Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Joy of Prostitution

Catchy title. I think I'll keep that one!

But this is about writing for a living.

I was talking to a writer the other day who was in the classic dilemma. He'd agreed to adapt a book. Pitched his take on it which was loved. A paranoid thriller vibe. He writes a treatment. The deal is done, finance in place. Pretty serious bucks.

Then he gets a call from his producer. ''So and So star whom we want has read the book and wants it to be more faithful to it so can you take out the paranoid thriller aspect?'


Well he could, but by doing so he'd be left with a metaphsical rambling down a remote Italian river where not much happens.

The only reason he agreed to write the script was because he could make it so much more.

So what's a girl to do? Legs in the air and take the money? I guess that depends if you have a buck for a cup of coffee or not. This particular writer is on a hot streak so the decision maybe isn't as hard.

But it still is.

That is a mighty cheque to kiss off, especially - as is normally the case for most writers - any of the other six irons you have in the fire can vanish like blood, grease and ink in a soap powder advert.

More power to him. He kissed it off. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you SHOULD do this. I guess I'm saying that in my opinion if you are in a position to do this then it is better for your writer's soul to do it.

Good writing comes from the gut. If someone has just ripped the guts out of the reason why you wanted to write the piece in the first place then even the most seasoned whore is going to take a look at that gnarled dick now staring at them and say 'No thanks'

Shortly after that conversation I'm in a cab heading for the airport and home when my agents ring. A prodco had been in touch asking if I'd be interested in writing for one of their shows.

I didn't like the show that much [seen half an ep] and hadn't heard great things about the prodco. I hummed and hawed. My agents being long in the tooth latched on to this immediately and made the right 'not a great career step, not good to work for noises'

Emboldened by my 'screw those bastards' earlier conversation with said writer, I said ' Tell them 'No thanks.'

They did.

In the plane I kicked myself all the way home.

But I slept pretty good that night.

When you start off, any work is good work. Ask Renny Harlin about 'Nightmare on Elm Street 4'

But the time comes when you have to become a courtesan more than a street walker if you want to progress as a writer.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Newsnight Review

Anyone else catch this? They were reviewing ''Sorted''

It got pretty much slaughtered apart from PD James who said it wasn't brilliant but it would do alright.

But I think the point several of us were making here was that ''it will do alright'' is not acceptable when it is just about every show that's on. I want Brilliant. I want ''must see'' TV. And I don't think that is asking too much.

I don't know Danny Brocklehurst from a hole in the head except that he is in the Paul Abbot fold. I've no doubt he's a really nice guy. I've no doubt he's a very good writer. But the Paul Abbot fold and Andrew Davis fold and Tony Jordan fold are all in a very powerful position.

They account for much of the drama we see on TV. So why not use that power to force the execs to quit aiming for the middle of the road. I don't mind the odd kitchen sink drama and plodding cop shows but enough is enough.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Pitch Black

At least it started that way!

So I had my postponed meeting with S at major prodco. It didn't start off all that well. First of all it is hot as hell in Sunny London and my old bus don't got no A/C. I left my house in plenty of time only to get held up by some frickin roade census so by the time I got there I had about 5 minutes to spare.
Couldn't find anywhere to park nearby so ended up sprinting. So I'm there, dripping sweat and waiting to be buzzed in when a girl appears from off the dstreet and lets me in. I thank her politely then follow her up the stairs without saying a word as nI go to reception.

You've guessed it. An assistant shows me in to an office, and there's the girl who let me in. It was S but I hadn't recognised her. Hell it's been 10 years.
We had a bit of a laugh and she said we've changed a lot. I don't know what possesed me but I quipped 'Yep, fatter and greyer, but enough about you'!

Sometimes I think I should just cut my tongue out and be done with it.

Breezes were shot. Ten years caught up on. I told her about my LA adventures, heavilly censored of course. She told me of the various shows, jobs and projects she'd been involved in. Many many many.

I was gearing up to pitch my high concept cop drama when she said. I like your high concept cop drama.

Blow me down. I didn't even know she'd seen it.

Then came the question I was dreading. ' Is it just the treament or do you have a script?'

The reasin I was dreading it was because at that point I had to decide to tell her if there was a script or not. There is. But here's the thing. If they like the treatment they will option that and the chances are you will get paid to write the script. If you say there is a script they'll try and option the whole package for the price of the treatment.

In that case you'd be crazy to say there is a script?

Not necessarily.

Believe it or not Cop shows are a hard sell. The networks are awash with them. If you want to try and get one away you have to show how it is different from the herd. The best tool for doing that is the script.

So I said yes there is a script.

She asked if many had seen the project.
This is where you say no, but it's going out wide this week.

In this case it is but there's no harm in saying it anyway. I guarantee you'll be read quicker.

So......I've just emailed it over to her.

I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, July 09, 2006


I don't think I'm alone in preferring to watch American drama shows rather than British. With the odd exceptions of perhaps Spooks, Hustle and Shameless, the rest leave me pretty cold.

