Someone Else’s Way

Rose vs. Jurassic Park


Following on from last week, I’ve been thinking more about parcelling out information. Whereas there are undoubtedly lots of different approaches to this, two examples always spring to mind.

My mind, anyway. Maybe not yours.

These examples are polar opposites yet are equally as effective as each other. As I’m sure you’ve deduced from the title of this post, the first of those is Jurassic Park, the second is Rose (the first episode of the current run of Doctor Who).

Both are master-classes in delivering exposition and yet take totally different approaches.


Jurassic Park goes for the info dump. The first … what? Half an hour? 45 mins? … is a science lesson. We get told how dinosaurs died, evolved, what a velociraptor is (because none of us knew back then) what DNA is, how it’s extracted, how it’s spiced with things, how it’s turned into new dinosaurs, how incredibly fucking stupid that is … and so on.

The genius for me here is I didn’t get bored. I didn’t roll my eyes or start yelling “Get on with it!” at the screen … I just sat there and learnt the things I needed to know. The fact a lot of the exposition was disguised as either a theme park ride or a story told to scare a child/accountant helped. The fact the theme park info-ride didn’t go the way Hammond planned nicely foreshadows what’s to come.


To me there was the perfect amount of information, all clumped together so the following action can be uninterrupted thrills and spills.

That’s version one for me: get it out of the way upfront and then get on with the story. But make it fun and thematic and part of the story.

Version two makes me think of Rose. Russell T. Davies does a fantastic job of feeding us the information in tiny sips. This was probably the best choice here because half of the audience were Doctor Who fans who knew all this, the other half were brand new who had no idea what the show was about.


So he feeds us a morsel at a time.

We focus on Rose*, we see the normal, boring world from her point of view – it’s normal and boring.

Then something scary happens! And there’s this guy who shows up and saves her! He’s weird! He’s exciting! He’s called The Doctor! He blows something up!

And then he’s gone.

And life is even more boring without him.

Who is he?

And then there he is again! He’s an alien! He’s clever, he knows things we don’t!

And then he’s gone again.

Just before the mystery tips over into confusion (which is problematic), there’s a conspiracy theorist who gives us a mini-info dump … which we deserve. We’ve earnt a little respite from the mystery.


Now we have some answers … and a lot more questions. Is this guy immortal? Is there more than one of them? Is he some kind of time traveller?

And then he’s there again and it’s all action and adventure! And we’re in the TARDIS, which is … what? Another mini-info dump. It’s a spaceship, it’s bigger on the inside … stuff like that.

There’s only about ten minutes to go now and we nearly know everything … except we don’t. The Nestene Intelligence hints at things even hardcore fans don’t understand – why is it scared of the TARDIS? What’s a Time War? Something’s happened in the 16 years the show was off air. Something we won’t find out about for a few weeks yet.

Even when all’s resolved, there’s still one more piece of information. The very last line of the first episode completes the basic set up:

45 mins to fully educate the new audience as to the nature of the show. Without leaving people confused or bored.

Well, I wasn’t anyway.

True the actual story feels a bit light … but that feels inevitable in reintroducing the concept to the masses. It’s a simple story with few twists and turns … but they are there and the sense of mystery the episode creates makes up for the lack of story.

I think so, anyway. You may have a different opinion. Good for you.

Those two extremes are how I think about exposition. Which serves the story better? Is one inherent to a film (because you have a captive audience in a cinema and more (or less, depending on how you look at it) time to tell the story?) and the other better suited to TV (because people will change the channel if they’re being lectured for 30 mins)? Can you do a mixture of the two? Is there a better, third way?#

All these questions and more will probably never be answered by me because by now I’ve either forgotten I’ve written this or am already bored of thinking about it.

I just like to think about these two examples whenever I start a new project.



*To me, this centring the show on the companion is both a genius move and a bit of a problem. I may talk about this in more depth at some point … or I may not.

#Depends, probably not, possibly, I imagine so, probably.

Categories: Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Arnopp’s hands


Have you read Jason Arnopp‘s insightful post on How to be a Safe Pair of Hands? If not, toddle off and read it, we’ll wait …

… all done?

Jolly good.

I think that’s a great post and applies equally well to script writing as well as novels … but there’s something I wanted to add. I too want to feel like the author is under control and leading me masterfully on a journey. I want to respect the author’s authority … and included in that is a desire to be taught things. I want the author to know things I don’t, to educate me because they’re cleverer than me.


If they’re describing Paris, I want to believe they’ve actually been there. I want them to understand what the city is like and where everything is in relation to everything else. I want to believe the characters are in a real place doing real things.

Unless the book’s set in someone’s imagination. In which case, it’s less important.

Similarly, I want things and procedures and … well, everything described properly. I don’t want anything to spoil the journey. The details are there to persuade us of the reality of the story, to suck you in … so when they’re wrong, when the author clearly doesn’t understand how something works or what it’s like to ask a Parisian for directions or why you can’t get from A to B in a certain city because B isn’t even in the same fucking city … well, it’s just annoying.


For me, it destroys the illusion of control. It highlights that I’m not in a safe pair of hands.

Take, for example, the latest book I cracked open. Mere pages into it, someone was in car crash and was rushed to hospital.

Oh noes!

It doesn’t look good, they’re not going to make it!

They flatline! Double noes! Their heart has literally stopped beating!

“Quick!” yells the doctor “Hand me the defrib!”


Hand you the what? The defRib? What the fuck is a defRib? You mean a defib? A defibrillator?

Maybe it’s a misprint? Nope, they’re all calling it a defrib.

Worse than that, they’re using the “defrib” to restart a stopped heart.

Okay, so I know this is a TV/movie trope – defibs stop flatlining. Everyone knows that. In the same way everyone knows vitamin C cures a cold and bad things come in threes. You know … common knowledge, or bullshit as it’s more commonly known.

Defibrillator stops fibrillation. It de-fibrillates. Fibrillation isn’t flatlining … which is death. Probably.


Fibrillation is a random and spasmodic pulsing of the heart. Connect a defib to a flatlining patient and it will recommend CPR, not a shock … because a shock won’t do fuck all.

I know this, the author doesn’t. The author is therefore stupider than me and since I’m not very clever, the author must be an imbecile. This book is written by an imbecile, how can I possibly believe anything he says now?

He has no authority. He’s not a safe pair of hands.


Contrast that with the novel I read immediately before, David Nicholl’s Us … which I loved. Us takes place in a variety of European cities, all of which I’ve been to, all of which felt familiar to me in the book.

I’m no expert on these places and some of them I haven’t been to for over a decade, but to my tortured memory they seem like accurate descriptions of cities I love.

