Archive for March, 2009

Writing for film is an altogether different animal. I’m afraid there’s no substitute for the grind – meeting producers or trying to meet them, narrations (during which their phones will ring constantly), rejection etc.

After listening to you or pretending to, they’ll tell you that it’s all very well, but can you develop an idea that they have?’ You have no choice but to comply. And even after that they may reject your work. Else they may not even meet you again.

Also, no one will ever tell you NO straight off. In this industry, people are so insecure and no one knows when someone will make it big that they are mortally afraid of rubbing anyone off the wrong way. Instead, they will devise inventive ways to fob you off – I’ve been away on a shoot (never mind that the guy hasn’t made a film in years), I got caught up in other things etc.

What makes the scene more complicated is the fact that most film people – producers, directors and even actors, are notoriously disorganized. So you will never know if the guy (let’s face it, it’s a man’s world) is trying to avoid you or is genuinely busy.

There’s nothing for it, you’ll just have to rely on studying body language. And you’ll have to be good at it. Most film people are practiced phonies and lie with consummate ease.

And even when you get a producer interested in your script, the onus of putting the project together will be on you. So you’ll have to run around trying to get a director, actors’ assent and the entire cycle of narrations and actors trying to fob you off will begin again.

Getting a director isn’t easy. Most directors have their own ideas and scripts which they are trying to get produced that they aren’t interested in yours. Getting stars is even more difficult.

So, as you can see, getting your script turned into a production is an uphill task and it could be years (if ever) when that happens.

Instead, what most writers and directors do is get actors’ assent (meaning dates) first and then go to producers. If you have a commercially viable star cast, getting finances and even producers is a piece of cake.

Then again, there are so few stars and they are so busy, that even with the project all together and ready to roll in an instant, you may still have to wait years before beginning photography.


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Writing for Television

If you want to write for television, identify the kinds of shows you want to write. Find out who the producers are – their names/logos usually come at the end of the show. Find out their numbers from the directory/Internet/Just  Dial services and call them up.

Ask for the creative director on the show. It is better of you ask for him/her by name. Again, the creative director’s name appears in the opening credits roll. Don’t be afraid of rejection. You may get some, but mostly, ‘writer’ is the magic word that will open doors. There is such a chronic shortage of good writers that chances are creative directors will drop everything and meet you.

If you don’t get to speak with a creative director after repeated attempts or they just ask you to send an email, don’t despair. Creative directors are very busy people. At any time they are looking at the story, screenplay and dialogues for a show, going to the sets for the shoot, looking after other creative (art, styling) and technical aspects of the show, juggling various talents, managing the channels and so on. Creative directors’ job is never done. They work 24X7X365.

So respect that and send an email. Eventually you’ll meet them. And when you do, make sure that you are worth their time. Don’t make them feel they’ve wasted their time in meeting you. They don’t have the time or the inclination to teach you basics of screenplay writing, so make sure you know your stuff. It is better if you have a sample of your writing with you.

That’s it. If you’re any good, you’re on. Initially they will try and extract work from you for free – work for shows under development, pilots, rewrites etc. Write all that. Pretty soon you’ll be able to work your way into the paid writer category. And when you do, it’ll all have been worth it. Money in TV is good and it is on time.

Remember another thing. Write fast. Time is of paramount importance in TV and none of your usual – I couldn’t think of anything, I need more time, will work. If you can turn in a script fast, you’ll score over a writer who may be more creative.

And now I’ve got to go. My creative director just called, ranting about how her writers (including yours truly) are giving her a hard time and how she is desperate for new ones. She’s so desperate, she’s asking me to recommend competition!


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How to write a Novel

I have had a successful writing attempt…so naturally people ask me how I write stories. Mostly I just follow my instincts. For instance I take care to address those issues which leave me feeling cheated in other people’s works. 

But these questions led me to wonder whether there are any rules for writing, especially mystery / suspense. By rules I mean apart from the usual stuff you get on how to build a character, how to plot a novel etc.

