-tweet or share your project
  • lengthy breaks between updates – as this loses audience continuity
  • posting stupid media that causes others to unsubscribe or stop following you – e.g.) Dog in a dress
  • Forgetting to include links in the body of the email.

And finally…the golden rule of blogging:

…for every post you write make sure you have at least 3 platforms on which to share it.

This post is written on my website but the link to the blog will also be posted in the 10 FB groups I am actively engaged on or associated with.

Now…off you go and get networking

ps Find my notes on Chris Jones session on social media by clicking here

 

 

 

 

Why you might consider writing a web-series?

April 22, 2019
Bob Eckhard

Let me start by saying that anyone with an interest in making a web series should approach it with a ‘long haul’ mindset. I offer this caution because much as it is a great way to see your writing produced and generate an audience around your work, it is also a ”hungry child” that will require constant feeding. In the same way that an audience built around a popular blog will instantly wane if the blogger takes a break or doesn’t post for weeks on end, so too the interest generated for a web series will falter and people fall away if episodes fail to materialise.

Okay, onto the…

Pros

  • More chance to see your writing produced
  • Opportunity to show off your drama/comedy skills
  • Great way to bypass the television gatekeepers and get your work out there
  • Possibility that your Internet series may become huge if it picks up the zeitgesit and generates interest across the web
  • If viewing figures are very large, it is likely to attract interest from producers and broadcasters seeking a show with a ready-made audience.
  • Gives you experience of writing copy to meet production deadline
  • Helps you to gain experience of the industry albeit in a miniature form
  • Potential that if the series proves to be a winner, you might seek online adverts that could pay some of the expense of production.

Cons

  • Huge commitment – embarking on a web series isn’t for everyone as producing is a lot of hard work.
  • No guarantee that your show will be picked up
  • Constant process of writing and editing a number of episodes in readiness for filming
  • Financial and time constraints through the cost of production – editing, expenses, sound, making trailers, promotion, advertising, etc
  • Hard work organising a specific day when production crew and actors are all available to meet to film the next set of episodes
  • Calling in favours from friends means that schedule for filming may often be out of your hands and cause delays to series deadlines.
  • Continuity problems with casting where regular actors are no longer available because they are obligated to a (paid) production elsewhere.
  • Not always possible to get all the tech crew together, especially if they are also self-financing and dependent on work
  • Finding a location where a set can be built or a house can be utilised

And finally…

Unlike other projects that have a set end date,  online viewers expect the webseries they’re watching to contine ad infinitum. Which is okay if it has a huge following but less so if it’s just a handful. Top of the list before embarking on a webseries is to go online and see what is already out there – don’t just watch those that are great. Watch those that are bad! Make notes of the audience figures they achieve and pinpoint how it relates to idea/ theme/ storyline. Having watched them, a few more questions you might ask of the best ones are:

‘What makes this web series brilliant/popular?’

‘Is my idea and writing as good or better than the best that I’ve watched?’

‘Can I match the production quality and values of the best few?’

‘Are my actors/crew good enough to sustain production over weeks, months, years?

Lastly, be brave. Web-series production is not everyone’s cup of tea but for some it will be and eventually become their raison d’être.

 

What are the benefits of writing a novel?

April 15, 2019
Bob Eckhard

In 2011, with electronic books starting to get published, a moderator on ‘Shooting People’ detailed how several of his e-books made it into Amazon’s Top Ten List. What’s more – within days, a film company optioned every one of his electronic book titles. Looking into why a production company would buy up his e-books without reading them he learnt that they feared missing out on the next great novel that could one day make into a film. Hence, why they were buying up pretty much everything that made the list.

In later posts, he detailed how a few of his novels became movies which meant (from a POV of his writing) that

1) he was ahead of the game

2) his stories were good

3) he caught the zeitgeist at the precise moment that made people want to buy and read his books.

Now while my long form writing extends only to a couple of childrens’ novels written 20 years ago, I admire those writers who can produce an 80,000 word novel. More than one, even better.

Why? Because this is what is required if you want to develop your audience and meet their insatiable desire to read your books. Which brings us onto the pros and cons of writing a novel.

