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:


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 …


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?


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

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3 thoughts on “Strategy (Part Three)

  1. Nick Pilgrim

    It’s alright! Those last two steps/levels/whatevers were dead useful! I am in fact scurrying away making mental notes (if you can really scurry mentally, it’s more of a physical action, but if you could- oh I would be mentally scurrying like Anne Frank at a writers seminar)

    Anyway- thanks Phil!

  2. Great stuff! Keep it coming.

    “Monkey’s can do it, it can’t be that hard”.
    Oh yeah? I’m not so sure. I’ve bad experiences of monkey’s.

    Years ago in my late teens I took my then girlfriend to the zoo in my first ever car. Reached the monkey enclosure, there weren’t many people about, so what does a lad with his girlfriend do in front of the monkey enclosure to impress her ? Why he starts to monkey around walking bow-legged with arms akimbo, pulling a face and walking up and down shouting Oo-oo-oo noises in front of the monkeys. A monkey picked something up from the floor of the enclosure and staring right back at me, made to throw something at me. I turned to my girlfriend laughing like a maniac, secure in the knowledge that monkeys can’t throw, when something hard and brittle hit me in the back of the head. It was dried shit! The bastard! I turned round and received another lump of shit in the face. I tell you, I’ve never witnessed such deadly accurate throwing – they could have bowled for England. As more missiles rained down on me – all accurately finding their target, my girlfriend was in hysterics. The monkeys just wouldn’t stop – so I legged it.

    When i think back I don’t remember what became of that girlfriend. Think she ran off with the monkey. Oh the treachery. They know a lot monkeys do.

  3. Thanks for all the great advice and the links to the websites.

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