In this respect I came across an interesting post by a net friend:

Vonnegut gives some excellent rules of writing a short story in his book, “Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction”. Of course, the rules are unconventional, but if anyone knows a thing or two about writing it’s Vonnegut. and I thought I’d share them, so here they are:
1.Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2.Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3.Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4.Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
5.Start as close to the end as possible.
6.Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7.Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8.Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

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Anyone can write does not mean that you take it lightly. Writing, is not just about stringing two words together. Like any other craft it needs persistence and constant sharpening.

How does one do that? It is a bit obvious really.

1. Write: Again, like any other craft, practice is of paramount importance. You must write, write and write. Even when you don’t feel like it. The popular comedian Jerry Seinfeld says that he writes for at least forty minutes every morning, whether he feels funny or not.

When there are no deadlines imposed on you, you tend to take it a little easy. Writers, as a lot, are notoriously indisciplined. I myself am wont to be lazy. Therefore, I impose a strict schedule on myself.

The first thing I do when I get up, yes even before my morning ablutions, is switch on my computer. Yup! I tumble out of bed straight onto my desk. Then I write for at least fifteen minutes. It doesn’t have to be gems. It can mundane, everyday things, even your shopping list or things to do that day.

But what this exercise achieves is that it clears your mind of useless rubbish and prepares you for constructive work ahead. Often times when I’m stuck while writing a screenplay or a book, I use this time to bounce off ideas. Usually by doing this, I get a clear way forward.

But more importantly, the more you write, the better you get at it. You acquire a facility with words and structure and your writing becomes sharper and more focused. You are bound to expend less time in wandering around and writing stuff that you’ll only have to throw out later.

Also begin with the end in mind. You may not know how the story begins but you must always know how it ends. You don’t hop on a train without a destination in mind do you? It’s the same way with writing.

2. Read and watch: Read widely and deeply. Read anything. Experts usually say read only quality stuff, but I disgaree. In my opinion, one must read anything and everything. You will always take away something even from trashy pulp fiction, even if it’s a ‘how not to.’

Similarly with films. Watch everything even if it is nonsense. Subhash Ghai’s “Yaadein’ is a study in how not to make a film.

I do understand where experts are coming from. If your reading is trash, your writing will be too. After all we all have muses, writers who inspire us to write and whom we try to emulate, albeit in our own style.

In my opinion learn to distinguish between the two. If you’re reading trash, know that you’re reading trash. Also don’t read and watch only trash.

Read as a writer. If there’s something you like, a scene or incident, try to figure out why you like it? What has the author done that appeals to you so much? How has he/she constructed the scene? What is the beginning, middle and end? What are the highpoints of the writing? what is the imagery used? What turn of phrases do you like?

Read the masters. Read Graham Greene, John Steinbeck, Ian McEwan. Read Loius L’Amour if you like westerns. There are so many good writers out there. If you are a screenplay writer, download as many screenplays as you can and read them. You can download screenplays for free from Drew’s script-o-Rama.

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3. Rewrite and Edit: Writing is only rewriting. After you finish writing whatever it is you’re writing, revisit it. Not once, not twice, but many times. After my morning fifteen minute writing routine and before I begin working for the day, I revisit whatever I have written the previous day. I edit it, rewrite it and then move forward. There are days when I rewrite ALL that I have written on the previous day.

Be merciless when cutting/slashing stuff. Writers tend to fall in love with stuff they have written and resist all attmepts to slash it, especially self-imposed. I fought my book editor tooth and nail on every change she suggested, especially if it involved cutting several paragraphs. I threw tantrums at the thought of removing several hundred words I had spent days writing.

And this, after having so much experience in writing screenplays. Screenplays, as you well know, are bound by time constraints. You only have about two hours to tell your story. That is, a 100 pages. In Hollywood the acceptable length is 120 pages. But in Bollywood we have to leave scope for songs.

As you can see, there is really no scope for any flab in the writing. If you spend two precios pages just exposing the character, that is two pages less for telling your story. Try to define your character while moving the story forward.

The good news is that as you become more proficient you require less rewriting. You instinctively know what is usable is what is not. Having said that, don’t let that stop you. Wander aimlessly if nothing worthwhile emerges. It will, eventually.

Remember to save changes in different drafts. Never throw out stuff. You never know when you might want to re-insert something you had edited out earlier.

