Tuesday, 28 June 2016

My Experience at a Screenwriting Workshop

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Literally Short Film Festival, hosted by Literal Magazine here in Houston. For the 3rd consecutive year, this festival allowed filmmakers from all over the world to share their work, with the opportunity to win various prizes and screen their projects in a platform intended to bridge all cultures through artistic expression.

As part of its 3rd year, Literally Short hosted 2-day seminars, including a screenwriting workshop. I looked at this as a GREAT opportunity to not only learn more about the scripting process, but also collaborate and share my experiences with other people in the industry. The workshop was led by Ben Wiggins, a Los Angeles-based producer and screenwriter who originally entered the production world in Houston, while working on commercials and music videos. Some of his work includes co-writing and producing three episodes of Take One with Justin Nichols, and co-writing Devious Maids episode #310: “Whiplash”.

I truly enjoyed learning about his writing process from start to finish, including how to collaborate with a writing partner and the ins and outs of writing for the film and TV business, specifically in LA. We had the chance to ask him many questions regarding his particular workflow and development, and had the opportunity to work on some live scenes with the acting workshop attendees.

Here are some of my highlights and takeaways from the workshop:

The screenwriting process can be divided into four different steps-

1. Story breaking
This is the brainstorming part of the process, designed to come up with and develop the IDEA behind the project (film or TV episode). During this stage, Ben identifies the primary elements of the story:

  • Inciting Incident: an event that throws character out of balance and forces him/her to take action. 
  • Progressive Complication: a sequence of events that obstructs the character’s process and forces him/her to consider other alternatives.
  • Crisis: a specific moment when the character is forced to face a dilemma and make a decision.
  • Climax: events crescendo after character makes that decision.
  • Resolution: end of the character’s journey, where we show how the character has changed and resolved the conflict.

Ben’s story breaking method involves using a magnetic white board and colored index cards, in order to build a grid and visually keep track of these elements. He organizes acts vertically, adding one card per scene, and color codes cards per storyline, character, theme or type of conflict. He also uses a second board for character development, where he includes columns for the character, drive, backstory, and conflict.

2. Drafting
This is when the actual writing begins. Ben recommended a screenwriting software called Final Draft, which is considered the industry standard, despite its recognized limitations.

We also discussed industry standard screenwriting lengths:
  • Screenplay: 100-120 pages
  • TV Pilots: 53-55 pages
  • On-going TV Episodes: 51-52 pages

3. Internal Revisions
After finishing your first draft, also called the “vomit draft”, you enter the revisions stage. This is when you continue to review and re-write your script, while using the boards as a visual map.

Keep in mind:
  • First drafts are almost NEVER good. And it’s okay, remember writing is re-writing, and it never ends!
  • Each scene must serve the story and its characters. And each line of dialogue must serve the scene.
  • Our main character should drive the story- be careful with inactive protagonists.
  • Storylines should follow the primary elements of the story (Step 1), as well as the characters development and overall arc.

4. Feedback & Notes

Once the script is ready to be shared, Ben recommends sharing it with your A-team or closer circle first, before letting out into the world.

After the script is revised and finished (including external feedback and notes), the process can go both ways:
  • In film: the writer hands script to the director and he/she takes it from there.
  • In TV: the writer continues to be involved in the production and post-production process, especially for table reads and on-set revisions.

Besides discussing the steps involved in the scripting process, we also talked about the economy aspect of screenwriting:
  • Specificity is KEY, especially when writing dialogue parentheticals or intentions, which should be no longer than ONE line.
  • When it comes to dialogue and parentheticals, it’s important to have the right balance between giving the actors enough direction, while giving them freedom to develop their characters.
  • Limit dialogue to about FOUR lines. More than that is considered a “speech”.

Finally, Ben recommended the following books on screenwriting and storytelling:
  • Story by Robert McKee.
  • Screenplay by Syd Field -You can also review one of my previous posts about Syd Field’s scripting structure!

