I’ve lost a few jobs over the years by being too keen, by doing more work than is required; which probably sounds counter-intuitive, but actually makes sense if you just fucking let me finish, alright? Stop fucking interrupting!
No one’s interrupting except the voices in my head?
Oh really? What the fuck would you know, Mr Sock? You’re just a fucking sock, you’re not real. It’s me doing your voice. Me! Without me, you’re nothing!
What’s that, Mr Sock?
If I’m going to have a mental spasm I should stop typing until after I’ve had a little lie down?
Oh. Yes, right.
Um … I didn’t type all this, it was dictation software left running. Sorry.
What’s that, Mr Sock? I’m a fucking liar?
Fuck you, you woolly bastard.
Sorry, got distracted there.
Right. So. Where was I? Ah yes, making sense.
The scenario usually runs something like this:
A producer/director/actor or some combination of all three gets in touch regarding a film project they have which doesn’t really exist. I mean, it sort of does. They want to make something, they have some money of some description and possibly even a track record. The project exists in potentia, but in reality all they have is the vague feeling they want to make a film of some kind. Any kind, maybe, they’re not really sure.
What they are sure about is they absolutely have to film it only on Tuesdays and (for finance purposes) it all has to be set in Pease Pottage … although, for tax purposes it actually has to be filmed in Antigua; but they can easily fake Pease Pottage in Antigua, they just have to digitally erase the palm trees. And the climate.
It also has to be a genre film (although not horror, sci-fi, western, a rom-com, martial arts, action, thriller or comedy – although it has to be funny), feature at least three parts for actors over-fifty who refuse to play characters over thirty, a dog, lots of nudity (but not from any of the actors, male or female), a Lamborghini (which can’t be driven), at least one sword fight and show child-abuse in a positive light.
Other than that, it’s completely up to me. I can do whatever I want, what have I got?
Besides a fucking migraine.
Oh, and they absolutely have to have a final draft before the end of the month or they’re going to lose the big name stars.
The ones I’ve never heard of.
I know, I know, I should learn my lesson and walk away from these things. And to be fair, I am doing so more and more.
What has tended to happen in the past is in order to make the ludicrous deadline, I need to start working before the contract arrives … which I do, because I’m a trusting soul.
Never, ever trust anyone. That’s a lesson to learn right there.
So I beaver away, come up with a bunch of ideas, talk it over with them, incorporate their feedback into the plot and generally hash it out until we (amazingly) have something they like the sound of.
Even if I have (accidentally) forgotten the child-abuse.
Now they need a one-page synopsis.
That’s all, just one page.
Contract still hasn’t arrived, but that’s fine. It’s only one page after all … but they need it immediately. By nine the next morning.
Okay, so I should claim I need the contract the next morning too. That’s exactly what I should do and am doing from now on; but on several occasions, I’ve been more trusting … like the fucking fool that I am.
Just one page.
Except it’s not one page, because the idea has to be so convoluted to match the laundry list of conditions that I have to plan it all out on index cards before I can condense it down to one page. Then I find I need to write it all out to make sure it makes sense, because I’m not sure it does.
After staying up ALL FUCKING NIGHT I have a ten page document which is EXACTLY what we’ve agreed on. The deadline is in four minutes, I just don’t have time to whittle it down to one page … so, fuck it. Sorry about this, guys; but I’ve skipped a step – this is where we’re heading anyway and since you don’t need the one pager to show the financiers or the actors, just as a document for us to discuss, then it’s possibly actually better this way.
Except it isn’t.
Because, although this document features everything they wanted and everything we’ve already discussed and agreed on … it isn’t actually what they want. It isn’t what they want because they have no fucking idea what they actually want.
They haven’t got an idea for a film, the only idea they’ve got is that they want to make a film.
It’s a bit like someone asking you to paint their kitchen, only they’ve no idea what colour they want. All they know is they’d like something dark-ish. Or light-ish. Or something in-between. Maybe a primary colour? Or one of those colours you get when you mix primary colours together? One of those.
