National Screenwriters Conference – AWG – notes

by stronged




– BBC radio plays starting point

– Try not to pigeon-hole characters in Bible

– “If a writer cannot write a man, a woman, a child or a dog wtih the same amount of flare, they are not a writer.”

– “Turn corners without spotting the bend.” Turn left or right without knowing where characters go. Drama is not a linear blow-by-blow depiction of life, it is spontaneous and erratic, even fragmentary.

– Giving away key plot points upfront establishes trust between the audience and creators.

– “Write about what you know, emotionally.”


Mike Jones/Nathan Anderson/Dan Fill

Portal Entertainment & AFTRS/Envelop Entertainment/Chocolate Liberation Front

  • World first, then plot. A pressurized story-world of naturally oppositional forces can create multi-plot potential. (i.e. The Walking Dead)
  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – storytelling is storytelling
  • First person, present tense, is the best for interactive environment as it is most inclusive to user.
  • Role-playing – is there an active and meaningful role for your audience to play within your story-world?
    • Motivation, Action and Reward
    • What compels an audience to interact?
    • Reward systems: gaining points, leveling up, evolving/developing character
    • Patterns of closure – Episodic storytelling. When closure offered and when it is denied. Dramatic questions asked and answered.
      • Creates addiction and repetitive interaction
      • In the same way a screenplay can be adapted from a book, interactive narrative is a process of adaptation from source material.
      • Interactive Media:
        • Limited control time
        • Control of space almost unlimited (however, more is not always better)
        • Game Dear Esther by The Chinese Room – trailer
        • Get to know the Game Designer as they are the one who creates the rules in gaming.
        • Player agency – sense of ownership that gamers have over character (i.e. being Superman). Raises question of what limitations are on characters. Gamers are unpredictable and therefore only can be controlled through rules placed upon character maneuverability.
        • Little room for tragedy and anti-climactic endings for interactivity is geared towards positive reward system.
        • “You have to fish where the fish are” – Nathan Anderson
        • Emergent Narrative (i.e. Mindcraft) – creating a world which can be manipulated to become a narrative.
        • Use environment to compel gamers to use character(s) in a particular way.
        • Dan Fill started at Disney as a writer before moving onto:
          • SBS Go Back To Where You Came From companion piece Asylum Exit Australia. Linked with social media to drive conversation about asylum seeker issues. Paul Kallahan writer. Scenario: Need to exit Australia as refugee. Converse with characters of black market, authorities, separated family members, etc.
          • PBS and TV Ontario Wild Kratts game based on children’s program. User is member of team to save habitat/animals
          • Create avatar
          • Creaturepedia online database
          • Rewarded with creature powers when leveling up
          • 114 page Bible/Design document as blueprint for show/game
          • $150,000 pays two game developers for a year as rough ball park
          • Walking Dead was created for at least half a million dollars
          • Different games or interactive media have different reimbursement models aimed at charging different users variations of total cost. System can be staggered to include wider demographics of users.


– The vulnerability of Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As It Gets (1997) endeared the audience to him. Craig Pearce

– What’s the worse thing that could happen to a character and how can it turn out to be the best thing? – Robert McGee Debra Oswald

– The more unlikely the romance is the more your root for the characters Craig Pearce

– Summarise the draft upon completion to maintain focus and perspective of changes and direction



– 7 eps a year is a solid workload Paul Abbott

– The writers are also the producers in the USA system Paul Abbott

– Writers are mentored by producer over a 2 year stint in room to give them flexibility for future employment – saves money on fuck-ups down the track Ros Walker

– The music was performed in the writers room on Breaking Bad. Ros Walker

– Aus = Drama $45,500 per ep; Comedy $17,000 per ep – USA = $55,000 per ep Ros Walker

– Brainstorming sessions are paid at hight rate Ros Walker

– USA model 10 year advancements, staff writers salary $50,000 p.a. IRos Walker

– $30,000 p.a. bursary for new writer. The writer is paid on top of this bursary to observe 3 projects simultaneously. Paul Abbott


– Sam Doust

– Sam Doust

– – augmented reality Sam Doust(Creative Director)

– AAA Games = multi-million dollar games

– “Games are not straight lines, they are loops and repeated actions.” Paul Callaghan

– More interested in games initiated from poetry and short stories Paul Callaghan

