5 Ways to Survive a Trexit Winter

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It’s been a tough old year. As we face up to the double jeopardy of Trump and Brexit (Can we be punished twice for the same crime?) it’s hard to know how to comfort each other, to step up and do what’s right when we feel demoralised and silenced. How can we use the winter months to recover?

  1. Zone out the Noise.  Reading my social media feeds, I feel like a horse grazing in a field of rubble, stubbing my nose on shards of opinion, starved of real information or cheer. While it’s important to question untruths, we use a lot of energy consuming and reposting the same news or venting our (understandable) anger. Yes we have to grieve but then we have to get on – with the work. Take time out to recover, take stock, reflect. So we can hear our own voices again.
  2. Trust yourself.  After Brexit I felt I had got something very wrong, safe in my online bubble, sharing my values with my friends, unaware or dismissive that others felt differently. After the result I felt my voice didn’t matter, had no effect. Now I know it does but that I need to do more.
  3. Get Active. Donate, Promote, Engage. It’s relatively easy to sign an online petition, but more rewarding to volunteer time or support. Help Refugees are looking for help right now. We’re all busy but doing something yourself breaks the cycle of helplessness. Positive action is worth a thousand words.  And yet –

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  4. Keep writing. We need voices to articulate what is happening. To challenge the bluster of the far right. To expose simplistic arguments and reach people with stories that move and engage them. To give us comfort and hope, to reaffirm our true values.
  5. Support each other. Organise. Vote. Plan for a future without Trump, connected to Europe and the wider world, where prosperity for all, not fear, is what drives us. Set up an action group  like House of Cards writer @BeauWillimon if you don’t like what’s on offer. Protest in all ways, and don’t forget your greatest weapon- your heart and mind – your words and actions matter.

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Take heart. You’re not alone.  And don’t forget. There’s always chocolate…

 

WAITING…

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Forgive my silence. You see I’ve been working hard – and waiting – for news, an event, inspiration. How best to use this period? When it’s not quite Christmas but the world is running down and emails lie unanswered ’til New Year?

Here’s a small guide to winter living (with added Kate Bush vitamins…)

  • Rest, Recover, Repair. Like athletes at the end of the season, training doesn’t stop – it just takes another turn.  When your body gets sick on your one weekend off it’s telling you something – STAY ON THE BENCH! Eating right and resting up are an investment in your future well-being. Get well, listen to your body and take care of yourself.images-311
  • Try New Things. Yes, it’s cold outside and you don’t want to miss Strictly/The X Factor/ that online shopping delivery, but as the world of work winds down, you finally have a window in which to have some fun or at least set up some entertaining stuff for the holidays. Treat yourself!images-312
  •  Sleep. Yes we are all sleeping (or wanting to sleep) more now it’s dark and cold. Don’t fight it. This feeling we always have to be alert and at the top of our game, is a myth. Sometimes it’s good to just be quiet for a while and take comfort in family and friends.images-305
  • Don’t Dismiss the Silence. That script that refuses to find a shape on the page just needs a little more time to emerge. Don’t force it. Trust your mind to do the work – or let it play. Like a dog off the leash it will run further without you holding on tight trying to control it.
  • Believe in your capacity not just to survive the winter but to develop new shoots come Spring. Take time to relax and acknowledge what you already have. So don’t wait until Christmas to open your gifts…
  • Enjoy them now…images-316

 

 

Emma x

 

 

 

 

 

The Rise of the Slow Burn Series

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Inspired by the end of ‘Top of the Lake’ and still missing ‘The Returned’, I steel myself to watch the misty nightmare that is Southcliffe.  The slow-burn drama series is enjoying a (long) moment – but what’s the appeal of these cult shows and what can they teach us about great storytelling?

My favourite show for many years was the fast-moving, action-packed and slickly edited ‘CSI’ series in the US.  These days I’m watching the hypnotic yet relatively slow moving ‘Hannibal’.   Scandi-Noir series ‘The Killing ‘and ‘Borgen’ have no doubt had a big influence on this new movement with Danish drama, ‘The Bridge’, the latest show to be remade for Sky Atlantic.

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So is slow the new fast?  These cult series demand your attention but in different ways.  How?

Less is more.  Less plot means more time for atmosphere and emotion.  The characters take centre stage, and the primacy of relationships is reiterated, allowing us to connect more strongly with their journeys.

