Learning to write clever in a data world?

September 25, 2019
Bob Eckhard

Hi all,

A few weeks ago, I decided to catch up on all my unread emails – a huge task as there were 300+ Obviously, a lot of the circulars were easy to delete without reading, others not so…but then I came to the weekly email digest about all things film from writer, filmmaker and data researcher Stephen Follows. (Actually, I’ve met him at the London Screenwriters Festival back in 2013 and he’s a great guy).

Anyway, Stephen is the ‘go to person’ in the American Film Market and research industry and I guarantee that what he researches and writes about can and will help writers and filmmakers to rethink their strategy. Things like:

  • the advisable length of a screenplay for genres – not too long for comedy but make it really long for history (which scores high in US)
  • how a Christmas themed film that does not occur over that December holiday will not fare so well in the box office as one that does.
  • the affect of happy endings in film and the type/length of scripts that might fare better with gatekeeper readers.

Okay, find Stephen Follows blog/website by clicking here

Til next time…

Can the act of drawing make you a better writer?

September 17, 2019
Bob Eckhard

Today,  I’d like to explore how the act of drawing can be an invaluable process in shaping our stories and resolving issues within them.

I first became aware of the benefits of drawing back in the mid-90s while studying an Open University module about Mathematical Classrooms. Within the pages of the dense reader on educational research and number cruching, I came across a story from the 19th Century in which university student Harold Scudder is given a task by Professor Louis Agassiz to….(find the short account I read and later adapted into  a play by clicking here.)

OR ( for those of you who would prefer the ‘skinny’ of the story…)

The Professor sets student Harold Scudder the task of examining a dead fish to discover what makes the species unique from other fish. But there’s a catch: Scudder must achieve this feat without using a magnifying glass or microscope.

Initially, Scudder is excited by the task but soon ends up hating the fish because of his failure to progress and its rancid smell which results in his interest fading. Worse still, because the Professor goes days without checking in on him, Scudder is forced to persevere with a task that is loathsome to him. (Hopefully, we see the correlation with the writer’s dilemma when things just aren’t working).

Anyway, one day – bored out of his mind – Scudder has an idea and decides to draw the fish and is soon enthralled by all the new things he discovers. No longer is he bothered by the fish’s smell or clock watching until the Professor’s return. Indeed, when Professor Agassiz does arrive, he catches Scudder by surprise with the words:

‘That is right…a pencil is one of the best of eyes”

But what has this to do with writers and screenplays?

Well, it means that when we find ourselves stuck or struggling to structure our story, it’s very likely that drawing it in pictures unclutters the mental log jam we are experiencing. I have found this to be true and often use this method when plotting out each act of a screenplay or creating a storyboard for a short film, etc.

All of which means, next time the muse removes itself from you and your project, remember ‘a pencil is one of the best of eyes!’

Now get drawing!

image by Domas from Pixabay

Why you shouldn’t wait for someone to produce you!

September 10, 2019
Bob Eckhard

 

Hi all,

As many of you will know, I am currently on a mission to help writers (myself included)  find alternative ways of getting their work noticed by those who have the potential to read and develop it. My thinking being that no matter how great the script is, it’s still really hard getting it produced – which means, all of us have to find other ways of meeting people who we can impress with our masterpieces.

A year or so ago, I heard a podcast in which a producer when questioned about how he went about selecting writers to invest in, explained that he always asked the writer (seeking to be produced) if they had ever put money into any of their own projects? He went on to say that most of them answered ‘no, they hadn’t’ to which his retort was:  ‘Well, if you’re not willing to invest in your projects, why should I put my money into it?

Now, I know not all of us have large sums of money to invest in our projects to stage that play or make a short film but I do think there is a kernal of truth in the producer’s observation. My response to it was to produce one of my plays at a review theatre – not just so that I’d be able to answer any producer who asked that question in the future but also to show that I was a person who could be depended upon to get things made. And if you follow my line of thinking, that might not involve huge amounts of money so much as time and effort learning how to film or make a podcast or stop-animation or whatever. Or just helping others or calling in favours from those who possess the skills that can help you get something made. Til next week…

 

 

Generating story ideas from photos? (part 2)

September 3, 2019
Bob Eckhard

Photo - Bob Eckhard. 'Stone slab bridge over simpering stream...'

