Category Archives: School

Top 6 Resources for New Screenwriters

My first foray into screenwriting was a disaster.  Okay, not a disaster in the sense of a cinematic Titanic or because it caused several small villages to be burned to the ground.  But aside from a handful of comedy sketches, it was a prose writer’s first real attempt to write a script.  And it showed.  But it taught me one very important lesson:

I HAD NO IDEA HOW TO WRITE A SCRIPT.

(Actual footage of me writing my first screenplay)

Again, not exactly true, but I think it’s important to underestimate your knowledge whenever possible.  If you go into a learning situation assuming total ignorance you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the things you do know and are good at.  It’s once you’ve gained the information that you can then sift and synthesis.

At the time, I was aware that lots of books about screenwriting were readily available.  In hindsight, I wish I had looked into these more before starting my programme, not because they could stand in place of it but because it would’ve given me a little more context about what I was learning in school.

Why 6?  I mean, there are thousands of resources out there, and you should read as much as you can, in my opinion.  I easily could have chosen 10.  But if you’re just starting out I really think this is all you need to start learning the basics of screenwriting.

  1. Screenplay by Sid Field: An oldie but a goodie – for a reason.  This was the first book I ever read about screenwriting and it’s been the most helpful book I’ve read so far about structuring the story of a film.  If you’re looking for a great introductory book, it has to be this one.
  2. The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier: While this book also talks about structure, character development, and so on, where it really shines is an explanation about the technical details of formatting a screenplay.  How else will you know how to write a montage or introduce a character?
  3. Writing the Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernit: Even though I’m currently only working on one romantic comedy, the way this book breaks down the rise and fall of a relationship in a romantic comedy is useful in every genre of screenwriting.  Does your film feature at least two people who interact with each other?  Then you’ll find a use for this.
  4. On Writing by Stephen King: Half instruction booklet, half memoir, allll Stephen King.  Stephen gets into the nitty gritty of writing and the challenges all writers face.  Excellent motivation for dealing with rejection, “writer’s block”, and the overactive imagination that comes with being a writer.
  5. Thesaurus.com: Maybe this is just me, but 60% of writing seems to be finding the right word for any circumstance.  Not necessary for first drafts but a must for rewrites.
  6. RedLetterMedia: Bear with me here.  If you’ve heard of them it’s probably by way of the Mr. Plinkett reviews on YouTube, 90-minute-long videos made by a “creepy old man” detailing exactly how the Star Wars prequels failed as movies.  I discovered the channel late last year while looking for an honest review of Ghostbusters 2016 and never looked back.  Just from watching their videos, I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my writing and my ability to objectively analyze what does and doesn’t work in films – on every level, not just storytelling.  There’s a lot of crude humor and language, so if that bothers you I’d say avoid it, but if you enjoy that you’ll find it’s educational as well as so SO entertaining.

These won’t turn you into Quentin Tarantino overnight, but I think they’re a good introduction to screenwriting for people who are interested in pursuing it in school and as a career!

I’d love to hear from other screenwriters (new and seasoned) on what resources they turn to for help.  I’m always looking for new reading material!

Eileen

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A case of the blues

When I was getting ready to move, I knew one of the things I would deal with would be feelings of sadness.  Isolation.  Loneliness.  Homesickness.  Being-a-crappy-writer-dom.  I’m also a really emotional person, so I know when I do feel like this I’m going to feel it in my whole body and if I just let those feelings fester it’s going to consume me.  I have always lived with other people so I’ve almost always had someone to turn to when I had those feelings.  But even though knowing those feelings were natural helps, I still found myself unprepared for pulling myself out of the rut when I get in it.  It’s not enough to acknowledge my pain… I must transcend it.  And here’s how I do that:

