Monthly Archives: March 2008

Messy

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WARNING!

LONG POINTLESS POST WHICH WILL PROBABLY MAKE YOU THINK LESS OF ME

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I went to a fancy dress party at the weekend, which, at first glance may not seem like it has anything to do with writing.

To be honest, at second, third and fourth glances and a final lingering stare it still has very little to do with writing; but bear with me.

The theme was 1968, since it was a friend’s 40th birthday party and ’68 t’was the year he was born.

Money’s a bit tight at the moment, so the costumes needed to be cheap and easy to make and after much deliberation I realised this was my one and only chance to dress as Captain Kirk without feeling the need to kick my own geek-boy arse.

So I bought a red mini-dress for Mandy and a long-sleeved T-shirt and some gold dye for me. We already had the necessary boots, tights and trousers so we were all set – but the costumes weren’t quite right. Some gold ric-rac braiding for the sleeves and hey, look! There’s a site which sells the badges – cool. That really sets them off.

So there we are: two Star Trek costumes for under a tenner each …

 28032008006.jpg

Except … no. The more observant among you (or at least, among the few of you who are still paying attention – there is some writing stuff coming up, promise) may have noticed a communicator and tricorder in the above photo. Because suddenly, the urge to ‘do it properly’ gripped me.

We needed all the toys.

Needed, you understand?

NEEDED.

So I was halfway through buying two phasers, two communicators and a tricorder when Mandy wanders in and asks:

‘What are those for?”

Ah, right. Mandy has zero interest in sci-fi and has no idea what accessories should or shouldn’t go with the costume. Not only that, but no one at the party is going to know what a tricorder is or what it does beyond a vague understanding that it’s something they once saw on the telly.

No, all they care about is the costumes are roughly the right colour and shape. As long as it’s recognisable as a Star Trek uniform from a distance – they’ll be happy.

So I cancelled the order … sort of.

Obviously I still bought myself a communicator and phaser – I’ve wanted them since I was six.

For Mandy, I figured any black handbag which was taller than it is wide would do as a tricorder … before my anal retentiveness kicked in and I decided to just build a mock up out of card. A simple box covered in the black sticky-backed plastic I bought to hide the shame of my gay laptop should do. I just needed a reference photo …

Which plunged me into the world of prop making and detailed schematics. Okay, so I didn’t go as far as building my own vacuum forming machine – but I wanted it to look as accurate as I can make it without actually spending any money.

Because, well, I’m a little on the anal side.

Sometimes.

Which brings us, eventually, to the point.

I’ve noticed with screenplays that format is nowhere near as prescriptive as various gurus, teachers and general know-it-alls would have you believe. Like the fancy dress costumes, as long as your script looks roughly like a script, no one cares.

Except people who’ve been on these courses which tell you otherwise.

You know, the people who don’t actually make a living in film or TV and have no ability or experience. Those type of people.

There’s a great analogy for sticking to standard screenplay format about wearing a suit to an interview. You know the one: presenting your script properly is the equivalent of presenting yourself properly – and this is true. It’s always nice to read a script which looks the part – but no-one’s actually looking at the colour of your screenplay’s socks or the width of its tie knot.

No one cares as long as it’s vaguely right – the content is what’s important.

However, once again, my anal-ness kicks in and I feel the need to iron out all the little creases. In fact, there are a list of things which really piss me off if I leave them in my screenplay. If I see them in anyone else’s, they merely nark me. However, the more items from the list – the more pissed off I get. There is a tipping point where I spiral off the edge from reading a screenplay fairly, to looking for all its faults. Once I’ve crossed that line, I’m less likely to give it a fair chance.

I don’t want that happening when my script is read by anyone else, so I go out of my way to avoid it. These aren’t gospel rules and possibly no one else in the world except me cares about them, but I thought I’d post them anyway:

Single word on the next action line.

You know, when you have a line of action description and the last word spreads onto the next line? I hate this, it looks messy. I will spend literally minutes staring at a line to try and stop this happening. There is always a word or two you can delete which will condense it. Every time I see this, I think the writer’s just lazy and isn’t trying hard enough.

Although, possibly, they just have more of a life than me.

To me this is an exercise is being concise. Part of the art of screenplay writing is to say as much as possible with the least amount of words.

