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:
And, most recently, this:
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:
This is what I would have been chatting in front of:
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.
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.
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.
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.