To me, he’s a safe pair of hands – I can relax and enjoy the story without frowning and uttering my old catchphrase: “This makes no fucking sense”.


Obviously these sorts of things are very subjective. There’s accurate and accurate-enough. Most authors (and scriptwriters) aim for accurate enough on the grounds the majority of the readers won’t be physicists or geneticists or any other kind of -cists … but they might be and we have to understand that the ones who are won’t feel safe in our layman’s hands.

Luckily, there’s a cure – research. Research the shit out of everything, don’t assume we know even the tiniest detail because we’re probably wrong. So’s that episode of Minder we copied it from.

If possible, find someone who works in that field to proofread that segment.

If we aim for total accuracy then we’re clearing all the logs off the tracks for our story. Now all we’ve got to do is make the story interesting in and of itself.


Categories: Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

In the background …


I was watching an episode of Silicon Valley the other day (if you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out – it’s one of my favourite sitcoms of the moment) and there was this scene in front of a large window.

Behind them, if you were paying attention, Dinesh gets up and heads for the whiteboard. It’s not focussed on, it’s not dwelt on, hell, the window’s hardly in frame … but it’s there. The kind of motion you notice out of the corner of your eye and chuckle because you know exactly what he’s doing and why … but since it happened covertly you feel smug and certain you’re the only one who noticed.

Anyone watching this who didn’t see it will be surprised and laugh when they find out what’s happening (for it was funny in context). If it had been more blatantly done it would be a shitty set up which puts the audience the wrong kind of ahead of the character. It would have made the gag seem obvious and clumsy. It would force you to wait for something you knew was coming.


But it wasn’t like that. It was subtle. It made me feel clever for noticing. People who didn’t notice will have caught it on a second viewing and marvelled (maybe) at how well thought out it was. A bit like the people who somehow didn’t spot


Tyler Durden appear and disappear on the escalator at the beginning of the film. It’s a huge tip off to his non-existence … but one a lot of people didn’t seem to catch on first viewing.


Second or third time round they see it and are happy as their mental jigsaw click into place.

I love stuff like that. I love stuff you catch on repeat viewings which reinforce what came later. I love Ben Kenobi’s expression in Star Wars when


Luke talks about who his father was.


At the time, that expression meant nothing. After Empire, it means everything … although I don’t think it’s a deliberate thing. I think we’re reading something into an expression which probably just meant Alec Guinness was uncomfortable in his robes. Or had just farted or something.


Anyway. I love that stuff. I love that it was always there but you just didn’t notice it.

The problem is, how to put that into a script? I don’t really mean ‘How do I write this in a way which will force the director to frame it all properly?’ because any decent director has a conversation with the scriptwriter to determine what they had in mind. The director isn’t obliged to shoot it that way, but they should at least have an understanding of the intention before they choose a different method. Ideally, this is an ongoing conversation throughout development … but sometimes that isn’t possible and a discussion just prior to shooting/pre-production is all there’s time for.

So that’s not the problem. The problem is: how do I convey the same experience to the reader?


Scripts are a technical document, that’s true … but they should still invoke the same emotional responses as the finished film. Sad bits should be written in a way which makes the reader feel sad. Happy bits should do the opposite. Action scenes should be thrilling and not just “and then they have a fight on a cable car”.

It doesn’t matter if the stunt co-ordinator changes the fight or the location is shifted to a waterwheel. The script can change to reflect that … but in order to get made, it has to thrill someone (or several someones). They have to see in their mind’s eye what the audience will be seeing on screen.


But if the majority of the audience aren’t supposed to see it, if it’s meant to be hidden until it’s revealed later … well, that’s hard to do in a script.

I’ve tried writing:

IN THE BACKGROUND: Bob pockets the magic dildo of Aramore.

But some readers assume that means it’s a close up of Bob picking it up, looking shifty, and shoving it down his pants. “The dildo twist is too obvious!” they cry, “Everyone will know it’s coming!”


I’ve tried writing:

Whilst Emily punches a marmoset, in the background, just over Emily’s shoulder, Bob surreptitiously steals up the magic dildo.

… with much the same results: they ‘see’ a big old close-up of Bob’s phallus-thieving antics. For some reason, words like ‘surreptitiously’ (as well as being a bugger to spell) seem to invoke a close-up of someone nervously moving their eyes from side to side.


To be honest, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to describe it really.

If you were paying attention, you might notice Bob stealing the magic dildo?

Whilst the camera focuses on Emily’s marmoset-punching, at the edge of the frame, Bob steals the dildo?

Unseen by all but the most eagle-eyed viewer, Bob grabs the magic dildo and … ?

I think I like that last one best … but it’s still not ideal.

I think part of the problem is there isn’t a good way to do it without breaking the rules of scriptwriting. You might have to draw attention to what the camera’s pointing at, or explain that the audience aren’t really supposed to notice this bit.


On screen, the audience probably won’t notice because there’s a lot of other things going on for them to focus on. You can add action on the other side of the screen to draw their attention or an unusual prop or a brief burst of nudity or … you know, stuff.

In a well written script, everything on the page is relevant. That’s what frustrating about some badly-written scripts – they contain lots of pointless detail you feel you need to remember … only to find out it’s irrelevant. If it’s mentioned on the page, if the knife and fork on the Brigadier’s dinner table is a lime green, plastic Winnie-the-Pooh set then (hopefully) it has some relevance to the plot or to describing the Brigadier’s character. If it’s irrelevant, why mention it?


Using the same logic, if the script mentions that Bob pockets the magic dildo, then that magic dildo is probably really important later on and is to be remembered. Just by being on the page, it’s drawing attention to itself. Even when you don’t want it to.

So maybe the way to hide it on the page is the same way you’d hide it on screen? Maybe deliberately clumping a lot of action lines together (say five or six?) and inserting the covert didlo-filching into the middle of the abnormally large block is the way to go?

People do tend to skim read larger blocks of text. Many would possibly miss it. Maybe?

I don’t know. I don’t have a good answer for this. If you do, I’d love to hear it.



I’m sure many wouldn’t – I’m a bit weird about watching the edges of the screen when people are talking. I think it’s because I used to enjoy spotting boom mics. You rarely see them any more.

* If you ever get the chance, stand at the back of an auditorium during a whodunnit or a film with a twist. As the twist looms closer, people lean in. As they get the twist, they lean back. Some people lean back significantly before everyone else. If one or two people lean back before the twist, they look smug – they worked out a brilliant twist because they are brilliant. If the majority of people lean back – they look bored. It’s an obvious, shit twist and now they’re just killing time waiting for the protagonist to catch up with them.

This is 100%, universally true. Except when it’s not.

