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?
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:
Low-budget films and corporate work
Mid-budget films and writing for other people’s TV shows
Creating your own TV show and high-budget films
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.
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.
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.