Monday, October 22, 2007


I got a call from a mate the other day. He's been trying to break into pro writing for a couple of years with not a lot of success. No agent and not a sniff of a commission. The constant rejection, or even worse, being completely ignored, was getting to him to the point he wanted to quit.

You know what? That happens to pros too. A lot. But a pro won't quit. Because they know that comes with the territory. When a new writer breaks, they have a flash of heat that will probably last a couple of years. They are the new kid on the block and everyone is interested in taking a meeting, handing out a commission and generaly having some face time.

A couple of years after that, unless they go stratospheric, they are part of a large group of middle ranking writers all after the same jobs, all sending specs out and all competing for face time.

Last week I got a response to an idea I sent to a prodco in February! I had actually forgotten I'd sent it. And that is the best way to handle it. Don't hang around waiting for phonecalls or responses. Move on. Get the next thing out. Don't think for one moment that what you have out there could be life changing [which it could] because the chances are stacked against it.

But keep writing. Keep getting your work out there. Because eventually, if you are talented, something will stick. It might be the third or fourth spec you've sent to a prodco and they seemed to have no interest in the previous submissions. But...... they will remember the name, the style, and the fact that you keep producing the goods. You don't just call yourself a writer - you are one. There are many who are in love with the idea of being a writer more than sitting down and cranking out the pages.

And don't think on it as rejection. You know those little quarter sized pieces of furniture that apprentices would turn out before being let loose on the full scale models? Think of your specs like that. You are proving what you can do. And eventually you will get the nod to move on to the big stuff. It's not about rejection, It's about saying look at me, I'm here, and I'm getting better and better.

I think I've posted before that I got an agent with my first script. I'd been writing for about 4 months.

Worst thing that could have happened to me. It was the wrong agent for me and I was so green I couldn't see it. I was also one of those writers who decided they only wanted to write movies.

My second agents, who I moved to after about 6 months were based in Los Angeles. Worst thing that could happen to me. Again I was so green that I had no clue how the industry worked. Heck they even had to tell me what a slug line was. I think I was calling them Locations. They told me I'd be a millionaire in a year. That should have sounded warning bells right there.

Result? I think it was a couple of years later before I got my first commission. Which was for UK TV after I'd gotten off my high horse and decided it was a medium that I might be interested in.

Best thing that could happen.

Suddenly I had to learn, and learn quickly what being a pro writer is about. That means doing the best job possible given production restraints and deadlines. It also gives you some credibility with some prodcos because they know you can produce the goods. I say some because nowadays even the likes of Hollyoaks are asking for trial scripts [unpaid] from pro writers looking for a gig.

But the most imporant thing I did was never give up. I'm not saying every writer has the talent to become a pro. But I think a lot do if they apply themselves. Try to get in at the ground level on a show like Doctors. Pretty much the only show willing to take a punt on a new writer. You'll learn a lot, and if you get in and produce good work you will move on.

Don't take anything personally. A mate of mine recently had a spec rejected because the producer felt '' the networks will want Ross Kemp in the lead'' Huh???????

The weird and wonderful vagueries of why someone doesn't go for your spec are too many to worry about. They go for it or they don't. If they don't move on. Yes it can be tough because a little piece of your soul should go into everything you write. But your soul isn't finite. It regenerates with every project.


Ingrid said...

Thank you for the encouragement, very useful :)

I think another problem (for writers in general, but definitely for me) might be that I would not be able to write things I wouldn't care about (read: shows like Doctors) simply because it doesn't interest me at all, and I wouldn't be able to produce anything decent because of that.

I also just write because I love the writing process, if anything ever comes out of it, then that would be fantastic, but my life is not depending on it. Not yet anyway :)

English Dave said...

I hear you Ingrid. Much to my bank manager's chagrin, I personaly don't chase after shows I have no interest in. But I know writers who do.

That probably makes them more pro than me depending on your definition.

But I think you may be surprised if you were asked to do a Doctors how much you genuinely cared about it at the time you were writing. A good writer, or perhaps more specifically a pro writer can always get immersed if they have to. Can always find something to get the creative juices flowing.

I wrote 1 episode of Doctors. It was a programme I had never watched. Until I had a shot. Then I watched four or five episodes. Thought it needed some humour. Wrote a script that got 2 well known actors interested. One playing against type and appeared months later on TV saying '' I played an arse in Doctors and I loved it''

No boasting here btw. Casting dept were magnificent! I mean that seriously. They had the balls to see the possibilities and go for it.

But I never wrote another episode. I moved on. But at that time and that place, while writing that script, that was my world.

Ingrid said...

Thanks for that answer, because it makes me think. It also proves that you are way far ahead of me (not a surprise - I have only just begun, and not sure I ever get past that stadium at all, but still I love the writing process).

I have never tried to write something that wasn't my choice, but I can see now that, as you say, you can always try to shape the story and put your own view/stuff/footprint, whatever it is called, in it.

And yeah, getting 2 wellknown actors playing it must give satisfaction ideed!

Lesson learned. :)

English Dave said...

''And yeah, getting 2 wellknown actors playing it must give satisfaction ideed!'

In all honesty I was just pleased it wasn't fucked up.

I wrote what I wrote. A collaborative process, which film and TV is, relies on others having the same passion and acting on it.

I was lucky.