Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Project X part two

Okay, six storylines done and added to the bible. The package comes in at 10 pages. That seems about right.

When I say story lines I mean brief outlines, maybe half a page to a page on each episode, though I've done 4 pages for the pilot. I want to give as much idea of the tone and content of the pilot without actually having to write it.

However, I suspect I will write it anyway. Feedback is generally so slow that I'll be itching to get on with it before I hear anything back.

It's with my agents now. I'm slightly worried because I know they have a hankering for me to write this as a movie so the story lines will be under particular scrutiny.

We shall see.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Okay I just got the first feedback on a project that went out 4 or 5 weeks ago. This is the one I've actually written the pilot Ep for.

I had a meeting with this prodco. They'd read the bible and asked if there was a script. I said there was and they asked that I get it to them ASAP. I did. 5 weeks ago.

And the feedback is .............'' I really enjoyed the read but it's not for us at this time. Please ask David to keep in touch''


Not exactly a ringing endorsement and not exactly helpful.

But here's the thing. It isn't their job to endorse or be helpful. Sure I would have liked some kind of critique, maybe even a reason as to why it wasn't for them at this time.

But that's not their job.

Sure, it is puzzling how they couldn't tell from the bible if it wasn't for them at this time. And it would be nice to have that answered.

But that's not their job.

The truth of the matter is that there are many reasons why it may not be for them at this time. Too similar to something else on their slate. Budget issues. Crap writing. Who knows? And for the last time, it is not their job to tell you. They have a slate full of projects that they are moving on. Why should they waste precious time and energy on something they are most certainly NOT moving on?

Some producers are different and will give you a pretty detailed critique of a project and reasons for passing. But I never ''expect'' that.

Though I may have a preference for sending material first to those types of producers. It's Quid Pro Quo. They get a first look and even if they pass I get feedback on possible problems before it goes out to others.

Anyhoo, I should be hearing back from my agents on 'Project X' shortly. It is unlikely that the producer above will be in the first wave of recipients when it goes out. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing whatsoever spiteful or petty in that decision. It is common sense. You generally only get one shot with a project. The more you can maximise your feedback and correct perceived story or structural problems accordingly the more chance there is of it hitting a sweet spot further down the line.

But it does put producers who put time and effort into a rejection at an advantage over those who don't because projects tend to go to them first.

Quick update on Project X, my agents just called as I was writing this. They like it. It's different, unusual even, but they are happy to go out with it. More so if I storyline six episodes.

Looks like I'm storylining six episodes.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Okay, I'm looking at the original drama [non soap] schedules for the next few days.


BBC - The Chase, Silent Witness

ITV - Where The Heart Is , Poirot.

2, 4 and 5 - Nada


Silent Witness that's it


Holby, Sorted and a drama documentary about an attempt to kidnap Princess Anne in 1974.

Jesus H Christ!

With the best will in the world no way can I get anywhere near raising much enthusiasm to abandon my jigsaw puzzle and sit in front of the TV for those. Well, maybe Silent Witness. Maybe.

Now I appreciate there is an audience for these shows. The low concept 'comfort zone' type television. And they shopuld definitely play a part in the scheduling. But where is the counter-programming? Where is the 'must see' TV?

I know I bang on about this and I know it sounds hypocritical as I make my living writing for some of these 'comfort zone' programmes. I'm a script whore. What can I say?

Sometimes I get the feeling that Nero is fiddling while Rome burns. Much touted 'Sorted' actually WENT DOWN in the ratings for week ended 30th July. From a mediocre 4.2 million to a dismal 3.8 million. The same as Jane Hall. And yet I heard a BBC exec claiming that Sorted was possible Bafta material. What planet are they on?

Don't they realise the times they are a changing? The days when you could stick the test card on and guarantee 4 million viewers has long gone. You have to give the audience a REASON for watching, and middle of the road comfort zone TV isn't going to give the Execs the ratings figures they so crave. Would you go and see a movie you thought was probably 'meh'? Of course you wouldn't. Equally you are unlikely to watch a TV programme if nothing about it strikes you in any way as having a degree of originality. A grabbiness? A something to hook you in? We know that - 'They' don't seem to get it.

There is some good news though. ITV are currently looking at pitches from some of the country's best writers for................a day time soap.

Deep Joy.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Might be interesting.....?

Okay, so I had my new idea. I wrote a quick four pages on the basic premise and main characters and have just sent it to my agents.

I thought it might be interesting to track it from this point, putting all the gory details here of it's travels to its probable eventual demise. Just to try to inject an air of mystery we'll call it 'Project X'

Right, here we are on August 19th 2006 [ see how pessimistic I am, I put the year] . The story so far - Basic premise and characters sent to agent for feedback.

In some cases I may also write and attach some basic story outlines. But this premise is a little off the beaten track for UK TV and so before I go down that road I'd like some conformation from my agents that there is a potential market for it.

If they say no - well I'll phone a few contacts direct and pitch it. No harm in getting a second opinion.