Unlike this post, which is kind of the other way around.

(CONT’D) after character names.

Weird one this – some people think it’s gone out of fashion, some people think it’s essential. Personally I find it a complete waste of time and ink. It just clutters up the page without adding any useful information.

‘Oh, the same person is still speaking, are they? I thought there were two people in the room with the same name.’

Someone once told me at a table read that the actors were struggling because I didn’t use (CONT’D) on every bit of dialogue. Possibly that’s true at a table read where no one had learnt the script – but it’s not going to be true by the time you get to production and personally I think the solution is just to hire cleverer actors rather than clutter up my beautiful script with pointless contractions.

More than four lines of action in one block.

I firmly believe this is just a guideline rather than a definite be all and end all – who the fuck decided on four? Why not three or five? Will someone really bin your script because it has a …. gasp … five line block of action?

Of course not.

It’s a guideline to stop you filling the page with a single block of action. Every time I see big blocks of text, my mind just slides to he last word and carries on.

But … once you know some people might be counting, more than four lines just looks weird. Especially when the fifth line just has one word. You lazy bastard! ONE WORD? Sort it out!

Starting each block of action with the same word.

John opens the door.

John combs his hair.

John punches the old woman in the face.

Enough about John already I’m sick to fucking death of hearing about his age-biased violence. I think it looks really weird when every action line starts with the same word. It’s like a list of bullet points. This is a relatively new one for me, one I didn’t realise I was doing it  until Danny pointed it out on his blog. Now it drives me mad and I avoid it at all costs.

Thanks Danny, ’cause I really needed another thing to be obsessive about.

Which and that.

You just don’t need these words.

Except when you do.

But generally, they just take up space. Apart from this blog, which I tend not to spend too much time editing, I look carefully at every instance of ‘which’ or ‘that’ to see if I really need them. Most of the time they can be removed without anyone noticing.

So I do.

CAPITALS

Not all capitals, obviously – it would be a pretty odd world without them; but I hate SEEING every OTHER word CAPITALISED. It MAKES me FEEL like I’M stuck IN a ROOM with BRIAN Blessed.

STOP SHOUTING!

Again, this is a matter of taste, but it doesn’t half piss me off to see every ACTOR and every SOUND and every PROP in capitals. It’s just fucking annoying to read. Capital letters make me mentally raise my voice, which inexplicably  makes my eyebrows raise. A line full of capitals gives me a very tired forehead – it’s not fun.

Okay, so maybe a production company might insist on this because it makes it easier for a certain department or an actor who can’t read his character’s name unless it’s in capitalised; but unless someone specifically asks me to do it – I won’t. I hate the way it looks.

Double space after a full stop.

Taste again. I think there was a reason for this when type was handset – but it’s no longer valid. Some people may prefer the way it looks or consider it proper English or something; but for me it’s just irritating. It wastes space and when they all line up it looks like someone’s spilt Tippex on the page. Maybe some people think it looks neater – I don’t know. It just reminds me of when I used to work in a cinema and people would leave a seat between them and the next couple. The end result being an auditorium which looks full but actually has a third of its seats effectively rendered useless.

Interestingly, Germans don’t do this. A coachload of Germans will fill up the auditorium from front to back (or back to front). Very orderly and civilised race the Germans.

Having the same word directly underneath itself.

I don’t know how to explain that properly – it’s when you’re writing action or dialogue and the same word (or group of words) reoccurs directly underneath the last occurrence. It just looks wrong and I try to avoid it – hard to do on a blog where the width of the published post is different to the draft version; but inexcusable in a screenplay. I think my bug bear with this is my eyes slide off the top line onto the second line and everything stops making sense.

And other shit.

Which covers the things I can’t remember right now.

Like I say, none of these things seem to be standard format – but they all make a script look messy. I work hard not to have them in my scripts and am a little disappointed when I see them in others’.

So there you go, a post about me dressing up as Captain Kirk which turned into a rant about spaces after full stops. It’s like an episode of The Simpsons, only with less pictures and nowhere near as funny.

The party was great by the way, and our costumes went down well. I’m quite proud of Mandy’s tricorder – okay, so it’s not an amazingly accurate reproduction; but it looks okay from a distance and it cost nothing but an afternoon to make:

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I even put a photo of our baby scan on the screen so it looks like it’s ‘scanning’ Mandy’s bump. I thought that was a nice touch.

