Podcast Episode 67: An interview with Lucy Hay from @Bang2Write about screenwriting, script editing, social media and other Ss besides

 

Podcast interview with @Bang2Write #scriptchat #amwriting 

 

0ae00e10-a654-44f2-9f8c-cfea0c0e9cb6 (1)Lucy Hay is an expert in all things screenwriting. A published writer, script reader and organiser of the London Screenwriting Festival, she also runs the massively successful Bang2Write website. In this podcast episode, I interview Lucy and we cover everything from her work with J.K. Amalou to helping to give women opportunities through London Screenwriting Festival, funding and investment for films, why some films work and some don’t, how much to disclose on social media, Twitter hashtags, cyber bullying and teenage pregnancy.

During the discussion, I also inadvertently came out as gay. It was so thoroughly underwhelming that it was only on editing it that I even noticed I’d done it.

A must-listen for anyone interested in making it in the film and television industry as a screenwriter, and anybody who just wants to know more about different types of writing career.

"The very fact that anyone gets their creative work down is kind of miraculous, really"Show Notes

Find Lucy Hay on Facebook and on Twitter. Her writers groups are Bang2Writers on Facebook and on LinkedIn. Lucy is also on Quora and Pinterest.

 

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Transcript

PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 67 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me,’ the freelance writing podcast that tells you all the tricks of the trade. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and from there you can find links to subscribe, whether you are a fan of iTunes, RSS feeds, or Stitcher. In that way you can make sure that you’re the first to hear when we have a new episode come out. On that page you can also find the link to our Facebook page. You definitely want to like us on there. We share all of sorts of interesting and relevant news and blog posts, and just helpful pointers for freelance writers.

I am Philippa Willitts, and today I am bringing you a very exciting interview with an amazing woman called Lucy Hay, who is the expert in all things screenwriting. So listen in to find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about writing for films, why some films work and some don’t, how films are funded, how much to disclose on social media – that’s always, always an important issue, whatever kind of writer you are – how to use Twitter hashtags, and everything else from cyber bullying to teenage pregnancy, and giving women more opportunities to be heard. So, without further ado, here is the interview. Enjoy!

So, I am here with Lucy Hay, who is a script editor, script reader, and she runs the amazing website Bang2Write. She is also one of the organizers of the London Screenwriters Festival, and she has a wealth of experience in all areas of screenwriting. She has written two non-fiction books and writes young adults fiction. And as if all of that wasn’t enough, she also runs writing workshops and schools addressing social issues, as well as writing skills. So, Lucy, thank you for talking to me.

LH: Thank you for having me.

PW: I’m really aware that screenwriting is something that we haven’t covered at all on the podcast, and so I’m really glad to have the opportunity to chat to you, really.

LH: [laughter] Well, thanks very much.

PW: So, could you tell us a bit about your own career, how you got into the area you’re in?

LH: Absolutely! Well, basically, I always wanted to be a writer, and when I was much younger I wanted to be a novelist. And then I — basically, a long story short was I became a teenage mother, and I became absolutely convinced that all of those dreams were all over for me, and I was going to do the normal kind of things that you’re supposed to do. And, basically, a friend of my mother’s gave me £20.

PW: All right.

LH: And I was really not well-off at all at the time, but she said to me I have to spend that £20 not on the baby, not on foods, not on nappies. I’d just spend it on myself. And I went into a bookshop, and there were two books in there, and one was called, “Teach Yourself Novel Writing”, and the other was called “Teach Yourself Screenwriting.” And I bought both of them. And I read them both.

My baby was extremely grizzly, and all it did was cry. [laughter] Literally, all he did was cry for about first six months of his life. So I remember reading these two books, baby crying 24/7. I lived in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a field, so I didn’t see anyone. I didn’t have any friends, I only ever saw my parents. So I read these books really, really quickly, and I thought, “Oh, I want to be a screenwriter.”

And I looked in the UCAS handbooks. Of course, it wasn’t even really the internet in those days, given this was the ‘90s. And I saw the Bournemouth University had a Screenwriting for Film and Television BA. “Oh, I’ll go for that.” And so I did and I got on the course, and I just got really into screenwriting in general.

I thought, “Oh, I still can’t really make a career of this,” because, of course, you can’t make a lot of money a lot of time, and I thought, “Do I want to be a literary agent or something like that?” But I didn’t really want to move to London. And anyway, I ended up on a work placement with a literary agent, and he took me to BAFTA.

PW: Oh!

LH: No! It wasn’t the actual BAFTA Awards, but it was the BAFTA place. And there was this big thing going on, and people were coming up to me and saying, “What do you do?” And I didn’t want to say, “Oh, I’m a student and a single mother.” [laughter] I said, “Oh, I read screenplays.” Because, I mean, it wasn’t untrue. I was reading these screenplays for the literary agent. And they said, “Oh, will you read my screenplay? I’ll pay you.”

PW: Oh!

LH: That was like, “Oh, okay.” So I kind of fell into it very randomly, really. And from there I started doing other work placements with various initiatives and screen agencies and things like that. And then I got paid jobs at screen agencies, and for production companies, and things. And I was reading these scripts from home. By this point I had graduated, and I was working at a supermarket at one stage.

And I knew I wanted to set up my own business, so I built that into the ethos of the company whilst I was doing my production company work or working for the literary agents, and then reading for private clients on the side. Because in those days — there’s a lot of script reading companies around now, but I suppose this was, what, 2004, something like that, and before Twitter, before Facebook, before the blogs. All the screenwriting blogs were really getting going. And I realized that, you know, most script reading companies were extremely expensive. You’re looking at about £100 for a report – 10 years ago, by those standards, that’s even more than it is now.

PW: Sure.

LH: And I thought, well, I could actually do a no-frills kind of script reading service, and as a result got a very loyal fan base of clients, to begin with, and then it got bigger and bigger. And I got a lot of the blog, as well, and things just kind of spiralled from there, really, in a very organic way. And I was very fortunate that people wanted to kind of get on board with me. And I think it’s because I didn’t bullshit them. I said, “This is what’s wrong with your screen play,” or “This is how you can improve it, but it is up to you.” it’s about you and about what you want to do with your work. I’m not going to give you some kind of magic formula and you’re going to be so successful. It’s all about, you know, personal growth as a writer, as well. And I think people appreciated that. They liked my honesty, and they liked the fact that I wasn’t going to bullshit them. But equally, I wasn’t going to be nasty to them, either. Because in those days the script reading services were very, “This is crap, whatever,” and as a result would be very demotivating. And I’m not about demotivating. The very fact that anyone gets their creative work down is quite miraculous, really, to be honest.

