Tag Archives: shaffique jamal

Alternate Thursdays

Time has this rather annoying habit of staying out of reach, like a mirage on the horizon; it’s only February but for those of going, there are only 8 months left before the next LSF, that’s only around 14 regular meetings!

My hope is that these alternative sessions will help us develop “better” work by providing an avenue for discussion and also to help us work faster. Personally speaking I want writing and filmmaking to not only be something I work towards every other Thursday evening, I want it to be my profession and I am hoping that you will join me in making this happen together.

The format of The Alternate is subject to change and we can experiment to see what works. The aim is not cannibalize The Regular session but to build towards it by keeping the momentum up.

I complained about time being limited, so my aim for these sessions is for them to be to be setup in such a way that you can jump in and out; maybe you’re interested in a particular script or you can partake your knowledge of sound recording/storyboarding/etc., jump in, give your input and then jump out until something else takes your fancy. The idea is not meet just for meetings sake.
To enable this we will have to embrace some form of technology which we will all be responsible for checking and contributing to; what form this will take, still has to be confirmed.

I’ll make a few suggestions for how the sessions will run:

Unless people want to read whole scripts outside of the sessions then in the Alternate we won’t; if we are discussing your work, be prepared to talk about it. So rather than us reading what you’ve written, talk us through moments of your script, the moments without which your story won’t work.
This way no one has to read anything beforehand in order to take part in the conversations.
By talking it out in this way, I believe you will be freer to explore alternative options and be more aware of the minimum you need on the page to make it work.

If you’ve finished your script and are now at a loss of what to do we can help with what to do with that particular story, maybe it’s a rewrite, maybe it’s a completion or maybe it could be to shoot it.
If you wrote it to shoot and are stuck, then between us we have the knowledge, equipment and hopefully the resources to get it made. If you just need someone on your side to give a bit of a push or help out maybe someone can help you by producing it.

My initial thought is to start these sessions as a full group at the National Theatre on the alternate Thursday running between 6:30-8:30 so that we can gage interest and to see what works, this may become smaller groups of 3-4 simply because it’s easier to have a discussion. There could also be different timeslots so you can just jump into the session that interests you. If these small sessions work and to open it up to people who find themselves a little further afield we could migrate onto something like Skype and have video chat sessions.

This only works if everyone who is interested commits together.

In the Regular we’ve mentioned a buddy system, I suggest that if this set up, since the two of you should be discussing each other’s work outside of the group, that for the Alternate that you split up so as to invite other opinions; this will give you more to work on when you regroup.

By Shaffique Jamal

The Omission

By Shaffique Jamal

In my last post I spoke to the new writer starting their first draft, in this post I’ll be talking about the inevitable rewrite.

So you finished, you have a first draft; mazel tov. If this were 2 years ago, you’d have printed it out, bound it up and held it in your hands; do it, it’s a lot weightier than a PDF, you’ve created something tangible.

What to do with the screenplay now? Well I’ve asked, cajoled, pleaded, coerced and threatened families. People have agreed to read it and give feedback. Don’t get me wrong it’s nice to hear that it was enjoyed but there’s something really unhelpful about only hearing “That was really good, I liked” because the conversation (and it should be a conversation) can end there. Don’t spare my feelings, I want to hear what you really think. Often  I hope that they dislike it, so they don’t told back and I’m left with something work from.

I didn’t really threaten anyone’s family but there was a kidnaping, I’m being held hostage. A captive of my own choosing. It feels like an age; I haven’t heard back from them yet, they must hate it.

While I was writing the screenplay it had come to define me, I was part of a couple and like a sudden breakup, I still have habitual feelings but no outlet. I want to write something, start again with something new or continue on the old path but really I have to wait … and I hate the waiting.

Something occurs to me, a niggling feeling; I make the mistake of reading it through again. There’s an inconsistency that probably only I can readily see, I’m sure those typos just appeared, they weren’t there in the last read.

I hate it now. How could I have sent it out to anyone to read? I’ve asked people for their time and effort but then again, I liked it when I sent it to them, I should trust that feeling. I hate this waiting.

While I’m writing there are times when I’m meant to be writing but also when I’m actually writing and it can be obsessive. Deadlines are good, gives me a focus point. When I’m not writing I give myself tasks to do where writing becomes the preferred option. When I am writing I tend to neglect everything else. I’m not a multiple plate-spinner, more of a dog with a bone; the problem with this can be boredom. I can’t finish too soon or I’m left with a cavernous feeling, or too late makes me frustrated. I’m learning and evolving my process.