For any Trekkies reading this – yes I know the buttons, the lights, the moiré disc, the dimensions and the general construction are completely wrong; and yes I know how pissed off that will make you … but that’s exactly my argument about scripts. It’s okay for me not to care about Tricorder accuracy because I’m not a massive fan – it’s not okay for me to ignore the minor details of script presentation because that’s what I do.

Okay, rant over. Feel free to ignore, add to or dispute anything you want.

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Categories: Rants, Sad Bastard | 25 Comments

Character introductions

 “We need to re-shoot scene 67, but we can’t get the actress back – can you think of a way around it?”

Thus spake the director on that cold and windy morning.

Two thoughts immediately crossed my mind:

  1. Just say yes. Make him think it’s really difficult and a lesser writer would struggle but luckily he’s hired the best around, a guy who makes the impossible happen. How hard can it be?
  2. What the fuck happens in scene 67?

Maybe I should know my own scripts inside out, but this is for a film which has finished shooting (or so I thought) and I’ve written four drafts of a different screenplay and the outline for a TV series since then.

And anyway, who actually knows the scenes in their scripts by number? Not me, that’s for god damn sure.

A hurried script consultation later and I’m regretting my automatic assurances. Scene 67, it turns out, is the first time the hero meets his love interest.

Bugger.

How the hell do you get round that? The next scene she’s in, which has already been shot, clearly shows they’ve already met. With no opportunity for any re-shoots with the actress, that scene can’t be changed.

Besides, there isn’t the money or the time to re-shoot any other scenes – it all has to be handled within the confines of the new scene 67.

My side of the follow up conversation went something like this:

“Has she got an identical twin?”

“Oh, can we clone one?”

“What the fuck do you mean the technology isn’t available yet? I’ve seen it on the TV.”

“TV is real, fuck off.”

“Okay, what about a body-double? … And a face-double as well.”

“Ooh, I know – do that thing like Oliver Reed in Gladiator.”

“Well, get a bigger budget then you tight bastard.”

“Take shots of her from throughout the film and cut them together to make sentences.”

“Oh. How shit will it look?”

“She could be a quick change artist.”

“Fine, give her a big hat … Or a veil! Let’s put a veil on her! Then you can use a different actress!”

“I don’t know why she’s wearing a veil, because she’s on the way to a wedding or something.”

“Some people other than the bride wear veils to weddings.”

“Alright, fine – make it her wedding.”

“The husband? He died.”

“Yes, he died immediately after the wedding, but before she had a chance to remove the veil.”

“Make it a funeral veil then.”

“Yes, it’s a dual purpose veil she wore to her wedding and her husband’s funeral. It’s reversible.”

“That’s right, then she went to a nightclub … Where she fell in love with someone else.”

“It’s not shit, it’s inspired!”

“Fine … Fancy dress! Make her dress up as Bugs Bunny.”

“Fancying Bugs Bunny does not make the hero gay. Fucking weird, yes, but gay – no.”

And so on. I think a solution has been found, but once again I find myself charting territory I wasn’t prepared for. How do you rewrite a character’s introduction without actually having the character present? Who runs a course about that one? Huh? Where’s the information I need to do my job? How do you cope in the modern world when Google fails you?

Like I say, a solution has been found – it’s not ideal, but it should work.

What is it?

Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, look through your script and see if you could take any character out of the scene which introduces them and still have it introduce them. Think about that and then think about getting people to pay me more money.

Categories: Random Witterings, Rants | 9 Comments

Hmm …

So, did anyone else just get an invite to something on Thursday the 3rd? The kind of something people like me don’t normally get invited to? The kind of thing which has:

“… an informal evening to gather together the best of Britain’s new young writing talent …

on the invite?

‘Informal’ I kind of get, but ‘best’, ‘new’,  ‘young’ and ‘talent’ are rarely words which are fired in my direction … especially by this kind of organisation.

Basically, I want to know three things:

  1. Has everyone in the world been invited and I’m just invited by default?
  2. Did I get an invite by mistake?
  3. If the answers to 1) and 2) are no, is anyone going who can hold my hand?

I know it’s a legit event and I know it’s not a scam, I just don’t know why I’ve been invited.

