How to overcome a creative block?
Advice from a daily TV screenwriter.
Are you struggling with the blank page? You’ve reached a wall or you’ve been slipping on rocks on your path? You can’t find a way to We’ve all faced similar issues but it is true that there are several tools to avoid these creative blocks.
These and other resources were some of the advice Jordi Calafi spoke about in our latest Filmarket Talks. Jordi, who other than being a teacher in the film school ESCAC, is also part of the International Screenwriting TV Pilot Contest latest edition. He’s written scripts for some of the most successful series of Catalan TV such as “El cor de la ciutat” working on the rundown, “Ventdelplà” or “La Riera” as screenwriter. There he met his mentors: Josep Maria Benet i Jornet and Javier Olivares, with whom he has collaborated in numerous projects for dialy TV. He’s also taken part in the writing process of Spanish and International series such as “Isabel”, “Malaka’’ or “El Ministerio del Tiempo”. His latest work is as creator and screenwriter of “La Última”, one of the first productions of Disney+ in Spain, starring Aitana and Miguel Bernadeau.
But behind his charged curriculum, when he left school it was very difficult to cut himself a part as a screenwriter. He admits, screenwriting is probably one of the hardests jobs to successfully break into this industry. Additionally, when he graduated (1990s Spain), schools such as ESCAC and many others did not have training post-studies programs as they do now, and recent graduates found themselves fending alone without much of a clue.
So, I got jobs as AD. Until I found the opportunity to present a movie to Filmax, who at the time had just started making TV movies. They liked my work and put Silvia Oliva and me on the development of Cala Reial (2003), a project they wanted to develop. This worked out well for him and for a while worked on TV Movies, before he entered another contest, this one by the production house of Catalan TV Channel TV3, and ended up working in “El cor de la ciutat”.
This is why I appreciate and enjoy taking part of these events. When I started it was the only way to make a name for yourself in the industry, and they were rare.
Drawing from his experience on daily TV, there is one thing Jordi Calafi highly recommends when facing the blank page:
I always take the time to elaborate the rundown prior to writing the dialogue. To my students, I tend to suggest keeping in mind the plot points before they set up to write. These steps consist of resuming in a sentence the essence of a situation or a scene. In that sentence, there must be an implicit conflict. For example:
Michael finds out his wife is unfaithful — This is a plot point.
Mary looks through the window — This is not a plot point.
This helps us make sure we’re not lying to ourselves. In the first case, there is a change in the character between the beginning and the end of the scene. In the second case, we can’t perceive a change. For instance:
Michael tells James he’s won the lottery. — Again, this is not a plot point, it’s merely an exchange of information.
James is angry Michael won’t share the money from the lottery he won. — Here we have a conflict, therefore it’s a plot point.
This is why I’m in favour of not starting writing until you are certain you have enough dramatic steps to build a solid plot for a film or a series. Americans tend to say that to write a 96 minutes TV movie, you must have 48 plot points (about a plot point every 2 minutes). And one point leads to the next.
This is important because when you have them well organized, you should be able to see the cause-effect between all of them. And as you revise your list, you may realize you can skip certain steps that end up being dispensable.
Once you have a clear dramatic skeleton of your plot, you can get started on the treatment and your story. This also becomes very useful as you edit, re-edit or re-write it.
You might think it a hindrance to your creativitiy, but that’s not true. Out of any of these examples you can come up with at least three of four different scene to present and tackle this conflict. Be it the indiscreet notification of a lover while the wife is in the shower. Or that same wife in her lovers arms walking into a hotel in front of our protagonist. When you write for daily TV, you can’t wait for the inspiration to hit you, you have to be consistent. The script must be ready by 6pm that day. In a way, these plot points force you to move, even though you don’t know how to go on.
Especially if your brain starts to trick you and make you believe you have a better idea to write down. No, finish one and then move to the next grand idea.
When questionned on the public’s pressure, especially in successful series such as “El cor de la ciutat” and “El Ministerio del Tiempo”, Jordi says he’s experiences were slightly different. In the first one, he worked on the rundown of the episodes, so there wasn’t much pressure from the audience. What you should do, as a screenwriter, is to focus on making something you’re going to enjoy watching and of which you can be proud of instead of worrying too much about the audience. Which is the mindset Javier Olivares and his team of screenwriters of which Jordi was part of, had when they set down to write the 4th season of “El Ministerio del Tiempo”, taking creative risks, as if they were working again in the first season of the series.
If interested you can find this Filmarket Talk in Spanish here:
You’re still on time to submit your script to our UK Online Pitchbox — a two-day virtual pitch event dedicated to British feature films and scripted series in development.
For the fifth consecutive year, this online initiative aims to discover high quality unproduced projects and match them with leading companies in the industry. Executives from Baby Cow Productions, Bankside, BBC, FilmNation, Independent, Kudos, Lionsgate, NBCUniversal, Number9, Red Arrow, See-Saw Films, Sky Originals, Universal Pictures and Vertigo Films are already confirmed to attend.