Monthly Archives: September 2007

How not to hold a meeting

bbc-pass.jpg

I feel it’s my duty as a writer to pass on the wisdom I’ve gained during my career so far. In particular, I think it’s important to help fellow writers grow and learn from my mistakes – especially when they’re fucking stupid.

And so plentiful.

So here, in chronological order, are the mistakes you want to avoid when taking a meeting with a BBC producer.

Just to set the scene: a friend put me forward as a potential writer for a newly commissioned TV sketch show. I sent in some sketches and one caught the producer’s eye. He sent me a more detailed writer’s brief and I wrote a load more. In the second batch, a sizable proportion were deemed funny/suitable. I was bombarded with ideas and requests for new sketches, a potential commission and a open offer to meet with the producer when I had time.

Here’s how not to proceed*:

  1. Don’t follow up your last triumph with a handful of, frankly, quite shit sketches you’ve dashed out between finishing a movie re-write and falling asleep.
  2. Don’t spend the entire night before in hospital looking after your best friend’s kid.
  3. Don’t get up at bastard early o’clock in the morning to feed your best friend’s other kid.
  4. Don’t arrange meetings for the day before the most important event of your life so far, when all you can think about is the next day and how much impact its success or failure will have on everything you’ve ever known or cared about.§
  5. Don’t attend a meeting immediately beforehand where the project you’re discussing takes a new and unexpected twist which could jump you straight to the top of the pile and leave you working with one of your favourite writers; thus causing you to wander around London deliriously happy and feeling like some kind of script-god.¤
  6. When filling in the BBC visitor’s pass – try not to spell your name wrong.
  7. Don’t, after meeting the producer and being all cheery, suddenly explain you can’t think straight because you’ve been up all night.
  8. Try not to, if at all possible, fall asleep when you’re being shown the taster DVD for the new show.
  9. When the producer mentions how the last batch of sketches didn’t quite hit the mark, try not to refer to them as ‘a pile of shit’. Sometimes, honesty is not the best policy.
  10. If said producer asks you for an opinion – try to have one. It’s preferable to just staring out of the window wondering if that’s a car park or not.
  11. When the producer mentions a particular sketch and wonders if you have any ideas on how to expand it/develop it further – try not to say yes and then go back to looking at the car park.
  12. Don’t ask if you can steal one of their TVs.
  13. When the producer describes a sketch you think is funny, laughing is a more acceptable response than stating “Yes, that’s really funny.” in a monotone voice.
  14. Recognise when the meeting is over – it’s usually just before the ten minutes of silence interrupted by the producer asking you if there’s anything else you want to know.
  15. If there isn’t anything you want to know, thank him and say goodbye immediately. Do not sit for another ten minutes thinking ‘It must be a car park, but why can’t I see any cars?’
  16. On your way out, try not to stare at the turnstile like a fucking simpleton – you’ve seen them before, they’re not that complicated.
  17. Say goodbye once. That’s all it takes.
  18. Once you have said goodbye, leave. It’s over, walk away.
  19. And finally, when you get home and write it all up on the Internet – don’t post a scan of the BBC pass which blatantly tells you to return it to reception.

So there you go – nineteen simple rules which should see you through any meeting and guarantee you don’t look like a fucking brainless moron who’s been on an all night bender.

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*Please ignore any double-negatives, you fucking know what I mean you anal tosser.

Actually, you always do this, no matter what the circumstances or time of day/night.

§This one has nothing to do with writing.

¤This one is so unbelievably cool I wish I could tell you about it, but I can’t.

I’m not sure if I did this or not. I think I did, but it may have just been a long blink and a short taster DVD. It’s not my fault, the sofa was sooooooooooooo comfy.

Categories: BBC, BBC Sketch Show | 15 Comments

Disclaimer

I’d like to apologise about last night’s post, I may have been a happy boy but I’d also just hit myself in the face with a big bastard sword and was mildly concussed.

I don’t know if you’ve ever hit yourself in the face with one of these … but if you haven’t, don’t. It fucking hurts.

Too excited to swear, for fuck’s sake! Like that could ever fucking happen.