Categories: My Way, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

What do producer’s notes look like?

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A couple of weeks ago, whilst panicking about possibly offending a friend with my callous note-giving, I asked if anyone would be interested in seeing what script notes look like.

Apparently,  a few of you would be.

Although only one of you is prepared to say that in public.

Okay, fair

I should probably mention at this point that this post will largely benefit writers who have yet to enter production or receive notes from anyone who isn’t either a friend (being nice) or someone they’ve paid to get notes from (being polite). If you’re a more experienced writer, you may like to chuckle along in recognition or perhaps be outraged because you’ve never had notes like this.

Don’t be outraged. Be thankful.


So these notes are second or third draft notes. First draft notes tend to be a bit more general and hand wavy:

I know we’re doing a live-action remake of Dumbo, but I’ve just found out how expensive elephants are … so can we make him a hamster?


The first act is great. The second act flags a bit and … well, there isn’t a third act. Can we fix this?

In essence, they like the concept and see potential … but want everything else to change.

By the second or third draft, all these things have been fixed. The big pieces are (mostly) in the right places (even though they’ll all change next time round) and attention can be spared for the finer details.


So that’s what these notes are … but there’s a problem. In order to show what notes look like, I need a script to make notes on.

I had considered writing a deliberately early-stages three page script … but decided it was probably impossible to write something I thought was good enough to hand in and then immediately find all the flaws in it as if I was someone else reading it for the first time.

Then I considered asking someone to send in a short script … and quickly decided it would be a fairly unpleasant thing to tear someone’s script apart like this.


So instead, I opened up my long-forgotten short-scripts folder and picked the first script off the list. This one is alphabetically and chronologically the first short script I ever wrote.

Boy is it shit.

But, saying that, it got optioned twice and won a short script competition … so some people saw some merit in it somewhere.

Fuck knows why.


So here it is: 1939 – 1945 pm by (the young) Phillip Barron – it’s the entire history of WWII told in one afternoon in one street. Ish.

First off, have a read of the virgin, un-noted first three pages of a 14 page script. Imagine you’re a fresh-faced writer who thinks he’s written a work of genius.

Try not to form your own opinions just yet.

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3




Okay. So let’s now imagine you’ve sent it off to a producer and they’ve gushed on about how wonderful it is and made your head all big and swollen. Maybe you are a genius! They love it! They’ve optioned it!


Fame and fortune here you come!

Because that’s exactly how this business works – you option a short script and are instantly catapulted into a full-time, fully paid professional position where people are hurling Oscars and BAFTAs at you.

Sometimes I want to build a time machine so I can go back in time and beat some sense into myself.

Anyway. You’ve had a meeting, you’ve made some big changes … which they love! They love you! Here comes the teeny, tiny little nit-picky notes:

Notes 1


Wait, what the fuck? (The bits in bold are me then. The bits in brackets are me now. Me now doesn’t like me then much)

What’s all that red? I thought they loved this? How come they no longer seem to understand what’s going on? I deliberately left out all the scene descriptions because they told me the script was too long and needed to be trimmed! They know the answers to all these questions!

How fucking dare they point out a typo (damn it! I missed that!) in the same paragraph they make a typo!

Do they really not know what ‘etc’ means?

(Later on you’ll find out they’re asking exactly how many Germans ‘etc’ means since they have to work out how many people to hire. For now, you’re just wrongly outraged.)

Why are they asking about the uniforms? How is that my decision? That’s down to the wardrobe department, surely? Isn’t that what they tell us in scriptwriting school?

Notes 2


Christ, it gets worse!

Hitler’s accent is up to the actor playing him, surely?

(Yes and no. They will make up their own mind (and possibly accent), but you still need to give the reader some clue as to how to read it.)

What does ‘too political’ mean? Do they want me to whitewash the Jews out of history? I can’t just not mention them, but the holocaust isn’t funny – what do they want me to do?

(They don’t know. Neither did I. Or do I. That note probably means we need to talk about this.)

Why bother giving me a note saying they understand something when they could just wait to the next line and find out?

(Because they’re giving you their impressions as they read. They think you’re someone they can just chat to through their typing. They probably found it easier to type an apology than to go back and correct it. Anyway, sometimes things like this are useful – knowing where you lost a reader (or viewer) can be the difference between someone finishing a script and hurling it at the bin).

More rousing? Fuck!

(Typically, writers will make it five percent more rousing for the next draft instead of 3000%. When someone wants more, give them MORE!)

I genuinely can’t remember if Arthur is historical or not … 

Notes 3


Two beats? What the fuck does two beats mean?

(Doesn’t mean anything – it’s just an observation. There are two beats in a short space of time, one in dialogue, one in parentheses.)

Who’s confused? They are, obviously! It’s so fucking clear who’s confused!

(Yes … but will it still be clear when there’s dozens of people standing around on set?)

Himmler was always a child!

And where’s the typo on that line? I’ve been looking at it for ages – there fucking isn’t one!

(Usually, when queried about this, producers can’t remember what they thought was a typo either.)

Discuss black and white? Okay: You’re a fucking imbecile for considering it.

There, how was that?

(It’s a whim. The producer will probably have forgotten why they thought that when you actually talk over these notes).

Of course Hitler wasn’t Himmler’s dad! Don’t be a fucking moron!

Chevy Chase? What the fuck does that mean?

(They won’t remember. They won’t even remember writing it. Just move on.)

Notes 4Has he got that power? Um … I don’t know. Does it matter? Wait, do you mean in real life or in this story? Oh fuck, I’m confused now.

Why do they love the word ‘promise’?

(They just do. Don’t question it, it doesn’t matter.)

Several means … I don’t fucking know! You choose! How many can you afford?

The English house looks like whatever the actual house looks like in the fucking location you pick. How is that my job to know that?

(Because someone has to go looking for a house which matches the picture in your head. It’s helpful if they know what that picture is.)

Peace and piece … those are Chamberlain’s actual words, you fucking idiot! And I’ve just realised you spelt his name wrong on the last page. Hah! I win the notes!

Swearing … yeah, okay. I like swearing but maybe you don’t?

No? What does ‘no’ mean on the last line?

And so on until your liver explodes in a shower of bile.


If you want to know how to deal with notes, the answer is here.

The main problem with receiving notes like these is they’re all right. All of them. Even the ones which aren’t. They hurt because they feel like everything you’ve done is wrong … but that’s not what they’re saying. If everything you’d done was wrong, there’d either just be one note:

This is shit.

Or, more commonly, no notes because you’d never have heard back from the producer in the first place.

