Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Shomebody Shtop Me

So I've been belting out a new spec without the aid of a safety net. No outline. Unusual for me, but great fun.
Now I have to take a step back. I know roughly where it's going but I'm not sure I've done the prep work in the first 40 pages to justify the proposed ending. Mostly from a tonal point of view.

I have a feeling I've been so interested in the characters I've lost sight of the goal. Maybe I haven't, but I think I need time away to decide.

Fortunately I'm being forced away by notes on a draft due for Friday. That and a weekend away will let it all filter through for a while.

I always try to listen to these instinctive doubts. Usually there is a reason, though perhaps not the reason I first thought. And sometimes it takes time for those to come to the fore.

All writers have doubts. Is this a piece of crap? Am I so into it I can't see the faults? This is compounded when you get feed back.

A mate of mine has what I think is a great spec he's just put out. It's an ensemble piece along the lines of Auf Weidersein Pet. Completely different subject matter, but in that vein.

He's had a couple of comments back along the lines of 'Who is the protagonist, who do we root for?

I guess there are three answers to that.

1. It's an ensemble piece. There is no protagonist.
2. Oh shit I need a protagonist.
3. The audience will have their favourites to root for depending on the story of the week.

It's odd that the writers having read the spec think it is great. They see it for what it is. The editors/producers who have read it so far, only 2 I hasten to add, had the protagonist comment.

Now if you were really paranoid you'd at this stage think 'hell, 100% of producer response is that I need to change this to have a main protag. Clearly they are all looking for 3 act structure, protag and antag.'

I know that is not what this project is about. So does the writer. But at what stage does the writer then try to reshape the project to fit the percieved market? Should they even try?

Well certainly not after 2 responses. And in my view only at all if it doesn't rip the heart out of the piece.

I had a meeting with a big independent. They wanted to do a project of mine providing I didn't have the same premise. Same characters but in a different work environment. I didn't do it. The characters were to me, the embodiment of the original premise. Taking them out of that environment would take the heart out as far as I was concerned. Sometimes you have to make those difficult choices.

'Love nothing' is an old pro writer's adage. Meaning don't get so attatched to something that you pass up a sale because you won't agree changes. But it's not quite as simple as that. You have to love what you do to make it work. The rest comes down to the state of your bank balance at the time.

8 comments:

Dave Anderson said...

Ed said: I always try to listen to these instinctive doubts. Usually there is a reason, though perhaps not the reason I first thought.

This is what an American writer called a 'built-in bullshit detector'. It's a deep, subconscious instinct that you've gone wrong somewhere. Every writer needs one. When mine kicks it it automatically triggers writer's block; nature's way of telling me that I've a problem to fix before I can write another word.

Dave Anderson said...

Ed? Whose Ed? I meant 'English', of course!

Anyway, thinking about the prob your mate's got with his ensemble script. There is a nifty way round it. Rewrite the pilot so that it becomes one character's story. Still use the others, of course, but give this character the lion's share of this particular story. Let the story, or some element, be more of a challenge to her or him.

Yes, I know. Eggs. Granny. Suck.

English Dave said...

Dave, I hear what you say, but you have to take audience expectation into account.

If you set up a protag in the pilot when there isn't really one then you risk pissing off the audience in future eps. Ensemble Pilots are a needlesly hard sell. Usually because a producer might be more intent on selling the premise and would love a strong protag to help that along irrespective of the damage it might do to the overall concept as weeks go by. They have different agendas.

In the long term a show enters the list of 'classics' because the audience want to hang out with these characters week after week.

In the short term a producer would like a quick easy pitch to the networks if possible.

Anonymous said...

Umm, couldn't he just say to these producers "Have you seen this new show that's rather popular? It's called Heroes..."

Lucy said...

As far as ensembles go, seems to me there's always one that acts as the "umbrella" thread over everyone else's, the "leader" if you like, the one we're "supposed" to invest in the most. Jack in LOST. Kate in TIME OF YOUR LIFE. Hiro in HEROES. The clue is in the name, surely?

Anonymous said...

Not to turn this into a Heroes discussion, but I would argue that it is much more a genuine ensemble than for example Lost, in which Jack's is clearly the dominant POV. In Heroes if anything Mohinder is the nominal umbrella character who binds them all and Peter Petrelli is often close to being a "lead" too. Hiro is undoubtedly a stand out appealing character, but the plotlines tend to be pretty evenly shared out between them all. Another good example of genuine ensemble is Battlestar Galactica I think. Why are the Americans better at doing this than we are? Why do we feel the need to have Robson Green or Ross Kemp as a supposed "lead" rather than creating a full cast of strong characters who could all carry an episode?

Lucy said...

Ensembles don't have the same appeal for me, since I prefer to really care about the one person and the one mission, as opposed to sort-of care about lots of people and lots of missions. I blame the parents myself, my generation all have concentration problems! ;)

English Dave said...

''When mine kicks it it automatically triggers writer's block; nature's way of telling me that I've a problem''
ayep!


''Why are the Americans better at doing this than we are? Why do we feel the need to have Robson Green or Ross Kemp as a supposed "lead" rather than creating a full cast of strong characters who could all carry an episode?''

Hustle might qualify as a genuine ensemble. Other than that I'm struggling. The Office at times but we all really knew it was about David Brent.