Thursday, November 29, 2007

radio competitions

The BBC's annual African Performance playwriting competition 2008 is now open for business.
Plays must be half an hour in length when read aloud, and feature no more than six characters. The subject matter must resonate with an African audience. Entries are sought from Africans living in Africa

Deadline is January 31st 2008. There are three prizes. The first prize is £1000, the second is £850 and the third prize is £650. Visit the website here for full details of how to apply:

and now here's another more specialist one which may be of interest:

Africa: Radio scriptwriting competition to cope with climate change.

The Developing Countries Farm Radio Network (DCFRN) and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) are launching a scriptwriting competition entitled African Farmers’ Strategies for Coping with Climate Change. The competition is open to African radio organizations, including broadcasters, production organizations, NGOs with a radio project, farmers’ associations with a radio show, etc. Competitors are invited to submit a radio script on one of the following themes related to local adaptation to climate change:Water and soil management; cropping strategies emphasizing drought-resistant plants; livestock management practices; fisheries and agroforestry; other (for original topics related to coping with climate change and not listed above)To assist radio practitioners with producing the radio scripts, a climate change resource kit and a guide to writing radio scripts will be prepared and distributed to interested African radio practitioners. Professional coaching and mentoring on scriptwriting will be provided to participants throughout the process.

special website has been set up for this competition and includes info on coaching etc. Click here to visit the website. Entry deadline is: March 15, 2008. Winners will be announced in May 2008. Scripts will be reviewed by an international panel of judges. The top 15 entries will receive high quality digital audio recorders.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

merits of feedback

I've blogged briefly about feedback but I think it might be useful to go into more depth especially since feedback on my latest script has varied so much in quality and usefulness.

I think there are basically 6 types of feedback

1) The mum (best friend) feedback. Well we all know what this is like - usually over the top, complimentary, uncritical and non-analytical, always delivered verbally and ends with "well I know you're a good story teller anyway." The best thing about the mum/best friend feedback is that it is quick - they read it usually before anyone else. The worse thing is the lack of impartiality.
However, I have been wondering lately whether it is possible to combine the mum /best friend feedback with the
Michael Arndt feedback sheet.
If you hand your mum/best friend a printed sheet where they have to rate particular categories of your script from 1- 10 and also rate the weakest elements - then perhaps it could be more helpful....hmmmm?

2) The spot on feedback - usually comes from someone older and wiser than the writer. This feedback is from someone who knows you, knows your writing, your narrative leanings, your weak spots, your inspirations, your motivators. This is the most valuable feedback you can get - because not only does it hone in on exactly what is wrong with a particular script but it presents that information to you in a wholly acceptable manner and thus propels you towards writing greatness.. ahem. The 'spot-on' feedback is always correct. It can say when the idea is completely off the boil and should be abandoned.
The downside to such feedback - is that it is rarely available 'on demand' so there's a tendency for the writer to over-rely on it. Remember the feedback favours must be returned with as much wisdom as can be mustered.

3) The mish-mash feedback. The mish-mash feedback is your average, everyday run-of-the-mill feedback containing some moments of brilliance yet little to surprise the writer. It is quite likely that the mish-mash feedback person does not respond particularly well to your story or was not excited by the writing.The mish-mash feedback is indecisive and contains mixed messages which tend to confuse the writer.

4) The slasher feedback. This is feedback from someone who either doesn't really 'get' the story at all or who only ever scanned the script - but nevertheless considers their opinion to be both important and useful. Slasher feedback is delivered with confidence and aplomb and holds little regard for the writer. Slasher feedback is characterised by negative phrases, snarky witticisms - and always demonstrates a lack of ability to see a way through any narrative difficulties. The slasher may even take it upon themselves to cut up your script for you and send you back a mutilated or completely re-arranged version of your text for your appraisal.
It is worth reading the slasher feedback with care, as on occasion, there can be the odd suggestion which may prove valuable ..

5) The late feedback. There's the feedback that always comes after you have sent your script off - usually from a busy person. Luckily it usually confirms all the strengths and weaknesses that you have acknowledged in your script and therefore rarely creates much agitation.

6) The executive feedback is frequently paradoxical or confusing. Never wanting to appear mistaken, it tends to be short and convoluted. This type of feedback usually accompanies a 'no'. The 'no' can arrive quickly or slowly. However if the 'no' comes from someone high up, who has obviously read the entire script - within a week of it being sent, then don't be disheartened - because that's really not too bad at all.....

Sunday, November 25, 2007

a way forward for sithengi?

A new Sithengi board was elected at a special general meeting on November 16th 2007 which may prove to be the first step in the revival of South Africa's key annual film and TV industry event.

The board however faces an uncertain future with major financial issues awaiting resolution.

Read more on Screen Africa's website

comments are for post below..

should black stories be told by black directors?

Read Jason Solomons in Guardian filmblog.

'This week I meet Kasi Lemmons, director of the startling Talk to Me, about African American 'shock jock' Petey Green. Could a white man have told this tale?
Talk To Me is one of the most enjoyable films I've seen all year. It's breezy, funky fun because of the two terrific performances of Don Cheadle and our own Chiwetel Ejiofor and because the music and milieu feel genuine and heartfelt.
The story of radio DJ Petey Green, set in late 60s Washington DC and featuring scenes around the killing of Martin Luther King - but I venture that its authenticity really stems from the film being directed by a black woman, Kasi Lemmons '

Read on here.