These notes, the myriad of tiny notes on every line, are the notes of someone who is on your side and is trying to help finesse the details. They may feel like a personal attack, but they’re not. This is just what the job is and how the process works.

Forewarned is forearmed. If you’re expecting this sort of evisceration then you can prepare yourself for it. Script editors tend to be more woolly and lovely about giving notes. Directors and producers tend to be more technical and clinical, brusque even.

As is always best practice, don’t respond straight away.


Think it over, get a face to face meeting or a phone call and go through the notes. You’ll get the chance to explain and defend the bits you’re certain are right (I’m rarely certain and like being persuaded) and they’ll get the chance to explain what they actually mean by things like ‘Chevy Chase’ … if they ever meant anything in the first place.

Categories: Someone Else's Way, Writing and life | Tags: , | 3 Comments

#PhonePhill – Conversation #11: Terry Newman


This week I have been chatting to the great Terry Newman. Or Dr Tel as he’s famously known.

What a nice guy.

But I already knew that.

Tel is one of those writers whose list of credits is unfeasibly long across multiple genres and media. His CV is so ridiculously packed and varied that you could almost be forgiven for asuming he’s more than one person, that ‘Terry Newman’ is a brand masking the input of a dozen writers.

But it’s not. He’s real … and he’s lovely.

Tel’s written stuff like this:

Lucifer front

And this:

Electric Eddy and Kettle

And this:

big picture twinkle

And, most recently, this:

Detective Strongoak book cover

Which you can (and should) buy here for mere pennies.

Tel and I first met … fuck, years ago. When was that? 2008? Maybe? No, looking at script dates it was 2005. Blimey.

We were brought together to write a sitcom about Saddam Hussain by Lewis Alsamari* – an Iraqi who’d escaped from his regime and felt the bastard needed satirising like buggery. It came out really well and got as far as attracting a great cast and one of the proper sitcom-royalty directors … before fizzling out in a burst of apathy.


Or maybe someone else did a serious version of it and it was felt our version was making fun of that seriousness and not the psychotic imbecile it was meant to be lampooning.

I don’t know. It died anyway.

Which is a shame, because it was good.

Tel and I chatted for the best part of two hours about a wide variety of stuff. The first ten minutes or so were, in the best Skype tradition (for I was on my Secret Writing Island), spent wondering if we could hear each other and shouting hello a lot.


Wifi was particularly terrible on that day. So terrible I was forced to leave my room and take my chances in the hotel lobby, dodging families of wailing Brits abroad (learn to fucking behave and put some fucking suncream on you lobster fucks!), Americans (you guys are LOUD in public!) and mediocre reggae blasting at unnessary volume from hidden speakers.

There’s always one spot in every hotel lobby which is far enough away from the noise but close enough to the router to be perfect … it usually takes a lot of wandering back and forth to find it.


But find it I did. However, since I was now in public, the mooted possibility of a video chat was abandonned. Which was a shame since I’d put clothes on and everything.

This is the wall Tel would have been chatting in front of:

cool wall

This is what I would have been chatting in front of:

2015-07-16 11.00.23

This is actually ten minutes after I’d hung up, right in the middle of the storm but about five minutes before the earthquake hit.

Secret Writing Islands – they’re not all fun in the sun.

Once we’d established a clear(ish) line of communication we chatted in earnest about all sorts of things.

Tel and I are (I think) very similar. We both have a love for comedy. We both have a love of superheroes.

This is Tel’s recent purchase, melding together both of those loves:


This was my latest self-build, keep me sane, project:

And we both have damaged our own careers by refusing to stick to one genre, style or medium. Neither of us are the go-to-guy for anything.

Well, I was (for a while) the go-to-guy when you had a terrible script you needed bringing up to scratch in an absolutely hurry because you were filming on Wednesday and for some reason hadn’t bothered to get the script right before committing to a start date.

But I’ve managed to extricate myself from being that guy because being that guy is fucking annoying, stressful and ultimately unrewarding since panicked page one rewrites on a script which is almost at the end of pre-production is unlikely to yield a good film.


Being the go-to-person for something is a good idea. It’s the way to build a career. Being the best at one thing means people will come to you first. Like, back in the day when these things still existed, people would go to record shops to buy records first … and if they couldn’t find it there, go to Woolworths as a last ditch, deperate attempt without really expecting to find it there.

I inadvertently set myself up as the Woolworths of script writing. I can do all the genres … but people would tend to go to the specialists first.

I guess Tel’s the same. Although I don’t want to attach that sobriquet to him in case he finds it offensive.

Apparently not being the go-to-person makes you less attractive to agents because they find it harder to promote and sell you.


I say apparently because I’ve never really tried to get one and therefore have no idea what I’m talking about.

Meetings become harder because, although you can meet with a wider range of producers, you may only have one script in the genre they specialise in. And since producers rarely want the thing you’ve gone to sell them and tend to love asking ‘what else have you got?’ … well, it’s just more difficult.

But more rewarding. I’ve had films produced in a variety of genres: horror, sci-fi, comedy, action-thriller … and The Evolved (Part One) which just defies all classification and common sense. I’ve written sitcoms, I’ve written sketches, I’ve written movies …

Tel’s done that and more. He’s also written a novel.

Which you should buy. Here.


That’s what we got into writing to do – whatever the fuck crossed our minds. It’s just not the best idea if you want to make a solid career and earn a decent wage.

Says the man sitting on his own (not-so) private island.

We both fucked up there. But given our time over again, I’m not sure either of us would do anything differently.

One thing about Tel which surprised the hell out of me is that he rarely redrafts anything. He’s a meticulous planner and outliner and tends to get it right before he starts writing.

I start out planning things meticulously … and then get bored and jump in feet first. Things go wrong. Things change. I lose my way. I discover strange and wonderful new things … and I write multiple drafts of everything.


I’m assuming we essentially run through the same number of versions of each thing … but mine’s long form where as his is either at the treatment/beat sheet stage or all in his head.

I’m kind of jealous … but I find my process usually takes me where I need to be (if not where I intended to go) so it’s all good.

From there, talk wandered on to adaptations for some reason … oh yes, because Tel’s book (which you can buy here) was Harper-Voyager’s first foray into digital first publishing.

And I don’t read eBooks.

Can’t fucking bear them. I’m a dead-tree kind of guy.

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Until very, very recently I didn’t have anything I could read them on beside my phone … which is a bit too small to be satisfying.

I now have a laptop with a removable screen so I could read eBooks if I wanted to … but I don’t. And haven’t. Yet.

Tel was asking how I approached adaptations since he tends to search and reference the eBook whilst planning his.

I tend to approach them like this:

Step one: Read the book. This is probably quite an essential step.

Step two: Decide if I like the book or not. If I don’t, apologise and back away from the project. If I do …

Step three: Is it a filmable book? Does it read like a movie with a clear beginning, middle and end with a protagonist and a theme and all that kind of stuff? If so, go to step four. If not I just throw the book away and make something up using the same character names and claim it’s ‘inspired by the book’ or ‘just uses it as a jumping off point’.

Step four: Plan out the film using only what I can remember from the book after reading it once. Chances are this is what the other readers can remember too. Unless it’s a cult classic which will have been read many, many times – in which case I need to be more specific about stuff.

Step five: Re-read the book and see if I’ve missed out/forgotten anything. Which I tend not to have done since I have a pretty good memory … when I want to. Or need to. Or someone’s paying me to switch it on.


From there I proceed as normal until the client is happy with the script.

I’ve adapted a few books now. The clients have always gone away happy … and then never made the movie.

Oh well.

Tel and I spoke about many, many things and never quite ran out of things to say. Eventually we had to just end the conversation because we both had work to do and would otherwise have spoken all day.

He’s a nice guy, is Tel. You should hire him.

Or buy his book.

Or both.

So that was #PhonePhill #11. Who wants to be #12? If you’re thinking this might be fun but feel you’re not really the kind of person I’d want to talk to … you’re wrong. I do want to talk to you, no matter who you are or what you do. Doesn’t have to be about writing and you don’t have to be a writer or even involved in media.

Don’t be shy, email me, arrange a time and #PhonePhill.

Fuck it, here’s Iron Man again because … well, just because.


* If you have time, read his bio on that iMDB page … then reflect on how easy your life has been up until now. Unless, of course, you have endured even worse, in which case … fuck.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Career Path, My Way, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #9: James Moran


Still going! Next week’s conversation has already happened too – I’m a week in hand!

Frankly, this is quite surprising … but lovely.

Conversation #9 is writer/director/raconteur/blogger/kitten-lover James Moran. He used to be known in these parts as TV’s James Moran but nowadays he’s got his fingers in every pie imaginable and has long-outgrown the confining title.

As is now customary, he was lovely.

One day, someone on the other end of the phone won’t be lovely. On that day I will break with tradition and refuse to name them as such.


But today is not that day.

Full disclosure: I already know James, but haven’t spoken to him for a long time. Ages, in fact. Maybe even longer.

We do know each other though, so we do have each other’s phone numbers. With most #PhonePhillees I email them my phone number so they can call me – this isn’t because I’m cheap and don’t want to use my free minutes (even though I am and I don’t) but because I don’t want to go round harvesting complete strangers’ phone numbers – if they have mine, they can choose not to ring me on the day or withhold their number and keep their anonymity.


But because I already have James’ number (which I will sell for the right price. Or even the wrong one) I rang him.

Or at least, I tried to.

First time it went to his voicemail, so I hung up and immediately tweeted him to accuse him of leading me on.

He assured me he was there, ready and waiting. Possibly moist with anticipation … I mean, he didn’t say he was, but he probably was.


So I rang him again and got the same voicemail. Only … what was that surname? The voice (which didn’t sound like his voice at all) definitely said it was James someone … but it was a bit muffled and didn’t sound like Moran.

Closer examination revealed his contact had two mobile numbers. Only one of which was his. The one he text me from. The only mobile number he has. The one I hadn’t just called. Twice.

So apologies if you’re called James something and are wondering why I called you twice on Friday without leaving a message, but the truth of the matter is I hung up because you’re not James Moran.

Hey, few are.


James Moran, luckily, is.

Chat was wide and varied. We started off with a discussion about haircuts – James had just had his cut at a very reasonable price. My barber is slightly more expensive than James’, but worth sticking with because (for some reason I don’t quite understand) he’s convinced I wrote Iron Man 3.

I’ve never bothered to correct this mis-assumption because … fuck it. I’ll take that credit.

After that (and a few pleasantries) we moved on to directing.

James does it.

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I don’t.

James has also taught himself editing and grading and possibly even flower arranging. He seems like the kind of chap who’s determined to learn it all.

Normally I’m wary of writer/directors* feeling that, although there are many people who are awesome at both, they are a tiny percentage compared to the people who aren’t.

Generally speaking^ someone who lists themselves as more than one creative contributor tends to be someone who’s failing at more than one thing. As if they have a limited pool of talent and would probably be really good at one thing or the other … but when that talent is divided between writing, directing, producing, catering, dress making … it just doesn’t work.


James, happily, belongs to the people who can. He’s directed a few shorts:

and this FrightFest intro/ident thingy:

He’s good. At all of it.

He’s working towards directing his first feature … that will be a day worth waiting for.

James thinks every writer should direct their own thing. He says it’s massively illuminating and helps your writing immensely.

Since I haven’t done it, I can only assume he’s right. I do occasionally think about directing a little web series … but then I don’t bother, I’m too busy.

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Maybe one day … and then I too can be terrible at two things.

Conversation then drifted, quite naturally, onto Matt Houston.

Well, not specifically Matt Houston, but those kind of action adventure shows in general. James and I loved them growing up and lament the fact no one really makes them any more.

I suppose The Flash is probably the nearest thing. Which I love and can’t wait for the next season.

But where are all the Saturday adventure shows? Where are The Fall Guys and The A-teams? Who’s the spiritual successor to Matt Houston, Magnum, The Dukes of Hazzard, Tales of the Gold Monkey, Automan?

Why does no one make the kind of things the ten year old me loved?

Or maybe they do and I just don’t watch them because I’m not ten? Maybe all those shows of my youth were terrible to anyone who was an adult and I’m missing out on the modern day equivalent because I am now (nominally) an adult and therefore dismiss them as terrible?

Maybe. I don’t know.

For those of you interested in that period, you could do a lot worse than watching this interview with Glen A. Larson.

Glen A. Larson, for those of you young enough not to remember his name on the end of every other US TV show in the 80s was the driving force behind … well, every other US TV show in the 80s. Stephen J. Cannell created all the others.

And Donald P. Bellisario of course. He did the third half.

Why did everyone in the 80s have a middle initial? If I use my middle initial, will I be able to create a raft of amazing action adventure shows?

Might be worth a try.

The big question, of course, is which of those shows would you most like to remake as a movie?


James went for Knight Rider – which is an excellent choice. Four times someone has tried to remake it and each time they’ve fucked it up because … well, watch those Glen A. Larson interviews to find out. He knows, because he was dead clever.

Me? I’d go for either The Fall Guy (which is supposed to be happening with The Rock as Colt Seavers! I really, really want to see that movie!@) or Tales of the Gold Monkey.

And that was #PhonePhill #9.

