Monthly Archives: May 2008

How to deal with notes

So you’ve finished the first draft of your latest script and sent it off. It was a difficult process fraught with many pitfalls and as the day of the deadline dawned you realised you hadn’t actually written anything.

After watching eight or nine hours of TV, you finally knuckled down and furiously scribbled whatever random words popped into your head in a blaze of panic induced creativity, finally emailing the script on time – because 11.59 pm is technically still the same day.

Well done, you can relax and fanny around on the Internet … until the notes arrive. Here’s a quick guide to dealing with notes. Once you’ve identified these simple steps you can move through them quickly and deal with the notes in a calm and effective manner:

STEP ONE – RAGE

How fucking dare they criticise your masterpiece? These fucking idiots wouldn’t know a good script if you shoved it up their arse and set fire to it. They shouldn’t be allowed to make sandwiches, let alone fucking films. You’ve a good mind to ring them up and tell them all what a bunch of talentless cunts they really are.

STEP TWO – RELUCTANT ACCEPTANCE

Once the fires of indignation have burnt out you can re-read the notes and consider them in a new light. Okay, so maybe some of the notes have some worth to them. Less than half, mind you; but they’re not all as stupid as they first appear. One of them even makes sense, in an odd sort of way.

STEP THREE – MORE RAGE

Oh fucking hell, changing these things is going to mean actually doing some writing. Can’t these fucking people understand how difficult that is? The A-Team’s back on Bravo, how the hell are you expected to get any work done under those kind of conditions? They probably think it’s just a few hours work, but they don’t understand the creative process, once you add on all the procrastination this thing could take weeks. They’re fucking vampires, just because they’re paying you doesn’t mean they own your soul.

 STEP FOUR – COUNTER ARGUMENT

Apparently they do own your soul, it’s in your contract. You sit down and write notes on their notes, arguing against every point. The more times you can use phrases like ‘character arc’, ‘remaining true to the underlying theme’ and ‘intrinsic logic of the character’s psyche’ the better. Cite films which don’t bother explaining the character’s motivation or avoid the clichéd notion of ‘making sense’. The more detailed your notes are, the less likely it is you’ll have to do any real work. True, writing these notes takes longer than it would to re-write the script; but it’s the principle god damn it.

STEP FIVE – BELLIGERENCE

The nagging suspicion sets in that their notes make sense and are beneficial to the story. By dissecting them and arguing against them you’ve slowly realised their true worth: half of them add to the story, the other half are personal choice and make no difference whatsoever – except the person paying your wages wants them to be like that. When the producer rings you up to discuss your notes, you want to apologise for calling his mother names and reach a sensible middle ground.

However, that would mean admitting you’re wrong and there’s no fucking way that’s going to happen. Instead you discuss the relative merits of the script until you manage to suggest a third way forward – one which addresses his concerns without using his ideas. There’s nothing wrong with his ideas, but you’re not going to let the fucker think he knows what he’s talking about. That way lies madness and leads to producers writing their own scripts. Even when they’re right, tell them they’re wrong.

STEP SIX – EVEN MORE RAGE

Oh for fuck’s sake! You’ve just talked yourself into doing the fucking re-writes. Okay, not exactly as they were first noted, but you’re still actually going to have to do some fucking work. This is fucking intolerable. There must be something in your contract which says you don’t have to do any more work. Why is life so fucking difficult?

STEP SEVEN – PROCRASTINATION

You know you have to do the re-writes, you know the deadline is fast approaching but you just don’t feel like doing any writing. There are hundreds of TV channels, if you keep flicking long enough you’re bound to find something to watch. Maybe there’s an episode of ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ you haven’t seen more than twice? Ooh! There’s a documentary on the history of cheese on the Cheese channel, that might be interesting!

It’s not.

When you’ve watched as much Simpsons as you can bear, it’s finally time to retreat to the computer and knuckle down to some proper procrastination.

Write a blog post, browse for some porn, sign up to some random forums and slag everyone off. This is an important part of the writing process, it’s like a venturi, building up the twin pressures of guilt and panic until they erupt in literary genius. The longer you can avoid writing, the better it will be.

STEP EIGHT – PANIC

Holy fuck! The deadline’s in three hours and you haven’t written a fucking word. The most important thing at this point is to find someone to blame. If you’re in the house on your own, text someone asking them to ring you urgently then scream at them for interrupting you. You can always claim you sent the text two days ago and they obviously don’t care about your well-being. Finally - after one last check of the news, just in case there’s been some terrorist attack you can claim a friend died in; or perhaps a nuclear war has broken out and your script won’t be needed until next week? – you make the changes you were asked to do and deliver the script at 11.59 pm.