PW: And then to send it off to somebody else.

LH: Exactly! I mean, it takes a lot of guts. You’re kind of putting all your dreams on paper, and you’re kind of offering it up to someone to potentially rip to pieces. I think that’s brave, and I think that always needs to be remembered, I think so. I’m always about —

PW: Yeah, definitely.

LH: very careful to kind of support my writers. And I think the vast majority of my writers like that, and that’s why they come back to me so much.

PW: So what’s the role of a script reader? Is it to kind of just give a general assessment of — a third-party view of a script? Or tell me more about what it is you actually do when you receive a script, say.

LH: Okay. Well, I mean, it depends what a writer wants me to actually do. I mean, if they want me to just literally read their screenplay, then they’ll probably hire me to do like an overview report, which is basically an assessment of how that script works on the page. And so I’ll look at its story, I’ll look at its characters, its dialogue, its arena, which is like the story world. It’s not just the location, but also how all the bits within it work maybe you’re using mythical allusion or motifs, and things like that.

And then there’ll be a miscellaneous section where I may look at things like script format, because scripts have to be laid out a very specific way. Or spelling, punctuation, typos turn up quite regularly under the miscellanea section. Titles – a lot of the time writers choose titles that are just completely inappropriate or just really boring, or whatever. So just all the random things that are part of the package.

So that’s an assessment, basically, as a script reader. My post popular service is probably the development notes there, and that’s more of a script editing function. And that’s less to do with assessment, and more to do with development in terms of actually making it better, looking at big issues, and saying, “Well, have you considered this way of looking at this character? Or have you considered this way of changing the structure, so it reflects the theme better?” And just really delving in much more detail into the screenplay. So yeah, script reading is about assessment, script editing is about facilitating the story, making sure that it is the best that it can be.

PW: Yes. And it’s interesting, because although I don’t do anything like that, I do do a fair amount of non-fiction editing in various forms. That can be kind of on a very — just like proofreading for commas level. Or it can be on a ‘Do you think this well-structured? Do you think this needs more…?’ And something I find interesting relates to what you were saying earlier about you being pretty honest, and not sugar-coating things, but also not being unnecessarily cruel. That can be interesting from an editing point of view in general, because, yeah, some people feel almost fragile, and some people feel very…

LH: Yeah. Some clients will be more needy than others, and that’s always the case. And I hesitate to make generalizations, but very often female writers will need a lot more kind of counselling than male writers. I do find that an awful lot. And I think it’s something to do with the fact that women are told from being very little girls, that if they do certain things they may be showing off, perhaps.

PW: That is a real — yes.

LH: So I think that sometimes I do spend a lot of time kind of counselling female writers to say, “You are good. You can do this. You can get out there and do that.” It happens you kind of, you know, I’m a bit like her life coach for someone who’s — I mean, a lot of male writers can be like that, as well. But I just found it really striking that writers do it so much more. Also, there’s not as many women writers. At London Screenwriters Festival we probably have around about 50-50 now, because we work very hard to kind of be as inclusive of female writers as possible. But I have been very struck by in the past going to events that it’s been 80% make, 20% female at best, so part of Bang2Write is we’ve got to make sure that the female writers feel confident and able to share their work, and not vulnerable, if you like.

PW: Yeah. I also find there are people who send me their work saying, “I really want this to be as good as it can be. Just do what you need to do.” And there are other people who are a lot harder to deal with, who kind of send it for validation that it’s great. And they don’t want actually criticism or feedback really. They want you to say, “There’s nothing I can do. This is perfect already.”

LH: Yes, that’s definitely the case. In the olden days, when I first started, I would say most writers were probably like that. I’d say since the internet has come about, and since there’re so many writing forums and so many writing websites all saying you’ve got to be able to take feedback, you’ve got to be able to deal with it, writers have gone a lot better in recent years. They know that they can’t just write something and send it out, and they’re all just getting laid by Steven Spielberg. [laughter] They’re a lot more realistic these days. I mean, when I used to send notes back, they’d be great notes, and I’d work really hard on all of them. But like, “What the hell is this?” So they can take it a lot better than they used to for the majority.

Occasionally I’ll come across someone who goes absolutely nuts when I send notes back to them, and in which case I just kind of let them run themselves out. “Sorry you feel that way,” all that kind of stuff. And most of the time you don’t know why they’ve reacted so badly. It could be because they feel – what’s the word? They feel let down because they believed that this was the draft that would work. Or maybe they’ve made lots of sacrifices that you don’t know about in terms of family time to get it done. And they feel just very disappointed, not so much in your notes, but in the way that it’s not worked out the way that they want it to, and in which case you’re just going to let them get on with it. And if they really, really don’t like your notes or whatever…

Sometimes you’ll send some notes through, and it won’t be what they expect. So I had a guy a couple of weeks ago who hired me for an overview report, and I think he thought he was going to get development notes. And he kept asking loads and loads of questions, and it’s like, “Why didn’t you hire me to do the development notes, because it’s all laid out on the website, what you get for your money?” But a lot of new writers, they just don’t kind of process these things, and in which case you’re just going to chalk it up to experience, and just let it go and move on.

PW: Sure. So, from your point of view, what would be the ideal point at which a writer would send you a script? Is there a good point in the process?

LH: It’s hard to answer that one, to be honest, because different writers work in different ways. I mean, my main collaborator is J.K. Amalou, and he made Deviation in 2012. We made Assassin at the moment.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And he will basically send me a logline. And a logline is like a one or two-sentence pitch of the story, and we’ll throw the logline back and forth, and start flashing out some characters, turn it into a one-pager, turn it into a short treatment, turn it into a longer treatment. A treatment’s like a plan, if you like, of the whole screenplay. Then it’ll go to draft, when we’re happy with that, and we’ll start going through the draft. So I’m literally with him every step of the way, though the really drafting process. I mean, one project of his I was reading today is now on like the 18th draft.

PW: Right.

