Tag Archives: Context

Personal Development Portfolio (PDP) – My Creative Journey

Personal Development Portfolio

My creative journey started when I was in the final years of secondary school. Back then I had the ambition to be an author as I used to write short stories when I was younger for fun and felt that it seemed like a profession I would like to get into. However, after I picked Film Studies to study at college, I was introduced to the craft of screenwriting and found that I much rather preferred telling stories through a visual medium rather than through prose.

During my time at college, I attended the BFI Regional Film Academy in Hackney with the Eastside Educational Trust, I attended it because my film studies teacher recommended it to me and I found that it was an extremely invaluable experience. I met and networked with a vast array of different people and ended up making my first ever short film with them. In hindsight, the film I made wasn’t the best it could be but I enjoyed the process immensely.

During my time at the BFI Film Academy I applied to attend a two week residential course at the NFTS (National Film & Television School) where the 54 of the best and brightest young filmmakers around the country were invited to spend two weeks at the NFTS to engage in masterclasses, workshops, screenings and trips. We were split into six groups of nine and each group made a film using the NFTS’s equipment and resources. I was the co-writer and sound recordist for my group and the writing process behind the script for our film Cha Cha Cha really boosted my confidence in terms of my writing ability. The whole process was one of the best I had ever experienced and really invigorated my interest in film and I felt more determined than ever to pursue a career in the industry.

That fall, I attended the Cambridge School of Art at Anglia Ruskin University where I studied Film & TV Production. It was there that I learned all the basic technical aspects of filmmaking such as cinematography, editing and sound recording. It was there I also learned about visual storytelling and not relying on dialogue as a screenwriter which was my first challenge in the short film I wrote and produced called The Parcel in which I was only allowed to write three lines of dialogue. This really challenged me to write specifically for the screen, an aspect of screenwriting I hadn’t really explored in depth before. Nevertheless I believe the final product we produced was a good and solid short film that was simple in premise but well executed.

I didn’t finish my higher education at Anglia Ruskin as over the course of my first year, I grew dissatisfied with the city I was living in and didn’t feel that a course that covered both film and television was suited to my career aspects as the television part of the course focused specifically on the corporate side of television such as factual programming and television studio production. Whilst having experience with these different formats of filmmaking was appreciated, it wasn’t what I was really interested in doing in the industry. Considering all those factors, I decided to change universities for my second year and out of all the universities I applied to with prospect of transferring I ended up deciding to transfer to Middlesex University.

I knew transferring to a new university would be a daunting experience as I knew I would have to assimilate into a cohort that already knew each other. Luckily however, the music video and book trailer productions helped me meet and familiarise myself with everyone on the course as I crewed on as many productions as I could just for that sole purpose. In the first term of second year, I directed my own music video and produced a book trailer. I felt pretty happy with the way my music video turned out but I did not enjoy producing my book trailer which I found a struggle. I feel that producing doesn’t really fall naturally to me so I elected to direct in the second term.

I ended up directing a film called Lamentation that was based off a script someone on my course had written although I did do a few rewrites. At the time, I had rather positive feelings about this film but now I feel that I selected the wrong subject matter to direct as I had no personal investment in the story. This experience really taught me about having a point of view on a story in order to tell it truthfully.

For my final year at university, I wrestled between choosing either screenwriting or directing as my dissertation pathway. I ultimately ended up choosing screenwriting as I wanted to improve my storytelling skills before I seriously direct anything else in future as I learned from my experience directing in the second year. In all of my previous projects I have either written or co-written them, however all the stories I have written were always London-based so I was always writing from what I knew. For my dissertation project I wanted to challenge myself and write something that I don’t know anything about as in the industry as a screenwriter, I know you won’t always be writing stories in settings you readily know so I thought this would be good practice and experience for me to be industry-ready. Although I know that the pilot I wrote is a big-budget project and isn’t suitable subject matter for an emerging writer such as myself to write as a calling card to the industry, I still wanted to challenge myself to write something on this scale. I never intended for this screenplay from the beginning to be my calling card into the industry; I merely wanted to write a story that interested me.

