Category Archives: Screenwriting

Aussie screenwriters in final of Script Pipeline Contest

Michael Noonan.

Aussie writers are among those vying to take out the 2016 Script Pipeline Screenwriting Contest, with the winner to be announced in Los Angeles this weekend.

The competition, now in its 14th year, aims to discover up-and-coming writers and connect them with producers, agencies, and managers across studio and independent markets.

Finalists are given exposure to Script Pipeline industry partners – approximately 200 qualified contacts – and circulation.

The winning script receives $25,000 and the runner-up gets $1,500. Both receive development consultation.

According to Script Pipeline, over $6 million in specs have been sold from its alumni since 2000.

Brisbane’s Michael Noonan, who is currently teaching film at the University of Monterrey in Mexico, has two scripts in the mix, Alternate Ending and #Escape.

Both scripts were also semi-finalists in the Academy Nicholl Fellowships for Screenwriting; Alternate Ending in 2014, and #Escape in 2015 (then titled The Lupis Escape).

Alternate Ending is a thriller that follows a political candidate who, on the eve of an election, sees the movie version of his life and realises he’s going to be assassinated.

Noonan, who has made a variety of shorts and is a five time Tropfest finalist, told IF he’s been working on the script for about four years, and has gone through about nine drafts.

“I think the latest draft is pretty solid,” said Noonan. “When you write something, you think ‘I’ll get it made next year’. And then four years later you’re still redrafting. It gives you an appreciation of how long these things take with feature films.”

#Escape is a newer script that Noonan workshopped with Screen Queensland last year. A black comedy, it follows the son of a notorious assassin who mounts a crowd funding campaign to finance his father’s jailbreak and flight across the Mexican border.

“Comedy’s always tricky. It’s good just to get in a competition, you think ‘it must be working’,” said Noonan.

“Apart from getting contacts, these competitions are good for just getting a bit of reassurance that something’s alright. A lot of the time you’re on your own, you write the script and you send it off. A lot of the coverage services are pretty brutal and people don’t really give you feedback, and your friends aren’t necessarily honest. This is the most objective feedback you get can get, when someone says ‘it works’.”

Ben Phelps (left) and Gabriel Dowrick.

Sydney-based screenwriters Ben Phelps and Gabriel Dowrick have reached the finals of Script Pipeline for the second time with their script Control Room. They were also finalists in 2012 with a another script, The Hitman’s Cookbook.

Of the decision to enter Control Room in the competition, Phelps told IF that he and Dowrick, who have written around eight screenplays together, “just decided to give it a crack and see how it would be received overseas.”

“We had good fortune with The Hitman’s Cookbook being well received back in 2012 so we’d just decided to see if this film, which is very, very different, would have a similar reaction. And fortunately it has.”

Control Room is an espionage thriller that follows two female ASIO spies who have to cooperate to stop a terrorist attack by ‘hacktivists’ on the Australian Prime Minister – whom the hackers hold accountable for war crimes – during a G20 summit.

“Once upon a time whistle blowers like Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden would have been lauded… These guys are now branded as traitors and find themselves on the run in different jurisdictions overseas,” said Phelps of the story’s inspiration.

“So we decided to think about what would actually happen, what’s the next step for a hacker if releasing the truth doesn’t set us free… if you can’t use logic or truth to generate change, do hackers then start to turn to violence to get a result?”

Despite the fact it’s an Australian-focused story, Phelps believes the reason that the script has garnered a good response in an international competition is its global themes.

Melbourne’s Penelope Chai and Matteo Bernardini are also in the final for their script Cinderella Must Die, an action adventure “set eight years after happily-ever-after.”

The winner of the 2016 Script Pipeline Competition is announced on July 23 in LA.

https://scriptpipeline.com/

[Fri 22/07/2016]

By Jackie Keast

Andrew Knight on Jack Irish: “I’m really pleased with it”

Asked how he’s doing after a whirlwind year, screenwriter Andrew Knight is characteristically understated: “I’m alive and trying to construct a breakfast at the moment”. In between film work last year, Knight wrote new seasons of Rake and Jack Irish simultaneously, a process he calls “a blur”.

The new Jack begins tonight – a six-part series instead of the earlier telemovies.

Knight calls the change “liberating. We had more time to tell a story. The hard part was working out where everything would fall. We had an overall story, but assigning things episodically was a constant trade-off and shifting game”.

“I worked closely with the other two writers, Matt Cameron and Andrew Anastasios. The three of us would go away and write our bits, then we’d come back and say – that needs to move, this needs to shift”.

“If you’re just writing a tele-movie, you know where you’re starting, you know where you’re ending, you know where the cards will fall. It’s harder to work out over six hours. Right up to shooting we were saying ‘uh-uh, this doesn’t belong here’. Even in the cut we moved quite a few things”.

“You’ve got more time to spend with characters. The tension with a series like Jack Irish is that you want the humour and the warmth of the characters, but sometimes if it’s not plot-related they can feel like spackle. Thrillers demand plot. It’s a constant balancing act”.

“It was harder in the telemovies to cut to the guys at the bar or Harry (Roy Billing) and Cam (Aaron Pedersen). I would artificially weave plot in there, just so the audience feels like you haven’t completely walked away from the story, and sometimes that makes it just a little bit muddy. I felt I muddied up the first telemovie, the one I wrote”.