LH: Yes. Today I read a screenplay of his that’s on the 23rd draft. He really drafts things.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Because he’s a professional writer. He’s been doing this a long time. With new writers, most of them haven’t got the money to put 23 drafts through a script reader. And on that basis, I would say they need to do a lot more peer review before they probably show it to a paid-for reader. I mean, there’s loads of ways to actually facilitate peer review now.

PW: You just mentioned forums, and I see lots of forums where people do that for each other.

LH: Absolutely, yeah. And a lot of them, they get actors involved and do read-throughs.

PW: Wow.

LH: That’s a really bright idea, because actors are always happy to do that because they like to know the writers, and if you know more actors then you can do plays all together and read-throughs and stuff like that. The more people you know, and the more people who are involved in the industry, and the more favours you can do for each other, then the more of a place you have in the industry.

Because, I mean, what we say ‘the industry’ – there isn’t really any such thing. It’s just a bunch of people who are working together. So I think it’s crazy that some writers will literally lock themselves away and not try and work with other people as much as possible. You have to make a team wherever possible, I think, because it’s all about making the chain, and then you find more people, and more people on top of that.

PW: Yeah. Are you always hired by a writer? Or are there occasions when, I don’t know, a production company or someone might hire you to read through a script?

LH: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I’ve read for screen agencies. Screen agencies are like lottery funding people, and they have to give money out of like the lottery pot. And I read for Scottish Screen for years, right up until they became Creative Scotland and like – I think that was 2010 or 2011. I read at the moment for an investment company called Premiere Picture that’s down in Brighton. They are a private investment company. Basically, they award money to various films for various things that might be for poster campaigns, or it might be to finish the film, or various things. I’m never told what the money is for. I’m just literally given the screenplay and I’m told to write a synopsis and my thoughts on whether it’s got commercial viability, as well as retailing viability.

PW: Yeah. I read an article recently about this, just about investors investing in films, which is a slightly risky thing to do, but can be incredibly lucrative if it goes well from their point of view.

LH: It absolutely can. I mean, there’s lots of really great business models and tax things that producers can take full advantage of to make a lot of money for investors. And so it’s something that people can make stacks of cash on, absolutely. And it’s not something that I really understand in massive detail because I’m not about the business; I’m more about the story telling aspect, but it’s a really interesting thing. It’s something that I personally want to learn more about because I think it’s really interesting because banks do it, as well.

Banks will actually have a film on. They will actually offer money to film makers. I mean, this is how I understand it. They offer like a loan to the film maker. The film maker takes up the loan. The film then belongs to the bank, and then the producer has a certain amount of time which they agree to pay the money back, and if they can’t, then the film belongs to the bank forever, so it’s like a mortgage, but it isn’t for a house, it’s for a film.

PW: That’s the strangest thing.

LH: Yeah, yeah. And all of the big banks, apparently, have these film arms for film makers. I think you have to be quite a big company to be able to access these things. I don’t think it’s something that any indie film maker can access, but certainly all the worthy titles and guys like that may do this kind of thing.

And then, of course, there’s just the private investors, who are individuals. Some of these guys, these investors, they’re rich as Croesus. They really are. And they know a good deal when they see one, and they know what’s going to work well, and they will just throw money at stuff, massively. Sometimes they haven’t even read the screenplay, they’ve just read the treatment, and they’re like, “Yeah, no problem.” Or they’ve read the package, which is who’s in it, who’s directing, those things, and who’s the sales agent, that kind of thing. Some of these guys, they just know. They’re such good businessmen; they just know whether they’ll ever get a return or not. And it’s really, really interesting stuff.

PW: In terms of banks, I’d far rather my bank invested in films than like the arms trade.

LH: Yes, definitely. It would be preferable.

PW: I think they should publicise this more.

LH: Yeah, absolutely. I remember some bank guy coming in to talk to us at the university here, and I was like, “Why don’t we know about this?”

PW: So had you always been interested in films, even before you found out really about screenwriting?

LH: Yeah, yeah, I always loved films. I remember that for my 13th birthday I was given a director’s chair.

PW: Oh, fantastic!

LH: Alien, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. And I saw this documentary about Ridley Scott, the director of Alien. And I remember I’d loved to be a film director. I didn’t know what went into it, being a 13-year old girl, and certainly knowing what goes into the role now, I don’t think it would be for me, after all. I mean, script editor is just the perfect job for me, because I get to arse around with stories. And I write crazy notes to self. I found one the other day while I was cleaning up that said, “Whites, why not ferrets?” What the hell was that about? I’ve got no clue, but there you go.

PW: Are you ever able to watch a film without analysing the script?

Westwood Movie Theaters - Los Angeles, Califor...

Westwood Movie Theaters – Los Angeles, California (October 31, 2013) (Photo credit: cseeman)

LH: It’s quite difficult. It must be really good, then I won’t analyse it. And certainly, 2013 movies – one was Gravity. Absolutely, 100% involved in Gravity. I absolutely adored it. And also Frozen, which I really liked, as well. And also Rush, as well, the racing one. And what I loved about all three of them was they were all so different. I mean, Rush was absolutely unapologetically masculine. It was like super, super masculine. It was like a Lynx advert, but to the power of a million. It was great. I adored it. And of course, you get to see — it thaws off all the way through, which for me was a big thrill.

And Frozen – I loved Frozen. It was about teenage realizations and sexuality, and coming of age, and all that kind of stuff – all the things that are predominantly girly. And I loved that, because it was really nice to see a story that dealt with what it was like to be a girl. Because even films for little girls with female protagonists don’t always deal with that kind of stuff.

PW: No, absolutely.

LH: So that was really nice. And Gravity I just loved, because the threat to her life was so great and so massive, you just weren’t sure she was going to make it, which hardly ever happens, because you’re going, ‘Oh, yeah, she’ll be all right. She’ll be all right.’ But right up to the last minute I was thinking I don’t know if she’s going to make it. The threat, the jeopardy was just fantastic. And what I loved about it was it wouldn’t have mattered whether she was male or whether she was female. Everything that she had to go through she had to go through and she had to deal with, no matter — it transcended gender, it transcended everything.

