The big project continues, but I’m definitely in the home stretch now. Feeling very confident and rejuvenated about wrapping it up in the next couple of days. Planning to offer up all the sordid details once it’s completely finished.
While all energies are focused on that, here is another throwback post from a long time ago in a galaxy not so far, far away. From me, anyway.
The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on Phil Clarke.
Phil Clarke is a UK-based script consultant and screenwriter with over twenty years’ service to cinema. After years working on such features as Sleepy Hollow, Enigma, The Beach and two of the biggest box-office franchises: Star Wars and Harry Potter, he turned to writing – both for the screen and the page. His screenplays have spent time with production companies both in the UK and Hollywood, including a James Bond ‘scriptment’ considered for the twentieth entry in the franchise. As a script consultant for over a decade, his clients have won or placed highly at major script competitions, had their projects optioned, while others have gone on to be produced, the best débuting at Cannes.
1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well written?
The last film I thought was particularly well put together was Palm Springs — a kind of Groundhog Day rom-com featuring Brooklyn 99’s Andy Samberg. That felt very fresh and kept me deeply engaged. I’ve also recently watched the Johnny Worricker trilogy starring Bill Nighy and written by the playwright David Hare – Page Eight, Turks & Caicos, and Salting the Battlefield. These are three espionage dramas in the vein of Le Carre rather than Ian Fleming with superb dialogue (as you’d expect from an award-winning writer for the stage.)
2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?
I started reading screenplays as work following my years working on the sets of movies like Sleepy Hollow, Enigma, Star Wars and Harry Potter. For example, on the latter I was Chris Columbus’ on-set personal assistant.
3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
Absolutely. But you do need to be willing to be taught. Many aspiring screenwriters seem too keen to find a shortcut and bypass the learning side.
4. What are the components of a good script?
Tough to answer succinctly in a Q&A like this, but a good script tends to be well structured, have a well-executed and compelling premise along with engaging, relatable protagonists.
5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?
Generally speaking, I see too many new writers wanting to rush through the process. Consequently, they submit their work too early when several rewrites would have immeasurably improved the project. More specifically, I see poor grammar and spelling, inadequate formatting, poorly defined characters with unclear goals and a lack of conflict in the scenes and in the story as a whole.
6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
Personally, my heart always sinks when I see a script open with a voice-over narration. It’s often a sign that the entire script will be uninspiring and derivative. While it’s a way to convey a lot in a small amount of time, most writers don’t use it in the right way. Dream sequences and flashbacks more often than not annoy because of the way they’re usually handled. Cutting back unnecessarily to explain or overload with exposition certainly grates.
7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?
It’s hard to limit it to just three, but I would say:
1) know your story inside out and the reason for your story
2) above all else, make your story entertaining
3) never stop trying to improve your writing. Continue to hone your craft, and never think you’re the finished article.
8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?
Yes, of course. I would be most disenchanted with my job if I hadn’t. But these stick-on, guaranteed ‘recommend’ reads are rare. As for the loglines, I’m afraid I am unable to give you one.
9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
It depends on the contest. Some are beneficial, others – not so much. Make sure to research which ones offer you the most for your time and money. If they can guarantee your script will be read by those who can help get your script sold then they’re definitely worth it as that’s what all writers are aiming for.
10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?
After what seemed like an eternity of frustration dealing with a nasty case of writer’s block, I made some significant breakthroughs on BLJ. I think it helped getting feedback from my writing group. Their suggestions really made a difference in focusing on certain aspects of the story. I implemented some of them, which also triggered some new angles I hadn’t considered. Most of these came at the expense of dropping two characters I enjoyed developing, but as always, their sacrifice is for the greater good.
Right now, I’m working on trying to get the denouement scene together. I don’t want to rush through it, but I’m quite excited about getting it done. I suspect I won’t be as anxious/nervous about fine-tuning the whole thing when it’s done.
On another happy note, I got emails from two places I had sent DREAMSHIP to in late January/early February. One is a smallish place whose credits I can’t remember for the life of me, but they apologized for the delay and will be getting to it soon. Don’t ask how long that means.
The other is Benderspink, a very hot/high-profile management company. Granted, the message from was a generic intern, but it said they’re very interesting in reading it. But it’s Benderspink, which is still really cool. Not counting on anything from either, which seems to make the waiting easier to endure.
Before I sent it out this morning, I spent yesterday morning reading through it for any last-minute changes that might be necessary. Even though I wrote it, I really enjoy reading it. It’s just a fun story. I’m hoping to accomplish something similar when I finally get around to MONSTER HUNTER and OMEGA GRRL. But that’s down the road a bit.
I watched Frank Miller’s THE SPIRIT last week. God-awful. The less said, the better. Fortunately, it was followed up by the somewhat dated but still enjoyable KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL – an old-timey noir.
We were supposed to have friends over Saturday night, but they cancelled at the last minute. I had proposed to V we rent SPEED RACER, since she seemed so keen on it last year. She wasn’t interested. We dug through our DVD library, with me suggesting titles she hasn’t seen, including ROGER RABBIT, STAR WARS and CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. She wanted MARY POPPINS, which I don’t really need to see again for a long, long time.
As we watched a short cartoon, K suggested STAR WARS. V consented, but half-heartedly. Within seconds, she was hooked. It was quite special watching it with her, especially since it was her first time (probably well into three digits for me). She had a minimal amount of questions, which was nice. I hope this is the start of her paying more attention. Now I’m trying to figure out when she’ll be ready for EMPIRE.
I haven’t watched it in probably 6 months to a year, but it really is amazing what a great job Lucas did with how the story plays out. I was also reminded of how bad the second Trilogy is compared to the first.
Oddly, I’m still interested in seeing SPEED RACER, even if it IS supposed to be bad.