So you pick a random colour. Blue, what about blue? Oh, they love blue! What shade? You discuss it, show them samples, suggest they look at other people’s kitchens which are the same colour … until they state, adamantly, that they want a specific shade.
So you paint their kitchen … and they don’t like it. They didn’t realise that was what blue was. They thought blue was more redish yellow. They didn’t realise I meant blue blue, even though that’s what they said they wanted.
They don’t say this right away, of course. First off they forget to look at the colour of the kitchen for three months because although it was vitally important you stay up all night painting it, they don’t actually need to look at the colour for ages yet. There’s no rush for them, just you.
The second reason they don’t say this right away is because they decide not to bother saying it at all. The fact you’ve painted the kitchen the wrong colour clearly means you’re not the right painter for them, even though you’ve painted the kitchen the colour they asked for and not got anything on any of the woodwork and even managed to do that fiddly bit across the top of the boiler without spilling a single drop … despite doing a good job, the job they asked for, the fact you’ve painted it a colour which, on reflection, they don’t actually like, means you’re clearly not suited to this job … oh, and hey! Since they haven’t got round to sending the contract yet, they don’t actually need to pay you! They can get someone else to paint the kitchen another colour. Or better yet, just give up on the whole idea because they’ve lost interest in kitchens and might just get the bathroom painted instead. No need to tell the painter what they think of the colour, let’s just pretend he doesn’t exist.
What’s that Mr Sock? I’ve stretched that metaphor well past the point of being useful? Why yes, I do believe you’re right.
No, you can’t come out of the hamper.
Because I don’t like you, you insufferably smug git. Get back in your hamper. Back! Back in your hamper!
Essentially, instead of developing the idea to suit the (pretend) film they think they’re going to make, they just give up and cease all communication.
Maybe if I’d delivered a one-pager it would have been different? Maybe if it was a bite-sized idea they would be more inclined to pass comment and work towards something better? There’s a lot less information in a one-pager which is therefore easier to interpret in a way which makes sense to them. A ten-pager nails down characters and tone and theme and all those sort of things. There’s very little room for interpretation in a ten-pager. A one-pager can be anything.
It also feels easier to change, to discuss, to develop. A ten-pager? Well, it’s all decided now, isn’t it? It’s not what they want, so no point pursuing it. They don’t know what they do want, but they know it’s not this.
And because they didn’t have a strong investment in a specific idea in the first place, just some money and some free time, then they’ve no real interest in continuing. A bump in the road? Might as well just give up then. No, don’t bother telling the writer we’ve decided not to bother – he’ll work it out in a few months time when we haven’t replied to a single email, phone call or text.
This has happened to me a couple of times now. Apparently it takes me a long time to learn a few simple lessons, namely:
- Never do more than is expected, no one will thank you for it.
- If the client is unclear what they want, keep ideas loose and vague for as long as possible – that way their expectations are being met.
- Don’t do anything until the contract is signed by you and them. Not that contracts actually guarantee you’ll get paid. I’ve worked on films where no one got paid, despite their contracts. Where everyone sued the producers, and won … and still didn’t get any money. Films where I was the only person to get even a fraction of my payment, despite not actually having a contract at all. Doesn’t hurt to wait though.
- Most importantly: never, ever get involved in these type of projects in the first place, it’s just not worth the hassle.
This all probably sounds very cynical, and in a way it is … but maybe that’s actually a good way to be?#
Or maybe not?
I don’t know.
I would ask Mr Sock, but we’re not on speaking terms any more. Although his cousin, Ms Teatowel is here and she has this amazing idea for a movie. Well, not idea as such, more of a yen to make something, but that bloke from Eastenders has agreed to be in whatever it is, well, not agreed as such, but he muttered something which sounded a bit like yes when she cornered him in Tesco. Which bloke? Oh you know, the fat one who was always in the background of the market scenes in the first couple of years – never spoke, but he’s quite famous. Or was. She wants to shoot it in one location, in Arabic with Dutch subtitles and it has to feature at least three hamsters and …
Hang on, this is all sounding a little familiar.