#10 is already done and awaiting a write up … so who’s next?

I would love to talk to you no matter who you are or what you do. Industry connected or not. Aspiring something or professional something completely different.

Anyone, I don’t care. Email me and we’ll work something out.


*I wrote a post about this once, referring to them scathingly throughout as hyphenates … until someone pointed out in the comments I always used a / and not a –

^Generally, not always and not YOU. You, of course, are amazing at both … that’s why either no one will pay you to do it or why all your films (which you are in complete control of since you also produced them yourself) got a whopping 1 star rating on IMDb#.

#IMDb reviews for terrible low budget movies always follow the same pattern. The first five reviews will be 10 stars … because that’s someone’s family/friends/alternate personality posting them.

Then the film gets released, real people actually get to see it and it tanks completely.

How do I know? Because I’ve tracked many of the terrible movies I’ve written.

@Just use the theme tune. Please. The theme tunes are part of what made those shows so awesome and so memorable. I loved The A-Team movie (why didn’t everyone else?) but it really, really needed to rip into the theme tune after the voice over before the end credits. Not using the theme there was just silly. I know they did use it earlier … but come on! I wanted to leave the auditorium humming the theme.

Actually, I was anyway.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Industry Musings, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

#PhonePhill – Conversation #7: Rebecca Handley


Good Lord, it seems like all I do these days is natter on that infernal telephonic voice-casting contraption.

This (last) week I had a chat with Rebecca Handley who, as is fast becoming traditional, was lovely.

But it very nearly didn’t happen. I was firmly ensconced on my Secret Writing Island, so Skype was once again pressed into service. Alas, the island’s rather poor Internet was playing silly buggers and I was forced to leave my room, roaming the hotel grounds in search of a shady spot chock full of WiFi.


Sadly, everyone else in the hotel had the same idea and so the hunt was on – somewhere out there must be the holy trinity: shade (for I am afflicted with Ginge and tend to burn surprisingly easily), WiFi and peace and quiet.

Hang on, is that four things?

Probably needs an Oxford comma in there.

I hate Oxford commas.


And Oxford.

And commas.

Luckily, via the judicious deployment of a few sharp elbows, I claimed my spot as King of the Wifi.

Well, it is my fucking island after all.

Writing island. Not fucking island. There is no fucking on the Secret Writing Island. That sort of thing is just not on.

Anyway, crisis averted, bring on the chat.


Rebecca is a writer who, in her own words has: Won some awards, usually get to 1/4 or semi-finals in screen contests, have a co-written project in development and another optioned script ‘gearing up’.

Most of the hour and a half was spent discussing parenting – which was great! Rebecca’s daughter is a few years older than mine and it was lovely to pick up some helpful tips.

Parenting is one of those things which people rarely criticise you on. I’d love to be able to have frank and open discussions with my friends about the mistakes I may be making and the long-term psychological damage I may be inflicting on my offspring.


But it doesn’t really happen. People tend to get the hump quite quickly if there’s even the vaguest suggestion they’re anything less than a wonderful, naturally skilled parent.

Rebecca and I spent a bit of time meandering back and forth over the nature/nurture debate. My position on which is this:

I think everything is probably a complex combination of both factors. I don’t know anyone who’s exceptional at anything who hasn’t practised a fuck load … but maybe they had some initial spark of innate talent in the first place?

Despite that entrenched belief, I choose to come down on the side of nurture more often than not; because, if ability is inherent then my options are limited. If it’s all nurture, just finding a way of learning/practising something which makes sense to me … then I can do anything.


To me, it feels far more useful to believe you can do anything if you try hard enough than to believe it’s all in your genes.

Them’s my thoughts anyway.

Rebecca sounds like she’s in a good place with her writing. It certainly sounds to me like she’s heading in the right direction. Like Dee Chilton, Rebecca is utilising Hayley Mackenzie’s Script Angel service. And like Dee, Rebecca is finding Hayley’s services invaluable.

We talked over the weird compulsion to write – why are we? What keeps us cranking out stories even in those dark times when no one else gives a shit? I’m kind of privileged in that I’ve not gone longer than a few months between jobs for over a decade … but if I wasn’t continualy working for/with a client, would I have the staying power to keep writing? Or would I get disheartened and give up?


Don’t know.

Occasionally I do get hacked off with the whole thing. Sometimes a job gets so far beyond fun it becomes a chore … and in those times I try to do something creative on the side.

Something just for me. Something I have control over and can be proud of because, even when everything goes right, the quality of the end product of scriptwriting often bears little relation to the effort put in.

Last year I made a Ghostbusters costume.

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This year I’m making an Iron Man suit*.

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These little side projects recharge my batteries and give me time to think. They’re an important part of my process.

Rebecca sounds like an up and coming writer who we’ll be hearing more of in the near future and I wish her the best of luck. I really enjoyed chatting to her.

And that was #PhonePhill 7.

Roll on next week!

Would you like to have a chat about something? Anything really, doesn’t have to be scriptwriting. I’d love to talk to anyone about anything. Maybe you’re a director or an AD? A script supervisor? A gaffer or a best boy? Or maybe you’re a mid-wife or an undertaker? Doesn’t really matter, it’s just about reaching out and having a bit of a natter.

If you are a person and are bored enough to want to talk to a complete stranger (or maybe we know each other and haven’t spoken for a while?) then drop me a line and we’ll get our people to contact each other and arrange a time.

Assuming you have people?

I don’t.



* The process for this is called Pepakura … and it’s awesome. Several online prop-making geniuses have modeled the suit and unfolded it using this program. All idiots like me have to do is print out the pattern, cut it out of cardboard and glue it together.

Actually, you’re supposed to then cover it in resin and fibreglass and car body-filler so you can sand it to a metal-like finish. Done properly, the results are stunning … but I’m on a budget, a schedule and only have to fool a five year old.

To my eyes, and the eyes of proper builders it looks terrible … to most people I actually know it looks fantastic. And you know what? I’m happy with how it looks – it accurately represents the effort involved.

Categories: #PhonePhill, My Way, Someone Else's Way, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #6: Rosie Claverton


Wow … I never expected this to carry on this long, never mind it being this much fun.

This week (or last week, depending on when I get round to posting this*) I spoke to Rosie Claverton. Rosie’s a scriptwriter and novelist and blogger (the rather excellent Swords and Lattes) who is also a consummate medical professional and runs the monthly #psywrite over on Twitter.


She’s lovely.

I’ve known Rosie for a few years now, but never spoken to her. Rosie was one of the writers on Persona (the mobile-delivered drama series I got conned into being the lead writer for). In fact, Rosie was one of the best writers on Persona, something I’ve banged on about before.