So tell me, what’s your favorite part of the scripting process? Do you have a particular workflow or technique that you consider helpful when developing a story? Please let us know your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet @Swagger_Media! And if you need any help with developing a script and tell your story, our team is happy to assist you! Go to our website or give us a call at 832-831-7592.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Social Media Strategy: What's New with Platforms

The whole marketing landscape has changed with the introduction of social media. No matter what type of business you own, what size that business is, or who you're selling to, social media is a must for any company. And because we find social media so important, we have updated our recent blog post about the topic to reflect changes with certain platforms.

Social media allows us, as marketers, to have an easy-to-use and powerful tool at our finger tips that shares a single piece of content all over the world in seconds. So, not only knowing where your audience is, but also keeping up-to-date with platform changes is key to your business' success on social media. Let's review some of the most popular social media platforms, and what you need to know about their recent updates:


Gender: More Women than Men
Most Popular with Ages: 18-29
Number of Active Users: 400 Million

Since we wrote the original version of this blog, Instagram has surpassed both Twitter and LinkedIn for the number of active users. This platform is centered around images and short videos lasting no more than 60 seconds, which increased from 15 seconds in April 2016. Brands are participating through hashtags and posting images, image series, or short engaging videos that users can relate to. Make sure your imagery is visually appealing and mimics your brand’s personality. If you don’t have a tangible product to push, this is a great platform to give your consumers a behind-the-scenes look at how your business functions.

In May 2016, Instagram launched a new Facebook-like algorithm that shows users what the app believes the users want to see, instead of posts appearing chronologically. After the update, posts from less popular accounts will likely get buried in users' timelines. For small businesses, this will most likely result not only in a drop in engagement, but also a potential drop in customers and sales. Educating your customers on this change, and how they can customize their profile and actions in the app to trick the algorithm, is key. You have two options as a small business owner. First, encourage your followers to seek your business’ posts out and engage with them. Alternatively, encourage your followers to click on the triple dots at the top right of your business’ photo or profile and select ‘Turn On Post Notifications’.


Gender: Slightly more Men than Women
Most Popular with Ages: 18-50
Number of Active Users: 320 Million

Twitter is described as a “microblogging site”, which really just means the short content typically consists of informational updates that followers can subscribe to, just like blogs. Very short in fact, less than 140 characters per post. This platform is ideal for companies who are trying to market to and engage with a younger audience. Twitter is utilizes 2-way communication, so brands typically use this platform as a way to increase dialogue with their followers. However, be warned, your content MUST be engaging and memorable. Competition on this platform is high, with over 6,000 tweets being sent every minute. If your content is not engaging, you will be scrolled past.

In the coming months, Twitter plans to make changes to simplify tweets and decrease what counts toward your 140 characters. So for example, @names in replies, links and media attachments, like photos, GIFs, videos, and polls, will no longer count toward your valuable characters. Twitter has not announced the official release date for these updates, so stay tuned!


Gender: Equally Men and Women
Most Popular with Ages: 13-17 and Millennials
Number of Active Users: 200 million

Snapchat is a mobile app that allows you to send videos and pictures, both of which will self-destruct, unless the recipient saves that image, after a few seconds of a person viewing them. One con to this platform is that the demographic is very specific. Also, all content has to be created natively on the app, so no professional photos or videos allowed, unless you’re paying to advertise on the platform.

However, if it fits your brand’s goals, you have the potential to see real engagement with a younger demographic. Snapchat is a great app to show real-time, behind-the-scenes content to your followers. You can also leverage your ‘My Story’ to promote a contest, or reward your followers in other ways. But be aware, your visual content must be meaningful to your followers in order to receive engagement.

So, what social media platforms do you use for your business? What do you think about the most recent updates to these social media platforms? Share your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet @Swagger_Media! We’ll continue to update this blog as the forever-changing world of social media continues to evolve, as well as cover other topics through our Social Media Strategy blog series. Stay tuned! And if you’re ready for marketing professionals to take over, give us a call at 832.831.7592.