Thursday, March 29, 2007

Don't give up the day job

In response to Jaded's questions in previous post.

Under no circumstances would I advise anyone to give up a job to try to start a career in screenwriting. Unless perhaps you get on the new BBC Writer's Academy where at least you are guaranteed a year of work.

Building a career does take years in the vast majority of cases. So write in your spare time and don't even consider giving up your job until you see a steady stream of commissions coming in. Even then think hard about it. You will have no regular pay cheque and no job security. It isn't for everyone.

A career involves making contacts, proving you can do the job and a large slice of luck. Mainly being in the right place at the right time with the right script. It takes talent and pereseverence and business sense. And while you are starting out the commissions will be thin on the ground. TV is a specialised and expensive business and many Producers are loathe to use brand new writers on their shows because mistakes can cost many thousands of pounds as well as screw up the shooting schedule.

No one can actually say 'I'm going to be a pro writer' It's not like being an accountant where you pass a few exams and off you go. Talent does play a large part but there are many other factors. There are lots of talented writers out there who don't have careers. There are simply no guarantees.

You can shorten the odds a little if you snag a good agent, and I think that's the way to go if you can. But remember, lots of people think they can write. I could give a long list of editors, directors and even an exec producer who decided writing was easy peasy and that would be their new career. With one exception they have returned to their own jobs and the sanctuary of the monthly pay cheque. It is TOUGH out there. And that is what you have to be prepared for. Make sure you have the talent for it. Then dip your toe in the water to see if you have the skills needed and the personality for it. Then and only then, have a think about whether you want to try to make a career out of it.

Would I do it again knowing what I know now? Probably, I'm fit for nothing else.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Hurry up and wait

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that the time taken for prodco's to get back to you after submitting seems to be getting longer and longer? I realised last week that I'd had a meeting with a major prodco in December and at their request sent them two- sheets on three projects. Hadn't heard a dicky! E-mailed them a polite reminder and never even got that acknowledged?????

So I had a word with my agent to see what else I had out there and how long it had been out. It would appear that it's taking at least two months to get a response from anyone! And that is quick compared to some of them. Okay I have my little circle of producers who know me quite well and get back quickly but the rest? Sheeeesh!

Actually, having thought about it I was invited to submit some sample scenes of a show way back at the end of January. This with a view to a writing gig on the show. I was told it was a rush job and could I get it done over the weekend. I duly did. Guess what? About a week ago my agent queried. They haven't read all the samples yet. So much for the rush job. So what they have is a sample written over a weekend rather than a week. Could have made all the difference.

Should this gig work out it will be quite a commitment. By the time they finally decide, will I still be available? I hope not. Because the complete lack of information and disregarding of the working writers' need to schedule doesn't exactly fill me with optimism that these will be swell people to work for.

Then again on a show I'm writing for now I've just waited nearly 3 weeks for 1st draft notes. Three times as long as it took me to write the fucking thing. No doubt I'll get them just in time to ruin my weekend - again. Okay maybe I'm a grumpy old man, but at my time of life I don't have time to hurry up and wait.

So, in future Mr Producer if you don't get back to me in six weeks maximum you are off my Christmas Card list. Tinkerty Tonk! And I mean that to sting.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Salesman

I met an old Uni pal last week, just before a lurgie struck me down. He was in town for a couple of days from Chigago. Also present was another old friend of his who he invited along. Nice guy, really liked him. About six pints of Stella in, I realised why Al had thought it would be a good idea to get us all together. Aren't Americans just great at networking? See, his other friend was a wannabe writer! Joy of joys an evening vomiting up information like a drunken penguin to a bulimic chick. Does life get any sweeter?

If I was told before hand I was expected to give sage like advice I would definitely not have gone on to shorts! But to be honest even if I was capable, no sage like advice was needed. Because it was the same old littany. '' Everyone says I write great stuff, but whenever I try to get it to producers I get a straight knock back or never hear from them again''

So I asked a couple of pertinent questions. Who ish everyone? and Gimmee a shample ov yer pitch to produshers? Remember I'd had a few beverages by this time.

Okay, everyone was a few mates and some dubious guy who had written an episode of Doctors and charged him £50 for the privallege of reading a script and telling him how good he was. But had any real industry pros ever read any of his work? By real I mean those at the sharp end, the ones making real decisions. No they hadn't. Because what he failed to realise is that there are two hugely different but very much connected sides to being a writer. Writing and selling.

By selling I don't mean the magical mega buck deal. I mean selling the read. Because make no mistake, as a new writer, selling the read is hard! I asked him how he went about it. he looked a little flummoxed. ''Well, I tell them I'm a marketing manager with Blob, I've been writing for 5 years and this is my 8th script. My ambition is to become a pro writer and...........'''

Whoa, whoa, whoa, .................I'm already half asleep and this is a mate of a mate. And a frickin' marketing manager! Physician, heal thyself!