Pros

  • If you can write an entertaining 80,000 word novel you will attract interest from agents. If you can produce more, even better!
  • Real opportunity to see your best selling novel on the shelves of bookshops.
  • Possibilities that your novel will be picked up and become a bestseller and/or a film come out of it.
  • This type of writing suits writers for whom engaging with the subject matter is a carthartic experience.
  • Furbishes a life as a writer rather than other non-creative jobs that would be tedious.

Cons

  • It takes a particular type of person to dedicate themselves to the task of writing an 80,000 novel.
  • If commisioned, publishing companies will expect you to produce more novels within that genre (as that is what your audience expects).
  • A published writer (on commission) might be expected to produce four books in order for the company to make a return on its investment.
  • Being a novelist can be a lonely and frustrating existence at times.
  • Hard to define what is writing time from family/own time.
  • Unable to stop and write things you’d rather do when you are working towards an editor’s deadline.
  • No guarantee that your novel will become a bestseller and that a movie will come out of it.

the most important thing to remember

Writing is rewriting and great novels require lots of hard work and editing. It is not enough for them to be good – they have to be great!!! Not only must your voice be heard within the pages but the book must transport you and them into a world in which the consequence of non-participation is never considered. If you can achieve all this, then you are a novelist and a great storyteller who mystifies and weaves questions and dilemma into each reader’s mind.

 

How and why I made a trailer for my TV series – Jaye Swift

April 9, 2019
Bob Eckhard

Hi all,

Following on from last week’s post on the pros and cons of creating promos for our projects, writer and filmmaker Jaye Swift explains her reasons for making a trailer for her TV series. She writes:

‘Several years ago I wrote a seven part TV series about the Bevin Boys called ‘The Forgotten Conscript’. The Bevin Boys were young conscripts balloted down the coal mines towards the end of World War 2. Their story had been lost over the years and I decided it needed to be told!

Now, although seven scripts of 60 pages (each) is asking a lot of the reader, those who have read the full series tell me they love it!

As not many of the Bevin Boys are alive today, the question was how to get their story out there before all of them were dead. Having sent the synopsis to a couple of production companies they got back to me to say there was little appetite for period dramas at the moment. Yes, unbelievable.

So, I had the idea of making a trailer for the series. But if I was going to do this, then I would have to make it properly with no expense spared. I’d already produced several short films and a documentary so had a trusty crew and actors who’d performed in plays and films.

As filming at locations that were period appropriate was paramount,  the task of securing sites began.First off, I approached two coal mine museums in South Wales. The first, though happy to help, only allowed filming in certain areas of the mine and for a limited period  – which was  no use at all. The second,  a coal mine in The Rhondda Heritage Park, couldn’t have been more accommodating, offering non-stop help from beginning to end and were absolutely brilliant. 

A third location was also secured for scenes outside the coal mine. For this I approached St Fagans National Museum of Wales who had several locations which would be imperative to pinpointing the backgrounds of all five Bevin Boys. I needed a castle, a smithy, and a farmstead which would act as several locations. However, because St Fagans is a National Museum, there are very strict rules and regulations which cast and crew had to adhere to but it was worth it as all the locations used there, set the tone and left the viewer in no doubt that they were in the 1940s.

Having secured cast, crew and locations, the next thing was to hammer down the costumes which had to be authentic and look the part. To do this, all my actors had to attend a costume fitting at Marigolds in Cardiff, who were absolutely faultless in their help with my production.

As we were filming a trailer which spanned a story that covered ten months, several costume changes had to take place to emulate the passage of time. Over 100 items of clothing were hired. At St Fagans, a cowshed was used as the changing room! Our green room was the magnificent Coal Miners Oakdale Institute which incidentally had a plaque installed in memory of the Bevin Boys.

For the pit clothes, I had to create my own, so months of trawling charity shops saw me with a large array of suits, jackets, trousers etc. As clothes were rationed during WW2 and working the mines resulted in pit clothes wearing out quickly, the Bevin Boys were not given a uniform (other than a helmet!) which meant they also used second hand shops to buy whatever they could to wear underground. To give the pit clothes the appropriate ‘worked in’ look, I put them through a cement mixer which roughed up the garments to the point so that they had holes and tears throughout. I used black and brown acrylic paint to dirty up the shirts’ collars and cuffs.

