The Power of Promotion

In case you haven’t wandered over to my “about me” tab, my actual paying job when I’m not struggling to finish scripts is a Promo Producer. Which is a posh way of saying I make ads for TV programmes. I bring this up as self promotion is something constantly talked about in the writing world and as I’ve been promoting other products and TV shows I thought I would share a bit about it from my point of view, and how this can be applied to writing.

Now you can read hundreds of posts about how great the latest Guardian ad about the three Little Pigs is, so instead I’m going to talk about something else. For the past 4 or 5 weeks my four year old son has been completely obsessed with Dinosaur Train, a show that he’s never seen. Whenever he sees the ad that would state “Coming Soon” he’d get amazingly excited and ask when it’s on. When a dated version came on he’d keep asking “Is it March 12th yet?” This is what a good promo does, it creates a desire to want more.

How did Dinosaur train do this? Let’s look at the title, as we are taught in writing the key to a good title is that it tells you what the show is, and has a bit of irony “Dinosaur Train” a combination of a small boys two favourite things in the world, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Dinosaur Rocket Train, as adding rockets as well may have led to small children exploding with excitement and then where would you be? The front page of the Daily Mail and no-one wants that. But Dinosaur Train is a pretty original and ironic combination. Now you have your show with a great concept and title how do you promote it, well Kids love catchy jingles and tag lines, ask anyone whose child embarrassingly runs around the house screaming “BANG! and the dirt is gone”. By putting the promo on with this great title, a catchy tune and more importantly showing dinosaurs AND trains, at such an early stage led kids to want more, you show them this really cool peek at a fantastic idea and they get it. Kids are not dumb, if something is bad they won’t stand for it, kids programming has to be amazingly good and original to hold the attention span of a four or five year old.

In terms of my job I’ve promoted products and shows on lots of different channels and the key for me is always knowing your audience and having a tone of voice that speaks to them. Here’s a couple of examples for UKTV Gold, a comedy channel with a very knowing and intelligent audience, at the time these were made Gold had started to move into entertainment programmes, and placing those on a comedy channel meant you have to adapt your message for the audience, and the brand of the channel. In the future Gold shifted back to a pure comedy channel and launched a new channel for it’s entertainment content called Watch.

Now these are both examples of promoting to a very savvy audience, one that is “in on the joke” is it misrepresenting the film and TV show, kind of, but what it’s really promoting is the channels sense of humour and brand, these are shows and films everyone knows about, so promoting them in this way works, it’s putting a new fresh spin on something for the audience. Of course another way to look at is I’m a professional liar and one step above a lawyer.

One of the most recent promos I’ve made is the one that’s success has really surprised me, and this is due to the power of the internet and social networking. I needed to make something to promote the motorbike coverage on British Eurosport, which is pretty much THE channel for bike fans. Again AUDIENCE, what do I know about the audience, they are amazingly loyal and knowledgeable about the sport, and just hoover up information, bike riding and watching bikes is a huge part of the audiences life, if you’ve ever ridden a bike or been on the back of one you’ll kind of understand why, you’ll either want to kiss the ground and never go near one again or you’re hooked. These guys are hooked. The one thing about motorsport that gathers a lot of criticism from people is the “Oh well the best car / bike always wins the driver / rider doesn’t matter”. Which as any fan of motorsport will tell you is complete rubbish, you need both. This promo aimed to emphasise the team nature of the sport that it is equally man and machine, and these bikes are more than machines, they have a bit of soul to them. Why? Because the audience is smart, and they get it and are tired of these arguments. This was also to emphasise again the channel brand is knowledgeable about the content and knows its audience well.

This is where things get a bit weird, after sticking the video up on Vimeo, I posted one Tweet, one facebook message, one Linkedin Message all social networks I am active on. One thing led to another a few Bike blogs over the world picked up the promo and embedded it and currently three weeks after uploading it it’s on 34,000 views. Now I didn’t put this on Youtube as it was purely to promote what I’ve been doing and have an archive of my work, whilst having the best quality and no ads. It’s still getting about a thousand views a day on a fairly niche video site, which is by no means mind blowing but also wasn’t planned in any way, shape or form. Once you get something online it can take on a life of itself if you are lucky. If you have a strong digital footprint these things can be less lucky and more planned out but only if you have something good and original to say or show.

