Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It's all subjective

Every writer will tell you that criticism and rejection comes with the territory and you have to suck it up and get on with it. Good advice.

But they are missing out the stage before sucking it up which is usualy along the lines of thinking 'What the fuck is this no -nothing twat on about'

But you say it to yourself, and then you suck it up.

Because unless you are talking to God's gift to screenwriting that should be your reaction. They are talking about a piece of work your heart and soul has gone into. Of course you're going to be pissed off if they don't like it. But it has to be a quiet pissed off that quickly passes and doesn't dent your confidence.

The important thing to remember is that much the same as two different writers will have different takes on the same scenario, so too will two different producers on the same piece of work.

Is it bad or good? It's subjective.

I have a script that I wrote years ago and pretty much not only got me started in the business but got me a lot of ongoing work over the years as more people read it. Recently some new bod at a major prodco read my latest spec. Okay without too much blowing of trumpets they fucking loved it. Couldn't do it because they actually had a programme airing with a very different but still too close concept. But if I had something else get it to them ASAP! [okay I know that's only one rung up from ''enjoyable read but not for us'', but bear with me]

My agents then sent them the killer script. The old faithful. The sure thing. The work getter.

Didn't like it.

Wasn't as pacey, or witty or dramatic as the one they had just read. Fucking twats!

Except they are absolutely right.

I haven't even looked at that script in 3 or 4 years. I still haven't. I'd probably be embarrassed to. If I wrote it now it would maybe be 30% different. But if I were a new writer trying to break in it would maybe be much the same. And would maybe still work on that basis. That's a lot of maybe's. But maybe that's what writing's about.

Anyhoo, I kept the wolf from the door off that script, but the old writer's adage says 'love nothing' That has to mean after you've sent it out, not while you're writing it obviously.

Some people will love it, some people won't. Suck it up, it's all subjective. Except when they are right. Always leave enough room in your ego to recognise it when it happens.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Producers come in several shapes and guises. A brief list below - there may be some missing in which case feel free to add.

The Time Server - one who has come up through the ranks, has no discernable talent as such but has managed to stay out of trouble.

The Safe Pair Of Hands - a good 'people person' who gets it done on time and on budget with no fuss.

The Creative Loon- doesn't give a fuck who they upset so long as their particular vision ends up on screen.

The Creative Corporate - see above, but will upset less people.

The Brother-In -Law - self explanatory

The Slummer - doesn't really give a shit but will pocket the wedge 'til something better comes along. [habitat is usually w12]

The G.O.K - as in God Only Knows how they got the job. Possibly a combination of right time, right place and loose morals.

The Eternal Optimist - an Indy producer with no money.

Okay a little tongue in cheek. Producers have a tough gig. They have to juggle time, money, internal politics and creative tantrums. In my experience as a writer the best producers are the ones who LISTEN to and digest a range of opinions. They are creative enough to see possibilities and savvy enough to dismiss what is not going to work. Then they say 'Okay you can all shut the fuck up now, this is what we're doing'

But have you noticed the huge similarities between the different types of producers and different types of writers? I could put a writer I know of in every one of those catagories. Heck I myself could fit about 3 of them depending on the day of the week.

But in all seriousness the best producers are the ones who remember that it's about ENTERTAINMENT first and MONEY second. Mmmmmm another similarity.

Don't get me wrong, I like money as much as the next guy. But to genuinely entertain takes soul first and cheque book second. Money can follow, but if it leads, you're in trouble.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Can't live without them, can't kill them.

Okay, I jest, a little.

Agents are essentially gatekeepers. The fact that you have an agent is looked on by the powers that be as being a good thing. It says that you must have a certain level of ability as a writer.

It is of course a false assumption. There are many writers much more talented than some of the hacks with agents. However that's the way it is and watchyagonnado?

Ask any pro writer the ratio of work their agent got them to the work they got for themselves and the agent will generally come a distant second. Most of the work that has come my way has been through people who have previously read me or I've worked with.

So what makes a good agent? Someone with whom you are on the same wavelength as far as your writing is concerned. Someone who champions your work to others at every opportunity . A tough negotiator when it comes to dough.

But more importantly - one who stays the course. Every writer has a buzz in the industry when they first break. Lots of meetings, a few offers. No one wants to miss out on the next big thing.

But remember that a couple of years later there will be a 'next big thing' perhaps another client of your agent. Who are they going to push? You or the new kid on the block? That's when you want the 'longevity' factor. Unfortunately you won't know if they have it or not until that situation arises. You can't blame the agents. They are there to make money. Writers are their merchandise.

I've had 4 agents. Thinking of looking for my fifth. You've got to freshen things up occassionaly.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

No fear

While I'm still on broadband lol..................