“I hadn’t done thrillers before. I think I was probably trying to put too much of the book in there. As John Collee said, books are contemplative and films are immersive, and the distance between that is really rather great.

The first two episodes of the new series are directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith, the rest by Mark Joffe and Daniel Nettheim. Knight describes a helter-skelter shoot.

“In England you’d get fifteen days per episode to shoot something. We get half that time: seven and a half days per ep. You don’t have thinking time once you go”.

“[Essential’s Ian] Collie and I had to be constantly thinking: where the hell are we in this series? As my father in law once said: it’s a bit like trying to fart Annie Laurie through a keyhole – it’s an achievement, but you want to make sure the end result is something you want”.

The new series is the first whose plot has not been taken from one of Peter Temple’s original novels, a change Knight calls “great and fearful at the same time. You don’t want to lose his voice – the Temple tone or humour. But it was also fantastic to be able to keep his world but come up with a plot that we owned”.

The TV veteran calls the changing landscape for local drama on the small screen “an absolute thrill. I think we’re doing some really interesting stuff”.

But Knight also sounds a note of warning.

“I think the problem is that we don’t have enough long-running series. 26-parters. Because nobody’s going to risk a six-hour, eight-hour series, on new talent. And new talent has to find a starting level”.

“When I started at Crawfords as a production manager and producer, they were pumping out hours and hours of soaps and series. Even though at the time I hated what I was working on, you definitely picked up a skill base, you definitely understood how the process worked, you definitely understood what a screenwriter did as opposed to a novelist, you definitely began to understand how to work under pressure and with urgency – and that’s missing now”.

“I would really love to see the ABC find time-slots for new talent. I started with John Clarke and the Working Dog guys. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we learnt it”.

“At the same time, I think the industry is in a spectacular place now”.

Oz pubcaster ABC wants more broad-appeal Australian drama that can connect internationally.

ABC TV head of fiction Carole Sklan is keen for more drama that appeals to under-50s. The Australian pubcaster’s flagship channel has a persistently older-skewing audience profile, and Sklan says the challenge is “about how to appeal to a broader audience without alienating a huge, significant older audience who are devoted to the ABC.”

Sklan’s fiction remit covers a varied slate of both drama and scripted comedy, including international coproductions. “We support a diverse range of shows, always with external production companies – there’s no in-house production at the ABC,” she says.

The exec adds that a key focus is “to tell Australian stories for Australian audiences that hopefully make a connection internationally and sell throughout the world.”

She adds: “We look for a very diverse slate, a mix of returning series and original series… So we’re looking to do a mix, showcasing extraordinary local talent.”

Past successes include literary adaptations and factual drama, which can be stories about remarkable Australians, Sklan says – citing miniseries such as Paper Giants, about the rise of Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch’s media empires in Australia, and Carlotta, which profiled Australia’s first transgender person, a high-profile cabaret artist in the 1970s.

One hit for ABC in 2015 was The Secret River, a two-part adaptation of Kate Grenville’s award-winning bestselling novel. The show was developed by producers Stephen Luby and Mark Ruse of Ruby Entertainment, along with director Fred Schepisi, and adapted by screenwriters Jan Sardi and Mac Gudegon. Airing in a Sunday night 20.30 slot last June, the drama was one of ABC’s top 10 local productions of 2015, attracting 1.2 million viewers in linear transmission and an average 90,000 plays on ABC’s online platform iview per episode.

The Beautiful Lie was another success for the channel. The six-part contemporary drama adaptation was made by Endemol Australia Production in association with ABC TV, Film Victoria and Screen Australia.

“What I thought was incredibly bold and imaginative was that it was inspired by Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina but set in contemporary middle-class Australia,” explains Sklan. “And it was absolutely fascinating the way the psychological insights and social observations of the 19th century Russian aristocracy also seemed to translate extremely well to contemporary life. So those universal themes of love, infidelity, relationships and survival are explored in a contemporary context.”

The pubcaster also aired six-part paranormal drama Glitch, from Matchbox Pictures, releasing the series on iview first to allow viewers to binge-watch ahead of its linear release. The show generated 1.2 million iview plays across its run, and although linear ratings were not as strong, a second season has now been commissioned.

ABC’s 2016 slate includes the return of Jack Irish in February, this time as a six-part series, which will kick off its season of Thursday-night homemade drama at 20.30.

Other returning series include Janet King, The Doctor Blake Mysteries and Rake.

Also upcoming is a second season of thriller The Code, which first premiered on ABC in September 2014. “It’s very exciting – big ideas, action, serialised storytelling across the six hours – but essentially it’s grounded in a relationship between two brothers,” says Sklan. One of the brothers is a hacker with Asperger syndrome who comes across a range of conspiracies; the other is an investigative journalist.

“Though we’re dealing with big stories and ideas, and quite a dark world with the possibility of nuclear technology getting into the hands of terrorists, it’s driven by these very emotional and personal relationships of the two brothers, navigating their way in the world,” Sklan adds of the show.

Made by Playmaker Media, The Code was developed under Australia’s Scribe Initiative, with production funding assistance from Screen Australia, Screen NSW, Screen Queensland, the ACT Government and Screen ACT. One of the ABC’s goals is to engage and nurture great creative teams – including producers, directors and writers – but Sklan has concerns over retaining the country’s writers. “Our writers are all being snaffled up by the US and the UK,” she says.