4. Be persistent: Most writers that make it aren’t the ones with talent but the ones with tenacity. There are many unfinished authors out there who have ‘a great story’ in their minds but nothing on paper. No paper, no screenplay/book.

There are many I know who started writing the screenplay/book, only to abandon is midway. After talking with me they get all charged up and aim to restart the exercsie. But guess what. It’s not so easy. Time has passed, they have lost touch with the story. It is just too much hard work to revisit the work from the beginning all over again. They get disheartened and abandon the work yet again.

It’s like quitting smoking all over again. Why put yourself through this pain? Why not finish it in one go?

I laugh when I read my first screenplay or my first book. The writing is too amateurish and the ‘effort to impress’ shows. But I never run myself down. At least I finished whatever I began. Some day I may rewrite them.

While writing anything, about midway I usually encounter a block when nothing worthwhile comes. I suspect everybody does at some point when they are not sure which way to progress the story forward. This is usually where they abandon the exercise. My advice is don’t. Labour away at it. Eventually something will emerge.

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O-V-U-R. Damn, I can’t get that irritating promo out of my head.

Anyway, I have about one hour ago typed the last word. And I’m literally going crazy. I can’t believe it. After calling everyone I know, and informing them of the momentous event, irrespective of whether they care or not, I am literally at a loose end. What do I do next? After working for sixteen hours a day for the past two months, suddenly I have nothing to do.

It’s exhilarating. It’s liberating. It’s frightening.

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Someone sent this to me. Apparently these wise ass answers are the actual responses by the website officials . I don’t know if this is true. The reason I’m posting this (besides the fact that they are funny) is to show that an idea for an interesting character can come from random places. Yes, even irritating friends who insist on bulk mailing stupid jokes.

Q :      Does it ever get windy in India? I have never seen it  rain on TV, how do the plants grow? (UK).
A:      We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.

Q :      Will I be able to see elephants in the street? (USA)
A:      Depends how much you’ve been drinking.

Q:      I want to walk from Delhi to Goa- can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)
A:      Sure, it’s only three thousand kms, take lots of water.

Q:       Is it safe to run around in the bushes in India?   (Sweden)  
A:      So it’s true what they say about Swedes.

Q:       Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in India? Can you send me a list of them in Delhi, Chennai, Calcutta and Bangalore? (UK)
A:      What did your last slave die of?

Q:       Can you give me some information about hippo racing in India?  (USA)
A:      A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe. In-di-a is that big triangle in  the middle of the Pacific & Indian Ocean  which does not.. oh forget it. …… Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Goa.  Come naked.

Q:       Which direction is North in India? (USA)
A:      Face south and then turn 180 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we’ll send the rest of the directions.

Q:       Can I bring cutlery into India? (  UK)
A:      Why? Just use your fingers like we do.

Q:       Can you send me the Indiana Pacers matches schedule? (France)
A:       Indiana is a state in the Unites States of…oh forget it.  Sure, the Indiana Pacers matches are played every Tuesday  night in Goa, straight after the hippo races.  Come naked.
Q:      Can I wear high heels in India? ( UK )
A:      You’re a British politician, right?

Q:     Are there supermarkets in Bangalore, and is milk available all year round? (Germany)
A:      No, we are a peaceful civilization of vegan hunter/gatherers. Milk is illegal.

Q:    Please send a list of all doctors in India who can dispense rattlesnake serum. (USA)
A:      Rattlesnakes live in A-meri-ca which is where YOU come from.  All Indian snakes are perfectly harmless, can be safely handled and make  good pets.

Q:       Do you have perfume in India? ( France)
A:      No, WE don’t stink.

Q:       I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth.  Can you tell me where I can sell it in India?  (USA) 

A:      Anywhere significant numbers of Americans gather.

Q:       Do you celebrate Christmas in India? (France)
A:      Only at Christmas.

Q:       Will I be able to speak English most places I go? (USA)
A:      Yes, but you’ll have to learn it first

Q:       Can I see Taj Mahal anytime? (Italy)
A:      As long as you are not blind, you can see it anytime.
Q:       Do you have Toilet paper? (USA)
A:      No, we use sand paper. (we have different grades)

Even as I post this, a smart ass character is already forming in my head.

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