Those of you who read my last post will know I left you with the task of developing a story idea for each of the 4 photos I took while in Ireland.  See below for photos 3 & 4-which we will consider today – click here to see larger images of the 4 photos)

3 The Gearaghclick here for more                                                                                                        This picture shows a flooded forest – known as the Gearagh – which was once densely populated with ancient oak trees from one of the last surviving forests in Western Europe. That was until a decision was made to flood the region to facilitate a supply of water to power stations to service the nearby city of Cork and other towns. While the wetlands they created have resulted it a place of outstanding beauty with a diverse ecological system, from a filmic perspective we might ask what else lurks beneath its murky waters? What monster or entity might come forth to seek revenge for the destruction of its environment  for the advance of science and technology? Moreover, do the trees still live and if so, are they seeking revenge?

 

4. Bright light in dense forest.

For me, the most obvious choice of film idea from this photo, involve aliens. Maybe a story about a couple who trek through a forest only to encounter an alien life form. Or maybe the genre is fantasy?  Something about a gateway into a mystical world such as ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ where there is a portal into another time or dimension? Or something current to our situation in which a future world is fashioned out of ecological disaster where people are no longer able to venture outside during the day for fear that the sunlight will burn/blind/kill them. Now, add a story of two children who embark on a journey to find their parents who have been lost on route to them while travelling through a drought-ridden environment on route to them and we have a real survival story to tease out.

So there you have it! Four photos (over two weeks), all with multiple possibilities of genre? format? structure? protagonist? etc. It’s really up to you. Till next time…keep the creative fires burning!

Generating story ideas from photos? (part 1)

August 27, 2019
Bob Eckhard

Following on from  last week’s post in which I enthused about using a camera for inspiration for when the muse departs, I’d like to explore today how the actual history behind a photo may provide as much of an engaging story as we might conjure up ourselves – consider the two photos below..

Those of you who read last week’s post may remember I left you with the task of developing a story idea from 4 photos that were taken recently in Ireland – click here to see larger images of the 4 photos.

1 Red Bridge (Cappoquin)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not so easy to see from the first angle but (today) Red Bridge and its railway line suddenly come to an abrupt end as it reaches the road and its perimeter wall. (More about the bridge and its history here )

Life for the townspeople of Cappoquin changed completely in the mid-19th C when their town was selected to be the crossing point for a new railway line that would link them with other towns in Ireland, including the seaport of Rosslare. But the building of the two bridges and railway came at a price for the town’s people as it required the demolition of a street comprising a dozen houses (which displaced families), and a rerouting of a (tributary) river in order for it to join the main Blackwater River further downstream with all the disruption that caused.

Interestingly, the lack of height of the Red Bridge later affected the town’s ability to receive yachts that once travelled up the estuary, leading to a loss of business and trade. More importantly, the railwayline changed the town forever. Years later – with the country in economic decline  – the railway line provided the only means for young people to survive as they left Cappoquin (and other towns) in their droves, migrating to America and other far flung places – later on, some to war but for many, never to return to their town/country again.

Personally, I think this actual piece of history offers a great opportunities for generating story – for example, opportunities for drama between locals resisting developers? Or perhaps the plight of people who in the economic downturn after the potato famine are forced to make hard choices as they debate leaving the country and lifestyle to find work and a new life in America?

2. Hidden Boat on River Blackwater

 

 

 

 

 

 

For me, this photo screams  ‘journey!’ Perhaps something akin to ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Stand by me’ – but a case could also be made for an adult voyage of discovery such as ‘Deliverance’. The imagery of the dark leafy tunnel into a river bathed in light suggests a movement from darkness (or innocence) into an illuminated world where the outcome is unknown but a greater truth awaits at the end of it. The danger being not just the physical prospect of drowning but those who will be encountered along the way who like The Sirens experienced by Odysseus will seek to seduce them away from the noble task that is before them – or maybe its one of survival as with ‘Ice Cold in Alex.’

