Saturday, August 11, 2007

Movies movies

I recall some time ago I said I'd post about writing for movies in the U.K. The reason I haven't is mainly because I haven't even tried to write a movie for about six years so I am a little out of the loop.

When you have a family to support, TV writing is the only reasonably steady source of income you have. In this country not just steady, but in financial terms way superior to writing movies. I'd say that in the U.K at most there are maybe half a dozen movie writers who make more in a year than a reasonably established TV writer.

But money aside, and in a perfect world that is how it should be, here is my current thinking on the U.K film industry.

There isn't one.

It is getting there, but has some way to go.

When I first started there was no real spec market. That is changing. And that is a good thing. When I first started there were no lottery franchises but we have them now. And that is a bad thing. Lottery franchises only served to give dolts who didn't know what the hell they were doing piss my lottery quid up the wall. Anyone remember Janice Beard 45wpm? Didn't think so.

The U.K film industry is divided into three. Art House, Commercial, and Tax Monkey.

Art House producers do the rounds of regional film funding, private investors, the EEC and all those other well meaning bodies. I don't mean that in a bad way. Writing is art. If it's done well. And artful writing needs support and encouragement. A Theme Park movie provides an experience that lasts as long as the ride. Art House can change the way you think and feel. providing enough people bother to go and see it. And that's more down to the producer, distributor and publicists than the writer - If the writer has something worth saying.

Tax monkeys. U.K tax laws being what they are it is quite easy for a producer of a complete flop to still make a wedge of dosh. I'm sure there's a musical or movie in there somewhere! Tax monkey films are quite easy to identify. The idea is commercial enough to suggest there might be an audience to those funding it but what ends up on screen is enough to suggest the first draft was shot.

Commercial - there aren't that many prodcos in the U.K who are making movies that make money. There are definitely not many prodcos in the UK who you can make a living from as a writer. But..... and here is the big but. As a writer you have a story to tell. That might be a movie. If it is then get it out there because writers who write from the heart will always garner a fan club. Same for TV. Heart is what makes us different from the suits, and should be celebrated.


Anonymous said...

Hey Dave, EJ here. Long time no speak. How are you? Havent seen you round DD for a while. Keep up the blog. Someones gotta keep the UK market on its toes.

English Dave said...

Pennypacker! Good to see you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

You've hinted from previous posts 'roughly' what a fairly in demand tv writer can earn, but what would a writer writing for film expect to make? I've heard the average option for a film script can be around 3000, but often a lot less. What should a writer expect for a first draft? And, assuming the film got made, would he/she be better off than if they had say written an episode of The Bill?

I spoke to an agent recently who said the situation for writers looking to break into television is looking incredibly grim as there are already a lot of experienced out of work writers and that no agent can force a script-editor to take on a newbie when there are so many old-hands looking for work, surely it can't be this depressing?

K Campbell

English Dave said...

The agent speaks true. It is pretty grim at the moment. We've lost two soaps in fairly recent memory with Brookie and Family Affairs, that's upwards of 50 or pro writers suddenly looking for a berth. Factor in the BBC Academy which takes up a good number of slots on the long runners and the emigration towards reality and cookery shows and it means tough times. To be honest I think a new writer has to get a great spec out there, plain and simple. The chances of getting on a long runer are not good. But a great calling card can open other doors.

Movie money. It varies so much I can't give a definitive answer. You'd be hoping for WG minimum at least. Which is about 32k for a sale on a medium budget. It is paid in steps and you get the final tranche on principle photography. A few years ago WT2 were paying 5k for a first draft. That might have changed now.
It really entirely depends on the company, the project and the heat.

In the time it takes to write a movie, and get paid you could have written half a dozen episodes of The Bill and probably be much better off.

BUT if the movie gets made and is well received that can be a passport to fortune and glory, more than your six episodes of The Bill will do for you. You pays your money and takes your choice.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I've been earning a living pretty much exclusively writing feature screenplays in the UK for the last two years and I can confirm it's not easy but neither is it impossible and if features is what you want to write, you should stick at it. No doubt development is not as much fun as production and I'm looking at doing some TV drama too, mainly to see stuff get made quicker. I know my strengths would not suit soap writing, or shows like Holby, much as they might offer a good living, so higher concept specs will be the route. For a feature deal you should look at getting about £56K for two drafts plus revisions, then of course principal photography bonus (say about 2% of the production budget), but don't underestimate how hard it is to get to that day they roll cameras! We need more UK writers doing good genre scripts though, if only to force producers to consider things other than low ambition, low audience drama, so go for it.