Categories: Sad Bastard | 7 Comments

Ooh!

I’m a happy boy at the moment: since I last mentioned it, I’ve sent in two more batches of sketches for this BBC show (making around forty in total) and both times the producer’s been back in touch with really positive comments and asked for more.

Each time he does I get a slightly bigger glimpse at the other material in the show and everything I read gets me a little more excited. Today I even got sent some concept art for a sketch I haven’t written yet – how cool is that? They are anticipating where to take my characters next and moving on it in advance.

The best bit about all this is the concept is so free ranging I can use all the stupid little snippets I’ve had in my head for years but figured no one would ever use. I can dredge up all the random funny thoughts which cross my mind and get dismissed because of expense, stupidity or weirdness and they just lap it up.

It’s like a dream come true, there literally are no limits except my imagination. Sure, that’s what writing is supposed to be like, but producers (and occasionally directors) soon ruin it by asking you to cut the cast by three or four hundred people and to get rid of the tap-dancing elephants.

Not these guys: ‘More elephants!’ is the cry, followed by ‘And lose the tap-dancing, make them break dance, whilst dressed as Prince Charles’.

I’m so excited about it all I’ve forgotten to swear – I’m never been that excited before. I wish I could say more about it, but I can’t. To be fair, no one’s told me I can’t but I’m guessing that’s the deal.

Ha! I’m off to stare lovingly at the concept art again.

Categories: BBC, BBC Sketch Show, Progress | Leave a comment

Shit

“I’m a writer.”

Those words strike fear into my heart.

Not when I say it, when I hear it from someone else. I get this sudden chill as the doubts run through me:

“Shit. He’s a writer, a proper writer. I bet he’s studied and everything. He’s going to find me out. He’s going to talk to me for two seconds and realise I don’t know shit, haven’t got a clue. He’s going to mention some clever writing term I don’t understand and expose me for the fraud I am.”

Panic sets in, my breath grows ragged, my palms start to sweat, I make really bad jokes – I can’t bear this.

Then, somewhere among the rapid-fire stream of bullshit flowing from my nervous mouth is a gap and this ‘writer’ gets the chance to say something, and I realise …

it’s okay, he’s a twat.

He doesn’t know shit. Sometimes I get as far as reading something someone else has written before coming to the same conclusion and I remember the truth of the situation:

99% of writers can’t write.*

But hey, that’s okay because 99% of actors can’t act. I’m not experienced enough to draw the same conclusion about directors or producers, but I’m betting it’s about the same.

I’ve sat there with writers, who ask questions which are the equivalent of a mechanic asking “Is this the engine?”, and realised why so much shit gets made.

And I’m not talking about the shit which makes it to the screens, that’s the cream of the crap river which spills out of the movie industry. Even the stuff which makes it to DVD is a small portion of the total number of badly filmed turds which do the rounds.

The worst films? Usually from people who are writer/director/producers – one guy who can’t do three jobs and there’s no one there to tell him. I used to wonder why nobody speaks up, why don’t people stop these fucking appalling travesties getting made?

Sometimes it’s because they still get paid whether it’s good or not, but I think it’s mostly because no one knows any better. Even when a film’s made I hear the people involved raving on about how wonderful their masterpiece is.

It’s not, it’s shit.

Which is why I really like working with people who can:

  1. Confidently tell others their last project was shit
  2. Explain why it was shit
  3. Tell me what’s shit about what I’ve just handed them

These are the people I want to work with, honest people who know their limitations and want to improve themselves. With one or two exceptions*, I’ve been very lucky.

Now come on, own up. How many of you reading this think you’re in the 1%?

I like to think I’m a good writer, but then I like to think I’m smart, good looking and still young enough to be ‘with it’.

I’m not.

If I was I wouldn’t use words like ‘with it’.

Still, I know my limitations – I just wish I could shake that sudden rush of anxiety I get when I meet other writers. After all, 99% of us are all wallowing in the same mud.

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* Rest assured, I’m not counting myself in the 1% who can.