Sklan and ABC’s big swing in 2016 is upcoming miniseries Barracuda (4×60’) from Matchbox Pictures. Adapted from Christos Tsiolkas’s follow-up to his book The Slap, it counts the author as an associate producer alongside producers Tony Ayres and Amanda Higgs. Elias Anton and Ben Kindon star.

The drama, timed to coincide with the lead-up to this year’s Olympics, is “essentially a very different sports story… about the pressures on young elite athletes and the nature of success and identity,” says Sklan. Barracuda follows a working-class boy who wins a swimming scholarship for an elite private boys’ school, but finds he has to navigate a world of very wealthy, privileged young men.

Also coming to the channel is futurist drama Cleverman. The six-parter from Goalpost Pictures Australia and New Zealand’s Pukeko Pictures is coproduced with Red Arrow International and SundanceTV.

“It’s about really vivid characters and fascinating, addictive relationships that you want to revisit every week,” says Sklan, summarising ABC’s drama output. “Also, as the public broadcaster, our stories need to reflect something about our worlds and our lives. But I do think characters and relationships are the key.

“With returning series, we’re probably looking at genre because of the dramatic stakes and stories they give you. We’re not at all interested in generic procedural shows – we want fresh and entertaining takes on medical, legal, crime series and so on.”

Gün Akyuz reports – C21 Media – 20 January 2016

Film: Sorkin, Schumer, Sorrentino show why screenwriters matter

Screenwriters have been habitually overlooked by critics and a movie going public that hallows directors and A-list actors. But the glory of great films is, in no small part, great writing.

Six who are leaving their mark on the big screen:

AARON SORKIN Steve Jobs

Few screenwriters achieve even modest fame; fewer still become household names.

Aaron Sorkin is an even more unusual case: a screenwriter whose renown and influence have altered language itself, giving birth to an adjective (‘‘Sorkinesque’’) and a verb (‘‘Sorkinise’’). And, of course, there is Sorkin the genre. Everyone in Hollywood knows what an ‘‘Aaron Sorkin project’’ denotes: a TV show or film that combines old-fashioned craftsmanship and up-to-date settings, along with fusillades of feisty dialogue delivered by quintessential contemporary types — newsmen, politicians, techies.

From The West Wing to Moneyball to The Social Network, Sorkin specialises in heroic, weird savants and in stories that find gripping drama in characters most comfortable staring at a laptop.

This year he brings Steve Jobs, a deliciously Sorkinised take on the ultimate geek demigod, based on the biography by Walter Isaacson and directed by Danny Boyle.

‘‘Certain types of genius can be hard to dramatise,’’ Sorkin concedes. ‘‘Coding, much to my disappointment, doesn’t really look like anything on screen. It just looks like people typing.’’ The key, he says, is ‘‘to make wonky scenes look and feel and sound like bank robberies and prison breaks’’.

He gives credit for that feat to his colleagues: ‘‘I love what happens when you write something that draws on the combined talents of a great director, great actors, great designers, great technicians. I like team sports better than individual sports; I like bands better than solo acts. This is why I write screenplays, not novellas.’’

AMY SCHUMER Trainwreck

Amy Schumer isn’t really a writer. That’s what she says, at least. ‘‘I haven’t been writing that long at all. I had to get [screenwriting software] Final Draft when my TV show got picked up. It’s all pretty new to me. I mean, I will get better.’’ But for a novice, she’s doing pretty well. Inside Amy Schumer is TV’s most subversive, hilarious and, yes, well-written show; its short, sharp comedy sketches wield satire like a shiv, slicing through contemporary politics and pop culture.

And of course there’s Trainwreck, Schumer’s debut feature-length star vehicle, penned by the woman herself. As pure comedy, Trainwreck kills, delivering a nonstop string of gags, with uproarious performances from the leads (Schumer and Bill Hader), and a supporting cast of stalwarts like Colin Quinn and upstarts like LeBron James. The revelation is how well the movie works as straight romantic comedy, centred on the charming, shaggy love story between Schumer’s dissolute party girl and Hader’s nice-guy doctor. But Trainwreck has it both ways, hitting all the meet-cute/break-up/make-up beats while sending up the genre, and giving a mischievously feminist spin to all the dusty old rom-com tics and tropes. Credit of course, to the writer: Many of the film’s best moments were in the novice screenwriter’s first draft.

PAOLO SORRENTINO Youth

‘‘When I start to write a movie, my first priority is that I want it to be funny,’’ says the director and screenwriter Paolo Sorrentino. ‘‘I want to make people laugh. On my way to doing that, I often wind up creating something that is also sad.’’ That deft, slightly surreal blend of tongue-in-cheek and heart-on-sleeve is present in all of Sorrentino’s work, from the mafia thriller The Consequences of Love (2004) to The Great Beauty, his celebrated 2013 valentine to the gorgeous and maddening Eternal City, Rome. The Neapolitan writer-director’s latest, Youth, is perhaps his sharpest and most endearing film to date. It’s the story of two ageing friends, Michael Caine’s composer-conductor and Harvey Keitel’s film director, on a retreat in a Swiss spa.

Many films have explored this crepuscular territory, but Sorrentino steers clear of lions-in-winter cliches while delivering an affecting and — yes — funny-sad rumination on late life and, well, youth. ‘‘I was interested in exploring how older people feel about the future, instead of the past,’’ he says.

ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU The Revenant

‘‘Right now, I am in the fourth or fifth circle of hell,’’ says Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. He’s joking — sort of. It’s early in the morning in mid-October, and the Oscar-winning Mexican writer-director is already at work, labouring on a tight deadline to put post-production touches on The Revenant, his feverishly awaited revenge thriller based on the novel by Michael Punke. Set in the wilds of the 1820s Dakota frontier, the film, which co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy (and was co-written by Mark L. Smith), tells the story of Hugh Glass, a legendary fur trapper who, in 1823, was mauled by a bear and left for dead by his expedition party.

Glass survived the attack, dressed his own wounds and completed an epic six-week, 320km crawl to the safe haven of Fort Kiowa, a fur-trading outpost on the banks of the Missouri River.

‘‘Nobody knows much about Hugh Glass beyond the basic outline: he was attacked by a bear and he was abandoned,’’ Inarritu says. ‘‘The only thing that survives of him is a tiny little note that he wrote to the parents of a trapper that died in battle. There is lots of room for imagining and elaborating.’’

Inarritu has been one of cinema’s most thrilling imaginers and elaborators for the past 15 years. From his torrid feature debut, Amores Perros (2000), to the best picture Academy Award winner Birdman, he has pursued an aesthetic that might be boiled down to a single word — more — stuffing his movies to bursting point with love, sex, politics, violence, all chronicled with extravagantly swooping cameras.

Ultimately, he says, his goal is to enchant an audience into suspending disbelief: ‘‘The duty of art is to make probable the improbable.’’

CARY FUKUNAGA Beasts of No Nation

Cary Fukunaga was fresh out of film school when he wrote the screenplay for Beasts of No Nation, the grim, hallucinatory war film which debuted simultaneously in theatres and on Netflix in October. Beasts was one of the first scripts Fukunaga had written, but the hallmarks of the sensibility and style that would make the 38-year-old Bay Area native one of this decade’s most acclaimed American filmmakers were already in place. The story, adapted from Uzodinma Iweala’s novel about a child soldier in an unnamed West African nation, spoke to Fukunaga’s cosmopolitanism, his heady and wide¬ranging interest in the fractious politics of the globalised 21st century. Fukunaga’s screenplay revealed a natural storyteller and a technician — a filmmaker with shrewd instincts about how to bring narratives to vibrant life.

The result is one of the most powerful war movies in recent memory, a brutal but ultimately humanist film powered by Fukunaga’s hurtling camera work and fine performances by Idris Elba and the teenage Ghanaian actor Abraham Attah. It’s the latest entry in a film¬ography of impressive range, from the Mexican migrant thriller Sin Nombre (2009) to his stately adaptation of Jane Eyre (2011) to his ballyhooed stint as director of the first season of True Detective (2014). In all of his work, Fukunaga combines a cineaste’s command of classic structure with an iconoclast’s compulsion to bend the rules. ‘‘I always like screenplays that subvert the three-act structure,’’ Fukunaga says. ‘‘You can sometimes lose audiences when you do that, but I appreciate new forms of entering the structure. In my experience, it’s usually worth the risk.’’

PHYLLIS NAGY Carol

Phyllis Nagy, the acclaimed playwright and screenwriter, maintains a bright line between her stage and film endeavours. But her screenplay for Carol, the adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s groundbreaking lesbian romance novel The Price of Salt (1952), is self-evidently the work of a theatrical pro. Directed by Todd Haynes and co-starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, the taut, suspenseful Carol combines the best elements of chamber piece and sumptuous period melodrama.

As for the movie’s vaguely sinister undercurrent: That’s pure Highsmith. Nagy relished the challenge of capturing the distinctly creepy and suspenseful atmosphere that hovers like fog over the writer’s novels. She accomplished it, she says, by writing less. ‘‘I tried to maintain that Highsmithian obsessional quality by texturing scenes so that the director and actors are free to work without words. The lack of dialogue, the lack of speechifying — that’s actually how this story gets told.’’

Jody Rosen – New York Times – January 16, 2016

BBC commissions Kris Mrksa’s Requiem for late 2016

Australian screenwriter Kris Mrksa (Glitch, Janet King, The Slap, Underbelly, The Secret Life of Us) will write a six-part series for BBC Drama.

Requiem will be made by New Pictures (coming off the back of a great success with The Missing, starring Australia’s Frances O’Connor) and will consist of six one-hour episodes. The show will be executive produced by Willow Grylls, Elaine Pyke and Charlie Pattinson for New Pictures and Polly Hill for BBC One.

A thriller which flirts with the supernatural, Requiem is the story of a young woman who discovers, in the wake of her mother’s death, that everything she thought she knew about herself was a lie.

Mrksa is in esteemed company. Controller of BBC Drama commissioning, Polly Hill, said “I want the BBC to be the best creative home for writers and it’s exciting to bring audiences new shows from Mike Bartlett, Jimmy McGovern (Cracker), Jo Ahearne and Hugo Blick (The Honourable Woman); plus have Kenneth Lonnergan (You Can Count on Me), Connor McPherson and Kris Mrksa all writing their first dramas for us”.

By Harry Windsor INSIDEFILM [Wed 06/01/2016)]

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New dawn of TV drama: Director Glendyn Ivin

INTERVIEW

Australians have entered a new and exciting age of television, says the director behind shows including The Beautiful Lie, Gallipoli and Puberty Blues. By Caris Bizzaca

Television drama isn’t changing, it’s already changed, director Glendyn Ivin says.