If they say yes, then I have a slight dilemma. Does it get sent out 'as is' or do I put half a dozen story lines together? No pro writer likes writing for free if they can help it. Storylines are to me one of the hardest parts of the job and so quite frankly if I can get someone to pay me to write them then that is the way to go!

But as producers are notoriously tight and very adept at squeezing freebies out of a writer, I suspect in fact it may be a case of not just story lines but a complete spec given the premise. Not that I mind that much. To tell you the truth, I'm itching to write it and will probably do story lines for my own amusement in any event. So it is only a very slight dilemma!

Anyhoo - I guess my agents will get back to me before the end of next week and I'll let you know the outcome.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

No news is news.

So I guess it must be close on 4 weeks since my spec went out to producers. And so far.....not a dicky. Nada. Zilch. A deafening silence.

Not that deep down in my heart of hearts I really expected it. Four weeks isn't a long time to a producer with a pile of specs to get through on top of the everyday battle to turn paper into pictures.

But secretely you always hope someone is going to be on the phone the next day saying ' We read it overnight. We LOOOOOOOVE it baby!'

I used to be a firm believer in the 'quick yes and slow no'. Now, not so much. I posted previously about an early experience with Casualty where they had my script for close on four months before they read it and hired me - They are not alone.

So I'll give it a couple more weeks - it is Summer, people go on hoilday - then I'll tickle around for some kind of reasonse, any! Then when I have some feedback [and assuming no one's willing to shell out Pesos] I'll consider a rewerite and hit the second wave of producers.

Meantime, I'll do another spec! Just as soon as a good enough idea strikes me. I'm in the 'discard' stage right now. A brief glimpse of something I think might work but after pondering decide against it. I'll go through maybe 10 0r 15 of those kind of ideas until something sticks. Something I'd not only like to see, but like to write.

But one is coming. I know the symptoms. The edginess, unable to sit still, excited feeling in the chest [ although that maybe heartburn as I've just had a turkey sandwich] The bubbles are rising up through the swamp and plopping on the surface. Eventually one will break free and float long enough for me to grab on to it. It might be a few hours or a few days, but it's on it's way.

And that is maybe why I love this so much. The ups and downs, the insecurity, the rejection, the script battles, the ego and stupidity you can encounter [in others as well!] pale into insignificance when character idea and story have hit you in that blinding flash and you sit poised at the keyboard ready to create a world.

Monday, August 14, 2006

How To Sell A Screenplay

Well a good title helps!!!

I don't actually think there is any black magic about it. In fact I'd say it it depends on only three things.

1] Have a good idea

2] Execute it well

3] Get it to the right people.

Whoooo I hear you cry. That is some shit hot advice. Not.

But I'm serious.

One and two are of course largely dependent on that imponderable known as screen writing talent, and may appear in your first, fifth or fifthteenth screenplay. Who can say?

Number three is another talent in itself; takes almost as much dedication and is equally as important as one and two.

So, getting it to the right people? By the right people I mean people with the financial resources and/or contacts coupled with a need or want for your particular project at that particular time.

How hard can that be?

Well pretty hard, especially if you are a writer with no agent and no track record. It's pretty damn difficult even if you have.

But it's not impossible. It's about the research. Read the trades, film magazines, Done Deal Scriptsales, whatever, to get an idea of who's doing what - and to who.

Get names. Then phonepitch, e-mail and snail mail your query letter with a kick ass log line. Yes you hear tales of the pool boy slipping the 'A' listers massage therapist a screenplay and next stop hot starletts and cocaine binges. But that doesn't happen as often as I'd like.

Cold calling is just the way it has to be when you first start out. Grit the teeth, gird the loins [whatever that means] and suck it up. If the receptionist hits you with a 'no unsolicited scripts.....' ask if they'll look at a log line and query letter. If you have prepared as best you can, got your log line shining and your best telephone manner bristling with that 'smiley' voice that keeps you on the line with the double glazing canvasser long after you should have hung up, then you are good to go.

Remember - without product, producers are sitting twiddling their thumbs.

Remember - there are a lot of crazies out there and that is why producers put up these barriers.

Remember - you are not one of those crazies. You are polite, articulate and present an intriguing project.

If you are not comfortable on the phone then e-mail and snail mail. Keep it short, to the point and avoid begging. They don't want your life story they want THE story.

You will be met with a lot of rejection. Don't take it personally. There are a hundred and one different reasons why someone might not want to read or buy your screenplay. None of them to do with your talent.

You can guarantee that almost every spec screenplay ever sold, including some that became the biggest and best known movies of the last thirty years were initially met with varying degrees of 'No Thanks' before someone finally said 'Yes Please'.

So assuming one and two are a given, don't wimp out on number three.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Man with a Plan

Well I've just got some notes back so I have to do some honest work. ........Tomorrow maybe....I am the master procrastinator after all.

I've seen a few arguments/discussions lately on message boards about pre-planning prior to writing your script. The opinions range from plan nothing, just write - to have a thirty page treatment by your side.