And yet, despite knowing Rosie for all this time, this was the first time I’ve spoken to her.

The first thing you need to know is: she’s not Welsh.

That’s neither good nor bad, it just is. I thought she was. She’s not.

She is highly articulate, very interesting and great fun to talk to though.

Conversation got off to a shaky start when Skype (for I was in America and she wasn’t) did that weird thing of ringing on my phone and my laptop but refusing to stop ringing when I answered it on only one of them.

Then it did that weird thing of not bothering to give me any audio until I’d hung up and redialed several times.


Skype – a wonderful program … until it isn’t.

So the first few minutes of our chat were that old Skype classic of:

Hello? Can you hear me? Hello? I don’t know if you can … Hello? If you can hear me I’m going to hang up and ring you back.

And so on.

Once we did finally get a decent connection, we quickly established neither of us is very good at auditory concentration. Which, you know, is quite important on a phone call.


But we persevered.

I’m not sure what was going on with me, but I seemed to be a bit brain addled and kept forgetting which word I was intending to use whilst in the middle of using it. I’m not convinced I was saying what I meant to say … but if I wasn’t, Rosie was polite enough not to comment.

Chat ranged across the difference between writing novels and scripts (for Rosie has done both and knows these things), the NHS, the perils of regular blogging, the value of a good editor and the disappointment you feel when you first get to see the filmed version of something you wrote … which seems to have random bits added somewhere during the process – bits which don’t really make any sense.


That’s the main difference I think between novels and scripts – you’re unlikely to open your own novel and find someone’s changed all the words and put them in a different order.

Novels are written, then edited. And presumably rewritten a lot too, but the editor’s notes are guidelines to help bring out the best in your story. They’re not mandatory (I believe!) and ultimately the choice of what word goes where is the author’s. They make the decisions, they get the glory … or the blame.


Contrast that to a movie where (even if you wrote the initial draft on spec) you have to bend, alter and break the story to fit the director’s vision, the actors’ whims and the producer’s nervous breakdown.

Even if, after all that, you still end up with a script you’re proud of … it can still be thwarted by actors saying their own words (or, more commonly, someone else’s – essentially ‘improvising’ lines from different movies), directors pointing the camera at the wrong thing, an editor who cobbles together all the worst takes in a way which makes no fucking sense and then finishing the whole mess off with a soundtrack which is completely at odds with what’s going on on screen.

It’s a wonder any film is ever even barely watchable.

The worst bit of that process is then having people watch the film and tell you the script is terrible. The script they haven’t read.

No wonder talented scriptwriters like Rosie occasionally toddle off to write novels. Must be nice to be actually responsible for all the mistakes.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable chat. Rosie was even kind enough to explain to me that I probably wasn’t a serial killer, despite me believing I have the same psychological make up. Apparently, so long as I don’t kill any dogs, I’ll be just fine.


Which is nice to know.

If you’re a writer, you could do a lot worse than reading Rosie’s blog or participating in #psywrite. Hell, you could even show how lovely you are by buying one of Rosie’s Amy Lane novels.

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Go on, be nice.

Rosie is.

And so ends another lovely #PhonePhill. Who’s next?

Well, not next. I know who’s next because I did this morning. Who wants to join the one after? Which, confusingly, is the next one because I’m now a week adrift.

Are you a person? Do you have a mouth and a telephone and/or Skype?

If so, I’d love to chat to you, drop me an email and we’ll work it out.

Come on, #PhonePhill


* Last week. Definitely last week.

 It’s  pain in the arse and takes up too much time. From my point of view, it’s not the words, it’s the pictures. The words I knock out in fifteen minutes … the photos take me hours to carefully select.

Bullshit or not?

Categories: #PhonePhill, Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #5: Dee Chilton


A new person! And a woman. A new woman!


This week I’ve been chatting to Dee Chilton who was absolutely lovely and very easy to chat to. Dee’s a scriptwriter. Specifically, she’s a photographer and Navy veteran who (in her own words) woke up one morning four and a half years ago and decided to be a scriptwriter.


Hooray! One of us.

Our chat ranged across a wide variety of topics, as these things are wont to do, but mostly centred around those first few years as a scriptwriter, how to approach your career and the industry in general.

The through line throughout it all for me though was attitude. Dee’s is excellent. Her approach is just brilliant and something I think everyone (including me) can learn from.

She says she learnt to get on by getting promoted to a junior commissioned officer pretty quickly in the Navy – crossing the line from non-com to com (is that how you say it?) meant she no longer belonged to her old peer group but felt like an interloper in her new peer group.


That imposter syndrome is how most scriptwriters feel when they start out.

Actually, scratch that. That’s how I feel all the time. Every time I work with new people I feel like they’re going to catch me out, realise I don’t belong … but that never happens.^

Dee’s answer was to just get on with people, learn to network and prove she deserved to be where she was, that she’d got there by merit.

Sage advice.

Dee seems to have the attitude it took me years to cultivate – she’s enjoying her scriptwriting journey. She’s enjoying the process with no fear of failure (doubts, of course … but she doesn’t seem to be afraid) or yearning for some imagined end goal. I think most of us focus so much on getting that first script produced, of ‘breaking in’* that we miss the point.

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There is no destination.

It’s all a ride, baby.

A scriptwriting career largely means achieving nothing … if by ‘achieving’ you think it means ‘being produced’. Scriptwriting isn’t a race with a clearly defined finish line. It’s not over once you get a film produced. It’s a hurdles race where no-one expects you to clear all the hurdles.

You’re expected to fall at the first hurdle.

Next time out, you might fall at the next hurdle.


Maybe after ten attempts you might make it to the penultimate hurdle and fall there … or you might fall at the first hurdle again.$

Think of the most successful scriptwriter you can … last week, they got a project rejected. Possibly at the pitch stage.

At some point, totally unexpectedly, on a day when you’re only wearing one shoe and you’ve ripped your shorts whilst forgetting to wear pants … you’ll get to the end.



Now do the race again.

And fall at the first hurdle.

If you don’t learn to appreciate the process, the sheer joy of trying your hardest all the time … you’ll just get disheartened.

Personally, I tend to think of the script as the end goal – that’s the end of my process. If I get to a point where the client likes the script … I’m happy. I’ve won, time to find a new race to run.


Another thing we talked about is why we opted for this life instead of writing books … a question I get asked a lot and don’t have a satisfactory answer for.

Usually when people ask me what I do, just after I’ve explained what a script is, what it looks like and how the talking is actually the least important bit+, immediately following that confused pause as they try to work out if their favourite movie was actually written by someone or just somehow accidentally captured on film … that’s when they ask.