* I’d like to think you know who you are, but you probably don’t

Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Rants | 10 Comments

The Rules

I’m slowly coming to the realisation that very few of the producers or directors I deal with have any idea about ‘the rules’ of screenwriting.

Very few, bordering on none.

Passive tense, camera angles, we sees, wrylies – they just don’t care; and don’t even know they’re supposed to care. Not that this is a bad thing, it means they judge a script purely on the story it tells rather than the way it’s laid out.

So if they don’t care who does?

It seems to me the only people who know anything about these sort of things are writers who either make the effort to find out or attend courses; which, judging from some of the poorly formatted scripts I’ve been reading recently, is a very small percentage.

Or perhaps, they do attend, but don’t pay any attention?

I find myself bending over backwards trying to describe a scene without resorting to a camera reference which is shorter, punchier and much more descriptive, only to have a director or a producer suggest I add a tracking shot here or a pan there.

And I think to myself, what is the point? If the only people who care about this are other writers who have zero influence or power, why bother trying to stick to these ‘rules’? Whose fucking rules are they anyway? The people who care don’t make the decisions and the people who make the decisions don’t care.

Or at least, they don’t at the level I’m working at.

Here in the shallow end of the pool, none of the people I work with use readers – they can’t afford/don’t need them. The people I work with tend to read scripts themselves. They don’t care about format, they just want it vaguely readable, yet I am very strict with myself about sticking to ‘the rules’.

Well, okay, not very strict, but fairly strict. I tend to look the other way every now and then.

Why?

Well, as I get better, my scripts get shown to more and more people. Casting agents are getting hold of my scripts and sending them out to actors, so who fucking knows where they’ll end up? I know it’s not important at the level I’m working at, but higher up the tree – no idea. Maybe companies with more money are more strict about these things? I really don’t know, but I’m not prepared to take the risk.

With dozens of copies floating around cyberspace, I don’t want one landing on the desk of someone who might dismiss my work for being incorrectly formatted. A well formatted script takes little more effort than a poorly formatted one, so why not just do it anyway?

Personally, I think it’s great that the guys and gals I deal with don’t care, but sooner or later I may hit someone who does and I want to be prepared. On the other hand, when I see writers on forums arguing over minor format issues, it just makes me giggle – it’s not worth getting bent out of shape over, just make it vaguely legible and move on.

Categories: Industry Musings | 7 Comments

New York Calls

Okay, so this was odd: yesterday I had a phone call, a private number.

That’s not the odd part.

The guy ringing me was American (probably still is): “Hey Phillip, my name’s (something, something) from the (something, something) Group in New York. Do you recognise the name?”

Shit. This is obviously someone I’ve sent a script to or an ad I’ve replied to, but I have no idea who he is. Partly because I wasn’t really paying attention when he said his name, but mostly because I send stuff off and immediately forget I’ve done it.

When I’m at home, I stall and burble for a bit while I use Google Desktop to find any mention of the guy or the company on my PC. Away from home, as I was yesterday, I don’t have that luxury. I can access my PC remotely, but not quickly enough.

So I have no option but to be honest, something I hate doing.

“Erm … no, sorry. I’ve no idea who you are.”

Always a good way to impress a potential employer.

“Okay, well I manage stocks and shares. All I want to do right now is get my secretary to send over my portfolio so you can take a look at it, then maybe we can talk again in seven.”

“What?”

“This is Phillip Barron, the writer, yeah?”

“Yes.”

“And you do invest in stocks and shares?”

“No”

And he hung up.

What the fuck was that all about? Some stocks/shares trader guy is randomly calling people he found on the net? He’s somehow (how?) heard about my scribbling genius and wants to get in on the ground floor? He knows something I don’t and I’m about to inherit a shit load of cash?

He knows my name, my phone number and I’m a writer – why does he think that makes me a good target for a cold call? Is there another, more famous writer with the same name as me? Was it some really lame phone hoax?

Seriously, what the fuck is going on? I don’t need this sort of thing on a … I want to say Monday, but I’m not 100% sure what day it is. Whatever day it is, the world has obviously gone a bit skewy and I don’t like it.