Personally I think it's whatever works for you. That might be trial and error.

TV though is a whole 'nuther ball game when it comes to planning. You've pretty much got to do it because of the tight time constraints both in deadlines and length wise to fit the exact time slots. Especially so for the commercial channels when you have to factor in ad breaks and have hooks in place.

For movies here's what I do. After I have an idea that has a beginning middle and end I'll get that down on a couple of sheets of paper. Two single spaced sheets pretty much tells me it has legs enough. That also gives me my act breaks, basic structure and the narrative drive.

Then I'll do a beat sheet being more specific about character actions, set pieces etc, but each beat being no more than a sentence, maybe two.

I'll mull that over for a day or two. Maybe jotting down lines of dialogue that come to mind and looking to see if there is a better way of getting from beat 13 to beat 17 or whatever. But more importantly making sure my characters would do and say those things and there is a logical reason for them.

Then I'm ready to go. I'm not a slave to the beat sheet though. Sometimes ideas hit you as you write.

As far as individual scenes go I'm pretty free to write whatever I like. My beat sheet has only the barest outline of the intention. So although I know exactly where I'm going, I can travel by whatever means necessary. That's what I enjoy.

It seems to work for me but working practices are highly personal. Whatever gets you to 'Fade Out'

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Death of Drama?

I've just been looking at the BARB figures for the week ended 23 July. The three much hyped new shows from the networks, Sorted, The Chase and Jane Hall all had LESS viewers than Big Brother.

Man that saddens me. We can't make good enough drama to entice people away from watching ordinary people being.......ordinary.'s the summer. BB has a built in audience. New shows take time to bed in.

Yeah maybe. I hope the figures get better, for all our sakes. Otherwise the accountants are going to decide that drama just ain't worth it. Okay a degree of hype there but also a grain of truth. Witness the pitiful amount of original drama available across the networks.

I know the amount of hard work and talent that has gone into producing those shows and in no way am I attempting to be snarky. My hat is off.

But in all honesty does the premise of any of these new shows make you say to yourself 'Yep, I'm staying in to watch/set the video for that?

It really doesn't matter how well written they are. You have to attract an audience to them in the first place. I'm not feeling it, and judging by the figures so far I'm not alone. Maybe they are slow burners. I hope so.

Some good news on the horizon. My agents inform me that ITV are dropping their snoozefest dark dreary dramas from the 9 0'clock spot in favour of lighter more entertaining fare.

So get writing!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Might be of interest?

BBC writersroom is holding this event at the Edinburgh Festival. We'd be very grateful if you could spread the word... Kind regards Selina Ream.
Q&A: Writing for the BBC 2pm - 3.30pm Tuesday 15 August, Screen 3, Filmhouse Interested in writing for the BBC? Want to find out about opportunities with BBC Scotland's Drama Department? Come along and put your questions on writing for BBC TV, Film and Radio to Kate Rowland, the BBC's Creative Director, New Writing, Anne Mensah, Head of Drama, BBC Scotland and Sandra MacIver, Executive Producer River City.
There will be an announcement about several forthcoming TV writing opportunities open to new writers. Free tickets can be reserved by phone 0131 228 4051 or in person at the Filmhouse, 88 Lothian Road, Edinburgh EH3 9BZ. Capacity is limited so book early!
BBC writersroom identifies and champions new writing and diversity across all BBC platforms
Selina Ream

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Pitch

Someone asked me the other day how I go about pitching. Apparently I'm ' good in a room'.

I don't think there's any great secret to it. But here's what I do.

Firstly I make sure I know exactly what I'm pitching. Sounds ludicrous I know, but I've listened to pitches from other writers which sound more like a jumble of ideas rather than a constructed 'story'.

So for example, I'm pitching a cop show. What is it about this cop show that is different from all the other cop shows? How do I get that across in the shortest possible time but to maximum effect? The main characters? How to I get across the interactions between them and the effect on ongoing drama?

In my case the answer to both is carefully chosen sound bites. I pretty much know exactly what I'm going to say before the meeting. No waffle. No uhms and ahs.

But the MOST IMPORTANT thing I do is just before the meeting when I convince myself that this is the best goddamn idea they've heard this year. I'm wetting myself to write it and am passionate about the concept. [Note, actually wetting oneself is not a good idea]

By doing this the enthusiasm I feel can become infectious. And why should anyone else be enthusiastic about your project if it isn't shining out of you as you pitch?

There is a balance of course. Wild enthusiasm can be off putting. It's more a 'confident' enthusiasm you are aiming for. You know it's a good project. You know you can write the hell out of it and the audience are going to love it.

Maybe they will throw you an awkward curve ball or two after the pitch, something you haven't thought of like who do you see as the female lead or what demographic is the target audience but you'll find that if you have done your pitch properly then the odd uhm and ah here is easily forgiven.

So that's it in a nutshell. The English Dave pitch. Know what you are pitching. Construct your well chosen soundbites. And be enthusiastic.

A little self depricating humour doesn't go amiss either!