In this 6-part series, we invite our Head Scriptwriter, Kane Wheatley-Holder, to share with us how his team plays an integral role in producing videos at the initial stage – to set the right foundations. At the same time, he provides us with interesting insights as a scriptwriter in the film industry.
Q: How has it been for you ever since you started out in the industry?
I’ve been in the industry since 2009 and started working part-time as a writer for various production companies.
Overall, it’s been great so far! I can’t complain. This is a profession I feel I was made to be in, so I’ve enjoyed every step. Whether projects come out the way I envisioned or didn’t, I enjoy the whole process. I try to remain open to learn valuable lessons from industry professionals, colleagues, and audiences.
That is why we have a writers room at Big 3 Media with a variety of amazing people (Nicolette, Suffian, Kenneth). We talk about trending news, books, world history, movies, culture, content, and anything that strikes us during the day. Because we all have different experiences and cultural backgrounds, we all add to the collaborative process. We laugh a lot discussing projects each day, as well as figuring out what’s the best strategy for each piece of content.
In the past, I was a writer for a children’s preschool channel called Zoomoo. I was under the guidance of a 30-year-veteran of children’s TV, Susan Oliver, producer of Australian shows like Hi-5. She taught me a lot about the mindset and discipline it takes to be a professional writer, as well as being respectful, poised and caring. At the same time, the content included puppetry, like those seen in Sesame Street. I had an awesome time being exposed to the whole process and even got to play with the puppets themselves under the guidance of Sean Masterson, a renowned puppeteer.
With Big 3 Media, I’ve done practically everything: corporate videos, branded, animation, narrative, creative campaigns, VR, books, etc. I love that aspect of my job! Besides writing, I get to go out and meet highly skilled people in their respective fields. Each project requires me to learn new things. Over time, I start to cultivate knowledge in highly specialised niches. For example, after a recycling project that required me to understand camera tricks, I understand magical and optical illusions, the rules of recycling, and the habits of Singaporeans.
I’ve also become quite the expert in animals. Do you know what a Binturong smells like? Seen the dinosaur-like bird called a Cassowary? Know why eating slugs in the wild is a bad idea? (Look it up, it’s so cool!).
So all in all, I believe I’ve become a more empathic, confident and learned person as a writer. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. (Perhaps a Dinosaur hunter?).
Q: What is the typical workflow for a scriptwriter?
In the beginning, it usually starts with assembling the key creatives to talk about whatever it is you’re making. This is one of the best parts of the process because directors, producers, and writers all get to contribute. You narrow down the scope, what we want to achieve, and the overall tone.
After penning a logline and synopsis (a brief description of the story), I usually create a bible that details the story, characters, episodes, world, and key themes. This is an evolving document. A bible is important as it’s a physical guide that can be passed down from person to person, so they can generally understand the show, and what it looks and feels like.
After that, we assemble a writers room with the key creatives to ‘break the story’ – an industry term. That’s when we discuss and map out an episode by episode breakdown, scene by scene. This is a long and laborious process. It can get contentious when we don’t agree straight away, but that’s okay. I believe the best idea for the project should always win–not the loudest. It can also be exciting and rewarding, especially when everyone is riffing on other people’s ideas and you can literally see the story take shape. I’ve learned a lot from people by engaging them in the writers’ room. As well as sharing stories, secrets and life experiences. It can be really fun! Then it’s just a process of refining before moving into production.
Q: Which sources do you go to for creative inspiration?
So many! As a rule for myself to stay “on my toes”, I’m constantly trying to generate new ideas by brainstorming and smashing random ideas together. A lot of it comes from experimentation, as well as having a thirst to read (read, read more), watch as much content as I can, being playful, and having real-life experiences. Creativity, I feel, is a muscle you have to work out by doing anything and everything.
For me, I feel one of my strongest skills is being able to generate ideas and apply them, regardless of how I feel a particular day. They might not all be amazing, but I can always contribute ideas to get started. I also record ideas religiously. I have several Google Drive folders where, whenever I get a spark of an idea, I will write it down. Then I forget about it and move on. This way I have a stock of ideas to tap into, and it alleviates the stress of coming up with something from scratch. This applies to corporate projects, branded content, narratives or even experimental video.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found my best ideas come when I’m not working on a project. Just as the body needs exercise, the mind needs breathing space. So I simply relax and give my subconscious mind time to make meaningful connections and get inspired by everyday things. No-one writes anything perfect the first time. Writing story ideas, for me, is like building a house. You start by building layers, starting with the foundation. The more time you have to build it, the better it becomes.
So whether it’s work or a personal project, I take a little time off to live life. Spend time with my daughter. Go for a run. Watch a movie. And have my note app handy to write down anything that comes to mind.
Q: What do you plan in your outline before you start writing?
For me, it all starts with outlining in the Bible stage – learning the structure and rules of whatever you are writing. This includes exploring the target audience, genre conventions, story, characters, props, visual style, episodes, technology, and the world itself. Then we break the story into acts or sequences depending on the duration and genre. From there we can add twists, hooks, act breaks to make it even better, depending on the format.
The bible for Glitch! for example, was around 75 pages. Stickers Together, an animated show, also had a robust bible. It’s a crucial part of the process for the writers, so they can better articulate the vision to other people, and themselves!
In Stickers Together, a 20 x 5-minute show we produced, we had several acts/moments that built the story: from inciting incident to the adventure, catastrophe, twist, and end. It’s not too regimented, because that can stifle better ideas, but it’s a guiding structure to push the story along. I believe every writer should know these rules and structures before breaking them. As French artist Pierre-Auguste-Renoir once said: “First learn to be a craftsman; it won’t stop you from being a genius.”
Q: Have you faced any difficulty in scriptwriting, such as having a lack of ideas or a temporary writers’ block?
I don’t get writers’ block. The reason is because I get paid to write. If you get paid to write or to do a job in general, there shouldn’t really be a moment where you have no idea how to tackle it. My job is to come up with story ideas and execute them. I treat it like any other profession.
The term “writers’ block” I feel, is a fabled state of mind where most writers just feel creatively dry or stuck. It happens, for sure. But I feel some people use writers’ block as a crutch for not doing the work. Writing is hard – I mean really, really hard. Try writing a book or a script or articulating a story you’ve heard. It takes skill, time and strength.
After years of writing, I’ve learned you just have to power through when you are stuck. That’s the real test of a writer – writing whether you feel like it or not. Besides, no writer writes perfectly every time. And taking small steps is better than nothing. There are many other creative jobs out there, but you never hear of an architect or a dancer saying “I’ve got architect/dancer block, I can’t work today”. That’s just how I feel.
So, just keep going. You will learn so much about yourself that way. And it’s not that scary once you find the joy in overcoming those obstacles. A quick tip is to break down a massive project into shorter, manageable chunks. It becomes much easier that way, and you’re less likely to get stuck. If you write 1 page a day for 90 days – you’ve completed a feature screenplay! So my advice for writers’ block is: Push through. Even if you write one sentence, it’s better than nothing. 🙂