Wait! You tricked me, I thought this was meant to be about rewriting? It starts here; do you feel the angst, welcome to no-man’s-land.

If you’re rewriting immediately after completing your first draft, I have bad news for you. You never really finished it.

This was just Part 1, our time is up but you need something to help bide your time until the feedback returns in drips and drabs. While you were writing (during the obsessive periods), something came to you, it wasn’t part if that story and you dismissed it but it didn’t really go away. Explore the idea, it asked for your attention; maybe it was just a flicker, maybe it was something real, right now it can be a welcomed distraction.

Letter To A New Writer

By Shaffique Jamal
On welcoming new additions into the writers’ group this week, I heard some questions, questions that I had when I began screenwriting. Where to start?

You want to know the facts before jumping in, you’re not sure how it should look and you have a story but there’s a disconnect from where it exists in your head and putting it on the page. You’re not alone.

Acts, beats, sluglines, loglines, timelines (okay you can guess the last one) but to the uninitiated these have little meaning; in this Internet age there are plenty of resources to help translate and explain writing technique. I can only really speak for myself; I have to keep things simple because otherwise I spend so much time thinking how to get it right that I end up wasting time and not really getting anywhere. But then, I’m not alone.

A couple of the first books mentioned to new writers are Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee and Save The Cat!: The Last Book On Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder ; one day I’ll make it through the whole of Story, from what I’ve heard (I have no firsthand experience of this) studio execs have adopted the cat. The structure/terminology in Save The Cat is how they’ll relate to your story and what they’ll use when talking about it.

If Save The Cat clicks with you then that’s the thing to use; if not, remember the terminology in it, it’ll make your pitching easier, then find something that works for you. These kinds of books, along with talking about structure and layout, will cover universal themes found in the majority of stories that make up the ‘laws’ or steps of emotional fulfilment. You have to earn it.

When I was starting, getting to the end of that first draft out was hard, like getting out that last bit of toothpaste. The book that made it easier for me was Viki King’s How To Write A Screenplay In 21 Days: The Inner Movie Method. It gives you enough information to get started but not enough to bog you down. If you follow the steps, you probably won’t end up with a masterpiece but in less than a month you’ll have a full feature, a lump of clay in the rough dimensions you want. It’s a starting point.

I tend to not feel so creative in the evening, I’m mainly just fighting sleep, so I’ll tend to write as soon as I’ve woken up but having said that, depending on what I’m doing I might spend 3–4 hours after work on Friday working on my script because even if I get nothing done at the weekend at least I’ve made some progress for that week.

For me, prime time is the journey to work on the underground; for some reason being crammed in someone’s armpit makes me want to escape. So I set aside time in that waste of time journey, to get some writing done and if I’m lucky I’ll want to miss my stop so I can get something finished; this usually means I’ll be writing something on the way back home too. The more you write, necessity will show you what works for you. I’ve found that there’s no one place for me to work, because there are so many elements (outlining, loglining, writing from scratch, reading it all the way through, proof reading, reading other people’s scripts, editing, rewriting; you get the idea) you can treat it like a job and sit down between certain hours or you can use slots in your day, governed by your situation to move between bits of work.

When you have that first draft, another book I find useful is William M. Akers’ Your Screenplay Sucks: 100 Ways To Make It Great. It’ll help you cleanup the lump of clay, so you can see more detail. Then it’s time for a rewrite but that’s a whole other topic of discussion.

You now have your first script, you sweated blood and cried real tears, it’s everything you hoped and is both so much more/less. I don’t have children but I hear that the second one’s easier because you learn what not to do, with the first. Now you know what’s expected; write another one, don’t worry, the first one’s not going anywhere. Once you’ve finished the second you’ve evolved as a writer. You finish things.

Go back and read your first you may hate it, you may love it, it may have potential but it’s all yours; rewrite. Put them out there, get feedback. It’s not personal, it’s just business.
Just remember, in this lonely vocation you are not alone.

The Secret Life Of A Group Writer

(By Shaffique Jamal)

Sitting at my desk I think I can hear the sea, no, it’s just internal white noise. Bored, mundane, The Day Job.

– SUDDENLY – an unfamiliar alert tone, adrenalin releases, heartbeat quickens.
My colleague gives me “that look” taking me out of the moment, ‘Shouldn’t your phone be on silent?’.
He gets a raised eyebrow from me, ‘It’s important’.

