Archive for the ‘Screenplay’ Category

What makes a Dark Knight or a Transformers or a Star Trek work? Think about it. There are so many action flicks out there. What then makes a handful of them stand out? It is the underlying character story and the structure of the film.

Here, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, two of Hollywood’s hottest writers share their screenwriting secrets.

Read Full Post »

I guess I can let the cat out of the bag now. Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions is being made into a film. The producer is iRock India Pvt. Ltd. and we just signed the deed yesterday.

I’m very happy it’s them ‘cos they’re really nice people and as excited about the development as I am. Besides, our visions and amibitions for the project match.

We have already shortlisted potential directors and screenwriters. Before you ask, it’s not me, although I was offered the chance to pen the screenplay. I firmly belive that authors should never attempt to adapt their books into screenplays as they are too close to the source material to be objective. Having said that, I will, obviously provide all the assistance I can.

Wish us luck!

Read Full Post »

I was reading about the Cannes in the papers today. The reporter made a point that the jury was unapologetic in rewarding divisive films. In response to this, the British writer Hanif Qureishi commented, “Great art is hard.”

This got me thinking. Why is it that great art is hard? Why is that these days people are ready to take offence? Why have we become so intolerant of other’s views if they don’t agree with ours? People will no doubt argue that we have always been intolerant. Hell, wars have been fought over differences of opinion. These days we adopt a more civilised attitude (not in India , of course) and take the battle to court. But the idea is that we are supposed to become more evolved with time, not regress. It’s the same reason we avoid fight wars these days (not in the USA, of course).

More importantly, it got me thinking about the intrepid auteurs who dared to make such startling statements. Thinking and lauding, because, not so very long ago, I’d written a comedy on the issue of migration. But then I lost my nerve and didn’t market it. The last thing I wanted was Raj Thackeray/Muthalik and their goons picketing outside my house. Or burning copies of my books.

It’s not that I’m attached to what I write. The problem is they don’t pay for the damage. As long as you pay for it, you can do what you like with my book. Hell, you can wipe your ass with it. And tell me about it. How’s that for VFM? Move aside Michael O’Leary, Smita Jain is here!!!!

This whole political correctness movement has got artists so defensive that we’re afraid of saying anything creative anymore. I don’t know about others but speaking for myself, I’m always anxious whenever creating controversial characters. I’m always thinking, will people actually read this in the spirit in which it’s written? Or will people think the character is a flimsy cover for own bigoted ideas? Will this character involve me in a lawsuit? More often than not I opt for the safer option.

I’m no Van Gogh. I’m not willing to suffer for my art, especially when the suffering involves muchos dineros.

Read Full Post »

Of late, newspapers have devoted an inordinate amount of space to the Fox Studios suing the producers of Banda yeh Bindas Hai story, which they claim is a copy of My Cousin Vinnie. And while they were at it, they dredged up other such instances. Zeher, Ek Ajnabee, even Rang de Basanti joined the infamous list.

Really, I don’t what the whole fuss is about. I concede that some plots are ‘inspired’ from Hollywood projects, but those are minor transgressions. If you really think about it, isn’t it the other way around? Look at the latest Hollywood offerings. Almost all of them are superhero offerings.

Here are a few points to illustrate my claim:

  1. The hero single-handedly takes on the baddie kingpin and his evil henchmen;
  2. The hero, while not the richest or the best looking, gets the girl;
  3. The girl always gets kidnapped by the baddie towards the end, leading to the climax;
  4. The setting for the climax scene is a veritable death trap with movable floors with jaw-snapping and snarling crocs underneath, flip-over chairs, retractable walls, gas chambers, acid-filled cauldrons and what have you.
  5. Okay, no hero wears his chaddies over his pants in Hindi movies but have you seen Amitabh Bachchan in Desh Premi? And Mithun da in Agneepath? And while we’re on the subject of ridiculous styling, how can we forget Raj Kumar and Jeetendra with their white shoes? And Vinod Mehra with his shirts unbuttoned to the navel displaying an even inch thick layer of lush black carpeting?

And we’ve been doing since, like, forever. And then they say, Bollywood plagiarises from Hollywood. Really?

Read Full Post »

What do you do when you have a writer’s block? You have to write, that’s for sure (duh!). But what if the very sight of your computer is loathsome? What if jumping out of the window of your high rise starts looking more attractive than approaching your computer?

I’ll tell you what I do. Someone recommended this to me some time ago and I could kiss her for this. It goes like this. Hush now…listen carefully…the thing to do is open Outlook. No, not the magazine, the email programme.  I open it and start writing.

When I’m having a bad day I compose a message to my closest friend (incidentally also one who I’m at my wittiest best with) and pretend I’m writing to him. I write as I would write to him, without inhibitions and without thinking. I just write.