I'm wondering if this is just a matter of my personal taste or are the networks indeed churning out mindless middle of the road pap at an alarming rate. Opinions would be appreciated.

Take 'Life on Mars' for instance. The TV execs are creaming themselves about this show. I know, I've heard them.

Me? I thought it was meh? Interesting concept, nice juxtaposition between the seventies and the naughties. But to me the individual episodes were weak on actually having an interesting story. I lasted two and half episodes.

I don't mean to slag off the writers. God knows it is difficult enough to get anything on TV past the never ending committees of taste arbiters. But it worries me that some execs are going about like this was the best show since ......the last one that didn't bomb.

I've recently seen trailers for a new show called 'SORTED' a drama series about postmen.

Yep. Postmen.

I can almost see them now, going through the check list of situations where a diverse group of people can be brought together

Cops - been done
Firemen - been done
Hospital - been done
Coastguard - been done [ it has, remember Harbour Lights? No?]
Factory - been done
Boatyard - been done
Postal sorting office --------BINGO
Bingo - been done

I know nothing about the show. I may even give it a try. But I doubt it. I may not have the busiest life in the world but I'm pretty sure I can be busy enough not to wait in to see a drama series about postmen. No offence to postmen.

Where are the shows like 'The Avengers' 'The Saint' ' The Professionals' ' The Duchess of Duke Street' ' Secret Army' Auf Weidersein Pet' [Yes I know that was a drama series about Brickies but it had the intriguing fish out of water twist]

I feel like Peter Finch in 'Network' ''I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it and stick your head out and yell ' I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more'!

The USA seem to be able to deliver shows like Lost, 24, The West Wing, The Shield, CSI, Law and Order, Missing, Desperate Housewives and Num3ers, almost at will.

Yes they produce a lot of crap too, but not in primetime.

I recently read about the head of ITV berating the advertisers for playing hardball on the money they pay. The cost of an advertising slot is linked to a formula dependent on ratings. So.... uhhhhmmmm....rather than moaning about the amount of money the advertisers are paying how about making some decent programmes? That will improve the ratings and guess what.....the advertisers will have to pay more money as per the formula.


Jimmy McGovern recently said you could guarantee that an ITV drama slot at 9 pm would be shit so you wouldn't even bother looking. That's one of the most respected writers in the business.

Judging by the current crop of BBC dramas I think we're talkng about the relative smells of fecal matter.

I've got a high concept idea out there right now. I've even written the pilot. Of course I'm not telling them I've written the pilot because the cheap bastards will then try to option the package including script for the same price as the bible and storylines.

Chances of success for the project? Slim.

Will I keep trying to get these kind of things made? Fuck yeah!
Because I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Money Meeting

These are the best meetings in the business because they are the only ones where you know you are going to get paid! The commissioning meeting.

The meeting takes a different form depending on what show you are writing for. The important point is that the hard work has been done. You are in.

Except the hard work is just beginning because if you don't produce a good script you are just as quickly out.

I've worked an several shows and they all use the meeting in different ways. I've even worked on a show where there was no meeting. You got a phone call telling you were being commissioned followed by an e-mail of the storylines. You e-mailed the script in a week later and got a call from the script editor who gave you your 2nd draft notes over the phone .

I wrote maybe fifteen episodes of that show and never once met anyone who actually worked on it!

That isn't the norm though.

The Bill for instance. You get the phone call followed by the story documents of the serial element of the block of episodes. One of which is yours. You are expected to read all the story documents for every episode.

You tip up at the meeting, maybe a week or so later. Present will be the Exec producer, producers, story liners, script editors and supervisors , police procedure advisors, and the writers commissioned on the block. That's maybe twenty five or so people all together.

The writers take it in turns running through their serial elements and might raise some crime story ideas in very rough fashion. The idea of the meeting is to make sure the writer knows when, where and how the serial element for the block and their episode is going to work.

You are then given a week to come up with the crime stories for your episode. That seems like a long time. But bear in mind that coming up with a crime story that A] Hasn't been done, B] Is interesting enough to last the episode and C] Would be great if they tied in somehow with the serial elements, - is actually the most difficult part of the process.

Casualty works in a similar way although it is obviously medical stories rather than crime stories.

Another show I write for you are actually given the scene by scenes for the episodes the night before the meeting. Being given scene by scenes isn't all that usual. The commissioning meeting in this case is basically about the writers making sure they understand the motivations behind the scenes and making suggestions for story improvements or restructuring.

For short form Drama, i.e less than 12 episodes you will generally find that you are given a couple of pages of story documents and told to get on with it. The fact you have been hired in the first place means you're trusted to structure it as you think fit. Unless you're working for 'Shed Productions'

Did I say that out loud?

Best practice in a commissioning meeting? Do not slag anything off. Couch criticisms in terms of ' I had a thought about maybe doing it this way with so and so doing that'
Do not say 'That's bollock's' unless absolutely necessary.