Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Day In The Life......

...of an insecure writer.

Is there any other kind?

So I'm up at 4 a.m for an early flight to a commission meeting. I'm thinking to myself, man if they really valued me they'd fly me up the night before and swing for a hotel.

Then I think, hell, the fact they're swinging for a flight must mean they value you.

Or do they? Are they just doing the least they can get away with.........


On the plane I dig out the 80 or so story pages I'd been sent at 6pm the night before and didn't look at because I was watching football.

They were commissioning 8 episodes in two seperate meetings. I was in the second meeting and the way the flight had been arranged I knew I had a couple of hours sitting in the canteen before my meeting to give the pages a going over.

But if they really valued me why didn't they arrange the flight so that I didn't have to get up at a godforsaken time just to suit their driver's schedule so I could be picked up at the airport?


So I arrive and meet and greet some faces. Three of the writers for the first meeting are there. Big hugs from storyliners, script editors, producers etc. The female ones that is. Apart from one who hugs everyone except me. What have I done?


I'm chatting to one of the other writers. Let's call hm X.

X tells me he has just been commissioned on a new show. I congratulate him. I hadn't heard of the show but that means nothing as my ear is so far removed from what is going on that it is a speck on the horizon.

Then I think, hang on, maybe I hadn't heard of it but my agents damn well should have, and I don't recall them saying they's put me up for it. Why not? Had they put other writers up and not me? What was going on?


I'm on my own in the canteen reading the material for the meeting and a writer/director I know comes in. We chat. We bemoan the state of TV drama. He says what he'd really like to see and I tell him about a new project I'm working on which is exactly that kind of thing.

After he goes I think, did I say too much? Did I give something away there? It is a good concept and highly snitchable at the moment.


I phoned my agents. Partly to enquire about this new show I hadn't heard about and partly to see if they had read the new spec I sent them a week ago. I chose this agency because they don't represent a massive roster of writers. So I figured the personal attention would be better.

I was told both my agents were out of the office.

Were they? Or were they just avoiding my call because they didn't want to say they hadn't read my script yet? Or worse, had read it and thought it was crap?


The commission meeting was the easy part of the day.

So I'm in the airport a few hours later and my agent's ring. I shoot the breeze then enquire about the new show X is writing for.

'Ah, that's prodco Y and they only use writers off Z shows.

'But X isn't off any Z shows' I respond.

'Ah but he wrote P for Q who is great friends of K''

'Well can you send something anyway?'

'Yes but prodco Y takes forever to respond'

'Maybe, but if you'd sent them something 3 months ago that would be forever minus three months'

'Yes that's true. I'll send something. I read your script by the way. I enjoyed it. It's in good shape for a first draft'

And I'm thinking, enjoyed, good shape? You didn't love it then? It wasn't fabulous?

But I say, any major notes?

' No, like I say it's in pretty good shape, but I want partner M to have a look at it before we get back to you'

'Okay, when will that be?

'Oh before the end of the week. By the way J at prodco B still wants to meet you and we know she is keen on your new project. Trouble is she is in now filming in Ireland until late September. I'm not sure we want to send it to anyone else at prodco B in case we step on her toes.

'Ummmmmm, fuck her toes.' I think, but say ..... 'Actually, technically C at prodco B was the contact before J arrived there so why not tell J that as she is busy for the next 3 months would she mind if we sent it to C who was our contact there before she arrived?'

'Good idea'

Nothing to do with insecurity here. Just.........Arrrrrrgh!

Except, why did I have to think of that? Isn't that their job? Have they got other writers they are doing much more for? Has he even actually read my script and this wooley response and waiting for the partner to read is just and excuse?


It's only because things happen that I'm paranoid.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Rules Regarding Rules

I see a lot of arguments on writers message boards surrounding the 'rules of screenwriting'

It seems to me most of the arguments come from those who insist there are no rules and even if there were they should be broken.

Me, I don't think there are any rules. And break them at your peril.

What you have are conventions. A more or less 3 act structure, an empathetic protagonist, you know the kind of thing. Not handed down in tablet form by Moses. But something that has pretty much stood the test of time.

That's not to say there isn't any wiggle room.

But consider the fact that you may be a new, unproduced writer. Then consider the number of scripts a harrassed reader has to get through.

The truth of the matter is that unless your first twenty pages leaps up and grabs him by the throat, you are on borrowed time as it is. If the pro reader doesn't see your protag by then and your inciting incident isn't even on the horizon then the chances are your script will be confined to the big circular locker.

Readers aren't there to do you any favours. They are there to find scripts that their bosses might want to make.

You may like a long introduction to give meaning to your story which actually kicks in on page 55, but the reader and his bosses will not.

Of course there are arguments that 'I'm not writing mainstream, I'm writing Indie.'

Well that's fine - apart from the fact that most indies that actually get any kind of distribution follow the same basic structure as mainstream. And take a guess how many Indies were produced and couldn't get a release? Hundreds in the UK alone.

And there are the Tarantino and Nolan arguments - except I would counter argue that Pulp Fiction and Memento were basically mainstream structure but with story points out of sequence.

If you are a hugely succesful writer then you may be able to get something bought or made that differs wildly from what is percieved as conventional dramaturgical structure.

If you are not, and want to be - I'd begin by building a fan base. That means getting your work seen by decision makers. To do that they have to see something they think they can make that will put bums on seats.

Never, ever forget that this is a business. A very creative business, but still a business. And that extends to you as a writer. If you don't write what people want to see then why bother? That doesn't mean it has to be crass explosions and gratuitious sex, but it does have to be a good story well told. Certainly not some unstructured, navel gazing, masterbatory 'My Life' opus.

