Thursday, 9 May 2013

Guest post: Richard Kurti on “How the practicalities of screenwriting influenced Monkey Wars…”

Earlier on today, I posted the review for the fabulous Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti (published by Walker). Richard has a background in screen writing for companies such as Warner Bros and Universal. As I also write film reviews and took a Media course a few years back, I am personally interested in the processes of film and television. Today, Richard talks about how he used his experiences in screen writing to write his novel. 

Screenplays are written within very tight parameters: one page equals one minute of screen time, and the contract sets out the exact length of the commissioned show.

So a one hour TV drama on a commercial network will be 48 pages long, allowing for commercial breaks and some cutting in the edit. 

You can’t even cheat by fiddling with the formatting of the document, as everything has to be written in a standard template:

(When I wrote for Warner Bros, there was a 20 page section of the contract that dealt exclusively with how the pages should be laid out!)

The problem is, the cost of putting TV drama on screen is about a million pounds an hour, and if it’s a movie add a few noughts… which means lots of control from management!

That’s why so much planning goes into screenplays…

There are ‘concept documents’ where the show is described in two paragraphs; then ‘outline stages’ where the whole story is told in a few pages, then ‘scene by scene beat sheets’ where every scene is described.  Each of these stages can go to many drafts.
Finally, once all these have been approved by the various layers of producers and execs, you’ll be allowed to go and write the script!

You often hear screenwriters complain about all these stages, but I found the discipline invaluable when it came to writing Monkey Wars.  As a first novel, I knew I’d have to write at least three drafts entirely on spec before it would be in good enough shape to send out, which meant getting up an hour earlier every day for three years.

The only way to pull this off without getting lost or forgetting which character had done what, was to plan every story beat in advance, then use this document as the bible. 

It took quite a few months to finish that document, but once done, it meant that I could really focus on the specific ‘story beat of the day’.  At any point, I could throw myself into the current page without having to worry about how it would all fit together, because I trusted the bible.

Planning isn’t the most exciting bit of writing, but I honestly think if I’d tried to write a long novel without having thrashed out the structure in advance, I would have become hopelessly and utterly lost. 
And once you’re lost, giving up becomes a very enticing prospect!

Thank you so much for a fascinating post Richard. Monkey Wars is available to buy now!

1 comment:

  1. This is a really interesting post - I love how you used a screenwriting style process to plan the novel out!