It was just about, “Do I want to live?” or “Am I going to die? Am I going to literally lay down and die, or am I going to fight for my life?” And I loved that, because the great metaphor for what so many people go through on a small basis on their everyday lives – if you’ve been through something like cancer or a terrible illness or something like that, and you’re having to fight that battle within yourself to actually see it projected in a massive 3D way – I just really appreciated. It was a great metaphor for the human endurance, and I just loved it.

PW: That’s interesting, actually, because we recently had a brief discussion about a film that I was watching at the time, which technically should have had some of those same dilemmas and issues, which was called The Ledge.

LH: Right.

PW: And on paper to me it sounded like, “Oh, this should be interesting.” It’s essentially a man standing on a ledge, and he’s been told that if he doesn’t jump off the ledge at a certain time, somebody else will die. So he’s got about an hour and a half to decide whether or not he’s going to jump to save this other person’s life, or whether he’s not, and this other person’s going to die. And I thought, “Oh, that sounds quite — I could get into that.” But in reality it wasn’t engaging at all.

LH: Yes, it was a real shame, that movie. It was an indie film. I believe it might have been a Canadian film, I’m not sure, but it starred – what’s his name?

PW: The guy who was on Queer as Folk in the UK.

LH: Charlie Hunnam.

PW: That’s the one.

LH: Yes. The Ledge starred Charlie Hunnam, who, of course, is a big hunk at the moment from Sons of Anarchy and from Pacific Rim. And I actually really enjoyed Pacific Rim. I mean, it was your classic kind of ‘the Americans are going to save the word’ and all that kind of nonsense. But it reminded me very much so of Independence Day, those kind of movies – great fun, but also with a human element to it that was actually very appealing. There was lots about it that was quite unusual in the same way that Independence Day was way back, in 1994. So it was a bit like being 15-years old again, and watching those kinds of movies in the ‘90s with army, and Will Smith, and all those kind of guys. I really enjoyed Pacific Rim, and it was really good. He put on a good performance in that, and of course, he’s ace in Sons of Anarchy. And I liked him in Queer as Folk, as well. He’s a good actor, Charlie Hunnam, so I got the movie out, because, like you, I like the concept, and I like him, as well. And I thought this was going to be good stuff. I had also just recently seen another film that was very similar, called Man on a Ledge. Have you seen that one?

PW: No, I haven’t.

LH: That one stars Sam Worthington as the guy on the ledge. And then we’ve got Jamie Bell – Billy Elliot. And basically, in that Sam Worthington’s on the ledge. He’s going to jump because basically it’s all a big ruse because he’s actually drawing attention away from Jamie Bell, who’s trying to rob a massive jewel, basically. And it’s a big jewel heist, and it’s to do with revenge. And as you watch it though the movie, it gets bigger and bigger, and it gets more and more out of control, and it was very exciting. It was absolute nonsense, but it was very exciting.

So I thought, “Oh, okay. The Ledge should be quite good, then.” And as you say, it simply was not, because they basically took a great concept – basically we’ve got Charlie Hunnam on the ledge, and he’s talking to the cop, the guy from The Brave One who, again, put in an amazing performance in The Brave One. He was fantastic in that. I can’t remember his name, either.

PW: I’m useless with names.

LH: I can never remember anyone’s name. But yeah, the guy who plays the cop who was in The Ledge, he was also The Brave One. He was fantastic in that film. I loved The Brave One. I thought that that was great, but unfortunately in The Ledge what let the entire premise down was two things. The first thing was the fact that he’s on the ledge, and then we get out of that by him telling his story, and it all goes back in flashback. That immediately sapped the jeopardy, because all the time you’re going backwards. It lacks forward-looking momentum.

PW: Oh, of course, yeah.

LH: So it totally undermines everything. And the whole deadline of an hour and a half, boom, it’s all gone. And it’s just a nightmare. So that’s a real shame for starters. And that would have been bad enough if it wasn’t for the fact that the premise doesn’t stand up, because if he’s got an hour and a half before the husband shoots the wife in the head, and he’s telling his story to the cop…

PW: For an hour and a half.

LH: Then it’s obvious what the problem is.

PW: I know.

LH: And it’s like what the hell was that all about? Who thought that was a good idea?

PW: After I watched it I read lots of discussion online about it, and people were coming up with reasons why he didn’t, but they really just wanted to not be so annoyed with it, so were forcing reasons out of nowhere, really, just in order to feel less like, ‘Oh, what? This is so obvious.’

LH: Yeah, yeah. But I mean, they might have gone away with it if they had provided us with really great characters, but unfortunately they didn’t. We’ve got Charlie Hunnam’s character, who’s so bitter and twisted about the death of his wife and child. He’s just always going on about God and life not being fair, and all these kinds of other things. And we’ve got the husband, who’s such a homophobic wanker, and he’s so hateful, and he’s so much older than the girlfriend, who’s such an unbelievable sap. I mean, bloody hell!

PW: She’s awful.

LH: Liv Tyler just spends her entire career playing these really sappy women. I mean, it’s like for goodness sake! And then we’ve got the gay roommate, who’s such a stereotype, as well. He’s only there just to actually facilitate the husband’s phobia…

PW: Homophobia, yes.

LH: Yes. It’s just crazy. Everybody was a cardboard cut-out, and I could —

PW: And also, I initially heard about some – it was when it came out, really – and it was through talking the kind of sceptic atheist communities around it, because it was being built as this atheism-versus-belief thing.

LH: Yes, yes.

PW: But actually that was so overegged.

LH: It really was. And it’s a tragedy. I love the idea.

PW: Yes. That could have been an interesting extra angle, but in reality it was just like ‘oh, stop whipping that now.’

LH: I know, definitely. I mean, this is the problem with so many spec screenplays that I read is that a writer will have a personal soapbox of some kind, whether it’s atheism or religion or feminism or anti-bullying, or whatever, and they will just keep whipping it, like you say, just over and over. It’s like, ah, you’re hitting me in the head with a brick. Stop it!

PW: We don’t need everything pointing out.

LH: No. I mean, this is the thing with theme. Theme of any creative work is essentially read into by the audience member and their response anyway, so you can put whatever you like into something. They’re going to see it their own way anyway. I mean, I was having a conversation with one of my Bang2Writers the other day. We were talking about Frozen, and she thought that the song ‘Let It Go’ was about being gay. And she had some really great reasons for why it was about being gay, and certainly when she said that I thought, “Oh, yeah, it could be, actually.”