So in terms of promotion the key is always know your audience, this is pretty much the key to any type of writing. If you are writing a horror your audience know how a horror movie works, you either follow those rules in a really original way or you risk not meeting their expectations. By all means break the rules, shatter them into tiny pieces, put them in a blender and sprinkle them on a coffee, but if you want to do something truly original and different with your writing, know who your audience are, know your audiences expectations, and no matter what, exceed them.


I’m watching you

See that, that’s me that is. But I don’t look like James Stewart and I don’t have a broken leg, in fact I’ve been reliably informed I look like either F1 driver Jarno Trulli or 80’s actor Andrew McCarthy and I have a bad back.

I’ve been going stir crazy as per James Stewart holed up in bed for a month with a herniated disc which is a long posh way of saying “OW!” So what have I done with my spare time? What masterpieces have I written, well…. nada. No matter my good intentions pain it seems is not indicative of good writing, neither is about 15 painkillers a day but I have been watching a huge amount of films and floating around online and getting some inspiration, especially as my wife and writing partner attended the Screenwriters Festival, which sounds like it was all sorts of awesome, not quite as awesome as hobbling around the house with a large dose of self pity and Gabopentin but pretty damn good all the same. She received lots of feedback for our sitcom from proper real writers not just that bloke Dave from the pub and we have a huge amount to do but unfortunately a little something called Christmas is approaching, which means family commitments take priority.

But that doesn’t stop me wanting to get going with a few ideas, being stuck in bed for a while with a Lovefilm streaming subcription and the internet can lead to some pretty varied viewing for inspiration, so here’s what I’ve been watching.

A low low budget movie very reminiscent of Aronofsky’s Pi, a lot of the science went over my head (I blame the painkillers not my CC in Double Science GCSE), but a very interesting movie about what happens when two friends make a truly groundbreaking invention and what do you do when you can get away with anything. Reminded me a little of the book that Limitless was based on The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn.

Pure and utter Sci-Fi nonsense. The future is a world where people live their lives vicariously through Surrogates, kind of like a really high tech version of Second Life in the Real world with you cooped up on a computer controlling everything. An interesting prospect but lots of action and Brice Willis can’t really save it from being a film that doesn’t really know if it’s Science Fiction, Crime, or Action. I think I just found the Sci-Fi aspect so intriguiing I really wanted to continue more with that aspect, but hey if it’s on TV or you can stream it, it’s a worthwhile way to pass the time.

With this film Greece well and truly puts the “Art” into “Arthouse”, what I can only describe as a very difficult film to watch, is about a family who raise their children as something of an experiment, giving different words to different objects instilling a sense of fear of the outside world. It’s a film I can’t say I enjoyed watching but definitely stayed with me. It’s a film that’s won a lot of awards on the art scene and is most definitely not for everyone, but what the hell, watch something you wouldn’t normally watch, stretch yourself, see what film is capable of doing outside of hollywood and standard narratives.

This is everything Surrogates should have been, it’s basically Heroes the movie. Super powers, conspiracies, action. A big surprise, I’d not heard of this before and thoroughly enjoyed it

The Losers
It’s the A-Team but its not the A-Team another guilty pleasure, an 80’s style action movie with explosions and men being men, and women kicking their arses. Completely forgettable but fun.

Wild Strawberries
Now this is an absolute classic, Ingmar Bergman at his very best, an elderly academic travels to an awards ceremony commemorating his life achievements. He travels with his daughter in law and meets a group of youngsters on his travels as he remembers his past, his regrets, and see’s how people percieve him, as always with Bergman it’s a film about death but a very beautiful one.