Apologies for the rather cryptic post, but I’m not sure I should start shouting out details until I know what’s going on.

Categories: Progress | 6 Comments

How to take a meeting immediately after getting off a long haul flight when you haven’t slept for five time zones

Don’t.

Just … don’t.

Categories: Industry Musings | 6 Comments

Strategy (Part Three)

Part One

Part Two

And now on to part three, bearing in mind the usual disclaimer: believe at your own risk.

Which, incidentally, I think should be on the front of most bibles.

The levels:

  1. Unpaid work
  2. Low-budget films and corporate work
  3. Mid-budget films and writing for other people’s TV shows
  4. Creating your own TV show and high-budget films

And we’re at:

LEVEL TWO – LOW-BUDGET FILMS AND CORPORATE WORK

The change from unpaid work to low-budget films just kind of happens. Basically, if you’ve been applying for every job advertised and only getting the unpaid things – sooner or later, probably when you’ve racked up a couple of credits, people will start offering you paid work.

Simple, isn’t it?

Kind of.

There are a lot of factors here, but that’s it in a nutshell. By applying for everything, you’ll slowly work out what kind of replies to adverts generate the best responses; your CV should be looking more impressive and you should have built up a network of contacts.

If you’re good and easy to work with, these people will want to work with you again. Not only that, they’ll recommend you to others.

A company (or individual) with the budget for a low-budget movie will probably have one or two credits – probably short films, maybe a feature. There’s a good chance this is the first time they’ve had any money to hire anyone, hence they’ll be looking for someone with a comparable level of experience.

More established writers probably won’t work for this little money, less established ones can be too much of a risk; but that can depend on whether they’re looking to hire a writer or option a script. If it’s the latter, then the script is all that matters – a good script will grab their attention no matter who wrote it. If it’s the former, then they’ll want a good sample, a few credits and a nice, affable person with a passion for their particular idea.

This is the beauty of responding to ‘writer wanted’ rather than ‘script wanted’ type of adverts; if they’re looking for a script, you either have to have something in the genre and budget range they’re looking for or be able to write one very, very fast. If they’re looking to hire a writer to script their idea, you just have to have a vaguely similar sample and be able to convincingly repeat the following line at the interview:

“Wow, this is a great idea – I’d love to work on this.”

Despite it nearly always being a lie.

Hopefully by now you can start being a bit more selective about the jobs you apply for. Experience will have told you which types of adverts to avoid and which ones are genuine. It’s difficult to tell and I’ve been caught out more than once; but generally I can smell a bullshit no-hoper from, well, however far it is from Eastbourne to London.

An interesting pointer at this level is where the interviews/meetings are held. Assuming they like your spanky new CV and your sample, they’ll want to meet up. This will either be at their office, in a hired room at some kind of media centre, or in the pub.

My experience at this level shows:

In an office = good.

They have premises, they have money, they may be pulling a Sting-like scam, but they’re probably on the level.

In a pub = good.

They may or may not have the money, but at least you’ll get a drink out of it. Hell, if it’s a restaurant you’ll get a free meal.

In a hired room = bad.

Usually very bad. They’re on a tight budget, they haven’t got money to throw around so why the fuck are they meeting you in an expensive room which is less comfortable and serves less drinks than the pub opposite?

Because they think it makes them look professional.

It doesn’t.

You need these rooms for read-throughs or for casting, but not for a one to one meeting. Be polite, be enthusiastic, but don’t expect to be receiving a cheque any time soon.

With this level, as the other levels, there is a surprising amount of bullshit floating around. People think they’re making a movie and will promise you all sorts of money on the first day of principle photography – but it rarely happens. Most of these projects never attain funding.

Which is fine, it’s all more experience.

But you have to be able to judge which ones fail because the producer tried his best and just couldn’t raise the funds; and which ones fail because the producer has no fucking idea what he’s doing and is just in it for the pussy.

How do you judge?

Using all the experience you built up on level one.

Try not to get into a situation where you’re doing endless re-writes on the promise of a big pay-out and a film which will star most of the cast of Ocean’s 13.

You will end up doing this, because the bullshit will drown your brain, but try not to do it more than four or five times.

Learn from experience. Monkeys can do it, it can’t be that hard.