But then I’m not gay, so I wasn’t thinking that at all. I saw it as actually letting go of the past, letting go of mental health issues, changing your response, all these things that I personally have been through. I then put on the movie, and then she had put on this notion of being gay, because that was experience. Somebody else would have a different experience and a different response to that song. And that’s good. Variety is a part of life. To actually say, “They must get it! They must get this theme! They must get the theme the way I want them to!” That actually kills off your creative work’s power.

PW: Yes. My sister, many years ago, did theatre studies at university. We went to watch a play that she’d been in, and afterwards I remember my dad saying to her, “Did the audience laugh in the right places?” And she said, “Well, wherever they laughed, that was the right place.”

LH: Exactly.

PW: Because it was obviously funny, and that kind of blew my 13-year old mind.

LH: She’s absolutely right. You can’t be too precious as the creator of a creative work. People will have the response that they have to whatever it is. That said, if they tell you what your response is supposed to be, or what you intended, then that’s wrong. At the same time, you can’t push it too far the either way, either. At the end of the day it’s a very finely tuned balance.

I don’t believe that — in this age of the internet often you’ll find people really slagging off, and screenwriters saying, “Well, he or she is clearly a misogynist because of blah” or whatever. And it’s like, no, stop right there. What you are not factoring in there is the fact that you’re seeing fiction. That is not reality. And just because somebody creates a creative work that maybe you don’t agree with the theme, that doesn’t give you the right to actually tell the author of that that they’re a bad person, or that that’s what they meant.

I was reading on Facebook this morning – somebody was having a really big rant about how people with mental health issues are always misrepresented on the screen, and the film makers say that they’re trying to raise awareness, and how this is all bullshit, and they’re really just ignorant and blah, blah, blah. And it’s like, well, this is your response. Maybe that’s more actually what they meant. At the same time, obviously, some people are blatantly trolling. They’re trying to be controversial, and they’re being a pain in the ass. But most people have got good intentions. Most people want to actually create something of worth and of value, so that it makes people happy. They don’t want to actually be horrible to people. They don’t want to be ignorant.

PW: Yeah. The troubling thing is a really interesting relatively new phenomenon that writers are doing. I blog partly as my job, and partly voluntarily for a feminist website, a disability website, that kind of thing. And it’s got to the point now where you know when you write any opinionated blog post. There’ll be people who agree, and there’ll be people who disagree, and that’s fine. But you know that there’ll be another subset of people who will look specifically to find something to misrepresent.

LH: Oh, God, yes.

PW: And will then fight you on that. And you can’t defend yourself there, because they’re arguing something that you didn’t even say. The F-Word, the feminist website I write for, so it’s quite big, a lot of readers and so we get quite a lot of this. And it’s at a point now where I’ll write posts, and I’ll reread it as I normally do, and rework it, but then I have to rework it again to try and find the bits that could be deliberately misrepresented. This is a real thing that we’re dealing with on an increasing basis, I think all kinds of writers really.

LH: Absolutely. I mean, I actually write one long blog post a week now on Bang2Write, and I’ll usually put it up on a Sunday. But it’s usually written for a whole week before it goes up online, because I will write it, and then I will add to it. And then I would look through, and then I would check it, and then I’ll get somebody else to read it, because, as you say, I’m looking for ways that people will try and stick the boots in, because that’s what they’re trying to do, because that’s actually what they want to do. It’s not got anything to do with me, it’s nothing to do with the writing craft; it’s nothing to do with any of that. It’s to do with the fact that they just want to kick back, because they do, and all because —

PW: And that’s not the same as just disagreeing. I think you and I would both be completely fine with somebody saying, “I’ve read this. I disagree because of A, B and C.” That’s fine.

LH: Yeah, people disagree with me all the time, and that’s absolutely fine because I’ve got very strong opinions, and I’ve got very — I pride myself on being the voice of dissent [laughter]. You may have noticed this. So I always try not to be one step ahead, because that sounds too wanky, but I try and actually look ahead to what is the next big discussion that we need to have, because I think just going the whole time – back in 2008-2009 I was talking about female protagonists, and there weren’t any around. So I stopped talking about it, and then last year we ended up with loads of female protagonists, which is great.

Things are actually moving on, so now I’m talking about masculinity and representations of masculinity. Because they need an overhaul, as well, and the people are often telling me, “Oh, you know, it’s a male privilege. We don’t need to talk about that.” It’s like yeah, we do, because you can’t just have one without the other. We’ve got women, got men – why would you say that the characterization of men is fine, when it’s clearly not? We’ve got lots of stereotypes here. We’ve got lots of bullshit here. There’s loads of boys walking around with the same kind of problems that young girls have about the feelings of their self-esteem to do with their bodies, because they’re not really buff and ripped like Thor.

PW: Yeah, and it’s not like the imposed masculinities are great for women, either.

LH: Yeah, exactly.

PW: Even if you look at it from still a woman’s point of view. You could still go ‘let’s look at masculinity because it’s a mess.’

LH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, a lot of websites for men have started talking about the notion of ‘toxic masculinity’. I think that’s great. I think that’s a really, really interesting phrase, because it is. There’s lots of mixed messages about what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a hero, and what it means to be a father, or equally missing messages about what it means to be a father, especially in the black community – this notion of automatically a black [0:41:24] just disappears from his kid’s life. I mean, how fucking hideous is that? That’s so insidious. We should be addressing these things, and yet it’s strangely silent. And I’m not going to apologize for wanting to talk about those things.

PW: Quite. Now you mentioned your website – this is bang2write.com, and that’s a number two. What made you start it in the first place? Was it a business decision, or just something you wanted to write?

LH: Well, as I said, I’ve got loads of opinions. So I love the internet. I love to just talk, talk, talk all day. In the last three or four years I’ve sent nearly 100,000 tweets for starters [laughter]. I just love going on and on. When I found out about blogs – it was 2005 – I thought, “Fantastic! I can write about stuff on there.”

PW: I need one of those.

LH: Yes, definitely. It was an AOL Hometown blog. Do you remember those?

PW: Yes. My first website was a GeoCities.

LH: Yeah [laughter]. And you could only write in Comic Sans. Oh, my God!

PW: I used to be really excited when I could make a text change colour.