With moody, atmospheric series such as The Code and Top of the Lake, television has become more cinematic in look and is presenting itself as a strong alternative to the movies.

“It’s also not just the look, but in the storytelling and the kind of storytelling. It’s smarter if you like,” Ivin says.

“Whereas it’s very hard to get an audience to go to the cinema to see that sort of story, it’s far easier and the audience is much greater, when it’s delivered either free-to-air, or catching up on streaming services later on.

“It’s almost like the new dawn of drama, that’s where it’s ending up.”

Traditionally, when you talked about the notion of exploring characters in a long-form production, you were referring to a 90 minute feature film. But Ivin says he’s relishing the chance to tell stories over a number of television episodes like with The Beautiful Lie, a modern-day adaptation of Anna Karenina.

“If you look at The Beautiful Lie, it feels cinematic, it feels like it could be a film but it goes for six hours,” he says of the Melbourne-set show starring Sarah Snook.

“So whether its six hours or 13 hours, long-form television series feel like the new way of telling dramatic stories, particularly in Australia.”

And as an audience member, it’s also exciting.

Ivin, a self-confessed Mad Men fan, says even the notion of ‘binge-watching’ was unheard of just a few years back.

“It’s such an unusual term, but being able to tell a story like that and being able to watch it when and how you watch it, it’s so much better for the audience… the fact that streaming has provided a multitude of different ways to consuming good storytelling, (shows) we are in a golden age of television.”

Ivin directed the 2009 feature film 2009, but the vast majority of his work has been in TV, working with producer John Edwards on Offspring, Puberty Blues, TV movie Beaconsfield and miniseries Gallipoli.

It was actually that collaboration that led to The Beautiful Lie.

While working in the dark editing suite on Gallipoli and dealing with the heaviness of war stories, Edwards would keep raving about a new project screenwriter Alice Bell was writing.

“I think he was just tempting me with it or baiting me,” Ivin says, particularly because Edward knew how much he enjoyed working with Bell (who was a writer on Puberty Blues).

Toward the end of 2014, Ivin got his hands on a screenplay and by March filming had kicked off.

Ivin, who directs three of the six episodes, says when dealing with adaptations like The Beautiful Lie or Puberty Blues he doesn’t necessarily feel like he has to stick to the story religiously.

“Great adaptations aren’t just saying ‘oh they’ve got the story right’, but that they’ve got the feel, the energy and the spirit of the text,” he says.

“For me, trying to capture the way that someone felt when they read the book is just as important.”

Watch The Beautiful Lie on ABC TV Sunday nights at 8.30pm or catch-up on iview.

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West Wing director Thomas Schlamme says TV more experimental

The director of The West Wing, Thomas Schlamme, enjoyed what was considered the best of times in television. Audiences were predictable and the budgets for him to direct series from E.R. and Sports Night to The West Wing and Aaron Sorkin’s follow-up, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, were massive and growing.

Yet even as audiences fracture to different platforms and television budgets consequently shrink, Schlamme remains even more optimistic for his craft.

“People are using a business model where they made enormous amounts of money,” he says of television’s apparent malaise. “In fact, (now) you can actually have a fairly successful company just making less money.”

Schlamme recalls the downside of the boom budget times, when their drama based in a television network, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, didn’t work and “I literally felt I was bringing down the Western economy! Warner Bros came to us and said we were being hit,” he recalls. “I thought the yen was going to fall and the world would implode because of the budget we were spending on that show and we weren’t getting an audience.”

The series still broke even but, Schlamme adds, “They just weren’t able to print money off it and they were so mad at us they couldn’t print money because it looked like a show that could.”

Schlamme is directing Manhattan, a drama about the making of the atomic bomb and starring The Code’s Ashley Zukerman, for the WGN America cable network. Schlamme, who is earning the best reviews of his career for Manhattan after coming from the similarly revered series The Americans, says his optimism as a storyteller is because there “are just so many different avenues”.

“I remember if I had a project it used to be: Should we go to NBC or ABC?” he says. “Now it’s like we can go to five places I’ve never heard of and, no, they’re not going to give me as much money to make the show so I’ve got to come up with a way to make it). Now, much more is being demanded artistically of a television director than ever before,” he says.

Schlamme notes that the medium is becoming more sophisticated, particularly visually, compared to his early years in which there was a very limited television vocabulary and networks said, “You’re in somebody’s home, don’t do any fancy work, make them feel comfortable.”

Once The West Wing and HBO — with The Sopranos — changed the visual and narrative possibilities of television in the late 1990s, Schlamme says, “I felt like I was liberated as a director to use anything that was in my toolbox. And, in fact, if you really look at it, outside of big C-G (computer-generated) movies, movies have become safer and television has become more experimental.

“It’s a little bit, for me at least, in America, television is much more like independent filmmaking. You can actually be braver and in some ways the confinement of time actually opens up creativity rather than closes it.”

More Here: www.theaustralian.com.au/business/media

Michael Bodey – The Australian – November 09, 2015

After Oddball and Paper Planes, hunt is on for next family film hit

Buoyed by the success of this year’s hits Oddball and Paper Planes, the hunt is on for Australia’s next big family-friendly movie.

In a highly unusual move, Screen Australia has put out a call for established filmmakers to submit ideas for a live-action family film that can be made for under $7 million.