You have to concentrate.  It’s much harder to second screen when watching as the plot is not as formulaic.  You can’t predict the sudden revelation or shock event as you are not set up for it with heavy music cues and other tension building devices.  So you give it your undivided attention, like watching a movie. The fact you can pause the show or watch it On Demand means you can sit down and watch it when you’re ready, with no ad breaks.  So less time doing recaps and flashy end of act breaks and more time telling the story.

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The Show Runner as Auteur.  From ‘Buffy’ to ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Mad Men’, to ‘Breaking Bad’, the Americans have led the way with the rise of the creative writer/producer who has a vision for a new kind of TV show. But with the migration of cinema stars and directors to the small screen in search of funding for mid-budget drama, Jane Campion and Steven Soderbergh are now directing for television and Video on Demand.  Which means…

Television is the new Cinema.  These series are high on visual style.  The dialogue is minimal.  There is nothing ‘domestic’ about these dramas.  The landscape is a big attraction.  The beauty of New Zealand, of the French mountains, creates a form of visual-tourism, we can escape to these worlds and feel our world expanded by them.  And yet…

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They are Other-Worldly.  Supposedly real settings feel decidedly unreal.  Artful cinematography mediates nature creating a feeling of isolation from the real world.

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The Village is Key.  Most of these series are about a community in peril, the multi-protagonist storylines perfectly suited to TV’s broader canvas.  We have time to get to know whole families and learn about their world as it implodes around them.  This is not a new idea but the village has been reinvented – as unstable, damaged, at risk of flooding, occupied by squatters, or terrorised by a gunman who lives there.  And we are all shown as culpable because each character is connected to the main event in a very real way.

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Complex and Real Characters.  With less plot, the characters have time to breathe and have all the quirks and desires of real people.  Even if they behave in extreme ways we understand the psychology behind what they do, and so can relate it to our own experience.  The genius of ‘The Returned’ was to ask what real life questions and emotional damage the return of a dead loved one would create…

The most exciting revelation of these slow-burn series is this –

We are focused on the inner not the outer life.  Rather just the depiction of reality – the illusion of progress with a logical plot and cause and effect reactions, we are faced with the unpredictable and illogical world of a dream.  Isn’t that closer to the reality we face every day?

The writer with something to say and directors with new ways of saying it are at the heart of this new wave of dramas.  No more pretty pictures tied up in a bow for us to sleepwalk through.  Jane Campion and Co are plumbing the depths of the lake,  drenching us with images and ideas that wake us up, pushing us into new ways of seeing.

We are active viewers again.  And it feels good.

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How have you been inspired by recent TV drama? Leave a comment here or find me on Twitter @emlin32.  Happy viewing…

Runaway Bride – Finding the truth behind your story

1528299-a-child-is-walking-all-alone-in-the-desertWhat are you running away from in your script?

We all create diversions to escape ourselves.  How far would you go to avoid the pain you have to inhabit to complete your story?

This is where I am at as I approach the third act of my feature script again. It’s where the shit hits the fan emotionally for the characters – and for you.  Where you work out why you’re writing this thing that’s taking all your waking hours.

The first thirty pages are a sprint, an idyll, the lure that gets you thinking, ‘I know this baby, I can crack this story, I even know how it ends.’

The second act is harder, but the winding roads of plot and character revelation make it bearable, even though it stretches into infinity.

But the last act, the ending, the pay off for you and the audience is where you have to face the truth of what you are writing.  And so we do anything not to go there.  In our own lives as well as in the story.

Many pleasures can distract you from grief.  But if grief drives your screenplay, then it is grief you must enter to find redemption.  A story is a confession, an admission of weakness, a seeking of grace.  The most common narrative structure is the redemption story because we all need and deserve forgiveness.

So in facing our demons and, with them, the truth in our work, we raise ourselves above them and the distractions we employ, to find our own happy ending.

Share your own thoughts here or find me on Twitter @emlin32 . Good luck and may honesty be your best friend as a writer.

The Miracle of Mentoring

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I am wearing waterproof mascara for the last day of our Women in Film and TV Mentoring Scheme.  Six months after we started, twenty talented women are now firm friends and, together, helped by our industry mentors, we have changed our lives from the inside out.