These eight simple steps are vital to the writing process. You need to pass through each one in order to reach your goal. Now that you know what they are, hopefully you can shorten how long you spend on each step and free up your time for more important things. Like sleeping fourteen hours a day, or looking up the origins of rude words … until the next set of notes arrive and the process begins all over again.

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The starving artist

There was a flurry of posts on Shooting People this week, sparked by a guy who was wondering if he should give up if he hasn’t achieved success by a certain age.

Naturally, the flood of responses told him not to be silly, keep pushing for the dream, never give in, never give up … etc, etc, etc.

Personally I had to fight the urge to tell him to quit now – part of my ongoing project to eliminate all the competition.

All well and good.

Although a couple of people posted replies along the lines of:

“Scriptwriting is my life. My wife has left me, my kids have been taken away, I’m being kicked out of my flat, I’ve been on the dole for years and I feed myself on one tin of beans a week. I’m starving, I’m impoverished and I’m bitterly depressed, but it’s worth it because I’m pursuing my dream and I’ll never give up.”

This struck me as … fucking stupid.

Scriptwriting is your life?

Really?

My life is my friends and my family. It’s experiencing new things, meeting new people, going to new places. It’s hard work, it’s laughter, it’s learning to cope with the knock backs. It’s loving and being loved in return.

Screenwriting is sitting in a room on your own hunched over a keyboard.

I’m not saying I don’t enjoy it and spend a large proportion of my life doing it; but it’s not a life. And given those two descriptions – who sounds most likely to have something to write about?

Um … obviously, I’m talking about the definition of a life versus the definition of screenwriting. Anyone who’s had all the wife leaving, being made homeless, starving issues probably has quite a lot to write about. You’d probably slit your own throat whilst doing it, but there’s a lot of meat there. What I’m talking about here is people who deliberately let their obsession put them in that situation, not people who are unfortunate through no fault of their own.

Writing is a job, just like any other. Yes it can be fun, and yes I enjoy it more than any other job I’ve ever had – but it’s frustrating, depressing and chock full of stupid office politics. Imagine the worst office you’ve worked in – or better yet, take the worst people from every office you’ve ever worked in, imagine them all suddenly becoming famous, highly strung, deeply unsure of themselves and sporting an ego the size of Africa.

Now multiply it by a thousand and you’ve still nowhere near the egg-shell treading nature of the job.

The point is that whereas people dream of becoming a writer – once you’re getting paid and having to do it on demand it quickly becomes work-a-day and tiresome. Why do you think writers procrastinate so much? Not because it’s such a wonderful experience that you can’t wait to immerse yourself in it time and time again – but because there’s frequently more interesting things going on around you.

Like washing the dishes, or cutting the grass, or even reorganising your sock drawer.

It’s the same as any job – bits of it are more fun than others, there are days when you can’t wait to throw yourself into your work and days where you can’t wait to give up and go and watch TV.

I decided a long time ago that I would never, ever be a struggling artist. I don’t see the advantage of staying at home all day every day trying to write when no one wants to read it, starving yourself in pursuit of a fantasy job which you may never achieve.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t try – but for god’s sake: be sensible.

No job is worth losing your lover over. No job is worth becoming homeless or losing access to your kids or starving yourself. These are not the actions of a well balanced individual.

And I can guarantee no one who refuses to work and stays at home all day does any more writing than anyone else. Honestly, I can guarantee that. People who have all day to write do exactly the same as people who only write in the evenings or weekends: spend most of their time browsing the net for porn.

Writing is one of those careers which may never happen – you have to be realistic. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try, you should. I also don’t advocate setting yourself a deadline – there’s no reason why you can’t keep writing until the day you die. If you enjoy it, keep doing it – but for fuck’s sake don’t starve yourself to do it.

You need a plan, a strategy. Find a day job which allows you the time to write and pays you enough to live on. Comfortably.

With this in mind, here’s my quick guide to finding an ideal, writing friendly, day job.