The agency is calling for one-page submissions, and will pick 10 to attend a two-day workshop in Sydney next March, after which up to three will receive funding to develop a first draft.

Joan Sauers, a screenwriter and script editor who is managing the program for Screen Australia, says there is a dearth of family films in the pipeline, despite the commercial appeal of the genre.

“So many applications [to the funding agencies] are for incredibly dark niche films, and I love dark films but they aren’t always successful,” she says. By contrast, “Some of our more mainstream family films have done incredibly well, but we just don’t get enough of them”.

Sauers frames this call-out as a kind of challenge to Australia’s mid-career writers, directors and producers (note to first-timers: this scheme isn’t for you). “If you weren’t going to do an outback serial killer movie, and you were going to do a family film, what would it look like?”

She nominates David Michod (crime films The Rover and Animal Kingdom) and the Spierig Brothers (time-travel thriller Predestination, vampire flick Daybreakers) as the sort of people she’d like to turn their hands to a family film. And she insists she’s not being funny.

“The sort of family films we should be making are a little darker, a little more ironic, a little more left-field of typical Hollywood fare.”

A little more Roald Dahl, perhaps?

“Exactly – Dahl is the perfect example of stories that offer something that appeals to both adults and kids.”

It’s easier said than done, of course, but the numbers do suggest the idea has some merit. Oddball has just passed $6.3 million locally. Paper Planes has taken $9.65 million in Australia, and is about to be released in Britain. George Miller’s Babe took a mammoth $36.7 million in Australia alone.

Family films also have a long tail, cropping up on TV and VOD and in DVD sales and rentals for years, sometimes even decades, after they were first released.

“What’s so great about kids’ movies is they can be rewatched by a fresh audience that just doesn’t know enough to care that a car went out of fashion years ago,” says Oddball director Stuart McDonald. “As long as it works, they’re engaged.”

Before the release of Paper Planes, writer-producer-director Robert Connolly said he was inspired by the sort of Australian films he grew up watching as a kid but felt no one was making any more. “If we don’t make films like that then how do you build an audience for Australian cinema looking to the future,” he asked.

That’s a view with which Sauers concurs. “I hear parents all the time saying, ‘I wish there was an Australian film I could take my kids to so they could hear Australian accents on the screen’,” she says. “We need that new generation of Storm Boy and Starstruck. If you don’t get the audience as kids, you won’t win them back.”

The program is targeting live-action films because they are relatively cheap compared to animation, where budgets typically run north of $100 million in Hollywood.

LA-based Australian screenwriter Harry Cripps has experience of that end of the spectrum – he is co-writing the outback-set Dreamworks animation Larrikins with Tim Minchin – but says a smaller budget is no impediment to making a good film.

“It’s the same principles: money is great, you can do more things with it, but if the story isn’t there it doesn’t matter,” he says.

Cripps will help finesse the selected projects at the workshop next March and says he’s looking for “great characters, great dialogue that comes from the heart, and a huge idea”.

He cites Shrek as a perfect example (but don’t, for goodness sake, copy the idea, and do ignore the fact it was animated). “That was the first time I saw a family film and forgot I had a kid with me, the first time I thought, ‘Oh, you can make a film that’s equally appealing to kids and parents’.”

Sauers agrees that the key to a great family film is that it appeals equally to kids and adults – and ideally to older kids and teens too.

“The best ones are about children who solve adults’ problems for them,” she says.

“Films like The Goonies, where the kids save the town from evil developers, or the Parent Trap, where the kids have to get the parents back together, or Home Alone, where the parents forget they’ve left their kid behind.

“Parents can enjoy those stories as much as anyone because they are dealing with their issues too – like divorce, like developers, like dementia.”

Here’s an idea: how about a movie in which a bunch of kids save all the adults in the Australian film industry by writing a hit family film?

Just a thought.

Karl Quinn – SMH – October 4, 2015

Here’s one for all the family: The top 10 live-action Australian family films at the Australian box office

Crocodile Dundee (1986) $47.7 million (#1 Australian film of all time)

Babe (1995) $36.77 million (#3)

Crocodile Dundee II (1988) $24.91 million (#7)

Strictly Ballroom (1992) $21.76 million (#8)

Red Dog (2011) $21.46 million (#9)

The Dish (2000) $17.99 million (#10)

The Man from Snowy River (1982) $17.22 million (#11)

Young Einstein (1988) $13.38 million (#18)

Phar Lap (1983) $9.25 million (#28)

Kenny (2006) $7.78 million (#33)

Source: Screen Australia. Figures are not adjusted for inflation.

Film bosses accused of mutilating scripts and pushing out writing talent

Original and subtle work is often altered to follow a money-making formula that results in bland movies

Script writer William Nicholson said he was once credited with writing the script for a film which bore little relation to the original.

Three of Britain’s Oscar-nominated screenwriters say that an increasing tendency among film studio bosses and directors to “mutilate” film scripts is forcing top writers to either direct their own work or write for television, where they command greater respect.

Jeffrey Caine, William Nicholson and Steven Knight – whose acclaimed screenplays include those for The Constant Gardener, Gladiator and Dirty Pretty Things respectively – told the Observer that writers were often sacked without warning from the studios and would then discover that their original work has been altered beyond recognition by a production line of writers.

Caine said that studio executives, directors or actors who “ride roughshod” over film scripts can leave writers feeling embarrassed when their names appear in the credits.