Every actor in their right mind would kill for this part and I imagine Ryan Reynolds left a trail of bodies at the audition. Buried is 110 minutes of one man buried alive in a coffin with a mobile phone. This is a truly brilliant idea, in fact its such a fantastic concept I couldn’t help but be disappointed especially as I’ve written a short amongst what I thought were similar lines but are in fact very different. For a start he knows why he is there straight away, he’s a truck driver in Iraq, this straight away turns it from what could have been an inventive horror into a thriller, which is very much against the perceptions of the film. My main problem though I believe is due to cultural differences, for the first 30 minutes of the movie he is phoning up people in the States trying to explain where he is and get help, everyone he calls is a complete idiot, a robot talking from a script, that doesn’t really exist in the UK, I know it exists in the US (try having a conversation with ANYONE that works in an airport). However from the moment he first speaks to his captor to the very end this film is completely gripping, and Reynolds is absolutely brilliant unlike…..

Green Lantern
Geek alert I am a humongous comic fan, and I’ve been slowly reading more and more DC especially Green Lantern recently in anticipation of the film. It looks stunning, everything in space is spectacular and I’m sure having read the comics I got far more from the film than if I hadn’t as there is a huge amount of exposition that made perfect sense to me but has confused countless people. Show don’t tell, that’s the rule of writing whether it’s a feature, a promo, or a novel. That is essentially where this movie falls down, it’s not as bad as the Star Wars prequels where it’s walking story scene, lots of action, walking story scene. Nowhere near as bad as I’ve heard but lets just say DC have a lot to learn from Marvel before they attempt a JLA movie.

And this is how Marvel does it, Kenneth Brannagh directing Thor, never thought I’d be writing that. Good cast, good story, all the Asgard footage looks stunning. Essentially it’s yet another prequel for the Avengers movie which now has so much hype I have no idea how it could possibly live up to it.

Uncle Boonme who can recall his past lives
Now if Dogtooth was a hard film to watch this verges on impenetrable. There’s been a lot of noise about this film, it was nominated for the World Cinema film of the year, though the critics didn’t seem that impressed, it feels quite indulgent. And how you could take my word for it when I’ve just been expelling the virtues of Marvel movies over DC. It’s essentially about a dying man who starts to see his dead relatives and one who has turned into a Monkey Ghost. It actually feels like two completely different films, one very ponderous and beautiful, up until his death and one which feel more documentary style and realistic after his death. This is not a narrative film, in any way, shape or form, you can read a lot from this film. Did I enjoy it, would I recommend it? No, does that make it bad, no. Confusing I know but this is a very different aspect of film making it’s not about good or bad it’s about what you get from it.

Now before my back completely gave up on me, I had festival tickets for the Raindance Festival, here are a couple of the highlights

Stunningly beautiful film with a gorgeous soundtrack, two Japanese teenagers head to middle America where their car breaks down and they get by on the tiny bit of English one of them knows, integrating into small town America. If you get the chance to see this I couldn’t recommend it enough, very moving.

In a similar vein to Buried this is a movie about three people trapped in a room but this time as part of a psychological experiment, low budget gritty and very worth a watch, hopefully it’ll see a release in 2012

Nothing says home and ill whilst watching Bergman followed by Bruce Willis, but it does show all the amazingly different avenues film can go down. It’s also amazing how much you can learn from bad films, why are they bad, how can you avoid making those mistakes.

On the net, a crowdunded project (which we contributed to) Comfort Food has its pilot out with an equally funny promo. It’s an amazingly sweet idea, in more than one sense of the word which I’m really looking forward to in the New Year good luck to all involved.

Other crowd funding projects that are in the process of shooting at the moment are “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “Clowning Around” Looking forward to seeing these next year too.

So no I haven’t written a masterpiece in my time off but I’ve seen a fair few and also some not so good. There’s been comedy, horror, arthouse, drama, action, reality TV and even cooking. Sometimes being unproductive can actually be pretty productive.

How buying the I.T guy a beer can improve your writing

Okay maybe not improve your writing but create a decent environment for writing when you should be doing other things.  This post is about how technology can help you as a writer.  Lets be perfectly clear all you really need to be a writer is a piece of paper, a pen, and a story to tell.  But you also need time, and that’s what this is really about, making the most of your time.  Lets say you have a 9-5 day job with an hour lunch break, you have a family at home and other commitments how do you make the time to write.  Well you have a PC at work and a pair of headphones, should you get to work a bit early and leave a bit late you could get two hours of writing time to yourself every day.  Lets face it when you sit on that comfy sofa with the remote control in your hand and the kids finally in bed the motivation to get working is tough to come across.