Have I thought about writing a book? Yes.


But I haven’t ever bothered.

Instead of choosing to be the Captain of my own destiny, writing my own stories and fuck everyone else’s opinion because they’re my goddamn books … instead of that, I choose to write scripts where everybody wants to argue with me and demand changes and generally stick their oar even when there’s no point in changing that character’s name from Danny to Donny or making the protagonist of a true-crime story a talking shoe.


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(Why did I choose scripts? Not the talking shoe bit.)

I don’t know.

Books have had just as much impact on me as movies. I love books. I read … well, not a lot anymore, but certainly every day.@

I usually tell people it’s because my vocabulary isn’t good enough to write the kind of books I enjoy reading.


But I’m not sure that’s true.

What is true is now I’m this far down one path, switching to novels would be very difficult. It’s a completely different skillset I’d have to learn and one I’m not sure I could … but I didn’t know that then. Why didn’t I write books?

Okay, so there was this post which kind of explains it … but still … why not books?

Not sure.


But maybe next week’s #PhonePhill guest will have a better answer?

Who knows?

All I do know is chatting to Dee Chilton was a lovely experience. She’s doing so much right (in my opinion). She’s working with the equally lovely Hayley McKenzie (Hayley! We should chat!), she’s formed her own bespoke online writing group, she’s availing herself of the myriad of opportunities the Internet has to offer (including winning a competition), she’s networking in a friendly, non-needy manner … and she’s enjoying herself to boot.

These are the ingredients to success and I wish her all the best.

So there you go, another #PhonePhill. Who’s next?


Actually, I know who’s next … but who’s after her? Come on, don’t be shy – I’m ready to chat.

Email me.


^ Suckers!

On a related note, everyone feels this at some point. It’s normal. I remember a good friend of mine who was the general manager of the Imax in Waterloo telling me about being in a meeting with Anthony Minghella (who was something high-and-mighty in the BFI at the time) and quietly freaking out inside because he was convinced someone would just stand up, point at him and say:

“Why are we listening to this guy? He’s a fucking cinema usher, for fuck’s sake! He’s the guy who used to scrape the puke off the auditorium floor!”

Even though that was ten years and several management jobs in the past.

* Breaking into where? Nine movies down the line, have I broken in yet? Because if I have, I have to tell you ‘in’ looks and feels almost exactly like ‘out’.

$ Wait … do you fall at hurdles in a hurdle race? Or is falling a horse racing term? In which case, do I mean scriptwriting is … whatever horse-jumping-races are called? Steeplechases? Is that right? Bollocks, I’ve got myself all confused now.

+ Lots of actors like to make up their own words … and then feel smug because they’ve helped ‘write’ the script. Yay you. Dialogue is the smallest, least important bit of writing. It’s the icing on the cake, it helps the cake look pretty but in no way affects the taste or enjoyment# because the actual baking was far more important and arduous.

# Except when it does.

@ Mostly the back of cereal packets, but it still counts!

Categories: #PhonePhill, Career Path, Someone Else's Way, Writing and life | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments



Competition. I’m not afraid of it, are you?

That’s not to say I’m confident I can out-write any other writer, far from it. In fact, if anything, I tend to assume everyone else is better than me and I need to try harder.

Those of you who’ve seen any of the films I’ve written might well agree. Those of you who understand the filmmaking process might well decide to reserve judgement until after you’ve read one of the scripts they were loosely based on.

Either way, I rarely compare myself favourably to anyone else.


And still I’m not afraid of a bit of competition.

Every project I’ve ever worked on has involved a degree of competition. Every co-written job has me jostling with the co-writer to get my ideas and my lines into the script instead of his.

When I was writing sketches, I was competing with dozens of other writers. Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn’t. When I didn’t, it was because I either wasn’t good enough or someone else was just better.


Every time I submit a script to anyone I’m competing with every other script on the market. Competition is just what the job is … so I was amazed to hear this story from a fellow writer:

The gist of it is she was contacted by a produced and repped writer who had an idea he didn’t have time to write – would she be interested in writing it for him in return for a co-writing credit? There’s no money upfront, but he’ll take it to his agent and hawk it round his producer contacts.


Now … yeah.

This is a really odd thing for one writer to ask another. It’s just not cricket … but, it’s not unheard of. It does happen. Sort of. I’ve collaborated with friends with no money involved with the intention of selling the script afterwards.

It happens.

I get contacted every couple of months by someone with a similar propostion – will you write my fantastic idea for me? I’ll split the writing credit and if we sell it …


I’ll write it for a fee for sole writing credit and if you sell it, you can pay me the rest.

These request usually come from people who aren’t writers, producers or anything else in the industry. They come from people who have an (usually crap) idea and a whim.

They rarely consider offering to pay me for my time and effort.

Well, almost never.


But this case was different.

This was an established writer (ostensibly) looking to enter into a mutually beneficial deal with a new writer. He even offered to let the writer take the script if they couldn’t sell it within a specified time period … so essentially it’s an unproduced writer writing a spec script with the assistance and input of a produced writer who was better placed to sell it than she was.

Probably worth a gamble.


Hell, she thought, I may even get representation out of it since he’s going to show it to his agent. If I do a good job he’ll probably recommend me.

So she signed a contract (good start) and got to work.

After a lot of faffing and pointless, terrible notes later they had a script he liked. She didn’t, but he clearly knew more than her so she went with his opinion.


At the end of the specified period, he reneged on the contract because he liked the script and wanted to keep it. She hated the script, so … fine. Keep it. But, um, since you liked my work so much, would you mind recommending me to your agent?

No. Or rather, yes. Yes he would mind. He wasn’t going to recommend her because she writes the same kind of stuff as him and he doesn’t want the competition.


I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, but this is what the words “utter fucking shitbag” were invented for.

Absolutely fucking appalling behaviour from an utter coward.

I just don’t understand that kind of behaviour. I love championing new writers. I love it when I find someone better than me, because I get to watch something exceptionally well written which I can fall in love with and learn from.


Michelle Lipton, Piers Beckley, Danny Stack, Rosie Claverton, Dominic Carver, Jason Arnopp, James Moran, Tim Clague, Paul Campbell, Julie Bower … fuck it, everyone on the blogroll to the right, all of them are better writers than me. You should hire them, all of them. You should be banging on their doors (I have their addresses) and offering them work.

But you know what? Come see me too. I may not be as good as them, but I may surprise you.

Competition is good, it raises the bar for everyone and forces us all to continually up our game.

I’m not afraid of competition and genuinely don’t understand anyone who is.

Categories: Industry Musings, My Way, Someone Else's Way | Tags: | Leave a comment

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