If I told this guy how many scripts and queries producers wade through in a week he'd crap his pants! They would probably not get past that first sentence. BORING. Who cares who you are, what you do or what your ambition is? What is the frickon story!!!!!!!! First last and always.

If your querie isn't sharp, erudite and grabbing, then the probability is the script you are pitching is probably in the same vein. No need to read further.

Let your log line do the talking. Just make sure it's a damn good one. Like a good scene, your querie comes in as late as possible and out as early as possible. Don't clog it up with fluff. You are battling against hundreds of others, most of them just circling the drain before they give up, but the few who get a read at least have a chance. You need to be in that few.

It's a buyers market, make sure you are a good salesman.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Those who can, do

Those who can't........well they just can't. You know the one thing that REALLY ticks me off about writing scripts. It's not the fact that any episode I write might possibly be savaged by an editor wearing boxing gloves, or a director just going through the motions, or a producer giving crazed notes I have to try to incorporate.

Nope, none of the above. Those are just run of the mill occupational hazzards.

What brings the red mist down, especially as by that stage there is nothing I can do to remedy it, is when someone - script editor, director, whomever, decides that they'll add a couple of lines of dialogue here and there and that dialogue sucks farts from swans.

See, in the main, the audience in general doesn't really notice lazy direction or editing, but they definitely do notice teeth grating dialogue, and just a couple of lines of nail down a blackboard stuff can do a heck of a lot of harm, especially if the actors deliver it like Pinnochio on mogadon. It instantly takes them out of story. Pretty much the last thing you want to happen.

I don't have a standard PACT contract handy, but from memory it pretty much says that the writer has first dibs on any substantial revision to the script subject to any time constraints.

Two get-out clauses right there. Try arguing that a couple of lines of dialogue is substantial? You'll get blank stares. An entire strand? Sorry, time constraints.

The thing is some people can write good dialogue. That's one of the reasons why they're pro writers. It's actually one of the minor reasons, but still a whole hell of a lot more important than some Klutz with a tin ear sticking their two cents in.

But they have THE POWER to do that. And it's something you've pretty much got to live with. I'd say that if something I write ends up on screen as something like 70% of the way I wrote and envisaged it then I'm happy. So long as the none of the other 30% did actual harm. But it takes so little to do actual harm, and that is something a lot of non writers in the industry who are concentrating on line production aren't aware of.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Potdoll has tagged me. I'm computer illiterate and don't really know what that means but I gather I'm to tell 5 things not many people know about me. Oh well why the heck not.

1. I spent a night in a jail cell in Nigeria for insulting the State.

2. I have a degree in accountancy

3. I killed a sheep on a golf course when my drive smacked it right between the eyes.

4. I once played naked football in Amsterdam

5. A couple I met in a bar in Providence R.I invited me back to their place for what turned out to be a swingers party. I ate, drank and left, as opposed to eats, shoots and leaves.

What happens now? Do I tag someone and if so how? Told you I was dumb.

Monday, March 12, 2007


In the course of a writing career you come across many different kinds of producers and script editors. Some good, some not so good. But when you're struggling up the ranks the best piece of advice I can give is shut up and keep your head down. Yes there are writers who simply won't work with script editors or tell them to shove their notes where the sun don't shine. But they are craggy wizened veterans who have been at the top of the tree for some time.

When you are trying to forge a career, you have to take it on the chin. Adapt to the different personalities you have to deal with and find the best way of getting your way without antagonizong anyone. Remember that when you have made it you can spit in their eye if necessary, but until then, cool your jets. Unless you've explored every avenue and it still transpires the guy's a moron.

I've worked with good and bad. That's a very loose definition, because good can either mean someone who pretty much leaves you alone to get on with it or someone who gives great constructive notes that really help the script. Bad can mean someone who keeps you in the dark or gives notes that aren't worth the paper they've been wiped on.

I wrote a few episodes of a very popular medical show set in a hospital. Not much of a clue there! I mean this was prime time drama, so you'd think the people there would be shit hot yes? Most of them were. But if you get the one that isn't then God help you.

I was new to the show and didn't want to make any waves, but this guy I secretly christened Mr Good Luck. Every time he phoned he would say something like ''the producer wants more energy in the mid section, I'm not sure what he means and I'm not sure how you'll do it but good luck.''

Nice guy but as a script editor about as much use as the Pope's bollocks. I said nothing and tried to do the best job I could. That meant phoning the producer on a Saturday to try and get some sense for a Monday deadline. Producer wasn't pleased. I didn't write another episode.

I later found out that a craggy wizened writer had the same script editor. She told them ''either I get a new script editor or I walk''

So.......should I have said something? It's a tormenting question. I was very new to the show, and you've always got to remember that people move on. As a new writer on the show causing a fuss, that ''reputation'' can quickly spread.

On balance I'd say it's best just to suck it up. Getting canned is an occupational hazzard that can happen for a number of reasons, but what is perceived as a bad attitude can stall a career before you get the chance to stick it back to them.

Starting out it's like a young David Beckham polishing Gary Neville's boots. Thank you sir, can I have another!