If this all seems a little sentimental, consider this.  In a recent survey by Directors UK, the average percentage of TV dramas directed by a woman was found to be 8%.  This means that in the already highly competitive field in which I work, I am in a distinct minority.  I have never been one for special pleading.  However a series of diverse and challenging jobs and the death of my mother had left me feeling low.  I wanted to move forward in my career but I needed someone to talk to.  In my interview for the scheme, when I was asked what the hardest thing about taking part would be, I said I had already done it – it was asking for help.

A questionnaire helped me identify my concrete goals.  Although I had enjoyed the last few years directing factual programming I wanted to move back to directing my first love, drama.  And after working in the States for some time I needed to re-introduce myself to the UK industry in that light.  I was lucky enough to be paired with the inspirational Emma Turner, Senior Executive Producer, Worldwide Drama at Fremantle Media.  Encouraged by our monthly meetings, my focus, energy and application to finding and creating new work tripled.

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Mid-career is exactly when you need a mentor most.  Re-positioning to get what you really want takes a lot of time and effort and, as a freelancer, having a sounding board is a huge plus, while having someone you have to report to really makes you get on and do stuff!  Emma was warm, practical, straight down to business, which suited me perfectly.  She also got the range of my work and saw it as an asset, not a drawback.  This was not psychoanalysis or cosy chats about the industry, this was ‘What can you do to get where you’re going?’ and it suddenly all seemed possible.

Nadia and Kate.aspx copyForging a supportive network with the other twenty women on the scheme came easily.  The weekly seminars we each had to deliver on our specialist subject helped us realise what we already knew, and share it with others.  Although I have lectured professionally, I still found it quite nerve-wracking and that fear bound us together and made us look out for each other.  I also found it cathartic as it allowed me to articulate what I had been feeling and had noticed in the industry for a while now – that my role as a director was changing.  There was a point one evening when it all just came together, the group gelled, we had become more than colleagues, we were all friends.

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So what did I gain from all this camaraderie and support?

Not just a warm fuzzy feeling – real benefits.

  1. Contacts.  It’s a hard fact that this business is built on who you know and whether you are starting out or starting over you wonder how you’ll ever get to know all those fabulous people who are going to give you work. What you come to realise is that everyone is connected, so the industry meetings generously set up by my mentor led to many others.  The group also went out of their way to help each person make contacts and shared advice and support along the way.
  2. Soft Networking is a vastly underestimated skill.  Going to screenings and industry events, helping friends promote their work, sharing contacts and ideas all help build a community that you are part of, so important if you are a freelancer.  You get to hear about funding opportunities and it can lead to great work relationships.
  3. Confidence. Everyone always says this about mentoring but it’s true.  Having discussed approaches and solutions for six months with Emma, I now know what she would say in most work situations.  Her mantra is ‘Just do it’, and the more you do, the more confident you feel pushing out of your comfort zone.
  4. Emma directing Us series 'In Search of Food' download 092 New projects.  In the last six months I have written the first draft of a new feature script and am preparing for my first trip to Cannes.  I am directing a new short written by one of our group.  I have written a prize winning pitch for a TV drama series.  I started this blog which has now had almost 1,500 views and been reposted on industry websites; and I am delivering my  seminar on directing at Cardiff Digital Week.  I have also recut my showreel, reworked my C.V. and improved my interview technique, all using professional industry coaching and feedback on the scheme.
  5. Jobs. I am hearing about more jobs now through my new network, and I am much more focused about what kind of work I am looking for.  This might sound counter-intuitive in the recession hit world of ‘take what you can get’ but trying to please everyone and do everything wasn’t working for me.  Now I’m doing what I really want to do and so can be 100% dedicated to making it happen.  And although range is useful, everyone loves a specialist.
  6. Goodwill. You hear a lot about how difficult this industry is and how cut throat but not much about how people genuinely want to help you out. Experienced practitioners love passing on knowledge so asking for advice is much more profitable than gunning for a position in their company. Mentoring brings out the best in people and makes them feel they are giving back.  So believe in a benevolent universe.
  7. Passion.  No one does this job for the money. We do it because we love it, and we can’t imagine ourselves doing anything else.  Mentoring someone or being mentored reignites that passion and the desire to make someone proud.  I am extremely proud of everything we have achieved on this scheme.  We are a community who care so much about the stories we tell and our desire to tell them.  Why not offer that same care to each other along the way?

So, to sum up, to Women in Film and TV, especially our gifted scheme producer Nicola Lees, huge thanks.  My fellow mentees and new-found friends, I know we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other.  And, as my lovely mentor and namesake, Emma, said at our last meeting, ‘Shall we just keep going?’