– Paul Callaghan


– “Luck favours the well prepared.” Michael Cordell

– Sport is a powerful glue for Australian communities Michael Cordell

– “Documentaries are still constructed.” Tarni James

– Tarni James

– You need to instill a sense of drama “Isn’t it lucky that the…didn’t happen because…” If a narrative goes smoothly, everything going the protagonists way, there is no drama. Case study: Tarni asked permission to interview a stoic participant of the Grand Designs program, promising that she will bring him back up once having broken him down. Blatant manipulation reveals vulnerability and therefore shows a deeper sense of truth. Tarni James

– ‘Behind Closed Doors’ doco – inside a counselling session to expose counselling techniques to the public. Actors employed in role of patient to get around ethics and suspend audience belief. Tarni James


  1. Titles are important when submitting – heightens anticipation – make them short – element of ambiguity adds mystery
  2. A fast read is a good read – keep in mind Oz to USA paper size conversions when submitting – 120 pages a stretch, 97 better
  3. Write like a demon, not a psycho – mindful about spelling errors and industry formatting
  4. “Screenwriting is much closer to Haiku and poetry than prose.” Shayne Armstrong
  5. Hook reader – within 2 pages the writer is judged. Consider context of reader (i.e. commuting on a plane, train, automobile, or on the beach, end of a working week)
  6. Know the genre/market/reader – needs to thrill if thriller, scare if horror
  7. Premise is king
  8. Go to the heart, then the brains
  9. Set realistic goals
  10. In a digital world hard copies rule – they are read more carefully rather than skimmed on ipad, etc. – No distractions of online world


– 5-6 screenplays before getting picked up – in multiple genres Tom Schulman

– “Set aside an obligatory day of panic.” the first day infront of the computer Keith Thompson

– Writing comedy you search for the dramatic theme. Whereas writing drama you search for the comedic one. Tom Schulman

– Genre can be a French word meaning “no new ideas” Andrew Knight

– “Formula is something you feed to infants.” Andrew Knight

– “Script is a blueprint for a further conversation.” Jacquelin Perske

– The big print establishes the tone of the script rather than being too descriptive. Weird big print is good. Andrew Knight


DOCO WORKSHOP with Karin Altmann

Key components:

  • Character
  • Narrative
  • Argument/conflict
  • Style
  • Set of resources (production story components)
  • Access

– Never ask a question until they are begging for it

– When applying for funding lead with your strong suit

– Research the slots for docos on broadcast networks to get an understanding of canvas size (ie. 30min or 1hr or 15mins?)

– KISS = Keep It Simple Stupid


  • Emotional
  • Rhythm
  • Narrative


– It’s a wonderful exercise of the imagination – to play God


– “Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em wait” Keith Thompson

– When researching, every person you interview thinks you are going to tell their story. Kris Wyld

– You must still nominate functional dramatic roles onto your factual characters (i.e. protagonist, antagonist, shapeshifter)

– The writer indemnify’s the producer from any material other than that altere from the script in production or post – this means the writer is solely responsible for the material and therefore suable

– Kris Wyld prefers to use primary research for you are then not beholden to any pre-produced publication (i.e. books, etc.)


– 2 months ingesting information/researching before you go to retreat to bang out first draft. “Read like a butterfly, write like a bee.” John Collee

– Write or die

Writers Block:

  • Change them to something that excites you John Collee
  • Run out of your own experiences, find more information John Collee
  • Don’t fight it, enjoy it. Tom Schulman
  • Do not accept money upfront because it becomes an overwhelming obligation. Paul Abbott
  • When encountering block, type STOP, leap to the next part and come back to it later. Stephen Elliott
  • It’s like a sandwich, once you have two parts you understand what’s missing from the filling. Paul Abbott

– Peter Weir plays music on set Tom Schulman – This syncronizes all the cast and crew on set. Stephen Elliott

– “Your wealth is your life experiences, not your money.” From Slumdog Millionaire John Collee

– Why do you want to write this idea now? This question helps you sort out the best ideas you have. Paul Abbott

– If you give your enemies your best lines, that makes you more humanistic. Paul Abbott

– “Hollywood is full of people who are not living their life – they’re borrowed experiences.” John Collee

– Starts as an art, ends as a craft. Tom Schulman

– Rationalist contrasted with metaphysical/spiritualist is a common theme throughout my work John Collee

– “I feel like I’ve been fed.” Paul Abbott