Monday, March 27, 2006

Blowing In The Wind

Okay, so I had those two meetings I mentioned earier. Agent and Major Prodco. They were everything I'd hoped for. No one shot me.

My agents made nice noises while at the same time secretly calculating how much commission my dropping a show was going to cost them. I would guess something like half a secretary. Major Prodco greeted me with the time honoured ' of course our development slate is full right now' before my arse even hit the chair.

Kinda makes you think the meeting is slightly redundant from that point on. But no - this is where you swing into gear. I pitched like a baseball player with tourettes. I was coming at them from all angles.

I recently had a meeting with a head of development at a network. She loved one of my projects but was wavering on the premise. Major prodco had also read it and liked it . I knew HOD knew Major prodco, they had done a couple of things together. So I dropped names and got the two in contact.

I'd also made up something on the way to the meeting and pitched this out of desperation when my other three pitches were as welcomed as a fart in an elevator.

Desperate pitch pushed the buttons. I've just finished writing it up the pitch document and emailed it over. [I also mailed it to three other prodcos's telling them they were getting a sneak peek, well they are kinda - my agent won't be sending it out til tomorrow!]

Gotta work it baby!

Now, the chances of anything happening with it are slim to nil, but that isn't the point. I like it. I'm pretty sure the passion came out in the pitch document so at the very least it keeps me in the loop. And you need to be in the loop. Boy do you need to be in the loop. Time passes quicker than you think.

I had a meeting recently with another major prodco on a possible writing gig. They had also asked me in some time back to possibly write for a different show they'd just had commissioned. That previous one didn't work out as the creator decided he wanted to write all the Eps himself. Anyway - it was the same producer at the recent meeting. Hi says I, we met about six months ago on XXXXXXXX. 'Ahhh, that was 2 years ago' he said.

Yep, it was. But in my mind, the last time I was dealing with original material was six months ago .........surely? Clearly the constant deadline schedule had warped my sense of time.

So, no regrets about dropping a show. [finances excluded] Gotta stay in the loop. The reason you get paid around double for original drama versus episodic TV is the reason you became a writer in the first place. IDEAS, WELL EXECUTED, WITH PASSION.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Act 2

I was talking to another writer the other day and he was lamenting the fact he had ground to a halt on his screenplay. I said 'Ah, page 60' and he laughed ironically. The page 60 blues. You get to the middle of the second act and realise it just isn't happening. You are lost. Frantically searching for the way to page 90, the third act and sanctuary.

Now maybe this is because you didn't outline your story, more likely it is because you did but fell in love with the premise and characters so much that you looked the other way when the 2nd Act gremlins were trying to attract your attention.

I've done it myself. I've got this great set up, I tell myself. That's a great act three finale. Act 2, meh I'll skill it when I get there. Ummmmmm, therein lies the road to heartache.

Absolutely no question, act 2 is the writer slayer. Act 1 is all about set up. Act 3 your resolution. Easy, like shelling peas. Act 2 is why you are writing screenplays and not knock knock jokes. It is the place where you make or break your bones as a writer.

So what do I do? I cheat. I don't have three acts I have four. I count my second act mid point as an act break.

So now I have .....

Act 1 - My engaging set up

Act 2 - The logical progression of the story indicated in the set up with interesting obstacles to that progression.

Act 3 - Reversal/major shift of any plans/fortune/chosen path as per set up - heading for........

Act 4 - Resolution

This way I cut the beast down to size. I don't see a sixty page second act stretching before me. I see bite sized chunks. Like anything else, your mileage may vary, but it works for me.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Me Time

One of the downsides about writing for episodic TV is you get used to the money.

Piss off you smarmy bastard

Jeez I heard that from here, but no I'm serious. I write for two shows at the moment and for about the couple of years I literally have had no time to do anything I actually wanted. A new spec? Forget it. A treatment? Maybe, if I can squeeze it over a weekend and actually feel like facing the keyboard.