LH: Yeah. I used to write blue Comic Sans with pink links. Oh, my God! I look back now…

PW: I was trying to teach myself HTML years and years ago, and I found this website at the time that I just thought it was the best thing in the world. It was a website where you could just copy bits of code into your site, and it would make these things like snow on the screen over —

LH: Oh, God, snow! Yes, I remember snow, too.

PW: Or fireworks when you clicked your mouse or something. And I thought this was the best thing ever. And so my GeoCities site, every page of it, all of it was hand-coded very badly, had some kind of exploding text or wobbly lines.

LH: Yes. Flying ones, as well. Oh, God! But yeah, I loved my blog at first. And I was just writing randomly at first. I was just writing all kinds of crap on that. Then I started getting fan mail.

PW: Oh!

LH: From a lady called Mary. And she lived in Alabama [laughter]. And that’s when I realized that I wasn’t just talking to myself. The people are actually reading this stuff. And she wanted to ask about – I would write about my son, and stuff like that. And I was just using it as a diary at first. And I wrote a couple of stories and I stuck them on there. And she liked these stories, and I suddenly realized, “Oh, these things are quite powerful.” And I just started the script reading on a kind of more – what’s the word?

PW: Formal?

LH: Yes. So I had started in a more formal way, and I was advertising on various bulletin boards and stuff, and getting two or three clients a week by this point. And I noticed that I was writing the same sort of things to them all the time. Lots and lots of screenplays essentially got the same problems, problems of things like structure and character – the two big things. So rather than write the same thing to all three clients, I’d write an article on the blog, and then direct them to that, so that they could see the main kind of problem. And then I would write the specific notes to their screenplay with that in mind. And that worked really well. And people really got bored with that, and they liked the extra value from there. And so for a long time I was just writing articles on that blog, thinking only my clients would be reading it.

And then about a year after I had started this blog I started getting lots of comments and emails from people saying, “Oh, can you write an article about this screenwriting problem or that screenwriting problem?” And I thought, “Oh, okay.” So I started taking questions – this was before Twitter and Facebook, and all that stuff. And it became very interactive.

And I discovered other screenwriters were writing their own blogs. Most of their blogs were online diaries of whether they were going to make it or not, or they’ve just started writing a project for a producer, and they were doing diaries of that and things like that. And somebody came along and they made this – I suppose it’s like a library aggregator thing of all the blogs about writing and stuff like that. It just became what was known back then as the Scriboshpere [laughter].

PW: That’s excellent.

LH: And we all called ourselves the Scribes of the Scribosphere, and I think there was about 50 of us. And some of them were quite big, like John August, who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Go, and Ken Levine, who wrote M*A*S*H and things. And then there were tiny little people like me. And then there was like the middle kind of TV writers from this country, as well. It just got bigger and bigger, and then Twitter came along, and Facebook came along. And people started to integrate their blogs into their Facebook, and then, weirdly, all the commentary, all went over to Facebook and Twitter, and now you don’t see a lot of comments on blogs.

PW: It’s true. And it’s interesting hearing how your site developed, because in modern-day internet marketing type speak, what you were doing was positioning yourself as an authority, which then makes people respect you and think, “She clearly knows what she’s doing,” and so they’ll say it to someone else, “She knows what she’s doing,” and they’ll think, “Oh, she knows what she’s doing.” And then the more people think well of you, the more they think, “Oh, I’ll hire her.” This is what a lot of modern [0:47:30] actors try to create in a bit too much of a planned way, whereas when it happens organically, like yours did — this wasn’t you setting out saying, “I’m going to write useful things, and so people will think I’m useful.” You were just writing what occurred to you, and then a few patterns started emerging, but the result was that you were writing things that were useful to enough people that you began to be recognized as someone who actually did know what they were talking about.

LH: Yes, which is pretty random, because I probably didn’t [laughter]. It just seemed common sense to me, and I think that’s probably the key behind good social media marketing, is it’s common sense. I mean, you don’t whine on social media about how hard everything is every five minutes, and you don’t slag everybody off, and you try and help other people, and you try and be pleasant, and you have a laugh, and whatever. And people will like you and pass your content on. It seems obvious to me, but very often it can’t be that obvious because I see loads of people —

PW: They’re really wrong.

LH: Oh, God, so wrong! I mean, I write social media posts on Bang2Write now because so many people ask me about it now. “What do I do? How do I set myself up on Twitter? How do I create a blog? How do I do a good digital footprint?” and all that bloody jargon.

PW: Yeah. People want to ultimate the process so much, and lose sight of the common-sense side of things, I think.

LH: Yes. It’s about human interaction and common sense. That’s all it is.

PW: I mean, we met on Twitter initially.

LH: Yes.

PW: We chat embarrassingly a lot [laughter] on Facebook. Not that either of us are there all the time.

LH: Oh, I am [laughter].

PW: But we both use both mediums a lot. And it’s interesting to see how writers are using them. I saw – it was a few weeks ago, and obviously, I won’t name who, but it was a copywriter who normally tweets just fairly sensible copywriting things, and then ended up live tweeting – I’m embarrassed for her just thinking about it – this kind of five hours following her husband telling her that he was leaving her.

LH: Oh, blimey!

PW: And she fell apart, not unreasonably.

LH: Yeah, of course.

PW: But spent five hours of tweet after tweet after tweet of kind of rage, then despair, then rage, then despair. And it was painful to watch.

LH: It can be.

PW: And if it’s a personal account then do what you will, frankly. But you do have to be a bit more careful with professional accounts.

LH: Yes, I think so. I mean, I tweet personal things sometimes, especially if I’m upset. I have been known to kind of rage a little bit, but I try and allow myself only three tweets maximum.

PW: That’s it.

LH: And then I’ll have to walk around the block a few times. Occasionally I might get drawn into a dog pile or whatever. There was one only last week where a certain keyboard warrior came after me because apparently I’m racist and classist, and all the usual -ists, based on a single tweet I made in November. So rather than ask me about the context of the tweet – which by the way was Storified – they start slagging me off. It’s like whatever. They were looking for ruck, basically.

PW: Yes, I know this phenomenon.