Friday, November 23, 2007


"the story doesn't necessarily have the kind of pre-recognition factor that allows this type of factually based drama to find an audience"

Half a packet of pink paperclips goes to the first person to provide the correct interpretation of the sentence above.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Nice word pox

Blog hiatus while my daughter is off school with chicken pox. The whole class seems to be off. Probably because these days, chicken pox's time-line has shrunk to fit in with parental schedules. In my day you were off school for 2 weeks. Nowadays parents slap on a bit of calamine, wait until their grizzling infants look a bit less spotty and send them back to school to infect the entire class. In the chemist's queue my itching daughter's eye fell upon some discounted children's DVDs (a big no no) so along with calendula and calamine, I came home with what I thought was an Australian version of Peter Pan but actually turned out to be a mishmash of Pan and Captain CrustyMumpyGrumble or something. Perhaps it was re-cut to specifically target low attention span masses for whom visual coherency and narrative have become redundant. The fact that my daughter didn't seem to mind was a little worrying. Five is a funny age.

Not long before the chicken pox landed, she went off for a 'play day' with a couple of other schoolfriends wearing a new pink hair-band lodged in the front of her Afro. (I have never been into pink, but in this era of consumer conformity, it is hard to counter) When she was returned home, I was appalled to see that her hair had been hot-comb straightened into a style resembling Condoleeza's. Aggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

A pox on that parent!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Amarna princess

Here's one for the cuttings file (which I'm sure will be turned into a TV drama soon) - the story of the family from Bolton who successfully conned the art world for more than two decades.

In 2003, the local council used grant money to buy a stunning translucent alabaster Egyptian statue from them for £440,000 only to later discover it was a fake. Shaun Greenhalgh created the Amarna Princess from a block of calcite using an ordinary mallet and chisel.

For successful forgers, the Greenhalgh trio 'had an unremarkable lifestyle.' Despite having £500,000 in the bank they lived "in abject poverty", said police. 83 year old Olive had never even left Bolton.

Read the full story on the BBC website here and see a slide show of all the various forged art pieces here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


South Africa might seem a little off the radar when it comes to the US Writers Guild strike and indeed the majority of scriptwriters here produce for local content and broadcasters - and tend to be consumed by a different set of pressing professional issues.

Striking US writers have stated that it is not proper for writers anywhere (that includes here in SA) to approach, negotiate, pitch or do business with any of the 'struck' WGA signatory companies during the strike action. The list of companies is available
here and contains a fair number that have done or are currently doing SA co-productions.

Last year alone, film and television production (the majority of which here is overseas co-production) contributed over 5 billion rands to South Africa's economy (3 billion in the Western Cape and 2 billion in Gauteng). It might be timeous for the writers union
SASWU to issue some statement of solidarity - since any benefits eventually won by striking US writers will have far reaching impact, and may provide additional leverage for on-going local negotiations.

For further information and to read various recent media coverage of the strike - see Robin's blog here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

snail mail

So I take my smart, professional looking manila envelope to the post office, to find that the online services are down and for some reason stamps can only be sold in low denominations and by the time the man behind the counter has finished sticking on the sixty plus stamps, my letter is transformed into a multi-coloured medley of flora and fauna..

Sunday, November 11, 2007

this and that

A meandering post, this one. The script is now re-written, polished, tweaked, combed and edited as thoroughly as I can manage and ready for the off sometime this week.

I've been considering whether to overhaul the blog - either that or link to a web page of professional stuff etc - something fairly low maintenance. Maybe I'll first put up more information in my profile and then make the transition bit by bit. Any ideas?

The other day I went to the dinner launch of the Parliamentary Film Festival. Before we ate, they showed a fascinating 2 hour-long documentary by Egyptian filmmaker
Jihan El Tahri - Cuba An African Odyssey which first I thought was going to be a bit heavy, but ended up being riveted by the tragicomic story of Che Guevara's military campaign in the Congo and his numerous disguises. Being more drawn to fiction than documentary, I thought this whole little known segment of Che's story would make a brilliant movie in itself. Anyway the fish was delicious and some twist of fate found me seated at the same table as the prodco whose job I'd stepped off - earlier this year. Bygones perhaps..?
Last thing I want to ruminate on today is contracts. The big jazz one hasn't yet arrived which means other plans have to be postponed. However, the contracts for the next two scripts have - but major issues still need to be resolved. Hmmm. Sometimes I prefer to work on an ad hoc basis - than be tied into difficulties very early on.
Let's see.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Ok another scintillating topic - brads. The industry standard brad of choice for scriptwriters all over the globe is the ACCO brad.