I think any writer ultimately wants to work on their own projects. That's where the real passion lies and that's why I got into this game. But with the cost of living in London, even apart from Ken and his congestion charges, it's pretty hard to say no when the phone rings.

So, if I want time for me, I can either move to the Outer Hebrides [not an option, Mrs English gets withdrawal symptoms over fifty miles from a M&S food court] Or turn down work.

Guess it's the latter. Which is what I have just done. I've made the decision to only work one show and use the time to write my first spec in a couple of years.

Mrs English is putting on a brave face, bless her, though it puts the half term holiday in severe jeapordy and the school fees are due in a couple of months. It's just something I have to do. Chances are the spec will come to naught. But that isn't the point for me.

Writers have an urge to create a world. Keeping someone elses ticking over, like episodic TV, has it's attractions but creation is the key switch in the writers hard wiring. That I think is what drives writers, against all the odds, to continue doing what they do. Why some aspiring pro writers do a gruelling nine to five day job then sit for three or four hours in front of the keyboard pounding out stories. Why some professional writers put their heart and soul into a spec to have it rejected by every producer in town, already knowing that is the probable outcome.

We're a crazy breed. And the world would be a much poorer place without us.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

How long is a piece of script?

Or - can you be taught screenwriting?

Well I think that is a two part question. The basics? Absolutely you can be taught format and structure, there are many good books on those subjects. Can you be taught story? According to Robert McKee you can and who am I to argue?

But can you be taught how to make characters live and breathe on the page? To make an audience care? To have a voice that sings out to the reader. That I'm not so sure about.

My sister is a fantastic guitar player. It seems effortless to her. Me, I can scratch a few chords, but no matter how hard I practice I doubt if I will ever be as good as her. She has an affinity to it that I just don't have. A natural gift.

Writing and music have many similarities. When it all comes together it has the power to really move people. But I suspect many songwriters have no idea where their inspiration comes from or why they put the bridge and verse and chorus that way in that key, at that tempo. It just felt right.

Truth be told, I have no real idea how I do what I do or why people pay me for it. I'd make the lousiest teacher in the world. Hands would be raised, questions asked and my ''uummm I don't really know, I just do it' would leave a number of pissed off students demanding their money back.

The nearest I can get to a sensible answer is that maybe my 'it feels right' is pretty close what is actually right. Maybe I have an affinity for it like my sister has for the guitar.

A famous writer when asked what it was about her writing that made her succesful answered ' you don't dig up a flower to see how it grows'

I don't think she was saying you don't look at your work objectively and pull it apart when neccessary. She meant that 'success' simply means you have talent which is being appreciated. Talent is an imponderable. You have it or you don't. But the degree to which you have it may bear little relation to your success. There are many more factors involved. Luck, timing, personality all play a part.

If you have got talent, providing you persevere, you will find success. Don't be discouraged if your first efforts are crap. Most are. Even if you think they are brilliant! I know very few writers who don't look back on their early work with a twinge of embarrassement.

Mark Twain said ' Be prepared to write without payment for five years. If after five years no one wants to pay you, go back to chopping logs'

A touch of irony there but I'm not one for time limits. It takes as long as it takes. There are so many variables involved that you can have many near misses before your first success. But the fact that you are having near misses shows you have talent.

I've read many scripts from new writers over the years. Some are truly horrible. I mean so bad you need a gargle for your brain afterwards. Some are okay. They look like screenplays, they read like screenplays, structure is fine, they make sense. But they don't engage.

Some I've loved. Not many. But some. And that has to do with the writer grabbing me, with character and story and voice. That's nothing to do with 200 midgets on camels appearing on page 2. That's to do with talent and skill shining off the page.

The best advice I can give is to read great scripts. See how the masters do it. Read 'American Beauty' and 'Alien' and 'LA Confidential' and 'Adaptation' and a host of others. There are many web sites where you can download these. Book learning has its place for sure - but immesring yourself in great writing will pay dividends. It may well show you that you have the affinity you need.