My plan for the future is to secure paid work as a freelance film editor whilst I continue to write scripts on the side to get them produced. I’m already slated to work with two of my classmates as their editor for their production company they are starting up and have already worked with them previously on a corporate editing job. Will also be looking for any screenwriting competitions or schemes I can be part of to break into the industry.

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Online Profile – http://asemanda.wix.com/alex-semanda

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The Hateful Eight – Release Strategy Analysis

The Hateful Eight (Tarantino, 2015) is the new film by Quentin Tarantino that is currently on general release in the United Kingdom. In an era dominated by digital filmmaking and digital cinema projection Tarantino and the Weinstein Company elected to release The Hateful Eight in one hundred theatres in North America in retrofitted theatres in order for it to be projected in 70mm film, the way Tarantino intended (Kenigsberg, 2015). In the UK however, only one cinema venue acquired the exclusive distribution rights from The Hateful Eight’s UK distributor Entertainment Film Distributors to screen the 70mm print of The Hateful Eight which was the Odeon Leicester Square.

I chose to analyse this film’s release strategy due to its unique distribution method, especially the fact that the Weinstein Company elected to use the fact that the film was shot and will be projected in 70mm in select theatres as a way of marketing a unique selling point of the film to audiences. The fact that it wasn’t a wide release of 70mm (this would be impossible today due to the every cinema projecting films digitally) and instead only select theatres would be screening the 70mm print of the film with additional footage added a sense of exclusivity to the release of the film. It was like a calling for cinephiles and film buffs to spend their money to travel to these select theatres to witness the film in its purest form. Tarantino himself feels that films nowadays fail to give audiences a good enough reason to leave their house and go to the cinema, that people are content to stay at home and watch films when they come out on cable channels, streaming services or on home video (The Hollywood Reporter, 2016). This ties in neatly with Tarantino’s desire to emulate the roadshow events that were prevalent in Hollywood cinema during the 1950s and 60s (Movieclips Coming Soon, 2015) which made going to the cinema feel like a big event due to the intermissions and overtures and film programmes that going to a screening would provide. Putting on an event like this in today’s climate of the film industry would be a unique cinema going experience which would entice audiences to visit the roadshow screenings of The Hateful Eight to get an experience they could never experience at home.

British director Christopher Nolan expressed the same sentiment at a debate at the BFI Southbank (Rosser, 2015) in which he laments at the fact that cinema exhibitors are not putting on a show for their audiences, that cinema going has become reduced to just sitting in an empty room with a large television to watch a film. Perhaps this is why Tarantino and the Weinstein Company opted to do something different this time around in regards to a cinema release. Quentin Tarantino and his films are considered a distinctive brand in their own right as film enthusiasts will always flock to see a Tarantino film, so by utilising his name as a cinematic brand, the Weinstein Company felt confident enough to market the release of The Hateful Eight with it being screened in select theatres with a 70mm print to promote the exclusivity of the film’s potential appeal.

So with the film currently out on general release, did its release with a 70mm print make a difference in to how audiences respond to cinema going? Some audiences expressed amazement at the stark contrast in the quality of the image in comparison to digital projection and that seeing the film in its 70mm print is worth it (Eisenberg, 2015), however some fans had bad experiences viewing the film in its 70mm projection with issues ranging from sound syncing to the focus of the image (McNary 2015). Considering that virtually all commercial cinemas now use digital projection to screen films, the required technical expertise to operate an old fashioned film projector has become an obsolete skillset which is undoubtedly what led to bad projections of The Hateful Eight.

Some however feel that it is worth the risk seeing the film in its 70mm print due to the difference in the quality of the projected image on screen. With the film being heavily marketed as being shot in 65mm with Ultra Panavision lenses (lenses that haven’t been used since Ben-Hur (Wyler 1959)), this would paint the picture that this film is something that needs to be experienced in the 70mm format. However if movie theatres do a bad job projecting the film then does that hinder the Weinstein Company’s marketing strategy for the film? Its unique selling point, that it is filmed with Ultra Panavision lenses and that a roadshow version of the film will be projected in 70mm in select theatres, becomes marred with uncertainty amongst film audiences as undoubtedly they would read online and on social media that some of the select theatres it is being projected on have faced technical difficulties, putting people off seeing the roadshow version and opting for the standard digital projection in their nearest theatre.