Okay, we’ll consider the other two photos next week! See below if you want to muster your own ideas/thoughts about possible stories for each between now and then.

3

4

 

 

Bereft of ideas? Reach for the camera!

August 23, 2019
Bob Eckhard

( photo taken close to the source of the River Blackwater which rises in the mountains outside of Killarney.)

Okay,  first things first. Apologies for this late blog. Also, for the post I missed altogether last week. That said, I have been in Ireland filming for a  fortnight, capturing anything that caught my eye or I thought would make a great accompaniment to a poem or inspire a narrated short story, etc.

Now, while the image (above) was taken as an aide memoire to the footage I’d filmed on my camera, I was suddenly reminded of how in my last post   I observed that most writers baulk at the prospect of producing their work because learning new skills or making it happen becomes too daunting for them – and yet here, using a digital camera (perhaps the one on your mobile phone) is the first step to framing your shot and sequencing your story. Dare I say it? Perhaps even improving how you describe your scene or character? What part of scene is seen first? What is striking about the person?

All of which got me thinking about how most of us possess a camera yet never consider using it to inform or assist our creativity. Or plot out the storyline for that matter. Indeed, an interesting photograph should raise questions and inspire us to that world and what storylines might result. If you have a few seconds try it out for yourself using the photos below (taken while moving around Ireland). Til next time,

Bob

(ps photos 1 and 3 have the most interesting real-life stories – click here to see larger image of the 4 photos)

 1

2

3

4

Thinking production – utilising your camera or mobile phone?

August 5, 2019
Bob Eckhard

One of the hardest things with producing anything is doing it for the first time – be that an art collection/installation that will be exhibited, a novel, creating a podcast and distributing it, writing, directing and producing a stage play or researching and writing an ebook complete with meta data, etc.

For most creatives, the thing that thwarts them is not the idea but rather the new skillset that is required in order for the project to get off the ground. (Oh, that everything in life was as easy as writing a clever logline to our great screenplay idea).

For me, my creative Achiles Heel is making films – don’t get me wrong, I’m desperate to make them and have made a few short films but I’ve often been left beholding to friends who have provided the necessary production skillsets of filming, recording sound, editing, colourist, acting, special effects, etc. And I’m guessing that for many of you, the lack of filming skillsets in your creative armoury are the things that would make you think twice about embarking on it.

And yet, making a film thesedays is far easier than you think. Last Summer – signing up for an online animation course run by Cecile Noldus – I ended up creating several Stop-Motion animation films on my iPhone which was a lot of fun and really helpful in educating me in the physical piecing and placing of action scenes together.

Since then, I have bought a digital camera (ideal for making longer films) which I am taking to Ireland  to create a variety of short films that will accompany a range of poems I wrote 20+ years ago – I am seeing it as a chance for me to practice framing the shot, editing the frames, adding sound, developing craft and basic production. And let me say if I can do it, the majority of you can!

Okay, those wishing to get started with the basics , you can find out more about the Stop-Motion animation app by clicking here

Though don’t forget most computers  have their own basic filmmaking suite and editing software such as Movie Maker for you to make that short or film trailer or prose background or whatever.

Til next time

Bob

Thinking production – what about stage?

July 29, 2019
Bob Eckhard

Hi all,

Hot on the heels of last week’s post on how writing for radio might be an easier option for producing your story idea (that you once imagined as a TV pilot or screenplay), I’d like to talk about the value of writing for the stage.

My reason for doing this is that like most writers on social media who indulge themselves from time to time by commenting on a TV pilot idea or tweaking a screenplay logline to make it watertight, it is very clear that storyline very often breaks into that which is either high or low concept. Or put another way: something that can be easily adapted for the stage or not.