Agree on a schedule of payments and do the work safe in the knowledge you’re getting some money irrespective of how far up his own arse the producer disappears.

And guess what? You’ve got paid, you’re a proper writer.

Adverts for corporate work pops up now then, plus – a lot of failed projects will be by people who make a living from a corporate production company but have movie aspirations. Be nice to them, show them how many ideas you have and you might end up with a job.

Some people might tell you corporate work is selling out and prostituting your art.

Encourage these people, it’s less competition.

The goal here is to earn money doing something you love – writing. I did a year of corporate work, and all I had to do was come up with an endless stream of stupid characters saying funny things.

That’s all I do anyway.

I like writing comedy.

I like getting paid to write comedy even better.

Getting paid a regular salary to write comedy is even better still.

After a while of working on level two, you’ll find you don’t really want to do any more unpaid work.

Except when you do, when it’s to your advantage.

It’s all good, do what the hell you want – just keep writing, keep making contacts, keep working. All of the good people you work with, the odd few who aren’t fucking idiots, are moving up through the levels too. Even the actors will be getting better and maybe looking for their own projects to direct – make sure everyone involved can get in touch with you and you’ll drift into …

LEVEL THREE – MID-BUDGET FILMS AND WRITING FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S TV SHOWS

Um … I don’t know much about this level yet. I’m kind of just here.

The mid-budget stuff is kind of an extension of the other two levels, but most of it comes from contacts you’ve worked with before. TV stuff … I’ve got my first credit coming up soon, I’ll let you know if it leads onto anything else. I guess, maybe now’s the time to look for an agent?

Maybe.

I’m still a bit loathe to do that, I’m still not sure I really need one just yet; but again, we’ll see how it pans out.

Sorry this isn’t a more complete strategy guide and peters out before all the interesting bits, but my career is still very much a work in progress.

I feel like I’ve started a story in a crowded room and have just realised I don’t have an ending.

Looks like I’m going to have to fake a coughing fit and run for the toilet, hoping against hope everyone will have forgotten what I was saying by the time I get back.

I should have thought this through more.

Categories: My Way | 3 Comments

Hello!

I’m going to interrupt my stream of dodgy strategy talk for a quick aside.

I was idly glancing over someone’s shoulder on the bus today – bad habit, but I get bored – when a photo in his copy of Hello! caught my eye.

“Hey, that’s Adele!” 

Cue strange glances.

Word of advice, when you’re reading magazines over someone’s shoulder – don’t shout in their ear. If you do, try turning your head away, chatting to yourself and pretending you’ve got a bluetooth headset in your other ear.

Eventually, he went back to his reading and I could go back to mine.

The article was about Adele Silva, who starred in … HOLY FUCK! THAT’S MY FILM!

By now, most of the bus were looking at me.

And not in  a good way.

But I didn’t care, I was on my feet, pointing at the magazine in open mouthed surprise.

This was the corner of the article which caught my attention:

hello.jpg

That’s right, I wrestled the magazine away from him and ran giggling into the night.

Then had to wait for the next bus because it wasn’t my stop.

Sad, yes; but good publicity.

Getting a mention in a national mag, not jumping off at the wrong stop after tearing said magazine out of someone’s hand.

Or it would be good publicity if people actually read Hello! instead of just looking at the pictures.

I am ashamed of myself.

Sorry.

Categories: Publicity, Sad Bastard | 12 Comments

Strategy (Part Two)

I should probably point out before I continue that this strategy is something I’m using which has worked for me so far. I’m by no means where I want to be, but I seem to be well on my way. Due to the nature of these things, and my own propensity for being wrong, I wouldn’t advise anyone to follow my advice.

Hell, I don’t even recommend reading it all the way through. Go and watch the telly or something.

Better yet, do some writing.

Right, has everyone gone?

Good.

Yesterday I talked about breaking my career up into levels and building a broad foundation. Today, I’m going to move onto the individual levels.

Or at least as many of them as I can be bothered before my guilt levels peak and I have to get back to my script.

So, the levels were:

  1. Unpaid work
  2. Low-budget films and corporate work
  3. Mid-budget films and writing for other people’s TV shows
  4. Creating your own TV show and high-budget films

Yesterday, David made a comment about level 0 – which is a good point.