So if releasing a film in 70mm is such a risk, why would a distribution company risk it at all? Even back in the heyday of celluloid, releasing a film in 70mm wasn’t cost effective as 70mm prints were expensive to process and installing the right equipment into theatres to project the film was far from cheap also, so most films were shot and released in standard 35mm with 70mm films getting only a limited release. In the digital film era, this is even more apparent with only a handful of films in the last ten years being given a limited release in select theatres in 70mm; among those films being The Master (Anderson, 2012), Inherent Vice (Anderson, 2014) and Interstellar (Nolan, 2014) with the last wide release of 70mm comparable to the scale of The Hateful Eight was Far and Away (Howard, 1992) over twenty years ago. Some would argue that distribution companies elect to release films this way as it’s a way to market their films with a unique selling point, getting audiences to come to cinema and spend their money to watch a film with a different experience, similar to how major studios release and market their blockbusters films as being released in IMAX or in 3D; to give audiences a sense that they can’t view a film the same way at home the way they do in the cinema. However, some will argue that it’s just a way for older generation filmmakers to hold onto to the dying format of cinema that is celluloid and that they are forcing the old way of cinema onto a new generation of filmgoers. However, I would be inclined to think that the former reason is why distribution companies opt to release some of their films in 70mm. The film industry at the end of the day is a business and studios want to make money, so I feel that they would not make an unnecessary risk without being confident that they could profit from them. In the case with The Hateful Eight, I imagine the Weinstein Company were banking heavily on Tarantino’s brand image as a prolific and popular filmmaker to entice people to see the film.

That being said, did The Hateful Eight deliver the box office returns that the Weinstein Company had hoped it would? The general rule of thumb in the film industry is that a film needs to earn back at least twice the amount of its production budget at the box office in order to break even (SinCityFinancier, 2013). Since The Hateful Eight is still currently having it’s theatrical run, it’s hard to determine whether or not the film is going to lose money or not. However, compared to Tarantino’s previous film, Django Unchained (Tarantino, 2012), The Hateful Eight had a less impressive opening weekend, earning only $15.7 million compared to Django Unchained’s $30 million opening weekend numbers (Lee, 2016); in the same article, Harvey Weinstein, one of the executive producers behind The Hateful Eight has commented that it was a bad idea financially to give The Hateful Eight a Christmas release as it coincided with the release of Stars Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015) which was widely hyped to be the biggest movie of the year. Another example of a film earning less than what was expected at the box office during 2015 was Steve Jobs (Boyle, 2015) which underperformed at the box office due to the competition from other films marketed for adult audiences (Lang, 2015). Films that competed along with Steve Jobs in the US were Bridge of Spies (Spielberg, 2015), Black Mass (Cooper, 2015) and Room (Abrahamson, 2015). This goes to show that the release date of a film could heavily influence a film’s box office earnings as the current competition that is currently out could hinder a lesser known or relatively low key film’s chance of doing well.

Another factor that could have hurt The Hateful Eight’s box office returns in the UK specifically was the whole controversy surrounding the exclusion of The Hateful Eight from key UK cinema chains such as Cineworld, Curzon and Picturehouse Cinemas (Lee, 2016). This was due to Odeon having exclusive rights to screen the 70mm print roadshow version in their largest venue, Odeon Leicester Square in the West End. Cineworld reportedly wanted to screen the roadshow version at their Picturehouse Central venue that is also located in the West End, (Picturehouse Cinemas being owned by Cineworld) however The Hateful Eight’s distributors preferred the much larger venue of Odeon Leicester Square which has a screen that can seat over a thousand. This could be an instance where the marketed exclusivity of the roadshow version could in the long run hurt The Hateful Eight’s box office chances as cinema goers may not want to travel all the way to the West End to watch the roadshow version, especially film fans who do not live in London. But then again, the Weinstein Company have already retrofitted one hundred cinema venues in North America to screen the roadshow version, which was reported to be an expensive endeavour costing on average between $60,000 and $80,000 per theatre (McKnight, 2015). Therefore it perhaps would have ballooned the Weinstein Company’s costs to retrofit a similar amount of venues in the UK.