I actually prefer the wider headed silver brads that used to be fairly easy to purchase in many UK stationers but they are difficult to get hold of here. I arrived with a large box but after they were all consumed I resorted to re-using them and even prizing them off other people's scripts (ha ha!). After a while they can rust and the washers go astray or they get too bendy or break. Here in Cape Town I've hunted high and low for them - to no avail.
So I started using butterfly pins which are almost identical to the industry brads - gold and two pronged but there are no washers to accompany them. It doesn't bode well (for a critique) if someone stabs their fingers trying to extract a script from an envelope.

Purely for home (or temporary use) there are treasury tags. I've always found these to be highly impractical and have never, ever sent off a script fixed with treasury tags. I've never used those curly ring bindings either.

My latest binding of choice is the 'file fastener'. These metal knife things bend through the punched holes and then slide into a clasp for safety. I know that these are also a 'no no' in industry circles but at least they look neat and are easy to remove - though they can also prove lethal for readers. They're also readily available.

So what do you use?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

seeing spots

warning: banal post ahead

The easy bit is typing 'The end', then it gets more and more difficult. To help with rewriting today, I decided to use multi-coloured spot stickers - only because there are packets of them in my top drawer. I started off sticking them in the right hand margin of each page (a different colour for each story thread and up to 4 spots on one page). This was pleasantly time consuming and repetitive.
Then I laid the pages out on the floor - three rows for the three acts. It looked rather pretty - a bit like a colourful morse code or braille. I thought this might make it easy to see where story threads were going awol and it did, I suppose. Then I returned to the much more practical notebook. Just hope I have it all sorted now - just want to get this out of the way.....


Monday, November 05, 2007

good, bad and the ugly

Just received another helping of feedback on my script - which this time was apposite, thorough, practical and constructive. It articulated issues which I hadn't been able to put my finger on as well as confirmed that I'm on the right track and was right to follow my instincts. So for now I'm going to do another print off, work out the 'through story' properly and then tackle the last revision.

Getting a critique is a bit like taking a child to the doctor when you don't really know what's wrong with them. Amputation is unlikely to be the best answer.


TVC blog bows out

read here

and the final post here.


Tagged by Elinor in the lame meme

1. I once went to a fancy dress party dressed as Florence from the Magic Roundabout and won.
2. I don't really see the point of memes but do them anyway.
3. At school, I learned to do fast, backwards, mirror handwriting. Worryingly, I can still do it.
4. I'm a magpie. In London I used to have a box full of odd gold and silver trinkets that I found on the pavement and on tube seats. I once found a thick gold bracelet lying right outside my front gate in Camberwell. I never wear anything gold. Every so often I'd go and take it to be melted down and then start all over again.

In this country, I've never found a thing - maybe because there's so many people looking
5. When I was a teen I used to go to the Orrell Legion disco in Wigan with two gold stripes painted in my hair. One time the bus driver asked if a motorbike had run over my head.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Following Lianne's Arvon inspired lead, I'm answering twenty questions about writing methods.

1.Do you outline?
Yes - I never like to start without an outline - the more detailed the better

2. Do you write straight through a script, or do you sometimes tackle the scenes out of order?
Usually straight through, though I might skip a difficult bit and come back later

3. Do you prefer writing with a pen or using a computer?
PC of course - though I started out always writing with a pen in big notebooks

4. Do you prefer writing in first person or third?
Third. Though 1st is useful sometimes (eg recent monologue)

5. Do you listen to music while you write?

6. How do you come up with the perfect names for your characters?
Sometimes names are there from the word go. If I'm basing a character on someone, I tend to keep their real name (and change it at a later date). In several scripts, my female lead character's name begins with a B - for some reason

7. When you’re writing, do you ever imagine your script as a book/short story?
Yes sometimes.

8. Have you ever had a character insist on doing something you really didn’t want him/her to do?
Characters should surprise. Recently a character convinced me that, although he'd bludgeoned someone to death, it wasn't murder.

9. Do you know how a script is going to end when you start it?
Sometimes not always - as I said on this blog before - I tend to travel hopefully..

10. Where do you write?
At home at my desk

11. What do you do when you get writer’s block?
I don't believe in it so I don't get it. If I don't want to write, I don't write. Anyway we all write crap sometimes.

12. What size increments do you write in?
Depends. I like to write a lot fast, say at least 10 pages a day then rewrite much slower

13. How many different drafts did you write for your last project?
My last I'm still working on. I'd say it'll have gone through about 5 major revisions before going out.

14. Have you ever changed a character’s name midway through a draft?
Yes in the last draft - a black character became white and his name changed too

15. Do you let anyone read your script while you’re working on it, or do you wait until you’ve completed a draft before letting someone else see it?
I wait until I've finished - although I do like to have feedback or input on outlines or whatever before I get started.

16. What do you do to celebrate when you've finished a draft?
Have a glass of Pinot Grigio

17. One project at a time, or multiple projects at once?
Although I tend to have several on the go, there's usually only one that I'm truly focussed on.

18. Do your scripts grow or shrink in revision?

19. Do you have any writing or critique partners?
Yes I have one long-standing critic who I've known for years and some others.
Have had mixed involvements in collaboration - once developing a series - which was fantastic until the money ran out. I also brainstormed a sitcom here once but wasn't enamoured with the process or the project - so I left.

20. Do you prefer drafting or revising?
Revising. I think but I like finishing a first draft too