Monday, September 04, 2006

Hard Times

With my soon to be ex-wife seemingly requiring large quantities of mullah my four month sabbatical from writing for more than one show at a time must come to an end.

It's been a very pleasurable experience excercising writing muscles that have been dormant for some time. I've put together bibles for two new projects, written a new spec, am half way through a second and have outlines for two more new projects.

But school fees and maintenance beckon, so it's back to the grind. Time to get on the phone to the senior editors of some of the long runners and say 'Hey, I'm back!'

I wish.

Times have changed. On most long running dramas now the core writers are on blocks and guarantees. That takes out the majority of available episodes for non-core freelancers. Factor in the new BBC writers academy where the participants get priority on available episodes of Doctors, Holby, EastEnders and Casualty - and there ain't a whole lot left for little old me! Cheers for that Mr Yorke!

If you thought it was hard breaking in before, man, it sure ain't any easier now.

But.......persevere. It's always been tough and always will. Keep writing those specs, but remember those specs serve equally well with indie companies where quite frankly I think you have a better chance of breaking in anyway. It's where the majority of non-soap drama is being made for a start.

Anyway, back to my bank balance. So what do I do? I've been out of the loop for a few months. I've got a spec out there but haven't had any meaningful feedback in what....6 weeks? Unfortunately that is not a lot of time in this business. If any work were to be generated from that [or even a sale] you are talking potentially months down the line. It's just that kind of business. And it's why core writers on a series tend to hang on to that series like grim death. It's a cold tough world out there in the spec game.

So why do we do it?

It has to be down to love or stupidity. Probably a bit of both. But here's a cheering thought that keeps me going. All it takes is ONE person to say yes to your project. It's kinda like in 'Goodfellas', you become a made man. You jump off the recurring drama merry-go-round and get to do the stuff you really want to do. That is a huge bonus in itself, but as a kicker you also get the green stuff too.

My last 'quote' for an hour of short run drama was 17k. Let's say my last project gets optioned for 3k and my quote is now 20k [probably not but it makes the maths easier]. So If I write 3 episodes of the six that's 63k.

Only it's a bit more than that because I would get 115% of the writing fee again on principal photography with most producers. So that's another 69k.

Only it's a bit more because I'd get a format fee of around 10% of every other writer's fee on the project. So that's another 12k

Only it's a bit more because I'd also get a format fee on all foreign sales.

Only it's a bit more because I'd also get repeat fees.

Only it's a bit more because I'd also get 5.something % of DVD sales.

Only it's a bit more because.........well you get the picture. The bottom line is that my idea and 3 episodes is worth a minimum of 150k if ONE person says yes. It's pretty hard to earn that kind of money per annum on recurring drama. Not impossible. But pretty damn hard.

So compared to recurring drama the money is better. The creative input and satisfaction is considerably more, and you're not stuck with the same people and politics year in year out.

I guess that's why we want to do it.


Paul Crilley said...

HI there Dave--

I don't suppose there would be any chance of actually seeing one of your bibles? I know what the format is for local (South African) programs, but have no idea what needs to go into a bible for British telly. If you can't show any of your own, (copyright issues, etc), do you happen to know where any can be downloaded?


English Dave said...

Hi Paul

Being computer illiterate I have no idea how to post a sample Bible. In any event I suspect that

a] It is very similar to that which you'd do for S.A TV and

b]It isn't just about what is in the Bible, it is as much to do with how you sell it. I'm not a great believer in templates and there is no 'standard' Bible for UK TV. Here's what I have in my Bibles.

Tag Line
Main characters
Brief story lines

That doesn't sound much, but what I try to do is write the crap out of every sentence, because make no mistake, your talent as a writer is being judged just as much from these pages of prose as it would from a spec script.

The important thing to me is I get across a sense of what the series is about, I mean REALLY about. Who the characters are. Why we should love or hate them Why we would want to watch them over how ever many episodes [but not in a didactic, on the nose way, I mean in subtext].

Because when push comes to shove, when it comes to TV character is paramount. Don't get me wrong, story is hugely important and in no way am I saying that you can get by on just character. But hands up those who can tell me the story of an episode of Inspector Morse, or Hustle, or Minder, or name it. The characters become embedded if the premise and potential stories are maximised to reflect those characters.

I sound like I'm one of those 'invent a character then create a vehicle' Johnnies. I'm not. I usually always come up with a premise first then create the characters.

But in TV you have to live with those characters for a very long time. So you better make sure you like them [or hate them in the best possible way!]

I guess what I'm saying is that your Bible is a selling tool both of the project and your ability to pull it off. Make it look competent and professional. Tell them what they need to know. Get them excited. That has a lot to do with voice, and not much to do with templates.

This is a truism and not meant to be patronizing in any way. Just something I've leartned over the years. Trust your talent. Worry less about format.

Beyond someone telling you what something should roughly look like, most formatting advice is pure bunk.

Good luck Paul.

Paul Crilley said...

Thanks, man. Appreciate it a lot. And it wasn't patronizing at all. Although I suspect there are a few differences between our countries. The last tv show I worked on had a bible of ten thousand words. When I pitched a sitcom the bible was five thousand, but that wasn't considered enough. They said I didn't put enough detail into the character breakdowns. (Although I reckon I did.)

English Dave said...

Word count only matters to Counts minus the 'O'.

What's in the words is what matters.

Paul Crilley said...

Heh-heh. That's somehwat similar to my thoughts at the time.


Schmucks with Underwoods said...

Hey, ED, when you say that you've been out of the loop, are you saying you've been refusing exisiting TV work or not chasing any new stuff? Good luck with the spec!

English Dave said...

Well...I would say 'not been chasing new stuff' Steve.

A guy's gotta live!

susiesoap said...

Hi Dave

Inspiring stuff. Just off to write my first ever Bible. Cheers.

Robin Kelly said...

It started off depressing and ended up inspiring. The Doctors route isn't for everyone and it's nice to be reminded that there is an alternative to that and the BBC.