In conclusion, The Hateful Eight offered cinema goers a unique experience to watch a film in an era that is dominated by IMAX, 3D and online streaming. Whilst watching a film in IMAX and in 3D is a unique experience in itself in that sense that it cannot be replicated at home to its fullest effect, more so can be said of celluloid film projection. Tarantino and the Weinstein Company offered audiences something different and unique in order to enrich the cinema experience, but are releases like this the future of cinema? Will more auteurs like Tarantino lobby their distribution companies for relatively wide releases of their films? The answer is likely no, due to the cost it would require for theatres to retrofit their equipment, compounded with the fact that Hollywood movies rarely turn in a profit anyway due to exorbitant marketing and advertising costs on top of a film’s production cost (BoxOfficeFlops, 2015), the practice seems unlikely to become a trend. Perhaps filmmakers and film distributors would need to find another way of offering audiences a unique experience at the cinema in order to entice them to attend, one that is financially viable.

 

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Bibliography

 

Ben-Hur, 1959 [Film] Directed by William Wyler. United States. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Black Mass, 2015 [Film] Directed by Scott Cooper. United States. Warner Bros. Pictures.

BoxOfficeFlops, 2015 When Does a Movie Break Even tt the Box Office? Available at: http://www.boxofficeflops.com/articles/when-does-a-movie-break-even-at-the-box-office/ (Accessed 13 January 2016)

Bridge of Spies, 2015 [Film] Directed by Steven Spielberg. United States. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/20th Century Fox.

Django Unchained, 2012 [Film] Directed by Quentin Tarantino. United States. The Weinstein Company.

Eisenberg, E. 2015 The Hateful Eight needs to be seen in 70mm, despite the risks. Available at: http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Hateful-Eight-Needs-Seen-70mm-Despite-Risks-101887.html (Accessed 12 January 2016)

Far and Away, 1992 [Film] Directed by Ron Howard. UK. Universal Pictures.

The Hateful Eight, 2015 [Film] Directed by Quentin Tarantino. United States. The Weinstein Company.

The Hollywood Reporter, 2016 Watch THR’s Full, Uncensored Director Roundtable with Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott and more. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQ7qKKQrSBY (Accessed 11 January 2016)

Inherent Vice, 2014 [Film] Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. United States. Warner Bros. Pictures.

Interstellar, 2014 [Film] Directed by Christopher Nolan. US-UK. Warner Bros. Pictures/Paramount Pictures.

Kenigsberg, B. 2015 Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight resurrects nearly obsolete technology. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/12/movies/tarantinos-the-hateful-eight-resurrects-nearly-obsolete-technology.html?_r=1 (Accessed 11 January 2016)

Lang, B. 2015 ‘Steve Jobs’ Bombs: What Went Wrong With the Apple Drama. Available at: http://variety.com/2015/film/box-office/steve-jobs-flops-1201626243/ (Accessed 13 January 2016)

Lee, B. 2016 The Hateful Eight: not showing near you at three key UK cinema chains. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/jan/05/the-hateful-eight-quentin-tarantino-not-showing-cineworld-picturehouse (Accessed 12 January 2016)

The Master, 2012 [Film] Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. United States. The Weinstein Company.