  1. Self-care: easily the most important thing I can do.  If I feel like a disgusting human being incapable of stringing two sentences together, not taking a shower or eating vegetables isn’t going to help.  It feels like giving myself the day off but what I’m really telling myself is that I’m not worth it.  Um, excuse me?  Yes, I am.  I shave my legs, feed myself real food, and clean my apartment.  Because I owe it to myself to be the best roommate in the world.
  2. Go outside: along the same lines of self-care but slightly more social.  It’s not even about talking to other people, just reminding myself I’m one soul in a sea of billions and the air is crisp and Pret exists.  It’s what separates us from the Matrix-dwellers.
  3. Buy a candle: or flowers, or a picture or any small thing that perks your living space up.  Being a writer with ADHD who can’t write anywhere near other people means I’m in my flat ALL. THE. TIME.  So if I have to shut myself away to write those last three pages of a script, I need to do it in a room that smells like I’m frolicking in an apple orchard someone set on fire with cinnamon sticks.
  4. Arrange to Skype or physically hang out with someone: a lot of the time, my loneliness isn’t a product of being alone in that moment, but not knowing when that moment’s going to end.  Even if I have to wait a week, knowing I get to see and talk to someone I love is all the encouragement I need to perk up.
  5. Go somewhere I haven’t been: I don’t know if you know this, but London is HUGE.  I don’t know if I could learn this city if I stayed here a lifetime, let alone the measly two years I’m here.  My Pinterest board has helped immensely, but I’m always taking recommendations! (*hint hint*)
  6. Talk to a counsellor or religious leader: my school has a great mental health centre and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve taken advantage of it.  Even if there’s nothing “wrong” with you, talking to someone objective and trained in the art of listening can be a great way to sort out the reasons your feelings have taken a downward turn and how to identify triggers.

Of course there are lots of little things I do, too, but these are my big, sure-fire ways of picking myself up.  And sometimes I just have to remind myself:

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If none of these are an option for you and you need help right away, you can call Samaritans at 116 123 in the UK and (212) 673-3000 in the US for someone to talk to 24 hours a day, confidentially.

Updates Galore!

WELL.  Now that things have calmed down a bit, I finally feel like I can update everyone on what’s been happening here at Chez My Flat (title pending).

I’ve been in school for about three weeks now.  Even though I was super excited about going back to school and getting back into the swing of things, I’ve gotten to the point where I can see and feel my lack of knowledge.  In all of my previous academic experience that was the point where I became frustrated and felt like giving up.  Now I’m trying to use it as a teachable moment: if you don’t feel like you totally get it, you’re probably heading in the right direction.  I will always feel like a fraud around other writers, like I don’t take it seriously enough, but I really think if I push myself through the difficult bits something amazing will happen.

I’m starting to get to know my classmates and they’re a fun bunch.  Lots of different personalities and backgrounds, proving writers aren’t all anti-social hermits with drinking problems.  But I think most of us would agree that burgers are fantastic.

My flat is still a work-in-progress.  I would show pictures but nothing has changed aside from the food in my refrigerator (i.e. there is some now).  A lot of “setting up” the flat was buying boring things like can openers and toilet paper.  I’ve finally gotten around to ordering ACTUAL FURNITURE so when that arrives in a week or two I’ll be sure to update.

And then there’s just London in general.  I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.  Which is not to say I have the hang of it.  I’m sad to admit this but when I first got here I was nervous about doing certain things because I didn’t know how they worked (or thought I didn’t know).  Getting registered with a GP, ordering drinks at a pub, taking a taxi… all things I was hesitant to do but eventually forced myself to.  And it wasn’t as scary as I thought.  I’ve found that if you’re really nice and apologize constantly, most people will forgive you for anything (except for murder.  I don’t recommend it.  The court case was hell).  I met someone last week and she was shocked when I told her I had only been in London a month and a half.  That was a huge compliment.  I’m assimilating.

And now, because no post is complete without an ode to food, here are some of the best places I’ve eaten so far:

  1. Boom Burger: I’ve eaten so many burgers since getting here and this is still my absolute favorite.  I’m basically free PR for them at this point, like a Boom Burger Jesus.
  2. Danny’s Traditional Fish & Chips
  3. E. Mono
  4. The Chicken Shop: Just had it tonight.  The apple pie!  The fries!  The CHICKEN!
  5. some stall in Camden Market with fresh doughnuts
  6. Paris: Just, like, the whole city.  Trust me on this one.
  7. Borough Market: Again, just the whole place. (apparently Sunday is Apple Day so… that’s where I’ll be)

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Since my sofa bed is on the way, I’m now taking reservations to stay at Chez My Flat! (again, we’re working on the title – sorry)

See you guys in London! xx Eileen

Livin’ La Visa Loca

Oh my God, I did it.  I finally got my visa.  That was the last official thing I needed to do before I left and now – it’s done.  I’m in the home stretch.  This is my last week at work, then two weeks later I LEAVE.  On a PLANE.  To live in ENGLAND.

