Natural Born Teacher

FILMINK's JAMES MITCHELL chats to JEFF BELLOW, an Australian based Angelino who wants to set...

FILMINK's JAMES MITCHELL chats to JEFF BELLOW, an Australian based Angelino who wants to set the screenwriting world on its ear with his new book, WRITING FAST: HOW TO WRITE ANYTHING WITH LIGHTNING SPEED.

"What are you doing here? You could be doing this in LA!"

That's the question Jeff Bollow is most often asked when he reveals he's an LA native, who since 1996 has been working as a film producer in New Zealand and Sydney. So why is he here? "I want to be at the forefront," says Bollow in his soft Californian drawl. "I honestly see huge potential and opportunity in the Australian film industry. Here in Australia we've got everything - fantastic locations and crews that are world class, yet the domestic film industry continues to churn out less than world class material. I see that as an opportunity rather than an inherent problem."

Bollow has found that unlike LA, where it would seem everybody has written a screenplay, there isn't the same prolific screenwriting occurring in Australia. He attributes this to the lack of a nurturing environment for screenwriters in the local industry. "The screenplay is the backbone of the industry. We need to respect writers a lot more in this country than we do," says Bollow. "Everyone in the film industry has an interpretive job, and only the screenwriter has an originally creative job. So why don't we hold this in higher esteem?"

Far from being an armchair critic, Bollow - whose career has spanned acting in the likes of Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead and Columbo, film production for Universal Studios and Castle Rock, directing and fifteen years as a screenwriter - has been actively making it his business to create opportunities for screenwriters since 2000, even though he admits he'd rather be making films. He created Screenplay.com.au, an "online hub" where screenwriters can have their scripts assessed professionally, sign up to mentor services and workshops, as well as purchase software, all with the aim to create commercially viable screenplays.

The underlying principle behind these initiatives is a new writing system called FAST (Focus, Apply, Strengthen, Tweak). Knowing intimately the creative struggles that script writers and writers in general face, Bollow formulated the system detailed in his manual Writing FAST: How To Write Anything With Lightning Speed. Despite its name, the system aims to achieve effective as well as faster writing to bring stories to fruition. "I've dealt with enough writers over the years to know the problems that they confront. I understand how you can get into the middle of a story and say 'Jesus, the story's not working! What do I do now?'," says Bollow. "Writing can be incredibly frustrating, it can be pure unadulterated torture. If it's torture, then people won't want to do it and as a producer that means I have slim pickings."

The FAST Screenwriting workshops, designed for beginner and intermediate writers, take a practical approach, teaching screenwriting from the perspective of a working producer rather than getting bogged down in theory. "In general, screenwriting education in this country is conducted by people who have no experience in it. It's not that I'm revealing any huge secrets, it's just that what's being taught here isn't driving the industry forward," says Bollow. "The film industry is a collaborative medium. As a result, people going into screenwriting need to understand that their words are going to get adapted, interpreted and shaped into a film. Their words are not the end result. At the end of the day I can't tell someone how to make a winning script; they're going to have to bring their own voice to it. Writing things is the first step. It takes time and practice, and you've got to write every day to get better at it."

Bollow brings currency to his teaching, working on two feature film and television projects respectively through his company Embryo Films, including the action drama Finding Nixon and The Fourth Co-ordinate, a science fiction flick. Since writing the feature 6,000 Miles From Hollywood in 1998, in which he starred and produced, Bollow has experienced the gamut of development hell from re-shoots and copious post production to shopping the film around to film studios. "I'm a natural born teacher. I enjoy helping people understand the process by saying, 'I've made mistakes, here's what I've learnt in the process'".

Writing FAST: How To Write Anything With Lightning Speed is available for purchase at www.writingfast.com and amazon.com. For further information on workshops, courses and services visit www.screenplay.com.au.

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