While all the above post production was taking place, I had to work out what scenes I wanted to film from my seven part series. I decided that I would like to be able to break down the trailer into five separate mini trailers – one for each of the Bevin Boys characters; this was why I wanted home scenes interspersed throughout with coal mining scenes. I could then put them all together to tell the larger story of all five boys.

In all there were 50 scenes at each location to film – a lot to ask of the crew, but we managed to get everything done. We kept to schedule at St Fagans but went well over schedule at the mine- I think my cast and crew were beginning to hate me by the end of that final day!

In the past I recorded several interviews with Bevin Boys, and am considering using some of their voices on the trailer.

As I write this, the trailer is in post production, My intention is that when it is complete, it will be sent to would-be producers for them to watch which shouldn’t be onerous with it being 5 minutes long. It will be the ultimate proof of concept of this little known story which needs to be told. As we are coming up the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of WW2, it’s time the Bevin Boys story got out there, and I intend to do it!’

Pros and cons of creating a trailer for your screenplay?

April 2, 2019
Bob Eckhard

In the same way that some writers use mood boards or hand out project flyers to potential producers at screenwriter festivals, the idea of a filmed trailer is right up there when pitching that great idea. Indeed, if the trailer does impress the intended recipient it can be a great way to get your project noticed. However, if it is poorly crafted in terms of concept, compelling scenes, genre, post production (colourist, sound, etc) then it will just as likely result in rejection with no second chance to make amends.

With all these in mind, let’s consider the pros and cons of trailers.

Pros

  • More chance that if the trailer is good it might draw interest from a director/producer
  • If unsuccessful, the trailer can still be utilised online for crowdfunding purposes to raise finance for making it as an independent film.
  • Greater likelihood that a busy producer will click a hyperlink and watch your trailer than read a treatment or lengthy synopsis.
  • Opportunity for you to create a trailer that conveys the exact scenes and moments you would want a director to see and be left remembering

Cons

  • Strong likelihood that a lot of money will need to be spent on creating a trailer to show your work in the best light.
  • Time and effort for writer in editing and ordering a series of scenes that will result in a trailer where the viewer is left wanting more.
  • Calling in favours or paying people to scout locations, get permits for filming, hiring costumes, shoot film, record sound, provide music, post production work and of course actors to perform those incredible scenes.
  • The money spent making a trailer might have been better on a short film that could be entered into festivals competitions which can just as easily garner support and interest in your creative ability.
  • Writing a trailer limits the shelf-life of the product as it advertises and does not tell a story  so has no purpose should the pitch/idea be rejected

And finally

the most important thing to remember

Your screenplay needs to be already written before embarking on writing a trailer in order that scenes can be mixed and matched into the best combination. Besides, there is no point creating a brilliant trailer if it bears no resembance to the screenplay you will be asked to send in if the producer likes it and wants to read more. Moreover, before embarking on production of a trailer, make sure the script is perfect and road test it with an assortment of friends, family and critics before putting money up to make something that even they are not that keen to watch.

Pros and cons of writing for animation?

March 26, 2019
Bob Eckhard

Okay, this week we consider animation and why you should consider writing it.

Interestingly, this time last year I was placed in the finals of the Euroscript Screenwriting contest with an animation film treatment that I had adapted from a TV sitcom idea I’d been unsuccessful with at the BBC Writersroom years before. My experience of writing animation prior to this was a one day course with Barbara Slade in which we watched episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants, Rugrats and Angela Ballerina, dissected these to learn the rudiments of story animation and craft, then used this knowledge to create our own  5 minute animations of these shows – which were pretty good from the class, even if I say so myself!.

Now, you may have noticed how films today are increasingly being made using computerised animation models – films that appeal to children such as Shrek, Ice Age, Antz, Toy Story, and Finding Nemo to name but a few of hundreds. However, increasing common is the use of this technology to reach adult audiences such as Avatar. All of which begs the question:

Why use animation to tell your story when you could have real actors playing those parts? Simple answer: ‘cost!’

Put simply, it’s a case of economics and deadlines as there is far less expense in creating characters that don’t get ill (unless the animator is called upon to make it happen), don’t require a stunt double or demand a huge pay cheque and royalties or fly off the handle or a million other things associated with human temperament. Basically, in animation, no one gets hurt, especially not a highly insured actor. The only negative being that the audience does not get to see their favourite celebrity in the flesh, though they more than likely may get to hear their voice as they inhabit the character.