So back to work, and technology.  You could quite easily write using pen and paper in your new found writing time, or use MS Word, OR you could try and justify or bribe the IT guy to put a few legal and free programmes on to your computer

Celtx and Dropbox


Celtx is a free and open source screen writing programme a kind of Final Draft for the masses, dropbox is an online cloud storage site, which also allows you to install a folder on to your PC (or Mac or Linux) which will automatically sync to everywhere else you have the folder installed such as your home PC.  So you could start writing at home and pick it up at work and vice versa.

The use of these two programmes has been fantastic for me, as I write with a partner so we can collaborate on scripts and see instantly when the other is updating something, we just have two tabs in each project (a his and hers if you will) and we can make whatever changes we want to that whilst being able to see what the other is up to.

A PDF Reader

Another amazingly useful tool, as if you are going to be a script writer you need to be a script reader.  Not in the professional sense, but you need to read scripts.  You wouldn’t become a novelist and never read books, or a film maker without watching films.  Scripts are easily available online and google is your friend, sites such as mypdfscripts have a huge supply of professional scripts in PDF form.

So once you have a stack to read, how do you read them?  Well for me the best way is on my phone.  Most smartphones have a PDF reader built in such as ibooks for iphone or goodreader for older iphones and ipods or even Adobe reader for Android phones.  A phone is always with you (unlike an expensive tablet), waiting for a bus, have a look at a script, on the loo, have a look at a script, just really bored in a meeting, pretend to check your emails but actualy have a look at a script.  Whist we’re on the subject of phones it should also be noted there is a Celtx iPhone app which means you can do all of the above with your own script and make changes though I wouldn’t advise actually tring to write something with that virtual keyboard.

Twitter and the Internet

When I first logged on to Twitter I didn’t really know what to do with it, it seemed a bit like an RSS reader for celebrity nonsense and for some; that is exactly what it is.  It’s also an amazing networking tool, there are tonnes of film makers and writers on Twitter that are in exactly the same boat as you, day job, struggling to make it, learning.  MEET THESE PEOPLE or at least virtually meet them look for hashtags to do with film making or writing, check out their blogs.  The UK Scriptwriters podcast by Danny Stack and Tim Clague is a great use of your time on the way to work, Chris Jones author of the Guerilla Film Makers Handbook is amazingly generous with advice on his blog.  Scott Myers Go Into The Story Blog is full of inspiration and experience.  Lucy Hay  has a fountain of knowledge at Write Here Write Now.  Not to mention something I have become involved with #scriptchat which is a gathering of writers online every Sunday night at 8pm on Twitter to talk through various writing topics and speak to guests.  Once a month those of us who can, meet in person in London.  It’s networking made easy as we’ve all met “virtually” and have something to talk about straight away (at least I hope, being one of the new moderators my first tweet up is a week on Thursday ).  It’s really quite amazing how helpful and open other writers can be, and why not start a blog of your own and share your own experiences, it might be a form of procrastination but it’s still writing and it gets you thinking.

In terms of tech these are a few things I rely on, and are basically, Writing, Reading, Networking.  No matter how you do it, these three things really go hand in hand to make you a better writer, leave one out (I’m looking at YOU networking) and you really are missing out, technology is just one way that can help you do all of those a little bit easier, you still need talent and motivation

All the blogs I’ve mentioned should have links embedded and here’s a list of a few film related Twitter people to follow, not forgetting you can join us every Sunday at 8 by following #sciptchat

And the Ball is finally Rolling…

As always it’s been a while and as always much has happened, finally I’ve got the ball rolling.

I’m getting more and more active in the world of scriptwriting with my Wife and scriptwriting partner, with a couple of Sitcom pilots done, one a first draft, one a third draft that’s already been entered and rejected at a BAFTA competition. It was never about winning though, there was a small fee with the promise of notes on what we had written, and that’s what we’ve been waiting for, some first professional feedback, I just hope it’s not too scathing. Being the first thing we have written together I’m sure there are problems and some good constructive criticism will hopefully spur us on for draft four.

