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.

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Categories: My Way | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Strategy (Part Two)

  1. Eleanor

    All my scripts have to be in the TriggerStreet top ten? Not just the one flukey one?…

    DRAT! (and copious swearing.)

    *gnashes teeth* Back to the keyboard then. — “Thanks Phil! I’ll get right on it.” 🙂 Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

  2. Didn’t your first script get nominated for Script of the Month?

    Might not have been a fluke that one.

  3. Eleanor

    Well…there’s — ah never mind. I’ll pretend that’s my first script. — Yeah! Yeah, Phil. It got nominated! 🙂 I’m a genius! *cough*

    *Quietly pushes a few others under the carpet with a toe.*

  4. Eleanor

    What?

  5. Never dispute an inaccurate compliment.

  6. Eleanor

    Yeah. – – I’m still learning the diplomatic intricacies of this whole writing thing. 😉

    Well, at least I’m vaguely qualified at Level 0 and will be embarking into the splendours of Level 1 shortly. Unless it turns out I need to spend yet more time getting Level 0 sussed. *sigh* That would involve writing then? Drat!

  7. This might be a really stupid, paranoid and possibly egotistical question but bear with me…

    If you happen to have unwittingly written the next ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and you put it on Trigger Street are you losing control of that script?

    If it’s snapped up by some chliched, moustache twirling, industry fatcat and produced and makes a million pounds are you only going to have the satisfaction of knowing it was your script to keep you warm at night?

    Obviously if you’re at level zero then you’ll probably be willing to risk that anyway for the feedback and the opportunity to develop your skills, and I am. I just wondered…

  8. No, you’re not losing control of it. I think the rules are something like if the script makes it into the daily favourites (the top ten ranked scripts on the site – sort of) then Trigger Street Productions have the first refusal for thirty days – or something like that.

    So far they’ve never exercised that option and even if they did they’d still have to pay you and credit you (unless it’s completely rewritten by someone else – in which case you just get the money).

    Obviously you are putting your script into a reasonably open domain so there is a minute possibility someone might steal your idea – but even if that does happen it’s likely to be someone who has no chance of getting it made. Anyone with money behind them would rather pay you and avoid any legal claims – any other writer with the connections to get a film made has their own ideas and doesn’t need yours.

    Plus, all downloads are logged and only available to registered members so … it’s as safe as it ever gets. Idea theft rarely happens.

    So, all in all, I’d say it’s worth it. It certainly helped me a lot.

  9. Cool, thanks Phill.

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