Having said that, as far as reading scripts and watching movies is concerned I'm just a 'begining, middle and end' kinda guy. If what is in that begining , middle and end is entertaining, well written, engaging, exciting and perhaps thought provoking, then pretty much anything goes. I'll be happy.

The hard bit is making that begining, middle and end all those things. A lot of that is to do with how you structure your story.

Not that there are any actual rules - ahem.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Blast From The Past

So yesterday I finished the first draft of my first spec script in probably three years. Man that felt good. As anyone viewing my posts on DD last night can probably tell I celebrated the achievement a little too much than was good for me. But hey, when you've being doing nothing but write other people's projects for 3 years I think I can cut myself some slack.

The problem was I forgot at the time I had a meeting today. Or rather didn't remember until I was too drunk to worry about it.

The meeting was with the H.O.D of a big prodco. Lets call her S, and she was the first person I ever had a meeting with in this Biz. That was maybe 10 years ago. I haven't seen her since but she claims, with some justification that she was the one who started my career.

I had written a couple of movie scripts, got an agent on the back of those and they had gone out to a few people. At the time S was with another prodco. One of their freelance readers had read my script for another company but mentioned me to S. I was like a kid at Christmas when my agents called to say she wanted to meet.

I was also as green as grass. I had no idea what these 'meetings' entailed, how I was supposed to act. Hell I didn't even know very much about writing. I had read precicesly one book on screenwriting and didn't know a MDQ from a duck's arse.

So I turned up. She was charming. Of course they had no interest in my movie scripts but were looking for TV ideas, and did I have any? I didn't even know enough to have thought that was a question they might ask. was the answer. But I would think about it.

And I did. I came up with an idea. Phoned her. She loved it. But of course me being a completely new writer she really needed a script to show her boss. Could I knock something up?

I was full of piss and vinegar then so I did. Wrote an hour long pilot over a weekend. She loved it and passed it to her boss.

I waited. 3 days I think. Then phoned. Any news?, it's only been like 3 days. Ah okay. I waited another week. Then phoned. Any news. it's only been like 10 days. Look I'll phone you when he's read it okay?

So about another week later and I'm actually at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships [see how this is etched on my mind] when my phone rings. It's S. I can tell from the tone in her voice that a downpayment on a porche would not be appropriate. Her boss loved the writing but couldn't get on board with the concept. Sorry.

I made hopefully cheerful sounding 'Oh well, another time' noises, but I was gutted. I thought that having an exec 'love' your work was your passport to fortune and glory. The rug had been well and truly pulled from under me.

Jeez wasI green.

Anyhow, exec musical chairs is the name of the game and S swiftly moved to another prodco. I haven't seen her since.

But......that script? The one I wrote over a weekend. Well it got me just about every job I've ever had. So I guess she did start my career.

Cut to this morning and I wake up with a mouth like a wrestler's jock-strap. This meeting had been arranged through my agents about a month ago, so I gingerly double checked to make sure it was today.
Yup, 'fraid so.

Now, pitching with a hangover is not really the way to go. But hey, S was really keen to see me, she'd always been a big fan, she loved my work and was looking forward to hearing about my projects.....blah, blah, blah. And truth be told I was quite looking forward to touching base with her and catching up on the last ten years.

So I had my bi-weekly shave, put on a fresh shirt, bought some really minty chewing gum and headed off.

Nice offices. Nice receptionist. No S

She had forgotten to put my meeting in her diary and gone off to another one.

Dopey Cow. Real keen to see me!!!!!!

But there you go. I waited 10 years, I guess I can wait a couple more weeks.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Back To The Loop

I rarely get any industry related mail apart from the gratifying agents statements telling me I can have red meat at the weekend. So imagine my surprise when I get TWO letters in the same post, both marked ITV.

Now, I generally look on any mail that doesn't carry my agent's familiar font as most likely being a demand for money. And usually I'm not disappointed. But I was pretty damn sure I didn't owe ITV any money, so what the hell, I may as well open them.

Letter number one - a pass on a project I'd actually forgotten I'd pitched. It was a well reasoned, long and thoughtful pass. And as the vast majority of responses to a pitch are passes it is always nice to get the thoughtful, reasoned ones rather than the ' Just didn't grab me - Not for us - Slate full at the minute - Piss off and never darken our mailbox again' variations.

Letter number 2 - An invite to a network's 'Writer's party' Wahoooooo! An invite to get well fed, drink, flirt outrageously and possibly even get lucky on someone elses dime! Okay it involves a schlepp to Manchester but hey, I'd do that for any one out of the four above.

Except that won't be why I'm going. Well......not the only reasons why I'm going.

Last year this same network optioned one of my projects. I mean paid cold hard cash. Did I get an invite to a writers party? Did I buggery. So now I've got the chance I'm going to take it. because me sclepping from London shows I like these guys and want to work with them. They have some idea of that because I didn't get all ansty when the project they optioned stalled, through no fault of mine. And that I've pitched them two or three projects since.

But the whole point is that deep down, unless you are a total social retard you just cant beat personal contact. Your writing may open doors, but I think that personal contact helps keep them open.

For example a producer has two writers in mind for a project, both write equally well. The first writer he has read. Maybe exchanged e-mails. Maybe even met once at a pitch meeting. But the other writer he has met in more informal circumstances , shared a beer and a joke with, knows they are on the same wavelength.
If you were that producer who would you pick for the project?

So that's why I'm going. And I might get lucky. Having recently seperated I haven't had sex in so long I've forgotten who handcuffs who.