LH: Yes. So to protect my brand I just kept throwing back, kept throwing it back. And they kept coming back with the same nonsense over and over again. It’s like, “Oh, my God!” And then I wrote a nice long post about the issue on Bang2Write without naming her. If anybody ever takes it wrong again, they can see, because you’ll – what’s the word? The trail of tweet, and the trail of content to show that actually that’s just bullshit. So I think it’s useful that if somebody does launch an unprovoked attack like that, then you should protect your brand, I think. I could have got really personal and all that kind of stuff, but I didn’t see the point of that, because she was the one that ended up looking like an idiot.

PW: Yeah. And you do have to – you are a person that – it is the brand, but you are a person behind it, and you can’t be entirely robotic, and nor would you be an interesting person to follow if you were, frankly. It’s a difficult balance.

LH: Yes, it is.

PW: The kind of personality —

LH: It is. It can be.

PW: How much to come into it. But it’s an interesting one that evolves, I think.

LH: Yeah. I think that’s really key is this notion of evolution. I didn’t tell people that I was ill on social media. I didn’t tell anyone that I had cancer on social media when it was all going on. I didn’t want to be the one with cancer. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. But the people that I actually knew in real life, all knew about it. And the people that I worked with on a regular basis all knew about it. And, again, people were really nice to me on social media. They knew that I didn’t want to talk about in public, but they were always there all the time. They’d know that I would be in the hospital every three weeks or whatever for chemo, and they’d be on my phone with me the whole time, which was great.

And that was really helpful, as well, especially because when you’re on chemo, as well, you can’t sleep a lot of the time, so I’d literally be awake 21-22 hours out of 24, and I’d be on Twitter most of it. It was really great that people were always there, which was nice. It does stop you from feeling lonely, which is great. And that’s a brilliant aspect of social media, because you can feel like you’ve got moral support. But equally it can work the other way, and you can feel kind of harangued, as well.

PW: Yeah. There’s been an interesting story that’s blown up in the last day or two about an article that someone wrote in The Guardian. Now I first came across this because someone pointed out the quite exceptional statement that this article has now been replaced with. What was the full article now says, “This post has been deleted with the agreement of the subject because it is inconsistent with The Guardian editorial code.” Nothing would make me search the internet more, frankly, to find out what on earth was going on here, because I’ve never seen a statement like that.

I could still see the title to the piece, which was “Forget funeral selfies. What are the ethics of tweeting a terminal illness?” And I could still see all the comments to the piece, which thought it was horrific. And so I, of course, had to find out what it was. Google Cache wasn’t giving me anything, and all the obvious things, so I had to search further and further and further. Anyway, I eventually found it because when I get determined I get determined.

LH: Right. Fair enough.

PW: And basically there’s a woman who has terminal cancer, and has been tweeting a lot. Now I know and tweet with a lot of disabled people, and so somebody tweeting about their body or their pain or their treatment doesn’t really stand out to me.

This woman’s tweet – she’s not somebody I know on Twitter. She’s called Lisa Adams, and she’s tweeting very honestly about this last stage that she’s in, and the pain she’s in, and just how hard it is, which I will say I think is fully within her rights. It’s her Twitter account. She can tweet what she likes. What The Guardian journalist did was write an article, a really horrific article criticizing this woman for tweeting about this saying it’s basically too much information. I don’t know why I can’t stop reading it, but I can’t stop reading it. Some people just share too much, and do we have no limits anymore? And this Guardian journalist compares the tweets, at one point, to a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies.

LH: Oh, gosh!

PW: Yeah. Why are you saying this? If you don’t want to see this, don’t follow her. She’s very open that this is what she’s tweeting about. And I saw lots of article criticizing the original article, and then finally found a kind of cache of a cache of a cache from the article itself. And it is bad. And I’m not surprised The Guardian have taken it down. But for me that’s very much — she’s got exactly the same choice that you had. You chose that for you tweeting about this very openly wasn’t what you wanted to be doing, and that’s entirely within your right. And this woman had exactly the same choice, and for her tweeting openly was what she wanted to do about it, and that is also entirely within her rights.

LH: Absolutely. Yeah. Anyway, screenwriting.

PW: Yes, right. Yeah, Twitter. I don’t know whether you started this or whether you participate in it, but the #scriptchat…

LH: Yes.

PW: Tell me about that, because I like hashtags.

LH: Yes. Hashtags are brilliant. I love hashtags. I didn’t start scriptchats. As far as I know, it came into being around 2009, something like that. It’s been around for ages. It was one of the first things on Twitter that got me over there in the first place. And three people in America started scriptchat, and then they did a Euro scriptchat, as well. And they got three people in the UK to do that. I don’t know if they do it in any other country, as well, but there’s two main ones – Euro scriptchat on a Sunday, which is at 8:00 PM GMT, and then they’ve got a US scriptchat, which is about 10 o’clock our time. And basically they moderate a chat every week for an hour, 8:00 until 9:00 on a Sunday Euro, and then 10:00 until 11:00 US.

The three moderators for the US chat will usually have some sort of guest coming in to talk about various things. They nearly always have a guest. The UK moderators don’t have a guest quite as often, I’ve noticed. But they have a blog and they kind of facilitate questions and stuff through there, and suggestions for topics and stuff. Organically, other people who are talking about writing on Twitter will use a hashtag throughout the week, as well.

And I take full advantage of that, and all my musings about screenwriting or script reading I’ll hashtag with scriptchat, and also all my blog posts and things like that, as well. And scriptchat is a really good way of finding mostly screenwriters, but in the last year also novelists have started using it, as well, especially the people who publish to the Kindle, as well. So that’s a really good thing – more novel writers on there, as well. It does get taken over a bit by promo.

PW: A lot of the hashtags do now, and it’s a real shame. But if you can see through that they can be really – I used to participate in a monthly writers chat with a hashtag that I still never quite get it in the right order. I think it’s WCLW, which is Writers Chat Last Wednesday, and it’s just the last Wednesday of the month. And it’s for an hour. And I got out of the habit because it’s US time, and it doesn’t always translate to the same time here. But that’s started by a freelance writer called Michelle Rafter, who’s got a website. She will set a theme and certain questions. And sometimes there’ll be a guest answering questions. Other times it’s just a general discussion.