On the subject of writing I’ve also been doing a lot 140 characters at a time. Twitter has become an invaluable support network for writing and making contacts, (go on have a gander over on the top right over there, yup that’s a twitter feed, and oh look a follow button, off you go press away and you too can hear my ramblings and links). Every Sunday night at 8pm I’ve become involved in #Scriptchat where writers get together online and talk about writing, or films, or interrogate a guest. Teenie and I have also been asked to become the Euro moderators for this which involves moving the conversation along and making sure everything stays civil, we also need to pick topics and find guests. Doing this together is great as invariably one of us is being called upstairs by the kids who refuse to sleep whilst it’s all going on.

I see the other people involved in scriptchat and I compare them to greyhounds, knowing what they want rushing to the finish line full of talent and knowledge, me, I’m a Golden Retriever, perfectly happy and enthusiastic chasing my own tail full of enthusiasm, I don’t know as much as a lot of people there, but I’m enjoying myself. Hopefully we can get some interesting guests lined up, I have a few ideas.

Also on the Film Making front, I attended the Guerilla Film Making Masterclass a two and a half day event giving a whirlwind of information about making an ultra low budget film, what to do with it, and what to do next. Chris Jones was talking the entire time over two very long days and held everyone’s attention the whole time which is no mean feat in a room of know it all film makers. It was fantastic to attend not just for the information and inspiration but to be surrounded by all these film makers for the weekend, some very experienced, some had never even made a short and I met some fantastic people, and hopefully collaborators in the future.

The networking then continued last weekend with an impromptu barbecue where I’d arranged to meet someone to talk about a project and before I knew it I’m directing a weekly Sci-Fi news show for the Sci-Fi London film festival, we had a meeting last night and it all looks very promising and interesting, lots of good entusiastic people involved, and unlike writing features, directing is something I know a huge amount about as it’s basically my day job making short turn around features and promos. Also there’s a producer on board which is fantastic as I hate the whole organising aspect of shoots, I can just go and make stuff, and it’s in an area I really enjoy.

And that all pretty much came out of the Guerilla Film Making masterclass, so definitely money well spent.

So what’s on the to do list, well we’ve committed to the first 20 minute Sci-Fi show by the end of the month, I’m officially being harassed by Teenie for a second draft of our sitcom, and #Sciptchat continues every Sunday. There’s also a short script I’d like to rework and I’ve been meaning to sign up to Radar Music Videos to pitch and direct some music promos. Now I’ve got the ball rolling lets hope I don’t get squished by it.

Say Cheese

Well I said I wanted to get back into photography and it’s all happened a lot faster than I’d imagined.  My wife felt exactly the same way and after our little compact digital camera getting a little bit worse for wear we’ve taken the plunge and have a shiny new digital SLR.  We went for the Canon 550D which I’m reliably informed has some outstanding video capabilities so it really kills two birds with one stone, I now how have a camera capable of 1o80P with interchangeable lenses and looking online there are some very impressive looking shorts shot with this, so the whole wanting to do some more creative work for myself is starting to fall into place.  Speaking of which next week we set about seeing what the camera can do by making a short for Parallel Lines this is an interesting project that RSA have instigated making a series of six short films all using exactly the same dialogue.  The first five are professionally made and look stunning especially “The Gift”

The sixth is out to the general public.  Ours will be made in a weekend in true guerilla film making style, our actress has decided to drop out at the last moment which would usually be a disaster but we’re not taking this too seriously, we’re making this in a very short period of time and really using it as a way to get back into making things and getting to know the camera.  Hopefully this will spur me on to finish writing THE script that has been at the back of mind for a very long time.  I think I now have the resources and contacts to make this and it will require a budget of some kind which I’ll have to find myself.  Hopefully this will be the start of lots of shoter more creative projects especially as my wife is really getting into writing now and I really need a writer / writing partner, she’s also an amazing producer that gets stuff done.