LEVEL ZERO – TRAINING

For me, this is the work you have to do before you start looking for work. For some people this will mean university, others may be able to write saleable scripts right off the bat, for me it meant teaching myself. I’m not clever enough to write a work of genius right out of the gate and I get inexplicably angry when I’m put into a classroom.

No, I learn better when I’m self-motivated and can read things at my own pace.

So, the formula: get good, get experience, get a reputation, move on.

Getting good: the main things here for me is study, practice and feedback. In other words: read scripts and watch TV and films, write scripts, get other people to read them.

The one thing which helped me more than anything else was Trigger Street. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a peer-based reviewing community. You get in depth reviews from aspiring writers in return for reading and reviewing other people’s scripts. It’s all done on a random assignment basis, so you’re not swapping scripts and you can be honest without fear of recrimination – as long as you’re polite.

There is a ranking system and a message board and all sorts of stuff – but for me it’s the peer reviews which are priceless.

Literally, the whole site is free.

Bearing this in mind, I think the way to proceed here is read ONE script-writing book (doesn’t matter which one, they’re all much of a muchness) and then put it to one side and forget about it.

Watch a lot of films.

Write half a dozen scripts.

As soon as you’ve finished the sixth, go back to the first and re-write it.

Repeat this until you’re vaguely happy.

Sign up to Trigger Street (or one of the other such sites) and get your script ripped to pieces, whilst reading other people’s scripts and working out what’s wrong with them. The process of reading and reviewing other scripts, whilst re-writing your own really, really gets you thinking about how to do it properly.

This gets you good, experienced at reading, writing and re-writing scripts, and hopefully a reputation among like-minded people for knowing what you’re talking about.

Once all your scripts get into the top ten – all of them mind, one is just a fluke – then you’re probably at the bottom end of mediocre and ready to move onto …

LEVEL ONE – UNPAID WORK

Some people won’t do this – they won’t sell themselves short. Which is fair enough. There’s a long running debate about not giving away your hard work and how this creates a situation where people are expected to work for free when … blah, blah, blah.

If you don’t want to do it, don’t. I wanted to because I thought when I applied for paid jobs if I had a reasonable CV it might put me nearer the top of the pile.

Which is exactly what happened. A CV full of credits is better than a CV with nothing on it – no one can tell how much you got paid for each script.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating working for free for anyone with any money. I wouldn’t work for the BBC for nothing. Working on spec is one thing, working for free for companies with money is just fucking stupid; but there are plenty of aspiring film makers who can’t write. Loads of people with a camera and mates but no script who just want to make a film.

Fine, the results will probably look like it was made by a bunch of mates with a camera and no money – but occasionally something good will come of it.

‘The Evolved’ for example, is a bloody awful film (which is okay, it was meant to be awful) but I can walk into shops in America and buy it, it got me into a few film festivals and it got me an IMDb credit … and I love it for all its faults.

My plan was to build a credible CV which proves I have a bit of experience and to build my own confidence, plus – you never know where unpaid stuff might take you. Occasionally a collaborative project might result in a paid gig or international fame.

But that’s a pipe dream and not the point. It’s all about working your way up slowly but surely.

Where do you find people with the talent, drive and equipment but no money?

The Internet, of course.

Websites such as Shooting People, Mandy, Talent Circle and UK Screen all have people posting for scripts and writers.

Separating the wheat from the chaff is a nightmare and the only way to learn is by experience. My advice? Which we will all recall, isn’t to be followed … apply for everything.

All of it, just email every fruit-loop who posts about any kind of writing job: films, TV, radio, theatre, porn, student projects … just apply for it all. Most of them will never get back to you because they’ll either go with someone else or they’ve realised they can’t be bothered to actually make anything.

At the same time, reply to anyone who’s looking for a script – you should have your half-dozen reasonably good scripts to submit. Plus, in the absence of any other work, you’ll be writing and polishing more.

Eventually, someone will either option a script or give you an assignment or maybe want to collaborate with you.

Should you give your script up for a free option?

Well, that depends. How much confidence do you have in that person? Do they seem like they might be able to get it made? Sometimes you find well respected documentary producers looking to make a feature – they have the contacts and the know-how, they just need a script.

At the end of the day, what’s the worst that can happen?

Paramount could ring you up the next day with a million dollar option.