My son was visiting a few days ago. He's grown up with me being a writer and so Final Draft is second nature to him. He is always full of ideas for scripts he wants to write and is a walking encyclopoedia of all things Film and TV. He's just turned 16.

While he was here I asked him to take a look at a pitch document I was about to send to my agents. His taste is impeccable. The bugger also has no hesitation in telling me what I've done is crap! The perfect critic! lol

So he read the pitch doc - and promptly sat down and wrote an opening scene.

No Fear.

I think the following is something that many pro writers will agree with. The script that got them just about every job and the most attention was the one they wrote when they hadn't a clue about the industry.

They just wrote.

When this is your livelihood it's easy to become embroiled in rumour and speculation and try to write something to please this network or that exec. but I think that's just about the worst thing you can do. Here's why.

Execs will always bang on about original strong voices. And they really do mean it. Of course if you write something original and strong it has practically no chance of hitting the airwaves. [I kid.....a little] But that's not the point. The point is that they then know you are capable of writing something original and strong.

That gets you in. Be it on Doctors, Holby or whatever. After that, if you can suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous script editors for long enough [they're not all outrageous, for the avoidance of doubt!] you might carry enough weight to get one of your projects you are passionate about made.

But you have to maintain the 'NO FEAR' mentality throughout. Not that easy when you are knee deep in recurring drama scripts and subserviant to the wants and needs of a particular show. But you have to remember that the reason you were hired for that show in the first place was because of your strong, original voice. That's the 'small voice inside' remember, not the 'shout it out in a story meeting' remember.

I've made a living of sorts out of writing. Been rich, been poor. Not enough rich but can't really complain. I love what I do. But the hardest part is 'NO FEAR'

Writing is a precarious business. We are generally viewed with suspicion by our ultimate paymasters because entertainment is an industry and we don't fit the industrial norm that big business would like. We are the variable that defies analysis. We are storytellers, the wandering minstrels, Aesop and Homer. [I love The Simpsons] It's quite possibly a form of OCD. It has to be, given the odds against succeeding.

But here's the thing. For writers trying to break in, don't write what you think others will think is good, write what you think is good.

Moving Echos

I've watched a little of both Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach. I'm not going to get into whether they are any good or not, but let's just say they ain't on my must see list.

Moving Wallpaper is my favourite of the two, but I don't really see it as ITV primetime. The in-jokes are too in and does a prime time audience really care about the ongoing shenanigans of a bunch of TV luvvees? Ask Aaron Sorkin.

Echo Beach has enough to worry about apart from actual quality. Putting it on after Moving Wallpaper is tantamount to bungee jumping with a playdoh rope. Okay there are a couple of clever moments when we see situations arising in Wallpaper that come to fruition in Beach. But WTF?????

Who in holy Jeebus thought that an audience watching a show satirising a soap would then choose to tune in to see the actual soap played dead straight?

It beggars belief. It does more than that. It's an insult to those tens of soap fans who watch Beach. Soap relies on the immersion of the audience in the characters and the world. Showing what a bunch of dickheads they are in the preceding programme and how fake the world is destroys the posibility of anyone taking it seriously.

I heard that originally the two shows were to be on different channels. If one or both are to survive I think that has got to happen. I'm no expert on scheduling but it seems like common sense to me.

I haven't been watching a lot of TV lately. I was begining to hear good things about The Palace but that seems to have been bumped to a late time slot?

The BBC updated fairytales took a bit of a dump. I didn't see any but wondered who they thought the audience was for them. It seems to me it was most likely a concept thought up by an exec rather than a writer. One of those dreamt up in a 'blue sky' coffee and croissants meeting 'here's a spiffing wheeze' ones.

I did see the last episode of The Street, which I thought was a work of genius. But would anyone other than Jimmy McGovern get away with 15 minute two handers? Not likely. The power of the exec-producing writer overcoming the cries of 'No we've got to have a cutaway, the audience willl get bored' .

I don't think it's any coincidence that the most popular dramas on TV are the ones where the writer has most say.

Thanks to all for the comments. I will try to post more frequently as life begins to settle down again.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Eternal Dichotomy

Or catch 22. More than any other artistic medium, film and TV relies on MONEY at the embryonic stage.
A poet or author can self publish and hope for a buzz. A playwright can get something on in a room over a pub and hope the right people are watching which results in a lucrative commission.

Screenwriting is about CASH. Not the writer's cash. And there's the rub.

Despite the fact that screenwriting is about cash remember that it's really not. It's about entertainment. You just might have to butt a few heads to get that on screen and knowing when to butt heads depends on a lot of factors. Mostly how wanky the exec your are dealing with is.

But non wanky exec plus committed writer has a good chance of entertainment. Also known as NWE+CW=MC2

MC = mass circulation

A committed exec is hard to come by. A committed writer isn't. The trick is to find where the two meet. Different agendas, same goal.