Writers often find themselves blamed for excruciating dialogue they never wrote, he said, adding: “I have seen lines of dialogue in films with my name on them that I wouldn’t have written under torture.”

To add insult to injury, writers are sometimes unceremoniously removed from projects, though their name may appear in the credits. They may not even be told they have been replaced: they discover their sacking by chance on a blog or trade report. Nicholson recalled delivering a commissioned screenplay and receiving a phone call from the studio saying it was “wonderful – we’re so excited”. He then heard nothing. Two years later it appeared in cinemas; other writers had taken it on.

His name was on it, but it bore little relation to his original.

The phenomenon is not new. Howard Clewes, a leading British screenwriter, took his name off Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando, in 1962, because he was so dismayed by the rewrites. Today’s writers do not have that option. Writers’ Guild rules do not permit writers to take their name off a screenplay if they have been paid more than a certain amount. Studios can, in effect, buy their names.

Nicholson said he understood the pressures on studios, particularly with huge financial investments, but lamented “a failure of manners”. They could, he said, send “even an email, saying they appreciate ‘you gave six months of your life, but … we’ve moved on’. They never, ever, do.” He added: “Although I understand why they treat writers so badly, it’s not in their interests to do so. They will get poorer work from their writers. Create an atmosphere of trust and [writers] will take risks and write better for you. Create an atmosphere of fear and neglect and they won’t.”

Nicholson won an Oscar nomination for Shadowlands in 1993, starring Anthony Hopkins, which he said was shot from his screenplay because Richard Attenborough was both a great director and a gent who respected a script. But on Gladiator he was the third writer – “two other writers … had suffered the ignominious fate, which I have suffered many times”. TV was “very significant” for top writers, he said, because there they have “enormously more power and respect than film writers”.

Caine’s screenplay for The Constant Gardener, starring Ralph Fiennes, was his adaptation of John le Carré’s noveland showered with nominations for Oscar, Bafta and Writers’ Guild of America awards. It was filmed largely as he intended – a rare thing in the industry, he lamented. Film-makers who do not understand the subtleties of storyline, characterisation and dialogue are “only interested in the crudest storytelling, and the most banal and superficial elements of character”, Caine said. “The writer tries to put in subtleties, but they sometimes end up being excised from the script.”

He likened the problem to a chef being asked to prepare his signature dish for a dinner and finding the host smothering the meal with ketchup. “Many major big-budget movies these days taste of ketchup,” he said, because each change to the original dilutes it. “All the best stuff that made it cohere and made it work is no longer there, and all you’re left with is pretty pictures … That’s why so many blockbuster, mass market films are so bland.”

The problem applies less to independent films and more to originals than adaptations as with the latter there is a basic storyline and also characterisations producers and the director know they can’t stray from too far.

Hollywood’s principle on mass-market movies is the more writers the better.

Observing that some of the best screenplays came from writer-directors such as John Huston and Billy Wilder, Caine said that DIY directing or producing is now the best way to preserve the integrity of screenplays, though he has no wish to pursue that route himself. But writers doing so include Richard Linklater, whose Boyhood is an Oscar frontrunner, and Damien Chazelle, who wrote the acclaimed thriller Whiplash.

Ultimately, decisions are driven by money, Knight said. “With a film … it costs a lot of money to get it made. They’re terrified they’re going to lose that money. They look at what’s worked before and think ‘we’ll do that again because that worked’.

Therefore, they will take a script they like – and then change it so it resembles something else because they think that’s engineering it towards success, which isn’t the case.”

He feels that television is now the “home of really good writing” because writers are left alone and directors shoot what’s on the page.

Although this is not a new phenomenon. But, in a way, film-making was ever thus.

Caine claims: “Cinema is the greatest artform ever devised. Had Shakespeare lived now, imagine what he could have done. Then imagine the mutilation. He would no doubt have been a writer-director, as he actually was.”

Directing his comments at audiences and critics, he added: “Before you rush to blame the screenwriter for a bad script, just remember that it may not be the script that these guys signed off on.”

Dalya Alberge – The Guardian – Sunday 11 January 2015

Screen savers: the untold story of US TV’s showrunners

They are the new masters of TV, a bunch of jelly-bean-eating hotshots who have ushered in a golden age. But what do showrunners actually do? Andrew Collins on a film that goes behind the scenes at everything from Boardwalk Empire to The Good Wife

‘Be entertaining’ … the writers’ room on Men of a Certain Age, featured in the new It’s a truism that TV is now better than the movies. So where does that leave Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show? It’s a movie about TV. Specifically, it’s the first feature-length documentary to take us inside the inner sanctums of critically acclaimed and commercially successful US series like The Good Wife, Sons of Anarchy, Bones, House of Lies and Boardwalk Empire.

The difference between the American and the British way of making TV drama is no more than the placement of an apostrophe. In the US, it’s all about the writers’ room. In the UK, it’s the writer’s room. Both methodologies are romanticised: the Showrunners film caffeinated, air-conditioned detention centre in Burbank where story arcs are “broken” and whiteboards incrementally filled by salaried Buffy fans juggling stress balls; and the shed at the bottom of an Oxfordshire garden in which a tortured author taps out every syllable of an eight-part masterpiece based on his own novel to the strains of Radio 3 until called in for supper. Perhaps it’s no wonder we mythologise the US system.

