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Alt-Script: Research and 4 Ways Pinterest Can Improve Your Writing

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As a screenwriter, I have always been research driven. When I’m not writing, I read articles. I read about writing. I read odd stories from the world of real science and crime. I read articles about art. I read a massive number of blogs about the latest technological developments in the film world.

Let’s face it, since the development of the Internet, it’s never been easier for screenwriters to access vast amounts of incredibly cool information. The question is, how can we organize that information in useful ways? For me the answer is Pinterest. If you haven’t started using it yet, I hope this article will make you give it a go. If you are already using Pinterest, maybe this article will give you some new ideas about how a writer can get the most from it. You may also get some surprises, because one of the things I’m not suggesting is that you use Pinterest to build an audience. There are enough people out there, shouting that every social platform is purely a writer's dream marketing opportunity. Please don't see Pinterest that way, it is too good a resource to be pigeon-holed that way.

So, for those of you unfamiliar with it, what is Pinterest?

Pinterest is a combination of social-networking and a scrapbooking site. By this, I mean it allows you to bookmark photos, videos and webpages (that contain at least one image) onto “boards.” You can create as many of these boards as you like. So, basically, it helps you organize and create a series of digital scrap-book of articles, photos, videos and other bits and pieces, related to your various interests and passions. The individual bookmarks are called “pins.” The pins appear as thumbnail images on your board, a system which makes storing and finding individual articles easy.

On top of being a way to collate or curate information, it also has a social element. Pinterest is an online community, where you can follow either boards or people. As such, you can easily locate people and boards which have already collected a lot of high-quality “pins.” This is particularly useful if you are studying something new, or when you have no idea what resources are out there for a particular subject. On Pinterest, you’ll always be able to find someone with the same passion, who has already done the hard graft of researching and collecting great pins. For me, unlike a lot of other social networks, the primary benefit of Pinterest is its use for finding information, as opposed to merely sharing it.

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Pinterest is the kind of web tool that could be useful for anyone. We all have hobbies, interests, passions and professional development needs, which can be met by a good digital curation system (scrap-book). However, when it comes to screenwriting, Pinterest is rapidly becoming my favorite research tool for four good reasons.

Here are the four ways Pinterest can improve your writing:

1. Concept Hoarding.

One of the mistakes I see lots of writers make, is they think of their creativity as some kind of internal spring or well. They act as if their ideas spring from deep within them, and therefore, any idea they have, is automatically going to be fresh and original. In real life, creativity doesn’t work like that. It isn’t a spring that comes from inside. Instead, our creativity is more like a tap. We can turn it on or off, but ultimately what comes out will depend on what gets put into the tank. Our creativity is totally dependent on what we consume. This is why the vast majority of new scripts are both lackluster and clichéd. If writers only ever consume (put into the tank) the current batch of popular films and TV, they are all going to come up with similar ideas. So, how does Pinterest help a writer separate their ideas from the rest of the herd? The answer… A concept hoarding board.

My concept hoarding board is the place where I collect articles which contain either an idea for a film, or which will help me create filmic moments, to help define an interesting character. These articles, I find by using tools like Feedly and Google Alerts.

On my current board I have: a true story about a boy who was sent £3.6K worth of stuff from Amazon by mistake, an idea which would make a really nice short film; there is a true crime story about the theft of one-hundred preserved brains from a Texas University, which I think might be a good inciting incident; and, an article about a sound engineer shopping for incense in Japan, which I want to use for character development.

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My best stories are usually inspired from the never-ending supply of weirdness that is real life, rather than being a rehash of someone else’s movie or TV show. For me, Pinterest is one of the best ways to collect inspiring articles and, if anyone is worried about their concept hoarding board being public and available to anyone, it’s also possible to make a board private. You can hoard ideas in private.

2. Mood-board/Research for a Project

One of my rituals, when it comes to project development, is the pre-writing collecting of location photographs. Every script I have ever written (in the last eight years) has been set in a specific location. I’ve never been able to understand why more writers don’t do this, and when I read other writer’s scripts, often what's missing is precisely that sense of where the movie is taking place. These days, I rapidly put to one side scripts that have generic locations, such as: WAREHOUSE, or FAMILY KITCHEN. I put them aside, because generic descriptions don’t give me enough information to be able to visualize the movie set out in the script. And, if I can’t visualize it, I rapidly lose interest.

When I’m working on a new script, or a self-produced film project, my first task is to collect photographs of the places I want to set this story. If I’m writing scenes in a warehouse, I know specifically which warehouse. I have photos of what it looks like, what you can see out of the window, what kind of real world issues are created by the environment, that the characters will have to deal with. I collate all of these photos onto a board.

As well as location photos, I also collect inspirational photographs. These are visual notes on activities my characters are interested in, or sometimes they are just images that I want to echo in my own script or film. When working with independent filmmakers, I often share this board with them, to enhance their understanding of the script. People who’ve worked with me a lot, can see the shape of the film I’m developing before I even present the script, just by glancing at my mood boards.

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3. Saving articles about screenwriting

There are a lot of screenwriting articles that I read once and then put to one side. It’s not that they weren’t interesting, it’s just that they’re not massively relevant to what I’m doing these days. However, every now and again I’ll read an article so good, I want to go back to it again and again. And, it’s precisely these kinds of articles that I save on my Pinterest screenwriting board.

I think of it as being my personal digital library. It’s one of my most useful assets. Before Pinterest I kept the same kind of thing as a list of URL’s on a computer’s desktop. This is a much better solution.

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4. Saving articles about various aspects of the film industry

If I'm honest, I’ve never had a lot of time for writers whose sole obsessions are writing tips and “making it.” I also don’t have a lot of time for writers who don’t understand the medium they are writing for. If I was ever required to create a training course for screenwriters, I’d probably start by teaching them how to edit film and the history of world cinema. I wouldn’t let them anywhere near a script until they knew the difference between Continuity Editing, Soviet Montage and Chaos Cinema. From my perspective, writers who don’t know cinema history are trying to write in a language they genuinely don't understand, and it shows. The same is true of writers who aren't familiar with the methodologies of actors. Why would you even try to write a script if you've never read "An Actor Prepares?" Our job is to write for actors, cinematographers and editors. If we can honestly appreciate what their job entails, we will do a better job of creating a script for them.

I honestly believe my writing only really started to become interesting when I taught myself how to edit; a skill, incidentally, that has earned me considerably more money than writing ever has. Because of this, I keep Pinterest boards on the following subjects: Film Stuff; Camera Operation (for the three specific cameras I work with); Professional Audio Design; Film Editing; and, one on PR/Finance/Crowdfunding. I have spent the last thirteen years teaching myself about how production works, how the film industry works and keeping on top of technological developments. This is how I was able to make the move from writer, to writer/producer. As a writer I am no longer dependent on the industry or producers to determine what films I amor am not able to put into production. Knowledge is freedom in this industry, and this is the most exciting age film making has ever gone through, in terms of opportunities.

Being a screenwriter is difficult and there is a lot of competition out there. We all know this. Writers who take the time to research in order to keep their skills fresh; who constantly search for new, exciting ideas; and who take the time to learn how the industry works, are definitely going to have significant advantages over those who don’t. In the life of a writer, the ability to collate and organize all kinds of information is at least 50% of the job. And, in my opinion, Pinterest is one of the best designed digital curation tools a writer can use.

viva la revolution

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