So, while a story about a cult in which two sisters (protagonists) plan to escape (goal) the despotic leader (antagonist) before they are killed (jeopardy) has just as much potential of being powerfully realised on the stage as it has being filmed. The only difference being that putting on a professional stage play may work out considerably cheaper and easier to make than a feature film.

Which begs the questions:

  1. Is there potential that your fantastic story idea might fare better as a stage play?
  2. Might the production of it as a successful stage play open doors towards it being made as a film or TV series later on?

Okay, follow this link to the page where you can download sessions 1-4 on how to start developing your stage writing craft. For those experienced in playwriting it might seem a bit basic though it is worth noting that the course was developed for schools and universities by a number of groups that include Bush Theatre, St Martins College and practitioners like John Yorke. And for those interested, this link for the review of my recent play and how these may help in the process of getting future work development – or at least, giving  actors, writers, directors and producers, encouragement.

Til next week, keep thinking and writing outside of the box!

Thinking production – try radio!

July 23, 2019
Bob Eckhard

Hi all,

Following my exhortation in last week’s post to think outside the box and find other mediums/formats to produce your stories, I thought I’d start with a quick update about my play ‘The Lost World of Malcolm Ridge’ which had a short run from 15th-20th July at the Tabard Theatre.

Now, whilst it didn’t garner the same sized audiences as the farce did earlier in the year, its concepts and futuristic storyline did generate a lot of interest from those who attended with several requesting to read the script – which bodes well for it as a radio show hopefully.

Anyway, travelling home one night after the show, it occured to me that the idea I initially rejected out of hand – namely, making a feature film – wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Mainly because, I now have a cast of 5 actors who know the script and characters,  limited scene requirements – it’s quite dark dystopian – but also

  • I do happen to have friends with a large house and very large room who are planning on going away for a couple of weeks next autumn
  • The actors won’t need to be trehearsed in quite the same way
  • And most important of all, perhaps this is the easiset opportunity I will have of making a guerilla type feature film with minimum costs

All of which means my updated list of formats for  ‘The Lost World of Malcolm Ridge’ are”

  1. stage play? DONE!
  2. radio play? WORK IN PROGRESS
  3. feature?      PLANNING STAGE

Okay, the second part of writing for radio (taken at  a session of the London Screenwriter’s Festival last year) can be found by clicking here

and also this link (below) is helpful for consideration of the pros and cons with writing for radio,  including how to find that elusive producer

Now, off you g0 – no dilly-dallying,  get writing and get something made!!!

 

Write it once, find three different ways to produce it?

July 18, 2019
Bob Eckhard

Hi all,

Today we begin another mini-series  – this time connected with maximising writing and production.  Inspired by a phrase that Chris Jones used on a Talent Campus session on ‘Social Media’  where he instructed us that when writing a blog, to make sure it is posted across a range of outlets/pages. His exact words were:

‘write it once, post it three* times.’   (* though insert larger numbers here)

In other words, if you are going to spend time writing something, make sure it finds its way into as many hands as possible. Which brings me to my great insight of recent weeks. An insight that has changed the way that I think about projects and production. What do I mean?

Well, as I write this piece, I currently have a play on at a theatre in Chiswick. Now, although its run at the Tabard  will finish this Saturday, I have already begun to adapt the story into a radio script which I will then submit to a Radio producer with the intention of getting it on air. Interestingly, someone last night suggested that it might make an interesting futuristic film but I’m not convinced. However,  I do think it would possibly make an interesting short story or TV sitcom (if I was prepared to alter the genre). So write it once and The Lost World of Malcolm Ridge becomes :

  1. stage play?
  2. radio play?
  3. short story?
  4. possible sitcom?

All of which results in 4 possible ‘spin-off’ formats.

Okay, to get you thinking, please find the first of two Radio  handouts here. I’m sorry, but I can’t remember where this handout came from nor how it ended up in my files but please do advise if you know who the source author is and I will acknowledge and/or remove from files.

Til next time, happy formats!