  1. You need a job which pays you enough to live on. This is important, you don’t have to struggle and it doesn’t make you a better writer. Yes experience is good; but if I wanted to write about being homeless I would pick someone off the streets, buy them a meal, ask them some questions and then use my fucking imagination. That’s what it’s there for. Most of the people you’re writing for don’t know what it’s like to be homeless either – they won’t know the difference.
  2. Make sure your job doesn’t take up too much time. 9-5 is okay, but try to find one without a massive commute. Adding two hours to the beginning and end of each day is not a good idea.
  3. Find a job with no homework. Don’t pick something where you have to spend four hours a night filling in paperwork – what’s the point? That’s writing time.
  4. Find a job which requires little or no thought. If the job isn’t mentally demanding, you can spend your working day thinking about Vampires and explosions and shit.
  5. Don’t work on your own. You need to meet lots of people so you can steal their life stories and their speech patterns. Characters are so much easier to create when someone else does it for you.
  6. If possible, avoid working with computers. You don’t want to be staring at a computer screen all day and again all night. Plus, computers are complicated and you have to think about them. See point 4. The only exception to this is if your job consists of sitting at a desk with a computer and you have no work to do. Brilliant, you’re now getting paid to write.
  7. Avoid responsibility. Only accept promotions if it means doing less work for more money. The goal here is not to get too involved in your day job, just go in, do it, come home. Don’t get involved. Satisfaction comes from writing, this is just to pay the bills.
  8. Consider shiftwork. If you don’t have a family and you don’t mind missing the odd Saturday night, try working odd hours. That way, when you do start having meetings you’ll be able to take them midday, mid-week without having to phone in sick.
  9. This is very important, find a job which is tolerable. You don’t have to love it, but you do have to like it. A boring, depressing job makes you … guess what? Boring and depressed. Find something which is a bit of a laugh and doesn’t make you want to kill yourself and others. Remember, you may be doing it for the rest of your life.

There, simple isn’t it?

At the end of the day, becoming a scriptwriter costs money. You need a computer, software, a printer, stamps, envelopes, paper, ink, competition entry fees, travel fare for meetings, attending festivals, courses …

YOU NEED MONEY TO MAKE MONEY.

Being a full time writer might be your dream, but it shouldn’t be your life. You may never make it … don’t waste your life in pursuit of something which may be forever out of reach. Again, I’m not advocating NOT trying. Try your hardest, be dedicated, write as often as you can without losing touch with friends or loved ones; but be realistic. You need to look after yourself, physically and emotionally. For that you need money and you need love.

Get your priorities right, it’s just another job.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | 17 Comments

IMDb message boards

As far as I’m aware, there are only two kinds of people who use the message boards on IMDb to talk about low-budget films and film makers: teenagers who can’t get laid and feel the need to vent their frustration by slagging off movies on the Internet; and the film makers themselves who pretend to be teenagers in order to defend their film/selves from the vicious comments.

It’s slightly different for big box office films, but for small, independent D2DVD movies, this is pretty much always the case.

Hence you get films where the message board discussions read:

chickfucka176

“this film suxx OMG its’ so lame (the director) is shit he cant make a good film he must be gay”

Only with worse spelling, grammar and punctuation. Chickfucka176 is someone who posts his hatred for films pretty much from when school finishes until his parents make him go to bed. Hence ensuring his eternal virginity.

This will usually be followed by a response like:

rothe direct

“I love this film. It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen and I highly recommend people go out and buy it. The director is fantastic and is definitely a rising star who will surely be snapped up by Hollywood after such an amazing debut. I’ve heard he’s got a big cock too. I imagine loads of girls want to sleep with him.”

Where “rothe direct” is usually a poorly thought out anagram of the director’s name. This will be his first and only posting on the message boards – subtle.

This is pretty much what the message boards on IMDb are for and, although amusingly diverting, are also the reason why I rarely read any of them. I do read the reviews for my own projects, particularly the bad ones since they’re the funniest. The tag line at the top of this blog comes from one such review: “A new low for the British Empire”. “Leprosy is funnier” is another favourite review of mine.

However, following a discussion about the message boards on Trigger Street, I was idly flicking through and I found this one:

bobthefirst

keep an eye on this fella….definitely someone we’ll be hearing from in the future!!

Normally, I’d dismiss this as someone trying to big themselves up; but it’s on my message board.

What the fuck?

bobthefirst has been a registered user since 2006 and has posted three times in two years. One on Jeffery Jones, one on Green Zone and one on me.

For the record – I am not bobthefirst; but the question remains: who is he? I don’t think it’s someone I’ve worked with since I have no connection to either Jeffery Jones or Green Zone. I doubt it’s one of my friends since most of them have better things to do and are more likely to call me names instead. There is a worrying possibility it’s either my parole officer or one of the lovely people from the juvenile detention centre. Oh, or possibly the police officer who arrested me for counterfeiting*. (bob – bobby? bob the first – Robert Peel himself, risen from the grave to feel my collar?)

