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Archive for the ‘the writing business’ Category

So, last week could very easily have turned into one of those weeks.  Those weeks are the weeks in the year where sunny optimism is drained away and replaced by hail-battered gloom, when projects new and old are cut down before, during and after their prime, when the keyboard feels like broken glass and 17 pints in the boozer seem like a really, really good idea.

Come to think, I’m not quite sure how last week didn’t manage to turn into one of those weeks.  I finally managed a meeting with type-3 producer, who was sweet and kind and told me she liked and laughed at my sitcom script (why I couldn’t have been told this by email/over the phone still escapes me) only to discover 10 minutes later that – even before my script was commissioned – a sitcom with a not-altogether-unconnected premise already had a series scheduled.  This makes several months worth of writing, corner-fighting and tactical strop-throwing utterly pointless.

Then the next day I discovered that another producer has decided that the book she had originally agreed was “perfect for adaptation” was actually far less than perfect, again negating a lot of work involved in roughing it out.

So, not a good week.  The question is, why didn’t I end up drowning my sorrows?  And the answer is, because drowning my sorrows wouldn’t have got anything commissioned ( the fact that it’s taken me a decade to realise this suggests that I’m really nowhere near as bright as I like to think myself).  Instead of the pub I found myself back at the keyboard, making a frantic set of emergency changes to the script and treatment for the sitcom and drafting out the best argument I can muster to save the adaptation.  Will they work?  Probably not.  Nonetheless I feel much, much better for having at least made these rescue attempts.  Maybe Robert the Bruce and his spider had the right idea after all.

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Here are two important cliches about writing:

  1. It’s worse than coal mining
  2. Writers are lions led by donkeys

Obviously, these are only cliches among writers.  Equally obviously, they’re not necessarily true.  But there’s something in each of them.

As to “worse than coal mining” (that may be a bit of an old reference these days, now that there are only about 3 people in the whole country involved in deep-cast mining), well who doesn’t think there’s something uniquely testing about their job, even if the testing thing is only boredom.  In the case of writing, the testing thing is frequent self-doubt, the worries as to whether what one is writing is good or awful (this isn’t just me, as you’ll know if you read Wednesday’s entry).

As to writers being “lions led by donkeys”, well sometimes it really does feel like that.  There are essentially three sorts of executive (be they producer/exec/department head or whomsoever): type 1 is efficient, returns emails swiftly, has their schedule well worked out, but thinks in spreadsheet (“Act 1 needs to end 2 pages earlier and there need to be 2.5 foreshadowings of the mid-act turning point by page 27”); type 2 is less efficient, has a desk that sometimes resembles a minor explosion in a paper factory but always has time for writers and can be persuaded to spitball ideas down the pub towards the end of the day; type 3 loves talking about ideas, loves the 27 shows they’re working on, loves your work in particular … but can’t answer a single email, keep an appointment or even remember your existence the moment you’ve left the building.

This week I’ve had to deal with a type-2 with type 1-leanings and with a type-3.  Or, at least, I was supposed to be dealing with my type-3 but … after the hour-and-a-half long trip into central London to meet them, it turned out they’d completely forgotten the appointment (despite the confirming email I sent on Monday) and had decided to work from home.  To make things even more annoying, this same person has been sitting on my commissioned script since October and I still don’t even know if they’ve read it.  Dealing with this kind of producer can leave you feeling that the lions and donkeys comparison is really rather unfair on the donkeys.

On the other hand, my type-2 with type-1 leanings producer was great – lots of clear, no-bullshit feedback on the ideas I’d come up with and a plan of forward movement.  Even better, I actually got told that I could be much darker and more daring with one of the projects I was pitching.  You NEVER get that kind of feedback, except in your wildest dreams … and then you also have to put up with Famke Janssen demanding that you get back to bed and don’t forget the whipped cream.

So, the lesson is simple: type-3 producers should be taken out and shot.  What is weird though, is that when you talk to other executives, it’s almost always the type-3 producers that they’ll direct you towards – “Oh, he’s very creative”, “She’s definitely going to do well”, “Such wonderful ideas”.   As William Goldman once said, “Nobody knows anything”.

Actually, that’s not quite right: for a very wise post on the need for writers to plough on in the face of adversity, why not look here?

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