McKnight, B. 2015 Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight Is Costing Theaters A Small Fortune For 70mm Upgrades. Available at: http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Quentin-Tarantino-Hateful-Eight-Costing-Theaters-Small-Fortune-70mm-Upgrades-95517.html (Accessed 13 January 2016)

McNary, D. 2015 ‘Hateful Eight’ 70mm Projection Issues ‘Rare and Far Between,’ Weinstein Company says. Available at: http://variety.com/2015/film/news/hateful-eight-70mm-projection-problems-1201668461/ (Accessed 12 January 16)

Movieclips Coming Soon, 2015 The Hateful Eight Featurette – Ultra Panavision (2015) – Quentin Tarantino Movie HD. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGg2N32Z-co (Accessed 11 January 2016)

Rosser, M. 2015 Christopher Nolan issues warning over the future of cinema. Available at: http://www.screendaily.com/news/christopher-nolan-issues-warning-over-the-future-of-cinema/5095317.article (Accessed 11 January 2016)

SinCityFinancier, 2013 Film Break Even Point According to Forbes and Moviemaker.com. Available at: https://sincityfinancier.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/film-break-even-point-according-to-forbes-and-moviemaker-com-2/ (Accessed 12 January 2016)

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, 2015 [Film] Directed by J.J. Abrams. United States. Walt Disney Motion Pictures.

Steve Jobs, 2015 [Film] Directed by Danny Boyle. United States. Universal Pictures.

Room, 2015 [Film] Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Canada/Ireland. A24 Films.

 

 

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Redfield – Dissertation Project Pitch

 

 

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Introduction

My dissertation project will take the form of a TV pilot screenplay that is set in the fictional county of Redfield, Texas in the year 1907. This period is the decline of the American Old West where the frontier lifestyle is dying out and is being slowly replaced by new technologies such as automobiles, machine guns and oil rigging projects. Since my dissertation project is a TV pilot, the whole screenplay will serve to establish three main storylines that will be explored throughout a potential season.

 

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Story

The first storyline follows William West and his quest for vengeance against George Jenkins, the man who killed his parents and burnt down his home eight years prior to my story’s setting. William joins the Pinkerton Detective Agency to hunt down Jenkins but learns that the men he is now working with are in fact no better than the man he is trying to catch. The second storyline follows Tessa Trager and her desire to become a law enforcement officer so that she can also track down Jenkins and bring him to justice after he rapes and kills her mother. She faces resistance from her father, Donald Trager, who is Redfield County’s Sheriff and is disapproving of her daughter “acting like a man”. The final storyline follows Earvin “Skip” Walters, a famous outlaw who is also hunting down George Jenkins, his former right-hand man, after he defected from the gang after raping Tessa’s mother. Skip embodies the “noble outlaw” trope in a sense that he easily commits murders and robberies but rape is the one crime he cannot tolerate, especially if committed by someone in his gang. All three of these primary protagonists’ storylines will be intertwined by their search for this one man and in some cases, one person’s actions in their hunt will influence the other two in some form or fashion and vice-versa.

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Themes

The main theme that will be explored in my potential series is modernisation. As aforementioned, my setting is during the decline of the Old West as the old lifestyle of the American Frontier is being replaced by a more modern and less unruly society. I chose the year 1907 to set my story as that was a year before the Bureau of Investigation was founded (now known as the FBI) so my story would serve as an eventual lead up to that key event in US history. Government agencies were cracking down on outlaws during this period which leads to my secondary theme of my story: anarchism.

Anarchism was considered a real threat during the 1900s as US President William McKinley was assassinated in 1901 by anarchists. How present day society views terrorism nowadays was how society viewed anarchism back then. The whole political philosophy of anarchism will be explored through my outlaw characters and their backstories, exploring who they are and why they decided to become outlaws, probably as a result of them feeling disillusioned with the government. I will probably still need to conduct more research into anarchism.

Corruption of law enforcement is another theme I aim to focus on. When William joins the Pinkerton Agency, he immediately becomes alarmed to the underhanded methods some of the agents conduct in order to catch the men they are looking for. Pinkerton Agents at the time were reported to have been involved in intimidation, bribery, unlawful killings and excessive violence etc. Whilst these allegations have been disputed over the years, I’ve elected to include such behaviour in my story anyway in order to heighten my story for dramatic purposes but would take care not to exaggerate any such underhanded behaviour.

My final main theme which I wish to explore is femininity in 1900s America. Obviously American society was very patriarchal back then but I did not wish my story to just focus on men. I thought it would be more compelling to write interesting female characters that do not conform to how society viewed them back then. My main character for this is Tessa Trager but there is also Maggie McKinley, William’s love interest in the series, who is set to inherit her father’s ranch as his only child but faces opposition from his business partners due to her gender.