But I see so many hashtags now. There’s like #SheffieldHour and #YorkshireHour and there’s #UKFreelance. There’s just so many – every issue, every job. I think they’re a really good thing, although now there are more of them. I pay a bit less attention sometimes, whereas I think when there were fewer of them I probably focused a bit more on them, whereas they just pass me by a bit now. But they can be just a really good way of organizing Twitter into a topic.

LH: Definitely. And I probably use scriptchat the most followed by #Amwriting.

PW: Yes. I use that one.

LH: Also #Novels, as well, is an obvious one. I use the #fem2 a lot to get representation of women out a bit more. Also [1:02:07] about pregnancy, because obviously that’s a personal interest of mine, but also something that I write about quite a lot. I’ll use #fem2, #teenpreg, #teens quite a lot. I try and do some outreach work for our Twitter and ask fems with teenagers to answer their questions, especially about teenage pregnancy, but also about other issues, as well.

So I talk quite a lot on Facebook to a few teens about cyberbullying. Oh, some of the shit they put each other through, it’s just horrible. It’s really bad, all the memes that they do, and setting up pages to mock someone, and things like that. It’s just really nasty shit. I’m so glad it wasn’t around when I was this —

PW: Yes, I often think that when I see a documentary or something about cyberbullying. I just think I had some rough times at school, but I’m so glad now that when I got home I wasn’t then having that.

LH: Yeah, right. Because kids 10 years ago had mobile phones to worry about, you know, text message hassle.

PW: I’m too old to have even had that.

LH: Yeah, me too [laughter]. At least when you got home —

PW: We got bullied through the Post. [laughter]

LH: — you could close the door on it. [laughter]

PW: Royal Mail bullying, good old fashioned. [laughter]

LH: We could get home, close the door on it. They can’t even do that now. It’s just horrible. It’s really horrible. And also it’s another way of actually taking the Mickey even more out of people who’ve got problems or disability or an issue like teen pregnancy or whatever. That said, at least there is the feeling, as well, that you can actually bandy together with people who are being hassled, as well. You cannot say no. It’s a kind of a double-edged sword. One hand you can be harangued, but on the other hand you can —

PW: You can communicate.

LH: — actually find out you’re not the only one.

PW: Yeah. You can communicate with all sorts of people.

LH: When I was growing up I literally thought I was the only one that thought the way I did. I really, really believed that, 100%, until I was quite old, actually. I was about 22-23 before I realized that actually other people felt the same way about certain things as I did.

PW: I mean, for me, growing up gay, I would never have called it that when I was a kid, because it terrified me. I had no frame of reference other than it being a bad thing. And in so many ways the internet would have made for me that progression to ‘actually this is fine, and it’s me’, would have made it a million times easier. Because there was nothing then. There was the odd article in a teenage magazine, but very rare, and so, yeah, in that way, the internet would have made things far more accessible to me.

LH: Yep, definitely, and it would have been the same for me as a teen mother, especially living in a rural area. I just didn’t know anyone with a baby that was my age, nobody at all. And I was horribly lonely because I didn’t get to see anyone or do anything in a place that was so remote. I couldn’t even go into town or anything. I was literally just in the middle of a field, basically, and if I had just had Twitter on my phone even – just Twitter – life would have been a bit more bearable. But, as a result, I was having to read six books in a fortnight to say I had any kind of relief.

PW: One of the very good things about hashtags is that it’s an easy way of zoning in on the right people.

LH: Absolutely.

PW: Whether that’s about a personal issue like #teenpreg or whether it’s a professional thing like I want to talk to the UK freelancers, then if you’ve just joined the site you’ve got instant access to that community. And also anyone else who checks those hashtags will see you pop up. And so relationships start to be built, which is the beginning of all good things really.

LH: Yeah. No, it’s brilliant. I think Twitter is absolutely fantastic. I adore it. A couple of times a year I get sick of it and go, “I’m never going on Twitter again,” but I’m literally back on it within about five hours [laughter].

PW: So, Lucy, thank you so much for coming and talking on the podcast. It’s been really interesting to find out more about screenwriting and script editing. Good to talk social media with someone else who I know is really into social media. If people want to say hi to you, Lucy, or have a read of your blog, perhaps your social media feeds, how would they get in touch with you?

LH: Well, all you have to do is you can find me via Google, because I’m the only Bang2Write online, which is B-A-N-G-2-W-R-I-T-E, and you can find my website, which is bang2write.com or I’m bang2write on Twitter. On Facebook there’s a writers’ group called Bang2Writers, and there’s another one on the LinkedIn. You can also find me on various other platforms like Quora and Pinterest, and I think I’m even on FourSquare, as well, though I don’t really understand what that is. But occasionally people add me on there. So find me there if you want.

PW: And I’m going to also put links to all those places in the show notes at allittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. If you listen to this and then by the time you get home you’ve forgotten, just come to the podcast website and there’ll be links directly to all of Lucy’s online stuff.

LH: Brilliant. Thank you.

PW: Thanks very much.

And so before we finish up there is now just time for a quick Recommendation of the Week. And my recommendation this week is a blog post by Carol Tice on makealivingwriting.com, and it’s called ‘Can You Spot These Three Different Freelance Writing Scams?’ And we always all have to be on the lookout for people trying to exploit our frankly good nature, and get work out of us for nothing, or indeed charge us for work, which is more common than you might expect. And so, what Carol does in this post is go through three examples from her own experience, but really they apply to so many of us. Any writer with any kind of platform gets approached with this stuff all the time, and you have to know what to look for and what the warning signs are. And so I will, of course, link to that in the show notes. That’s just a quick recommendation for this week.

Now we will be back for a dual episode in two weeks’ time, so come back then to hear me and Lorrie talking shop. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview with Lucy. Head over to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and as well as all the links, too. Subscribe to the podcast and to my websites in social media feeds. You will also find links to all the films we’ve talked about, all of Lucy’s own websites and social media stuff, and plenty more. So thank you very much for listening, and we will see you next time.

About Philippa Willitts

British freelance writer and proofreader.

  • Phil Jones

    Loved your discussion about analysing films you go to see. The curse of being an insider?

    Really pleased to hear your reflections on gender roles in films as well. I haven’t seen Gravity but would like to check it out.

    • PhilippaWillitts

      I’ll be watching that one too, I think! Lucy’s understanding of all the different aspects of films is really impressive, but I was glad to hear that she is able to occasionally watch a film without analysing it too much!

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