Pros

  • If your writing craft is good enough there are opportunities to get picked up as an animation writer working on children’s TV shows
  • A chance to corner a format that many other writers haven’t considered.
  • (Like radio) The chance to set stories in wonderous worlds that can be created by animators at limited expense
  • Opportunity to target an expanding market where great story tellers who can write animation are often in demand
  • easy to convert your screenplay which was shelved due to the outrageously expensive budget of locations into an animation with no concerns.
  • Using a mobile phone with ‘stop-motion animation’ software to experiment with animation ideas with a view to developing additional skills

Cons

  • Time and money spent in attending animation courses or requesting feedback from mentors?
  • Learning the format by reading and watching animation scripts and films.
  • Long time malaise of working on projects that are (usually) children orientated
  • Thinking like a child and knowing what and how they are amused.
  • Writing lengthier scripts – a film that requires 90 pages of script will translate to 135 page when scripted as an animation – think 1 page= 1.5 pages (animation).

And finally…

the most important thing to remember

Great animation require great description and action. Before sending it to anyone, make sure the script is perfect. (And that each minute of the story = 1.5 pages )

 

 

Pros and cons of writing and producing a short film?

March 19, 2019
Bob Eckhard

 

We continue the series with the skinny on producing short films…

Unlike feature films and large scale stage productions, the short film format offers a cheaper alternative for telling story. The best short films have a small cast and a limited number of settings. There is normally one main theme and production is designed in such a way so as not to be demanding in terms of time and money constraints. Consequently, it is not uncommon for the script to have been edited to within an inch of its life with all unnecessary scenes, props and dialogue removed.

In this, it is important to note that short films can and do lose the audience’s interest quickly if they carry superfluous content causing it to run longer than the viewer anticipated. After all, they are watching it because it’s short – not long! They also expect to be entertained so make it compelling with a clear theme, great storyline, diverse characters and satisfying conclusion.

There are many things to take into account when producing a short film so best buy a book on the dos and don’ts of filmmaking rather than risk it going wrong. Here are a few of the things to consider:

  1. have all actors’ contracts ready beforehand and get them to read and sign them before any rehearsal or filmmaking takes place.
  2. as an attending writer, be prepared to act as a producer (or dogsbody) bringing snacks, umbrellas, ladders, scripts, flasks of tea (and coffee), props, sandwiches,etc.
  3. before filming your short, check all props to ensure they do not breach copyright and render your film redundant or bring about prosecution if used.
  4. if thinking your film will be entered in a competition later on, you should get permits or written permission for locations used as you may be asked for them
  5. plan to record extra audio (dialogue and sounds) in case original audio accompanying the film is poor quality and needs replacing with similar background noise, etc
  6. make sure all editing (flame artist and otherwise) occurs before sending it on to the colourist.
  7. take a course or buy a book that helps you learn how to direct TV drama and gives you an insight into using a camera, blocking actors, coverage, types of shot etc.

Pros and Cons of Producing

Pros

  • More chance of seeing your work produced.
  • Opportunity to enter your short film into competitions/festivals .
  • The short can be shot to budget on everything from an iPhone through videocam to a DSLR camera.
  • The film may serve as a forerunner that can be used to promote a larger project idea you’d like to develop.
  • A short film can be sent out to producers or used in crowd-funding promotions.
  • If seeking an agent, what they might not be prepared to read, they may be willing to click and watch.
  • Chance for professional reviews by submitting it to competitions
  • Something tangible on your creative CV as you move from writer into filmmaker and/or production.
  • Can be rehearsed as a table read beforehand to ascertain viability as a production.

Cons

  • Time and money spent in learning about your camera and how to get the most out of it
  • if not firecting yourself, the cost of attending a TV/Film directing course (I recently attended one with Film Oxford)
  • Learning the format by watching lots of short films.
  • Time spent making your filming mistakes on other projeccts and not your prize script
  • Cost of buying in production skills you don’t have – e.g.) audio, lighting, make-up artist, costumier, etc
  • Cost of post production: flame artist, colourist, sound etc, music composer, titles

And finally

the most important thing to remember

Great short films make for great entertainment. So, before embarking on production, make sure the script itself is perfect. (And not a case of  ‘It will do!’)