This, right here, is what #PhonePhill is all about.
I’ve ‘known’ Dom for over a decade. Maybe eleven or twelve years … and yet in all that time I’ve never met him, never seen him in the flesh nor even heard his voice.
Right back at the beginning of my career I joined TriggerStreet.com (which I’ve spoken about elsewhere) – a peer review website (now defunct) where writers could give and receive feedback on each others’ scripts.
If you’ve never done this kind of peer review, it’s priceless. First off you get to read and think about scripts. And I mean really think about them:
Did you like it? Why? Why not? What needs improving? What’s missing? Take it apart, learn how it works … and apply that to your own script.
I read a hundred-plus scripts on that site. I received forty or fifty in return. Sometimes the feedback was useless, more often than not it was invaluable. I don’t know what the current peer-review websites are, but if you’re new, find them and participate the fuck out of them.
While I was active on TriggerStreet I had the good fortune to read and review one of Dom’s scripts. By an odd quirk of the random assignment system, he read one of my scripts in the same week.
Brits were in a minority on TriggerStreet, so we messaged, we emailed … and have kept in semi-regular contact ever since. During the blog-boom a few years later, I read his, he read mine … we’re even still going when most of the rest have given up.
So I know Dom. He’s Dom. Yeah, I know Dom.
Except, I don’t. No really. In fact, I know him so little that when we phoned each other last week there was an awkward pause immediately after the first sentence each because neither of us sounds like we do in each other’s heads.
I guess this is the reverse of that weird moment when you see a radio personality for the first time … they’re not supposed to look like that!*
Well … Dom’s not supposed to sound like that. I can’t honestly say what he’s supposed to sound like … but he has the wrong voice.
Apparently, so do I.
But once we got over that hurdle, we had a good old natter.
As usual, the second thing which came up (after the normal conversation about someone I used to work with and is he really as bad to work with as everyone says?) was the Secret Writing Island (for I was there at the time), how it works and just … what the fuck?+
After that we just chatted about our careers, writing and life in general.
Dom’s doing really well at the moment. It’s an exciting time for him and he’s making his mark. He’s always had talent. Ever since that first script I read of his, I could tell he knew what he was doing … but there was a time, not that long ago when it seemed like he would never get anywhere.
I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this, because it ends on a complimentary note.
For a while his blog was pretty much the go-to example of how not to represent yourself on the internet. It was negative, it was depressing, it was honest. Too honest.
Never be honest, kids.
And then, a couple of years back, it changed. Suddenly, pretty much overnight, it became an interesting, positive, useful insight into the life of a writer.
At around the same time, Dom’s career took off. People wanted to work with him. He won the Prequel to Cannes scriptwriting competition, that helped … but that’s not the full story. The full story, in Dom’s own words, is networking.
He learnt how to do it and hasn’t looked back since.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no old boys’ network keeping new writers out. There’s no secret handshakes or clubhouse or trouser-rolling-up going on. There’s just a bunch of human beings who like working with people they know.
Everyone likes working with people they know because people they don’t know might turn out to be weirdos.
But conversely, everyone desperately wants to discover the next big thing. Everyone wants to be the person who discovered the greatest writing genius of our age.
No one’s trying to keep anyone out. Everyone wants your work … except there’s that first thing again – there are a lot of weirdos. How do you only work with people you know (and like^) whilst at the same time being the person who discovers the next big thing?
The answer is networking.
Be a good writer. Learn that. Now be a good person. Be gregarious, be outgoing, chat to people when you have no agenda. Keep in touch with people, ask them about their kids (assuming they’ve told you they have kids – don’t ask if they’ve never mentioned it. Certainly don’t make unsolicited comments about the layout of their kids’ bedrooms).
Just be nice.
Dom goes to the Screenwriters’ Festival every year. Not for the sessions, but for the networking. Like he says, if you come away with one job it more than pays for the ticket.
When you work with people, be nice to them. Be good at your job. At all aspects of your job and they’ll come back for more. Better than that, they’ll pass on your details to other people. They’ll recommend you.
And don’t give up. Keep trying. If what you’re doing isn’t working, but you think it might eventually … keep going. If you think it’s leading nowhere, be brave, try something new.
Recently Dom posted the first three pages of his new script … uh-oh, I thought. That’s either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid …
Turns out it was incredibly brave and is working for him. He’s already had a director get in touch about reading the script.
Good things happen to people who know how to exploit their own talent. Dom didn’t seem to know … but (after a few false starts) he’s worked it out.
I’m really glad I got the chance to talk with Dom. It was interesting and informative. Hopefully, one day, we’ll get to meet in person.
So … who’s next? I’d really love to talk to a woman next time, it’s far too testosterone-y in here. Are you a woman? Do you have a telephone (or Skype) and a voice?
If so, no matter who you are or what you do, get in touch and we’ll work out a time for a lovely chat.
* In my head, Mark Kermode looks like Gok Wan. I don’t know why, he just does.
+ I love my Secret Writing Island. I love that the truth behind it, the mechanism which allows me to work at an undisclosed Caribbean location, is even more brilliant than people imagine. I’m here right now. This is the view!
^ This is so ridiculously important. It’s more important than talent alone. Imagine the worst bell-end you’ve ever met … and then imagine volunteering to work closely with them for two to seven years to make a film.
Now imagine the next most talented person is really, really lovely. True, they’re not a towering genius … they’re merely really, really good at their job.$
Who do you want to work with? Bearing in mind so many things will go wrong during production that the quality of the script is almost incidental to the process?
$ Being nice is part of the job.