I bury my face in the retina screen of my phone, I can see the individual pixels but now no roaming eyes can glean the substance, this isn’t for their eyes, this is my secret.

Communication has been established; the network is live. Other people, similar people with a united vision know my secret, they share it.

A group of individuals came together leaving the ordinary behind, revealing their true selves. We are superheroes, we are a writing collective.


The Moments Method

By Shaffique Jamal

If you’re looking for a list of page numbers or beats, there are many books/websites/podcasts to choose from, you’ll find the thing(s) that work for you. I’ll be keeping it simple; you start at the beginning, you end at the end and the bit in the middle is well, the middle.

More than likely you’ve seen a lot of films but what you’ve read have mainly been novels and news articles; so rightly, we keep being reminded that film is a visual medium, it’s also an audible medium. The first instinct can be to write a novel/screenplay hybrid but that’s not a screenplay.

A screenplay is a blueprint, film is collaborative, so I guess the shooting screenplay is the blueprint, the spec screenplay is a prototype schematic, which after input and multiple drafts leaves us with a working model but still aways away from the finished product.

There are times that I’ve watched the film I want to write (in my head and it’s gloriously cinematic) it flows well from beginning to end, I just have to commit it to text; it’s then that I realise that it wasn’t real, it was just a dream and like recalling a dream there are chunks missing and it just doesn’t make sense when it’s exposed to the world. Then the hard work (overwriting) begins.

It’s the writing process getting in the way of actually writing.

In school, the feedback I frequently got was, “Your answer’s too short” or “you should have written more,” I’ve never liked adding the fluff; I didn’t see the point, you have a succinct answer.
Overtime I must have evolved, or devolved depending on your perspective; I now write a longer draft and then whittle it down. Although it’s satisfying when detail emerges from the lump of text, between that and filling in the blanks of ‘the dream’ this leads to too many drafts without any real forward momentum, I’m running in-place.

In the interest of producing this visual/audible screenplay and making it easier to get the dream on the screen (LCD, not silver) I thought I would document the Moments Method. The secret is, it’s nothing new, you already know it; some of you will already work in this way. It’s not something I’d tried but, I think it’s logical.

STOP. If you were skipping past the fluff, this is the science bit. We have to put action, dialogue and sound into the container of a screenplay, why Moments? At a basic level I want to join a series of moments, what I need to get across the essence & intention, without the fluff; there’ll be time to do a little sprucing later.

Think of it as a word storyboard for your screenplay, different from a Beat Sheet, each line is a line on your page; it’s your screenplay in short.

  • fade in
  • over black
  • sports event related sounds
  • hindsight perspective through VO + stats
  • the globe from space
  • narrow down to the world to his world / intro changes
  • future sports stars from around America – positive
  • basketball
  • high-board diving
  • boxing
  • baseball
  • football Frank Cushmen / client
  • golf potential star – negative
  • meet Jerry
  • who he is, what he does
  • Work is his life
  • SMI
  • Jerry’s work-family
  • changes in his world

The above example is the first 2 and half minutes of Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire.

Nowadays who doesn’t carry a mobile phone capable of note-taking or email, fancy software or syntax not required.
How quickly could you plot out your screenplay in this manner? You’re waiting in a checkout line, add a few more lines to your list; you’re waiting for public transport, pick out some more moments and add them to the list.
You can easily fit it in around your day because you’re not stuck in the minutia of writing, you’re just capturing moments and they add up over time. Moving elements around becomes easier.
Adding joining elements to the sporadic dream story becomes as simple as inserting line above/below and adding a word.

If you do like to plot out various acts just add a few separating lines in your list and when your done you can easily see which area looks a little light.

Don’t be lazy and write a capture-all moment because you’ll be missing interconnecting moments and you’re not capturing everything as you want it to appear on screen.

If you have to right a few bits long for now because that’s the only way to get it down, it doesn’t matter but just remember to go back before you finish and distill it down.

Just like you could give the same screenplay to 10 different directors and end up with 11 different versions (one guy had to make an additional director’s cut), you could give this list to 10 different screenwriters and end up with 9 different versions (one writer swears another stole their idea). – This could be an interesting exercise to see how tone and voice make a difference.

Now you have your list, this is where the fun starts because you have everything you want to put in the screenplay, you just have to expand it slightly so it makes sense to other people too. The tone of the screenplay will already have fed into the screenplay. While expanding you can now focus on letting us hear your voice and expand on tone though word and formatting choice.