Ignoring the old saw about letting light in upon magic, Showrunners points an awed spotlight on to a species previously granted tongue-tied anonymity in a pre-internet age. As Tara Bennett, the author of the film’s companion book, writes: “Who would have ever thought that the pale, weary, self-deprecating talents plunking tirelessly on their abused keyboards would become the pin-up faces for the modern era’s latest Golden Age?”

The documentary’s director is Des Doyle, a voluble, black-T-shirted Dubliner who, after 12 years pulling focus in the camera department on everything from dragon apocalypse Reign of Fire to Barry Levinson’s sectarian wigmaking romp An Everlasting Piece, decided in 2010 to make a film of his own. A growing fascination for big, millennial, creator-led US shows like The X-Files, Buffy and Lost gave him his subject. “I’d waited diligently for a documentary to come along to explain exactly what a ‘showrunner’ did,” he says. “But it never did.”

For the next two years, Doyle and his modest crew stalked Los Angeles collecting firsthand testimony from almost 30 American showrunners – Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel), Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire), Shawn Ryan (The Shield), Ronald D Moore (Battlestar Galactica) – resulting in a blockbusting nature documentary in which mostly white, male, 40-50-something showrunners are glimpsed in their natural habitat, feeding as a group on jelly beans and ideas.

Terence Winter established himself by writing for televisual motherlode The Sopranos on HBO and graduated to running his own show, Boardwalk, for the same creatively empowering network. “I’m one of those people who buys a DVD and goes right to the DVD extras, the behind-the-scenes interview, the auditions,” he says, explaining why he loves Doyle’s documentary: “It’s always fascinating to hear people talk about the business and get a look behind that curtain.” He laments the fact that he rarely gets the chance to swap notes with fellow showrunners. “For the most part, the business of running a show is more than a full-time job.”

Since the job description isn’t even an above-the-line accreditation (you’ll see “created by” or “executive producer” scroll past in the opening credits, but never “showrunner”) what does it actually entail? In reality, you guard the creative vision while acting as a lightning rod for all production issues. Jane Espenson, who ran Battlestar spin-off Caprica, reckons “a showrunner has to have a bit of dictator in them”. Her former boss Ron Moore likens the job to being “a forest manager – I manage the forest, but someone else is out there dealing with all these trees, pruning them every day”. Winter says they’re “part psychologist, part motivational speaker. You’re a host at a dinner party trying to get everybody to open up a little bit.” Hart Hanson, avuncular creator of the long-running Bones, adds: “Most, but not all, have terrible posture.”

On Boardwalk, which after five grandly slow-burning seasons has just reached its finale, Winter ran his writers’ room just as David Chase had done on The Sopranos, with a sign on the wall based on a Chase dictum: “Be entertaining.” Averaging about five writers at any given time, he’d come in with “a broad-strokes roadmap of where I thought the season should go” and lead a process that involved “a lot of sitting around a table, eating potato chips, ordering lunch, a lot of digression. To the untrained ear, it may sound like a bunch of people bullshitting, but those are the things that get made into TV shows.”

For instance, the Brooklyn house Winter grew up in had fallen into a state of disrepair (“I was always embarrassed of it as a child”). When his mother, who still lived in it, passed away, he fixed up the entire house before selling it. “I didn’t realise it at the time, but what I was really doing was repairing my childhood.” In the writers’ room somebody said: “That would be a great story for Nucky.” That’s the show’s flawed lead, played by Steve Buscemi. Fans will recall that Nucky does the same thing in season one, episode seven. “He also burns the house down,” Winter laughs. “I didn’t do that.”

Doyle’s film is full of similar firsthand insight. Robert and Michelle King, the husband-and-wife team behind The Good Wife, credit their success to “the fact we don’t have resentful spouses at home”. On the subject of social-media interaction with fans, the heavily tattooed Steven S DeKnight, showrunner of Spartacus, recalls: “I’ve gotten into a dust-up twice where I found out later I was actually in a yelling match with, like, a 12-year-old.” Hart Hanson muses: “There’s a very small portion of the audience who think they know how the soup is made and give you advice on how much salt to put in it. I think they should be ignored.”

Female showrunners remain rare, although the likes of Shonda Rimes (Scandal), Espenson and Dee Johnson (Nashville) are making a difference. According to a 2012- 13 study by San Diego State University, women still only account for 24% of US “series creators” (it’s 34% for writers). Janet Tamaro, showrunner of TNT’s female buddy crime series Rizzoli & Isles, observes in the film: “Some people – both male and female – have an easier time being told what to do by a man.” When staffing his room, Winter abides by the law of what he calls “hangability – these are people you gotta want to hang out with”. He used six female writers on Boardwalk.

The British showrunner is even rarer, due to shorter series and tighter budgets, although Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch), Neil Cross (Luther) and Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty) are taking the baton from Russell T Davies and his successor at Doctor Who, Steven Moffat, who emulate the American model. At an Edinburgh TV Festival session in August, ITV’s new drama controller Victoria Fea dampened buccaneering fantasies about become the showrunner on a British series: “We have lots of authors in this country who sit in their garrets and write in splendid isolation. That doesn’t necessarily go with running a production meeting.”

Winter, a fan of everything from The Singing Detective to The Hour, has better news. “Whatever you guys are doing over there in England, it’s working pretty damn well. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Watch the trailer here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYWRgqRcSO4

Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show is available to purchase from Friday at www.showrunnersthemovie.com

Andrew Collins – The Guardian, Tuesday 28 October 2014