Somehow this works for me. It just helps open up the floodgates of inspiration which heretofore was effectively dammed by the mockingly winking cursor of my word processor. And before I know it I have written a thousand plus words and I’m not even done yet!

And the anecdote seems more sparkling than it would have otherwise. I have this terrible tendency to embellish everything I tell my friends (No one believes what I say anymore, but I do end up with good stories).  And I think this penchant for exaggeration gets transferred onto the copy.

Later I just cut and paste what I’ve written onto my word processor, clean it up, and voila! I’ve achieved a decent day’s work.

I think the psychology behind this is that an email programme seems friendlier and more informal. I am free to be humorous self without having to bother about correct grammar or even the correct tense (believe me, far more effective roadblocks than are given credit for). I just have to narrate the incident and entertain him. I can always decorate it with big words later on.


Read Full Post »

I’m restive these days. Unable to concentrate to outlining my third book. And that’s because my second book hasn’t been laid to bed as yet. The thing is it is very difficult to focus on two different books at the same time, especially when they are both intricate murder mysteries.

The second book in its current form is about 1, 14, 000 words which, I’m sure, is giving the production staff palpitations. I’m sure they’ll try and get me to trim the word count to under 1, 00, 000 post editing. That means that I can’t let it go just yet.

I apologize for harping incessantly on the phrase ‘the second book,’ although it does have a nice ring to it. Makes it sound like a definitive religious text, n’est pas? The name is not a closely guarded secret, deliberately shrouded in mystery. We just haven’t been able to agree on a suitably snappy title as yet.

The story is about a female PI with a cringe-worthy name like Kalavati or Bisheshwari or Thirumala. And it’s a series. At least we’re hoping it will be a franchise. I was going with a generalised title for the series, suffixed by specific story title.  Like And then there were noneAn Hercule Poirot mystery.

I was keen on Krime Kronicles as the general series title but it prompted too many eye rolls from my publishers (in my defense, I’m a TV person!). And so, the search continues.

Meanwhile, for all you aspiring screenwriters out there, Kamal Hassan, along with some Hollywood biggies, is launching a screenwriting contest. A friend of mine who works at the Hindu in Chennai sent me this. Check it out.

Chennai International Screenwriting WorkshopDo you want to be one of the chosen 250 to attend a week-long masterclass by some of the best screenwriting teachers in the country?


Kamal Haasan, in association with Indian Institute of Technology, Madras presents a first-of-its-kind international workshop and seminar on screenwriting in South India. “It’s a strictly instructional event. Basic education is compulsory and candidates need to demonstrate their seriousness to get selected,” says the writer-filmmaker-actor.

The Chennai International Screenwriting Workshop to be held at the IIT-M campus between May 29 to June 3, 2009 will feature few of the best screenwriters and filmmakers from around the world.

Veteran writer Jean Claude Carriere has confirmed his participation via video conference. 

Mr. Kamal Haasan himself will join the discussions and don the role of faculty during the workshop and seminar. “Students will be able to pick up copies of my scripts and get their doubts clarified,” he adds. 

The screenwriting workshop will be conducted by K.Hariharan, Director of the L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy, Anjum Rajabali, Professional screenwriter and head of departments of screenwriting at Film and TV Institute, Pune and Whistling Woods, Mumbai and Atul Tiwari, Professional screenwriter and well known playwright.

“We will be approaching screenwriting from two angles”, says Mr.Hariharan. “How to turn words into images that you see on screen and also how to do the opposite – putting in words what you see as images in your mind. Every day, we will have two sessions of guest lectures by reputed writer-filmmakers from the industry.”

For long, screenwriting has been a neglected discipline even in film schools. “While all good writing is essentially intuitive, it is essential to understand the basic principles of storytelling and the form of the screenplay to be a competent screenwriter”, says Mr. Anjum Rajabali, who founded the screenwriting department at FTII and at Whistling Woods.

“We all agree that it is impossible to make even a half decent film with a bad script and that a good script is the first and foremost requisite to make a good film. But even then we have seen that pedagogy of the screenwriting has not taken roots in India,” adds Mr. Atul Tiwari, who has who has conducted similar workshops in New Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, Manipal and Pune.

The workshop will culminate with a seminar, which will be open to industry professionals. The event is an initiative of Raajkamal Films International to bring screenwriting to the forefront. 

To apply, students must send a copy of their resume, a passport-size photograph along with a 200-word synopsis on their favourite film and a list of their five favourite films to admissions@screenwritingindia.com before May 5, 2009.

More details are available on http://screenwritingindia.com. For further queries, email helpdesk@screenwritingindia.com

Read Full Post »

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!


Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »


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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »