Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Kentucky Fried Brain

So I knocked out 11 scenes and a third draft polish today, on a hang over. That's it. I'm officially down to my last neuron. Spent. Bedraggled and bewildered. What better time to blog!

How about a tale from the trenches? I was talking to a writer friend the other day. This guy's no mug. He's a Bafta winner. I mentioned a current show and asked him what he thought about it. He thought for a second and then said that whatever he said about it might be tinged with a shade of bias. He potentially had issues with the creator of that show.

Pray tell.

This Bafta winning writer had been hired on another of that creator's shows. Not the one we were discussing. He sent in his first draft, I repeat FIRST DRAFT of his first episode, to the producer and the producer promptly fired him!

The creator of the show phoned him up. He couldn't understand it. Who fires anyone on first draft?

My writer friend accepted the condolances but it was still at the back of his mind, hey he's the creator of the show, surely he must have had some input to that decision.

A couple of days later I'm chatting to my agent and mention this. My agent tells me that the show's creator [the one my friend was fired from] has walked away from it and wants nothing more to do with it.

Apparently he found out the producers were re-writing his scripts.

AhhhTV land, gotta love it.

So there you go. The power of the writer? Creator pretty much counts for spit. Writer/producer is the only way to have any power. I guess that's why the Abbots and the Jordans have gone down that route.

Hell if actors can do it why not writers?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Like looking in a Mirror

Here's a hilarious post

http://jerslater.blogspot.com/ A Writer's Life

The terrible thing is it is both hilarious and frighteningly accurate. At least for me. And be honest, most of you too.

If I got paid on the same scale for creatively avoiding writing as creatively writing I'd be rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

I've got around 30 scenes to write for a deadline next Friday. So far, I've written......nothing.

Thursday, my son was on half term. We went to the movies. At night, had a fight with soon to be ex-wife, got drunk and made angry and ill judged internet postings.

Friday, spent a long time deciding whether to go to a wrap party. I had a late meeting which made getting a flight difficult. But as it's the show the deadline is for I figured if none of them are working why the hell should I? And I had to prepare for my meeting, didn't I?

Saturday, Sponge Bob Square Pants, Football Focus and deciding what to do with an unexpected residuals cheque put paid to the morning. A long and delicious Chinese Lunch at Confuscious in Wimbledon with my son covered most of the afternoon.

And now....I'm blogging. I know what I could be doing. I know what I should be doing. But I ain't gonna. Nope.

My next blog may be on Wednesday when I am berating myself for once again leaving things to the last minute.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Soak Time Update

Having had to read a ton of stuff for a commission meeting. Attended said commission meeting and now thinking about first draft of new commission the subconcious has popped up a new title on the 'Left Behind' project [ My thanks to Dave Bishop for bringing that to my attention] a huge new ongoing story line and a massive obstacle related to the premise.

I suppose what I'm saying is that in order to be become a pro writer you have to block off time when you don't give a shit.

No agenda. No thinking you have to please someone else. Some innate trait in your personality pops up what is going to work. Trust it.

If you have talent, that will get you in . But remember that if you are hired on a long running show you have to conform to the wishes of the least intelligent or talented in the chain of command. Unless you have the nuts to bypass them.

I tried that. I had a script editor on a show I nicknamed 'Mr. Goodluck' He had been a lawyer and I presume was sacked. He fetched up at an iconic British TV drama. Possibly because his father was a famous film director. [True] I got him on his first episode. I called him Mr. Goodluck because every time he phoned me to give me notes he got from the team he said ' I don't know what they mean or how you're going to do this but good luck'

Unfortunately the show was in a state of flux re Exec producers and all points down. When I bypassed the non-sensical script editor to go directly to the new producer I got canned.

Would I do it again?


A writer has to have some fun in life.

Pilot Light

I've just received some feed back from a head of drama. And it is what feed back should be in a perfect world [for writers]

The first line tells me he enjoyed it but he ain't gonna do it.

The second paragraph explains why, mainly to do with the fact they currently produce two shows in that genre and have no real appetite for another.

The rest of the feedback tells me IF they were going to do it, these are the changes they think it needs. Detailed, logical, creative changes.
Ah if only 'twere always so.

Anyway the main point is that I seem to have made a basic writing mistake. I had a cardboard antagonist who was there to set up danger rather than having a fully fledged character.

Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

But I know why it happened. I was too busy making 'please like me' protagonists. Nearly every major story moment and character piece went to the protagonists. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing, because ultimately it is the protag the audience tunes in to see on a weekly basis. But if as a result you fail to develop your antagonist then.......

Who am I kidding. Did I not post a few blogs ago that my belief is antagonist + goal = Story?

Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

It didn't help that the pilot has two different antags. An episode antag and a series antag - the arch nemesis if you will. Spending too much time on the protags left both antags light.

Having said all the above, if I fix those problems will that increase the chances of a sale?

Probably not. Those are script points. The type of notes you get on a draft after it has been sold. Execs buy projects more on the concept and protags. Script points can be fixed, a bad concept will always remain just that.

I'm not saying you can write any old bollocks if you have a good concept. Giving the impression that you have the ability to pull it off is equally important. That means the writing has to be of a high standard. You are asking people to put a lot of faith in you, so though no one expects a spec script to be perfect in all aspects of story, character and tone, it still better be pretty damn good.

So I've sent back a nice e-mail, thanking him for his time, trouble and valuable comments. Because taking time and trouble is far from the norm. When it happens, the least I can do is show my appreciation.

It's already with 10 or so other producers anyway. If they all come back saying the same thing then I've learned it needed another pass before it went out and been reminded of a valuable lesson. But is that what has stopped them from buying it? In this case no. It is wrong concept wrong time. Dead in the water from day1.

If it was right concept, right time despite some story issues? It would be a quick -'would you be willing to change that motive and change this character to this?' type meeting. Hopefully followed by a cheque.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A forced chill pill

Shiny new project is still gnawing at me to get my finger out and start writing. But luckily I can't. I've a ton of stuff to read for a new commission tomorrow, and that and a 3 rd draft of of a previous commission which is due should keep me out of mischief for a while.

I say luckily because I've learned through experience that my work improves if I've had some 'soak time' That's time away from the project not specifically thinking about it but relying on my subconcious to bubble away and pop out ideas at random moments. Character improvements, story moments, background colour, nothing very substantial but maybe together giving that extra 5% that can mean the difference between yes and no.

It's not a luxury you get very often when writing to a deadline but that's not really a problem. I don't think I'm giving away too many secrets when I say that on serial drama good writing is good enough.

But I think to get something of your own away it takes better than good. Someone apart from you has to LOVE it. And if the right person loves it, it's fortune and glory time my friends!

I read that SHAMELESS is having a dedicated set built with a view to producing 16 eps a year. Let's pretend that Paul Abbot is a struggling scribe and Shameless was his first series. Lets assume that the average writing fee is 18k, that'll be at least 36k with a repeat buyout. Paul Abbot would not have to write ONE episode of that series, not one, but thanks to the format fee, as creator he'll earn around 60k. That doesn't even touch on foreign sales and DVD. Without writing a single script in that particular series. Because he got the first series away.

Really makes you want to sit down and write don't it?

So long as you keep money as a motivator and not the entire motive. Because you can't fake sincerity as a writer. People who 'know', know when they read it. And it's usually people who 'know' who get projects made.

In all truthfulness the only times I ever think of the money is when I get a particularly rancid storyline I've got to do something with. Then the only way I can get started is to repeat 'Think of the money' several times.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The New One

Okay I've decided to not post about Project X unless something significant happens with it, which it probably won't for reasons aformentioned in previous blogs.

So let's move on to bright, shining new project titled 'Left Behind'. Okay its not the title I originally thought of, that had to change because the original protag has gone and the antag has become the protag and......it's a long story. But I do know that the title 'Left Behind' leaves the door open for TV critics to make snide comments like 'What a cheek' and 'He made an arse of that' But what the hell. I should be so lucky that it ever makes the screen.

It's a working title. It helps me focus on what it is about. So screw 'em. I've just sent a mini-bible to my agents [my mini bible = premise, concept and main characters but no storylines] and I'll see what reaction I get from them in a week or so.

I SOOOOOOOOOOO want to write this. But I'm a bit leery about launching into a spec script because it's fairly big budget and I want to find out if anyone has the chops for it first.

Friday, October 20, 2006

I Premised you a Miracle

So I woke up this morning with a fan-fucking- brilliant premise for a Sci/Fi extravaganza. Just one of those things that sometimes pop into your head overnight and actually stays with you when you wake up. Probably happened due to the fact that I watched the entire series back to back of Joss Wheedon's totally and utterly brilliant 'Firefly' a few days ago.

Anyway, I wake up salivating. Really. Even had a stonking good title. I couldn't wait to turn on Johnny Computer and get it down. Which I did.

Man, that's a great premise. I say to myself. Oh yeah, lead characters coming at me like drunken Kamakazes. Fricking things going to write itself! Then the trouble started.

I realised I only had one real story. Okay, maybe it's a movie then?
Hmmmmm......no not really. The premise is high concept but the story.....isn't. It's a hybrid. It kinda falls half way between movie and TV. And I don't have an ending. Kinda puts the kybosh on a movie.

Then I realised why I had only one real story. Because I had only one real antagonist. The best known and best Sci/Fi series like Star Trek [in all it's forms] and the aforementioned Firefly etc. have one major thing in common [apart from the whole space thing] There may be one major series length antagonist, be they Klingons or The Alliance. But they also had every opportunity for a new antagonist in every episode. It's how the premise was set up. Star Trek boldly going etc and Firefly boldly stealing etc...And Antagonist + Goal = story.

Protags are a dime a dozen. I always think that Antagonist and Goal is where you really make your story bones.

And that's why I've hit a hurdle. I've got a premise, or to be honest - set up. Got a rough idea of protag[s]. But I need to do some very serious thinking on antags and goals or this sucker is belly up.

So what I'm going to do is.....nothing. Well not nothing. There's a box set of Family Guy invitingly near at hand.

Because I've already spent a couple of hours noodling this thing and so far nada. My aged brain is telling me enough is enough. Let that rowdy subconscious nutcase take some of the load. The little shit caused all this in the first place.

But mainly because I need time. Time to realise this project is what it is and will eventually reveal itself to me.. Right now I'm trying to straightjacket it into what I want it to be. Damn you Joss Wheedon!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Two And A Half Wars

As anyone reading this blog can quickly see, I don't do comedy. But this doesn't stop me from discussing it. Oh no. Especially with my genius son. [who luckily for him actually wants to write comedy or else I might have to cull him from the herd before he becomes competition]

Anyhoo, we were discussing the differences between Two and a Half Men [one of our favourite sitcoms] and The War At Home [one of our meh...s'okay sitcoms]

So mini-me comes up with - It's because I like the characters better in Two and a Half Men. Charlie and Alan are flawed but they know they are, it's played for laughs and we like them for it. The Dad in War at Home is a total knob but doesn't know he is. And they don't play that for laughs. So he's just a knob who says some funny things.

Little bastard. He nailed it.

It's like in drama where you can have a protag [and even an antag] who does some very bad things, but if you understand why and how he comes to do them then you can empathise if not sympathise.

Look at Sin City. People doing very, very bad things. But you still knew and rooted for the 'good guys' no matter what they did. Saw the guy's legs off and leave him to be eaten by dogs? Yeah, why not. And it works because the character 'shitwork' had been done and done well.

Someone once told me that Drama was just Comedy without the laughs. Or vice versa I can't remember now. He was very drunk. Or I was. But I think that makes a lot of sense. Because if you don't like or empathise with the characters, drama or comedy, you've got an uphill battle.

Monday, October 16, 2006

You Get A Feeling

Much as I suspected I got a call from the interested producer on Project X. She couldn't swing it past her boss. No big surprise. Phone language is another form of body language and I knew from Friday's call that 'I want to do this' is nowhere near 'If my boss says no I'll claw his face off.' You can tell when it is more in hope than expectation. Much like me attempting to chat someone up in a pub.

I've no complaints. Thanks to the producer singing my praises the boss said he'll commission me on one of their other shows . Which I know she did because she is a sweetie - and a great judge of talent!

What was more worrying was that the reason for the pass was that BBC and ITV are apparently currently developing projects with related themes to Project X. That is bad news for it's prospects anywhere else. It doesn't make it impossible but its another obstacle to overcome.

Unfortunately that is the writer's lot. Unless you have a mole in the Networks you have no way of knowing what they have recently started developing and you can go quite a way down the road before you find out. I'll chuck it out to a few more people but if the same reaction comes back then it is pretty much dead in the water.

But its all swings and roundabouts. My two previous spec projects were investigative. Every one said you can't shift them. The Networks aren't looking for them right now.

Guess what the producer just asked me? Yup. Do you have any ideas for an investigative serial ? The BBC are looking apparently.

Hey Ho! All aboard the merry-go-round.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Project X update

Well. Project X has only gone out to a couple of people so far. I got a call the other day from a producer at a major prodco to say she loves it and wants to do it but has to run it by her boss first.

I'm not holding my breath. Because there is a major obstacle in the way. About 8 years ago this same prodco produced something with a vaguely similar premise. It wasn't well received.

Now I can argue that the concept and tone are entirely different, that the TV audience has moved on from those times, that the previous project was in the wrong time slot --- you name it. It probably won't do any good. Failure casts a long shadow.

But the good news is that someone likes it. And you never know.

What it has done though is unlock a memory that I had completely forgotten about.

9 years ago I had a meeting with the producer who got that original series commissioned, just a couple of days after she had met the writer. I recall her saying something very telling to me that set alarm bells ringing.

She said, in very unworried terms, that the writer, after pitching the idea admitted he didn't have much in the way of story to go along with the idea because that wasn't really his forte.


I don't know how many episodes of that series the writer was involved in, but could that be the reason for it bombing, right there? Maybe?

If the creator doesn't have a strong story sense of where the series is heading then how the heck can anyone else?

I was in my writer short pants back then, so though I knew something was amiss here I didn't say anything. I was too busy weaseling for a gig on the show. Which in the event was never even offered. Maybe not such a bad thing as it turns out.

Anyway, next week I'll tell my agents to put Project X out to a few more, telling them to read it quickly because major prodco is interested. Nothing like a bit of healthy competition. Gotta work it baaaaby!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Nothing that can't be fixed

When I get feedback on a project I rarely pay much attention. Unless they say 'We'll buy it'

Of course if most of the feedback points to the same fault then it's time for a reality check.

But this is about one piece of feedback I have just received from the head of development of a major prodco - I paraphrase -

''I really enjoyed this. It was well writen and fast paced. I did find the story too linear and the characters a little underdeveloped but I thnk that would be an easy fix.''

Now that sounds not too bad really. Except when you think about it there is a huge assumption that they are right and I am wrong. These people want to meet me. And no doubt I will. It just seems to me that the power of the writer is getting diminished to the standards of Hollywood.

The script editors and producers who haven't written a thing in their lives and are responsible for much of the shite we have to endure on TV make assumptions that they know best? I might go along with that if it weren't for the aforementioned shite.

Twenty years ago in that misty time known as Potter and Bleasdale and Kennedy-Martin the writer was king. Now it seems the writer is more and more subject to the whims of the 'I want to keep my job' exec.

They seem to want to create a 'one size fits all' TV culture. And I think it is becoming an embedded culture of co-dependence between the play it safe Exec and the writer in need of a paycheque.

Factor in the 'How to Create Characters' memmo written by some American Guru, currently doing the rounds of script eds and producers and seemingly assuming God like status, and the battle is even more uphill.

These people CAN'T WRITE. So they tick off the checklist. Do we know if he loves his mother? Does he give to the homeless?


To me one of the major reasons for the decline of good drama is the introduction of soap writing into them. There's a time and a place for it. Not in every frickin' episode of every frickin' drama.

I don't want to sell the ranch character wise in Ep 1. I want to do just enough to empathise and intrigue the audience. There's a slow burn that has to be achieved and that doesn't mean spelling it out for the dumb audience.

Because the audience are not dumb. Okay some may not be able to articulate exactly in dramaturgical terms why they did or didn't like a show. But if they don't like it they won't watch it. And they are not watching in droves.

Okay I'll admit it. I've done my best to hype it up to myself but I was disappointed with The Outsiders and Robin Hood. The Outsiders I think screwed up completely on tone. This is probably nothing to do with the writer. More to do with editor, producer and director.

Robin Hood I found stilted and slow. I hear it gets better. Maybe I just thought it was a little strange that Robin Hood had a created by credit?

It's time the writer had a hell of a lot more input and real say in what actually appears on screen and has to pay less attention to the 'I can fix this' from non and wanabee creatives. There are good Execs out there for sure. Mostly in the Indies. But their hands are tied. Whatever they develvop then has to get past the networks.

If any other business had lost as many customers as network TV the board would have been sacked long ago. It's time they stopped blaming everything from the internet to Global warming for appalling ratings and started making programmes people actually make an effort to watch.

I'm not funny

During a recent beery night out with fellow scribes, much was discussed. Some of it hilarious. Yet when the subject of writing comedy came up there was a general sucking of teeth and a 'no, not for me'

I don't write comedy. I might just about tackle a comedy/drama given a fair wind and a lot of alcohol. But a flat out comedy? Nope.

It's not the way my mind works. When I write a dramatic scene I can see that drama unfold on screen. If I try to write a funny scene all that happens is I see it on the page and wonder if anyone else will find it funny because it sure doesn't look like it to me. It's the difference between hearing a well told joke and reading it. The first might have you in stitches, the other....meh?

Basically I don't have the confidence for it. And I think that is what you need to be a good comedy writer. Because the inescapable truth is that the chances are that a dramatic scene would be pretty much universally understood. A comedic scene is far more subjective.

I love 'Meet The Parents' To me it is almost the perfect comedy. A simple premise. The stakes are constantly and logically raised. Character is bang on and situations are believable. It's also very funny.

I don't think I would even begin to try writing something like that. Again. It's not the way my mind works.

When I write a scene my first though is that I have characters do and say things that advance plot, story and character. That, I think is also a prerequisite of writing a comedy scene. But there are a few additional extras. Most importantly, it has to be funny. So, you are advancing plot, character, story and being 'funny'. For 90 minutes! Man, that is a tough gig. And I suspect the main reason why there are so few good comedy movies.

Maybe one day I'll surprise myself, wake up one morning and decide to write a shit hot comedy. Until then my hat is off to good comedy writers everywhere .

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Take A Chill Pill

I left off Project X for a week or so while I got a commission done. Truth be told I was hoping to get the X script done before the commission, but there you go. The best laid plans etc.

I suppose today I should really be getting back to it. Buy I ain't gonna. Here's why.

The reason I didn't get X finished before the commission is that bad thoughts were circulating in my head about the structure and tone. Or, conversely, good thoughts were circulating in my head about altering structure and tone. In any event the pages were drying up as a result.

I think you have to trust your instinct on this. Your writing sub-conscious is telling you that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. You can't put your finger on it and there is no use trying to force it. So what do you do?

Well, I'm going to read a script for a friend that I've been promising for weeks. Post a blog. Check out a few others. Phone a mate and bitch about execs we have known and how that guy who can't write a shopping list keeps getting hired. Have a walk. Pick my son up from School. Make dinner. Tonight I'm out for some beers with fellow scribes.

Work. Work. Work! Or at least my sub-conscious is. And for a writer I reckon that is one of the most valuable ways to spend your time. Sure, you can't let days and days go by before you sit down in front of the blinking cursor [or fucking swearer if you're in a particularly bad mood] because that's called avoidance. And if you're on a tight deadline you won't have that luxury.

But this is for me. I want to enjoy writing it, and if I have nagging doubts then the pages are going to reflect that. So I'll take a chill pill today, let the fog of the last commission lift and trust my sub-conscious to deliver the goods on time tomorrow. Or shortly thereafter.

I'm also a bit lazy. But just a bit.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Apropos of nothing

Here is a great post that I shamelessly plagiarise.


It's the difference between trying to please and pleasing yourself. Which is why you were hired in the first place.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Keep Your Mouth Shut Part 2

See this is the whole problem with blogs. I've got this bizzare story to tell that happened recently and.....I just can't. The possibility of a major shitstorm for me and the particular show involved if it ever got out into the wider world where walls have ears is just too great.

Having said that, if I get canned from the show then all bets are off!

But it involves show politics of either Machiavelleian twistedness, or stupidty on a level last seen when a hedgehog tried to fuck a loo brush.

To give some kind of angle to what happened all I can say is I much prefer the guy coming at me head on with a hatchet than the knife in the back.

In this case I think I was the innocent pinking shears picked up by a homicidal maniac and used to attack the first victim in a slasher flick.

Execs can play games with each other that writers can't get near to comprehending. They have to. A writer relies on writing talent. An exec can have a number of quite different agendas.

I'm keeping my mouth shut.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

It's All Gone Pete Tong

So in between the reams of reading for a commissioning meeting tomorrow I'm knocking out pages for my new spec.

Well.....for knocking out read dribbling. Because that nice step outline I did for myself just ain't cutting it.

It works in a way. I know where I'm heading to. I just don't think it takes the best route.

That's not a biggee for me. Much like looking at storylines or SxS's sent to you prior to a commissioning meeting, you can do your best to come up with sensible, constructive comments, but it is only when you start writing the beast that the real character glitches, story faults and dramatic flaws actually strike you.

Because suddenly it is 'real time'. Screen time. That plot point in your outline might be two sentences. Then as you're writing it you realise it takes 5 pages of exposition to get across. It then hits you that if you seeded an earlier scene better, or changed the amount of 'information' available to your character you can do away with that plot point entirely and perhaps change the ongoing story for the better.

When I do this, I pretty much end up in the same place, but the scenery on the way is better.

Flexability is the key for me. I wouldn't like to start a script without an outline. But if the script didn't diverge from that outline in several places I'd be worried.

The more I get into the script the more my affinity for those characters and that story develops. You can now see that a 'convenient ' plot point in your outline doesn't work in the larger context of character motivation, or that you've gone down a page consuming dramatic dead end because rather than what is important to your story you've gone for writer masturbation.

It's a fine balance. To me, outlining gives me the confidence to write. So it's good. Once I'm writing, all bets are off!