Now that’s an offer I can’t refuse… Thank you.

Who has been your most memorable mentor, or are you still looking?  Have you enjoyed being a mentor yourself?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @emlin32

7 WAYS TO DEAL WITH FEEDBACK – 17th JANUARY 2012

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Tally so far: 32 scenes, 16 pages in 17 days…  Pretty Good!

HOW TO DEAL WITH FEEDBACK

Dealing with feedback is tough – especially when you’re mid-draft.

I recently asked for feedback from a producer I like and respect and, an hour later, left, feeling like a sprinkler – full of holes.  Or maybe that was my story?   The following morning I was writing again, having processed the comments, knowing what I had to do to move on and grateful someone had taken the time to think about and be honest with me about my treatment.

Here are some ideas on how to deal with feedback on your script or treatment:

1)   LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

Choose someone you like and trust and preferably someone who knows you and your work. A friendly script editor or producer can be your best ally in getting a project ready for market.

2)   DON’T GO IN TOO SOON – DON’T LEAVE IT TOO LATE.

Work hard on your project – don’t send it to your reader until you have something that has a shape, a tone and a clear character arc that they can react to. But don’t hang onto it too long. Better to know sooner rather than later how your story is coming across and where it sits in the current market. So you can adjust it as you go.

3)   LISTEN.

We often remember what we want to hear and disregard the rest.  Ask questions to clarify exactly what’s being said. Make notes during the meeting or straight afterwards and make sure you address everything – how you do that is up to you.

4)   TALK IT OUT.

Find a friend who’s a writer or script editor and talk through the points raised. Don’t just ask for sympathy or launch into a defence of your script. A proper debrief will help you start to process the notes without obsessing. Then take the evening off. You’ve earned it!

5)   SLEEP ON IT.

I woke up next morning and carried on writing. I finished my daily scene target and then resolved to go back to my treatment and address the issues raised.

6)   ADDRESS EVERYTHING

This goes for your rewrite and in your marketing strategy. The best kind of advice is both creative and market aware so re-think your target producers, audience and budget as well as your story and characters if that’s what it takes to get your movie made.  Don’t hang onto stuff that isn’t working for you.

7)   DON’T GIVE UP

Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell we all know how many hours of ball practice it takes to become a world-class tennis player. Why should writing a screenplay be any different? Put in the time, listen to your feedback gurus, and remember your reason for wanting to write this story in the first place – and for wanting to make it better.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given on a script? And did you take it? Leave a comment below or tweet a reply to emlin32 on Twitter.

Happy writing and may you have many truthful readers.

THE POWER OF SOLITUDE – 10th January 2013

Arizona 2What do we need to write?  A room of our own said Virginia Woolf, which still remains true, but more importantly we need headspace.  Whether you get that by walking (or running), listening to music, sitting in a cafe or just being still, you need to tune out all the white noise and listen.

Last week, stuck at home writing, the world still asleep after Xmas and New Year, it was both easy and hard to write.  Easy because there were no distractions, no internet calling, no meetings, no teaching, and so I focused and had time to think about my story.  Ten scenes.  OK, some of them borrowed from the treatment but I was inside the story moving forward.  Hard because it was lonely.

This week, the world awakes and life is more fun but my thinking space is significantly reduced. Emails are returned, people are back in their offices, walking the streets, meeting for coffee. Screenings, drinks, networking, accounts! I am suddenly directed outward, enjoying being connected to the world again and yet my writing decreases, the silence disrupted.

Is there a correlation between loneliness and creativity? Anthony Storr wrote a book about the creativity of Solitude.  And much has been written about the loneliness of the long distance writer.  When I am socialised out I crave the silence and solitude that lets me write.  When I am writing I exist in a kind of happy depression, engaged in my task, yet after a few days wilting from the lack of light and air companionship brings.

Never satisfied is the modern condition.  The internet allows us to be both alone and yet connected but without the headspace we need to create that vital original content we wish to talk about and consume.

‘To thine own self be true’, a motto my mother lived by and which was written on her wall.  I know I need both the silence of endeavour and the energy of life in the world to sustain me.

What sustains you? How do you create space to write? Tell me your thoughts so we can have a conversation.

In between finding the time to write of course.

Leave a comment here or find me on Twitter @emlin32. Happy writing!