Lest you think applying for a visa is lollipops and raindrops, allow me to take you through some of the high points of my application process.

  • After months of being reassured that my CAS would arrive in time and I had nothing to worry about, I only received my CAS after hounding all interested parties for over a week.  Yes, I have turned into that woman.  I’m sure a few memos have already been sent around the school warning administrators about me.
  • The online visa form turned out to be a lot harder than it looked, especially if you get anally pedantic when under stress like *ahem* some people I know.  Also, I tried to submit it five times before I realized I had forgotten to put the school’s phone number in one field.  You can only imagine the panic that ensued until I worked that out.
  • I went to my biometric screening under the impression that I would be submitting my application then and there.  So of course I took every single piece of paperwork I had associated with the application.  I only ended up showing my passport and the first few pages of the application.  Then they took my picture, got my fingerprints, stamped my application, and I was done.  It turns out you have to submit the actual application by mail yourself. (I would recommend taking all of your paperwork, anyway, just in case.)
  • Call me ignorant (please don’t, I’m very fragile) but it never occurred to me that I would have to send in my actual passport as well as originals of all of my paperwork.  I made multiple copies of everything I sent in so they had a copy to keep and I had a copy in case something happened to the originals.
  • I genuinely doubted my application would be approved.  Not because of the sordid past I’ve hid from all 3 readers of this blog, but because I was afraid I filled in the form wrong.

At least the parade of frustrating online paperwork has subsided (momentarily).

Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

I messed up.

“But Eileen,” I hear you saying, in that shocked voice you save for only the truly egregious things in life, “I thought you didn’t make mistakes!”

Well, I mean, I don’t, it’s just that this time-

Okay, I can hear you rolling your eyes.  Rude.

Anyway, there is a lesson to be learned from this mess-up, which is why I’m telling you in the first place.  It’s not like the time I broke my toe on a vacuum cleaner or tried to scalp Duran Duran tickets.  No, this one’s constructive.

So, it’s November 27th, right?  I just got my admission email from school.  I’m psyched.  I’m trying to figure out where to start.

I put the turkey in the oven (it was Thanksgiving Day).

Plane tickets!  I’m going to need a plane ticket.  Obviously.  So I check Google Flights, one way tickets, Orlando to London… $400?!  Seriously?  What a deal!  Can I buy ten?

But wait.  I don’t know exactly which day I’m going to leave.  Where I’ll be living.  When school starts.  So I don’t buy the ticket.

But I watch.  Every day I check Google Flights.  As my plans begin to take shape and solidify, I consider buying the tickets.  Then one day I check Google Flights and – BAM! – $700.

“They’ll go down,” I reassure myself, then force everyone else to as well.

But they don’t.  They go up to $890.  Then they dip back down.  Then they hover in between.  But they never go below that $700 mark again.

Eventually I scrape my jaw off the floor and recover enough brain power to remember I have some miles with Alaska Airlines.  On the vague chance they have a flight to get me from one point to the other for under $800, I check.  It turns out they do.  A direct flight*, in fact, which I never thought was possible in my wildest dreams.  And it only costs me $450 if I buy a few extra miles.  The only thing to consider is…

I’m just kidding.  I bought it.  How stupid do you think I am?  Wait, don’t answer that.

Moral (or tl;dr for you youngin’s): Don’t wait until your airfare doubles to consider purchasing.  Buy early and often (after checking to make sure they can accommodate your luggage).

*Side note: who would have guessed Alaska Air would have a partnership with British Air?  Not me.  Or anybody in Alaska.

Helpful sites

Hello there.  Are you doing well?  Lovely.  I had two London-related dreams last night, and one was simply that the prices of plane tickets went down.  Yeah, sad.  The weird thing is, they actually had.

I think I might be psychic.

Anyway, there are a lot of websites out there aimed at making the transition from America to the UK as easy as possible but wading through them can be a bit overwhelming.  I’ve compiled some of the websites that have helped me the most in preparation for my move.

UK-Yankee Forum: I would say this website has been THE most helpful, since, as a forum, it is updated just as regularly as anybody needs it to be and you can ask individual, specialized questions.  The people on this forum KNOW what they’re talking about.  However, I will say you can spend too much time on here and make yourself worry about things that don’t pertain to you or have the smallest chance of happening.  If you’re a student like me, start with this board.

