Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Give me a break?

One of the most frequent questions asked by aspiring writers is 'How do I actually break in to the business?'

Whether it is Film or TV the answer is the same.

1] Write a really good script

2] Get it to the right people at the right time.

Number one is pretty hard. Number two is about the same. Maybe harder.

Number one relies on talent. Talent tends to be subjective. That's really down to you and you alone.

Number two relies on graft and perseverence. There are a few different paths but here is the one I followed.

I wrote a movie script. I bought 'The Writer's Handbook' and trawled through the lists of agents and producers, sometimes phoning, sometimes writing, until after about a month I had maybe half a dozen people agreeing to take a look. I waited for about four weeks, biting my nails, having no idea of the time scale I should be looking at. [Four to six weeks is about average]

Meantime I wrote another movie script. The 'Thank's but not for me' letters began to dribble in, then I got a call from an agent I had sent to. They liked it. What else did I have? I sent script number 2. They said they'd get back in a couple of weeks.

I was half way through script number three when they called. They loved my work, could we meet? Meet? I'll mow your lawn and wash your car!

Couple of days later I was in their West End offices. A quick chat, [mostly them telling me what a fabulous writer I was] a glass of chardonnay and suddenly I was a repped writer. The world was my lobster thermedor.

As I left the plush offices and met my long suffering spouse and kids I decided that hang the expense, I was going to swing for a Beefeater WITH pudding and coffee!

The next few weeks were a whirl of inactivity. Actually that's not quite true. And not really the agent's fault. See, I'd mentioned that I was only really interested in writing movies. Not TV. I did not know then, that although my agency was well known, they were not well known in the film and tv world. They had mentioned that it was quite a small department and as one of the few writers taken on I would be assured of personal attention. Sounded great through my rose coloured hearing aid.

Trouble was they didn't have the experience to say 'Don't be a fucking moron. The chances of you making a living writing movies in the UK are about the same as an incontinent snowman in summer.'

Okay a little harsh but a kick up the arse like that at that time would have saved me a good couple of years of banging my head against the wall.

The path then took a couple of huge body swerves including Los Angeles, but that is for another day! The point is, if you limit yourself to movies you may well never see anything of your work on screen.

Eventually, what happened with me was my agent [number three by this time] got me read by the editor of 'Doctors' . They liked it, we did the meeting dance. I was asked to write a trial script. That went okay. I was asked to come up with some ideas. Did so. Several ideas later one was accepted. They commissioned. I was a bought writer. Doesn't seem much in black and white but the road to that point had been rocky to say the least. Thank God I didn't know then what I know now. I might have just jacked it in. ......Well...... probably not.

Several years later, I'm still at it. Moved on to prime time dramas. Got a couple of series in development, in the mix for various shows - movies in the offing - and still wondering every month if the phone is going to ring.

So, talent is not enough of itself. You have to get your work read. Getting an agent can shortcut a lot of the problems. There are probably less than a dozen agencies repping 95% of working writers. Every prodco knows every agent, and repped writers tend to get read before unrepped ones. Though some working writers don't even bother with agents. The biz is so small that it isn't hard to keep track of who's doing what. Personally I like the comfort of someone watching my back and negotiating fees. But I know writers making a good living without an agent. But if you are approaching existing shows, bear in mind the major difference between UK and US tv. UK outfits prefer to read original material. Not specced scripts of their or any other show.

Write, phone, seek out, attend industry seminars, whatever it takes to get your foot in the door with someone willing to read your work. When that door has opened a crack it is then up to you to force yourself through it with a combination of talent, hard work and luck.

Good luck. Good writing.


pooks said...

Welcome to the blogosphere, ED. I look forward to more!

English Dave said...

Thank you Pooks! I've had some PM's from various DD'rs but you have popped the comment cherry!

Not quite sure where I'm going to go with this thing, but hey, it beats therapy!