Context

In all of my previous projects I have either written or co-written them, however all the stories I have written were always London-based so I was always writing what I knew. For my dissertation project I wanted to challenge myself and write something that I don’t know anything about as in the industry as a screenwriter, I know you won’t always be writing stories in settings you readily know so I thought this would be good practice and experience for me to be industry-ready.

In a wider context, the TV market is oversaturated with crime dramas, comedies, legal dramas, even superhero dramas but there are no major Western TV shows so there is a niche in the market for it. The last major Western TV show was Deadwood which was cancelled nine years ago. Maybe there is a lack of appetite for Western shows but I think that if it can be successful as a film genre then the same should be for television, it just needs a compelling story at the heart of it which is the kind of story I want to tell.

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Tone & Research

For my research into the historical time of the Old West I have tried sourcing a number of books. I have acquired two so far that are detailed accounts of former Pinkerton Agents during the Old West. These books will be invaluable to me as the Pinkerton Agency will pay a vital role in my story. The books in question are Life of Tom Horn, Government Scout and Interpreter by Tom Horn and Two Evil Isms: Pinkertonism and Anarchism by Charles A. Siringo. Another book I’m currently reading for reference is Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy which is set in Texas in 1850. Whilst the timeline of the novel isn’t the same as my story as they are fifty plus years apart, the book is proving useful reference point in regards to the language and dialect the characters use in the novel as it would be similar to how my characters speak as Texans have a very distinctive dialect in the how they speak as well as the different colloquialisms they use. It’s vitally important that I nail the dialect of my script or else my characters will not have any credibility which is something I’m trying to avoid.

In terms of visual media for reference, Deadwood was the obvious choice for me to go far as a reference as it’s the only major television show in recent memory that is a Western. In terms of reference for my script, even though Deadwood is set in an entirely different state than my story and in a different time period also (1876), I still wanted to watch it to analyse and identify how the writers of that television show balanced the multiple storylines that are running in tandem. Since my screenplay will establish multiple storylines, I thought it was important for me to get an idea of how I can balance multiple storylines effectively.

Django Unchained is a recent Western film set in the south which would provide an additional reference source in regards to the southern accents that my characters will speak with. Whilst Django Unchained is set primarily in Mississippi and not Texas (as aforementioned, Texans have a very distinct dialect), I still think this film would provide a valuable reference in order to understand the cadence of the Southern American accent as I can actually hear the characters in the film talking, unlike Blood Meridian where I am just reading dialogue and not hearing anyone speak.

Finally True Grit is another film I am looking at for reference. The tone of True Grit balances well between drama and comedy which is something I want to achieve with my screenplay. Whilst for the most part, True Grit tells a serious story about a young girl who wants to seek justice for her father, there are humorous moments in the film to lighten up the tone every now and then.

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Methodology

I work better and more efficiently when I set myself deadlines so I decided to set myself personal deadlines to meet each stage of my writing process. I aim to have a first draft of my screenplay completed before the Christmas break so that in the second term I can focus entirely on writing and re-writing my script until the deadline of May 4th. In regards to my approach to redrafting my script after the Christmas break, I would adapt my redrafting process depending on the feedback I receive from my cohorts as well as outside sources who I plan to have read my screenplay for feedback (i.e. filmmakers I’ve worked with in the past, some actor friends etc.).

For example, if someone were to give me feedback saying the dialogue of a certain scene in my script did not sound natural, my approach to rewriting that scene would be to bring in professional actors in to do a read-through of that scene and try and work out how to make the dialogue sound natural based on how the actors perform the dialogue.

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Contingencies

The main challenge I think I’m going to face is the amount of research I still need to do. I need to research law enforcement practice during the time period my script is set in, I need to research the political philosophy of anarchism and I also need to research the agriculture industry back then as one of the settings of my story is on a ranch. I’ll address these challenges by sourcing relevant books on the aforementioned areas of research as well as sourcing relevant historic websites as a secondary option if finding available books proves to be too difficult.

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