True.

Is it likely to happen?

If not and if no one else is expressing an interest – sign the agreement.

After negotiating yourself a decent percentage of the budget on the first day of principle photography. That way, if there is any money – you get your fair share. If they won’t agree to this, there’s something wrong here.

If nothing happens after a year – you get your script back and try again.

You’re not back where you started – you’ve had an ‘in-development’ credit for a year and experience of re-writing your script to order – plus you’ve made a contact who might come back to you in a few years time to try again.

It’s frustrating, it’s annoying and it’s hard work – but congratulations, that’s writing and it doesn’t get any better.

The line between Level 1 and Level 2 blurs when people start paying you. Jobs you thought were unpaid suddenly yield a pay-cheque or you start getting responses from people with a little bit of money … it’s all good.

You’re applying for everything, you’re learning how to deal with people (some of whom are idiots), you’re learning to write and re-write, you’re learning to cope with rejection and you’re building a CV.

Hopefully, you’re even starting to fill a shelf with finished projects and you find you’ve accidentally drifted into …

LEVEL TWO – LOW-BUDGET FILMS AND CORPORATE WORK

Which will have to wait until tomorrow, or possibly Monday since it’s the weekend.

Tuesday, make it Tuesday then I can have a lie in.

Categories: My Way | 9 Comments

Strategy (Part One)

When I first started writing I figured it was pretty easy:

Write something, it gets made, you get paid.

There, that all sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?

Admittedly, there do seem to be a few gaps in that strategy. Namely, how do you write something good? How do you get it to someone who wants to make it? And why the fuck should they spend their money on you?

Luckily, this kind of delusion also coincided with the ‘telling people I’m a writer without actually doing any writing’ stage.

A day every couple of months doesn’t count. I wash my car once or twice a year – it doesn’t make me a car-washer.

When I finally knuckled down to actually writing in as much of my free time I could spare without getting divorced, I’d thought out a much better strategy.

Or at least I think it’s better – I’m still working my way through it.

I figured that some people do leap-frog straight to the top; they might win a contest or accidentally sleep with the right person. Basically, the very good and the very lucky can go in right at the top.

I’m neither of those things.

So I need to work my way up. The luck thing, you still need; but you can significantly improve your chances by simple networking. Talent – hard work will get you at least halfway there; and since I’m rapidly becoming of the opinion that most pro-writers are decidedly mediocre and just shine because the majority of aspiring writers are appallingly shit, then halfway is good enough.

I don’t have to be good, I just have to be consistently mediocre.

The other thing which occurred to me was if you leap straight in at the top – not only do you have to be bloody good (or lucky) to get there, you have to be consistently good to stay there. Luck won’t help.

I see success as a kind of pyramid, if you fail you get knocked down a level. If you start at the bottom, jump to the top and then turned in something shit – there’s a long way to fall and you’ll look like a one trick pony who will probably disappear into obscurity. There’s no foundation to your career.

Someone who worked their way up, a level at a time, building a consistent reputation at every level – if they fail, they obviously just weren’t ready to move up a level and can settle back into the level immediately below. In other words, the longer it takes to get there, the longer you’ll stay there.

Hopefully.

So, I thought, my new strategy needs to contain a lot more steps. It has to build slowly but steadily. Every move needs to be reinforced, ready to build the next level on. I want a pyramid with a broad base, not a pole with a narrow platform at the top.

My new strategy became a series of mini-strategies for each level of the industry. I figured the levels were something like this:

  1. Unpaid work
  2. Low-budget films and corporate work
  3. Mid-budget films and writing for other people’s TV shows
  4. Creating your own TV show and high-budget films

And on each level: Get good, get experience, get a reputation, move on.

How’s it going for me? Okay, I think.

I’m somewhere between levels 2 and 3. The beauty of this system is, I already know some of the people on level 3 from working with them on 1 and 2. Some producers and directors have moved on ahead of me and are waiting for me to get there, some are moving up with me and the ones still on level 2 are eager to work with me again and will gladly welcome me back if it doesn’t pan out.

The key here, of course, is to be good enough and personable enough for people to want to work with you more than once.

Tomorrow, I’ll go through the levels in more detail.

Unless there’s anything good on the telly.

Categories: My Way | 9 Comments

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