I doubt this is some random bloke who was browsing IMDb and was blown away by my profile page – so the most likely possibility is it’s one of you lot.

So come on, ‘fess up.

Who done it?

* Only one of these three people exist. I’ll let you decide who.

Categories: Random Witterings | 6 Comments

Lull

I’m at a bit of a loose end today. It’s not that I have nothing to do, it’s just I have nothing to do right now.

I’m working on lot of different projects, both film and TV stuff, and they’re all at different stages of development: some are one page synopses, some 4-5 page outlines, some 10 page treatments and a couple are already scripted. It’s a conveyer belt process whereby I write one stage, get notes, then move onto the next. Because there’s always a gap between finishing one stage and getting the notes, I can work on multiple projects at the same time without any problem.

Right now, I’ve completed the current stage for each project and can’t move forward without notes from the producers/directors. The problem being, they’ve all buggered off to Cannes.

Which leaves me kicking my heels wondering what to do with myself. I could, theoretically, start a *gasp* spec project … but since I’ve got a meeting tomorrow about a new film project, starting my own seems like a waste of time. Why write something you then have to sell when you already have people who want you to write things for them?

I could get a head start on the next stage of each project, but until I get the notes I could be running in completely the wrong direction. I’m not that bored.

There is a slight worry on the horizon. I have this vague fear that everyone’s going to come back from Cannes all fired up and determined to forge ahead … all of them. At the same time.

That would be completely impossible.

Well, I say impossible; more like very difficult, to be honest.

A position I don’t want to be in, at the very least.

Still, that’s all in the future. Today, I have nothing much to do.

Categories: Bored | 24 Comments

Ivory tower

People seem to have a really odd attitude towards attaining success as a writer, particularly when it comes to competitions. It’s almost as if the industry is an unscalable tower with the professionals forever out of reach at the top. At the bottom of the tower are thousands of aspiring writers who are desperate to get up there, but feel they are being ignored.

They throw their scripts at the people at the top, who are not interested despite every single word being pure genius. It’s a hopeless, frustrating situation. One which dooms you to perpetual failure and obscurity.

Until a competition comes along.

A competition is perceived as a lift which will take you straight to the top and make all your dreams come true. This is your only chance, you have to get on that lift or all is lost!

Except, the lift only holds a few people and there are thousands of you. The odds are against you, even if you were all superb writers of the highest calibre – only a couple of you can get on that lift. Naturally, the majority of writers are disappointed and spend the next few months/years whinging about how unfair the lift is, how it’s prejudiced and how the people chosen to board weren’t worthy.

Until the next competition comes along and the cycle starts again.

Here’s the thing I don’t understand: THERE’S A STAIRCASE!

Instead of trying to cram yourself into the lift or waiting for someone to peer over the edge and pick you from the crowd – take the stairs.

Apply for every job on every website every day. Paid or unpaid, it doesn’t matter – get stuff made, learn the craft by experience, work your way slowly to the top.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t enter competitions, of course you should. They are fantastic opportunities which aren’t to be missed. Winning can leapfrog you straight to the top and you’d be crazy not to apply for every scheme going, but it’s not the only way.

Hell, even people who win things like this don’t always carve out a career for themselves. Yes, it puts you in a much better position – but you still need to put in the hard work when you get there.

The most recent example was the BBC’s College of Comedy – an amazing opportunity and the six winners are incredibly fortunate to have their talent recognised and be selected – but for all those left at the bottom, don’t whine about it or get depressed. The odds are you weren’t going to win anyway. 1400 entries, 6 winners: 233 to 1 against. Not the worst odds, but still not good.

I see competitions as diversions, potential short cuts. I enter them and then I immediately forget about it and carry on plodding up the stairs. I doubt I’ll ever win a competition and I don’t really care because I’m doing alright on my own. Yes, I would love to be given the opportunity and I’d break down in tears of joy if I ever won anything; but I never get upset when I don’t – I just keep plodding onwards and upwards, one step at a time. It’s slow going, but at least I’m moving.

Reading people’s blogs, I often wonder what everyone else is doing – are you just submitting stuff to the BBC Writersroom and hoping? Are you waiting at the bottom of the tower for the next lift or are you actively pushing your career forward? Are you waiting for it to happen to you or are you making it happen?

Basically, are you on the stairs yet?

If not, why not?

Categories: Career Path, Industry Musings, My Way, Random Witterings | 14 Comments

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