Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Joy of Prostitution

Catchy title. I think I'll keep that one!

But this is about writing for a living.

I was talking to a writer the other day who was in the classic dilemma. He'd agreed to adapt a book. Pitched his take on it which was loved. A paranoid thriller vibe. He writes a treatment. The deal is done, finance in place. Pretty serious bucks.

Then he gets a call from his producer. ''So and So star whom we want has read the book and wants it to be more faithful to it so can you take out the paranoid thriller aspect?'


Well he could, but by doing so he'd be left with a metaphsical rambling down a remote Italian river where not much happens.

The only reason he agreed to write the script was because he could make it so much more.

So what's a girl to do? Legs in the air and take the money? I guess that depends if you have a buck for a cup of coffee or not. This particular writer is on a hot streak so the decision maybe isn't as hard.

But it still is.

That is a mighty cheque to kiss off, especially - as is normally the case for most writers - any of the other six irons you have in the fire can vanish like blood, grease and ink in a soap powder advert.

More power to him. He kissed it off. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you SHOULD do this. I guess I'm saying that in my opinion if you are in a position to do this then it is better for your writer's soul to do it.

Good writing comes from the gut. If someone has just ripped the guts out of the reason why you wanted to write the piece in the first place then even the most seasoned whore is going to take a look at that gnarled dick now staring at them and say 'No thanks'

Shortly after that conversation I'm in a cab heading for the airport and home when my agents ring. A prodco had been in touch asking if I'd be interested in writing for one of their shows.

I didn't like the show that much [seen half an ep] and hadn't heard great things about the prodco. I hummed and hawed. My agents being long in the tooth latched on to this immediately and made the right 'not a great career step, not good to work for noises'

Emboldened by my 'screw those bastards' earlier conversation with said writer, I said ' Tell them 'No thanks.'

They did.

In the plane I kicked myself all the way home.

But I slept pretty good that night.

When you start off, any work is good work. Ask Renny Harlin about 'Nightmare on Elm Street 4'

But the time comes when you have to become a courtesan more than a street walker if you want to progress as a writer.


Paul Crilley said...

Hey there English Dave

I have more of a question really. I'm Scottish but living in South Africa. I have a few television credits to my name (local stuff, prime time programs) but I was wondering if you think you can make it in the British TV industry if you don't live in Britain. Is it just a pipe dream to think I'd be able to write for the BBC and not live in the country?

English Dave said...

Hi Paul

Mike Bullen [Cold feet, All About George, etc] lives in Australia so no it isn't a pipe dream.

Episodic TV is out because frankly the BBC are too cheap to fly you from SA for meetings! But if you create a show, that is another ball game. If you can get your work in front of the right people and they go for it then distance is no object.

But it is tough to break in no matter where you are. It's all about the right project in the right hands at the right time.

Paul Crilley said...

Thanks Dave.

It's heartening to know there's a chance. I just have to come up with the right idea.


susiesoap said...

Hello Dave

Fo those firmly at the work- experience street walker stage of writing, do you have any advice on pulling the first paying punter?

You put your energies into first finding an agent. Is that because exec producers/ script editors on continuing drama series, simply don't have time to read calling card scripts?

Hugely value your views. Cheers.

English Dave said...

Hi Susie

The problem is that editors have masses of scripts to get through and will tend to read repped scripts first. Even then you can easily be talking about 2 or 3 months before you get a response. I waited about 4 months before a an editor on Casualty read my spec [sent by my agent]and then asked me to write for the show. The reason she took 4 months to read it? She didn't like the title!!!

Also it is actually quite difficult to get on any continuing drama series unless you have a track record. It's the old catch 22.

What I'd do is approach people like DOCTORS who have a history of starting new writers. Get a couple of credits under your belt that way.

Alternatively go the indie route with a spec treatment or pilot. If they like the idea enough they'll hire you. The money is better than serials but obviously the job security isn't there. Not that it is with serials to tell the truth. All it takes is a new producer or a duff script and you can be out on your ear.

But job security isn't why we do this I guess!

Good luck. It's just a case of keep knocking on the doors with good material.

susiesoap said...

Hi Dave,

Thanks for being so thorough. Always been slightly scared of approaching the indies, due to some well known prodcos having "We do not accept unsolicited scripts" emblazoned across their websites. Perhaps that's just to discourage the faintheated.

"Doctors" is a great idea, especially as they're so specific about number of scenes and word count - you know what you're aiming at.

Only problem now is deciding where to put the first payment - Silver Jubilee tea caddy on the dresser or empty gin bottle hidden under the sink?

Trust you're enjoying the drop in temperature and look forward to your next post.

English Dave said...

Susie the way to get past the 'Unsolicited script' ploy is to pitch them the idea much as you would pitch a movie, with a log line and maybe a brief synopsis. Mention that you have a script. If tyhey like the idea they'll request the script, though you might have to submit via a lawyer.

susiesoap said...

Thanks again Dave. Genius solution.