Categories: Random Witterings | 8 Comments

Recommendations?

I turned my computer on this morning and found I had 41 emails, but when I looked at Outlook Express, there were no new ones to be seen.

Odd.

Scrolling up revealed the sneaky buggers, interspersed among the ones I’d already read over the last 48 hours. Once again, my increasingly erratic email service has randomly opted to hold some messages back and allow others through. Some of the messages had been delayed by two days, others turn up instantly; so, for example, I get the message:

“Why are you fucking ignoring me?”

Twelve hours before I get the one that says:

“Hi Phill, are you available for a meeting on … ”

And once more I’m reminded I really, really should change my web-hosting to one which actually forwards on the emails when it gets them rather than when it feels like it.

So that’s what this is, a plea for some recommendations. I want some cheap web-hosting with a reasonable sized web-space. This time, I also want someone who provide both a POP3 server and an SMTP one, so I can actually send emails from my phone instead of confusing the fuck out of everyone by reading their emails and replying by text.

Is that too much to ask?

I don’t know, on the grounds I know very little about this sort of thing.

I’m with 123-Reg at the moment and I really don’t want to give them any more money, if I can avoid it; on the grounds they’re part of the Pipex group and should stop hiring David Hasselhoff for their adverts and spend the money on some fucking customer service monkeys so I can actually get the fucking service I’ve paid for.

I could rant on, but I’m tired. So if anyone knows anything about the subject (web-hosting, not Pipex being a bunch of illiterate muppets) and can recommend a good provider, I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you very much.

Categories: Random Witterings, Rants | 4 Comments

Toasties

At the end of July, I sent some sketches to the producer of a new BBC sketch show.

I wittered on about it here.

If anyone’s actually checking out that link, skip to the end – it’s the last few paragraphs. All it says though is pretty much what I said in the first sentence in this post. Only with a lot more words and maybe some swearing.

So, you probably shouldn’t bother.

Okay, back on track. The point is, based on a friend’s recommendation (I forgot that part), I sent some sketches to the producer.

Today, he phoned me and asked for some more.

I originally sent in eleven sketches, he likes one and wants to expand it to a series of running gags. Which is fine by me. He also sent me the writers’ brief which explains the show in a bit more depth, which means I can (hopefully) write some sketches more suited to the format.

A nice way to start the day, I thought. So I celebrated by buying a toasted sandwich maker. Some of you may have gone down the champagne route, but I’m a ‘ham, cheese and egg toastie’ kind of guy.

Halfway home I had a little wobble when I noticed the box only said ‘sandwich maker’ rather than ‘toasted sandwich maker’. I thought I’d accidentally spunked my £8.64 on some kind of device which just … well, I don’t know. What the fuck is a sandwich maker? Do you slot the ingredients in to the case and it shuffles them into order?

Turns out, my fears were unjustified and it is indeed a toasted sandwich maker.

I’ve eaten too many now. I feel sick, sleepy and generally more eggy than any person should have to bear.

So there you go: on the downside, I might fall asleep and choke on my egg-flavoured vomit. On the upside: I had a phone call from a BBC producer about a writing job and I learnt I’ve got a limit* for ham, cheese and egg toasties.

I think the pluses outweigh the minuses there.

*Four. My limit’s four. After that it gets nasty.

Categories: BBC, BBC Sketch Show, Progress, Random Witterings | 2 Comments

Writing Competition

I just got sent details about a competition to find 10 ‘thirty minute’ plays for radio.

I’ve no idea if anyone is interested in this or not, but the details are all here.

Categories: Opportunity | 3 Comments

Stupidity

Someone mentioned Adele Silva is in the new series of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’. I have zero interest in this series, but for a moment I got quite excited: someone I know is going to be on the telly!

Then I remembered: I don’t know her, I’ve never met her and she’s been on the telly for ages.

Since 1989 in fact.

The momentary confusion was because she’s in ‘The Summoning’ and she added me as a friend on Facebook.

It turns out I can’t tell the difference between the Internet and reality. I feel quite foolish and more than a little pathetic.

Categories: Sad Bastard, The Summoning | 4 Comments

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