UKCISA: This site will take you through the basics of applying for school, getting funding, figuring out where to live, and getting your visa.  This is for the beginner who needs an overview of the process.

Homestay: Like Airbnb, but you’ll be living with the family who owns the home.  This is a good alternative to hostels or arranging for flats you’ve never seen.  A great advantage to this is that you’re living with people who know the city.

Zoopla: If you plan on living on your own or buying, check out Zoopla.  You can search by the kind of property you’re looking for or area such as post code.  Even if you planning on having flat mates, it can be a good springboard to give you an idea of what’s available in any given area.

Flatshare: The most popular website for finding flatmates, although there are more out there.  You can search for any number of factors including preferences in the ideal flatmate, but I tend to just search by location and price.  It’s good to look at even before you’re serious about looking just to give you an idea of what’s available and what you can expect price-wise.

Of interest:

London property prices by tube line map, international scholarships, check to see if your creative programme is accredited

This is by no means a complete or exhaustive list.  It’s just a good jumping off point from which to start preparing.

Our story so far…

I can only assume you’ve found this post/blog if, like me, you’re preparing to go to postgraduate school in London and are worriedly whiling away the days waiting for yet another person to get back to you.  Or maybe you’re considering doing so, in which case… hold on to your butts.

I’ve been slowly compiling a timeline of my journey through the entire process.  I’m going to post it for other people to reference, keeping in mind that it isn’t over ’till the fat lady sings and she’s not even on stage yet.

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early November 2014: submit application

24 November: receive offer for phone interview

24-26 November:  study for interview, (over-)prepare notes

26 November: phone interview w/programme director, told decision could take a couple of weeks

27 November (Thanksgiving Day US): receive acceptance e-mail

1 January 2015: fill in FAFSA – there isn’t really any use officially submitting this until you’ve done your taxes, I submit anyway

24 February: apply for SASS scholarship

17 March: put correct tax information in FAFSA, submit

31 March: start contacting potential homestays (homestay.com), start looking on school board for accommodation

1 April: hear back from most homestays within a day; only 1 says not available

7 April: book homestay for 21 August-21 September through homestay.com

8 April: submit enquiry to HSBC for overseas account

9 April: HSBC cannot open an overseas account for me unless I already have an account open with them

22 April: receive award letter, sign, send back to school loan administrator

23 April: complete entrance counselling and promissory notes for unsubsidized loan and Grad PLUS loan, send to school loan administrator

19 May: Buy my plane ticket!

Things that haven’t happened but are supposed to, with projected date

June/July: approval for loans from Department of Education

June: receive CAS, apply for visa

May the Fourth

Two bits of good news:

1. April is over.  Peace out, April!  Long live May! (actually, no, May, do not live long; live an ordinate and logical amount of time, please please please)

2. The ball has started rolling on my postgraduate funding!  I’ve completed my entrance counseling and master promissory notes, and my award letter has been sent to the Department of Education.  Now I get to wait until June or July (?!) to hear from them.

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Yay!

May the Fourth be with you!

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The plot thickens (and becomes difficult to stir)

If you read my New Year’s post, you’ll know I filled out my 2015-2016 FAFSA as soon as possible, i.e. Jan 1.  I figured I would send an e-mail to the school just to get an idea of how long it would take to process the information and get back to me about how much I could ask for in loans and such.  I received an e-mail back from them saying they don’t usually process those requests until April.

This makes me anxious for 2 reasons: firstly, I like to get things done ASAP.  I know on their end they have a lot more to deal with than one girl’s financial aid information.  In fact, they might not be able to do anything about my financial aid until April because the US student loan office might not process them until then.  The timeline just worries me a little because they won’t get back to me until right before I apply for my visa – will that give me enough time to hear back from the US loans office and get my information in order for the visa application?  They’ve done this before and know what they’re doing.  I just need to have faith in the process and the people carrying it out.

Secondly, on a pettier level, I really just hate waiting.  I keep reminding myself that 2 months have already passed and things ARE getting done.  Yeah, it’s a long time to wait, but having 9 months to prepare means I will be as ready as I can be when I actually go.  I’m grateful to have this time with my friends and family, so that I can appreciate their company while I still have the chance.

Hopefully as the time draws closer I will have more helpful information to share and confirm that there is nothing to worry about time-wise.  For now, though, I just have the worry.  Thankfully I’ve started doing yoga.

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Namaste.