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Posts Tagged ‘projects’

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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Well, not of Jeanie with the light brown hair, or even of genie.  What I dream of, or at least I did this morning, is discussions about the literary merit of the Koran.  It’s nice to know that my subconscious mind is really, really pretentious.  I suspect I could have guessed that in advance.

Why am I mentioning this?  Well, because in between having incredibly pretentious dreams about subjects of which I know absolutely nothing, I slipped into that weird state, so useful to writers, where the mind begins to free-associate and ideas begin to lock into place.

Among the many and various projects I’m currently preparing to send into the no-man’s land of the commissioning process, is a project for an MR James-y horror story.  All it took was being awakened by a door banging open due to the wind (ah the joys of living in a crumbling Edwardian terrace!) and, after 15 minutes of slowly drifting back to sleep, suddenly I had the perfect ending for the idea.  Now all I need is the beginning and middle and I’m away.

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The thing about audiences, whether they be readers or cinemagoers or even just people slumped in front of the box is that they’re clever.  Obviously, as individuals they’ll range across the whole spectrum of intelligence (unless your book/film/TV script is called something like  “The Ineluctable Modality of Fate” or “Janet and John and Pat the Dog” in which case the range of available IQs is likely to be rather more limited) but, taken together, they will have a vast amount of knowledge (this, by the way, is why it’s always best to save “Ask the Audience” for the really tricky question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire).  Audiences really will pick up any small clues you choose to seed your manuscript with, they don’t need to be prepared for any plot twist with a long explanation in words of one syllable.

Irritatingly, I appear to have forgotten this while wrestling with “the great script”.  I’ve been trying to hint at the twist  coming up in my film script with a few well-chosen bits of scene-dressing earlier on.  Re-reading what I’ve put together so far, I now realise I’ve put something in every other scene.  I may have wanted to send out a few little clouds, presaging the coming storm but instead I’ve knocked up something akin to the tornado scene in The Wizard of Oz.

Ah well, looks like I can start tomorrow with more than a few revisions.

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choices-thumbWriting, like acting, is all about choices (it’s all about lots of other things as well, of course, but “choices” can be found pretty near the top).  Do I use this word or that?  Location A or B?  Is this an anti-hero or an all-out villain?  Would I really like fries with that?

The choice being made can be a tiny one but that doesn’t make it any less importance.  Was it Laurence Olivier who said that when acting he always started with the nose and everything else fell into place from there?   Today, for instance, it came down to who owned a car, a problem that took almost an hour to solve.  The hero of the script I’m working on is divorced (separated?)  and back living with his mum, despite being in his mid-30s.  One of today’s scenes saw him driving off to a job interview (no, he’s not going to get the job).  The question was, is he driving his own car or his mum’s?

Well, let’s see.  If it’s his own car then we can use it to say something about him: does he like flash cars?  What sort of music does he have on the MP3?  What radio station does he default to?  Is his motor filled with junk?  Is there a stash of Mars Bars (or should that be some sort of cereal bar?  Get in that “wants to be fit but can’t resist a snack” attitude? See? – choices everywhere!) in the glove compartment?

Then again, driving his own car means that he’s kept something reasonably substantial for himself in the divorce/post-separation.  Given that he’s failed to move on from the relationship, maybe he would have left the car with his ex.  He thinks he’s just kipping in his childhood bedroom as a stopgap, until his ex takes him back.  This is also the reason why he’s failed to get himself a new job and build a new life – he doesn’t realise (/won’t admit) the old one is over yet.

Now I get to make the hero drive his mum’s car.  This supports his “we’ll soon be back together again” attitude to his ex AND I can still say a lot about him with the car: how does he react to all the choices his mum makes for her car?  I’m pretty sure he’s going to hate what’s on the CD player.  I also get to have a bit of fun with him crashing the gears and being appalled by the contents of the glove compartment.

Of course, tomorrow I may decide that this was completely the wrong choice, but then that’s what tomorrows are for.

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So today was spent working on the new version of the trailer for the web channel I work on.   Obviously I thoroughly resented having to come up with something new after spending a day on the project but I must admit I probably prefer the new version to the old one.  For one thing it is a lot simpler to film, which gives half a chance of the final project resembling what I envisaged when I wrote out.  I still bear the scars from a radio sketch I wrote many years ago: it was supposed to open like an old Universal horror movie – wind, rain, the crash of thunder, the creaking of a massive and ancient door, the sepulchral sounds of an organ echoing among the buildings ancient stones – but when I tuned in to hear it  I got the pitter-patter of a light shower, a squeaky hinge and the sound of a Stylophone, from there on in the sketch lacked a certain something, to my ears at least.

With that job out of the way (barring re-writes) and a bunch of sample sketches ready to head off to a “major independent comedy production company”, it looks like I’ve managed to get the deadlines I mentioned last week out of the way.  This means on the one hand that I have no immediate revenue streams in site but on the other that I have room to crack on with those other projects I mentioned.  Indeed, I’ve got some additional motivation in that area as my agent has asked me to knock out a chapter of “the novel” for her to pass on to a literary agent.  I find this both thrilling and intimidating.  The novel is dear to my heart, coming as it does from a project I’ve long had in mind and which my old agent dismissed out of hand (after making me produce three, increasingly lengthy, treatments for it over a period of some 9 months) – thus if I can get any success out of it I have the double benefit of it being one in the eye for my former agent.  This may seem petty but, given that the last time I saw her she wandered up to me at a party and called me a complete shit for having had a play commissioned by Radio 3 shortly after dispensing with her services, I think I can be allowed a bit of pettiness.

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Special Agent

Reluctant though I am to admit it, it’s been a good day.  I’ve managed to get to grips with the promo I had to write, bunged out assorted emails, done some work on the novel and even had the chance to laugh in the face of the tax man’s payment reminder, though admittedly this is only due to the fact I earned so little last year that this time the taxman has to pay me.  Plus my excellent agent has put me onto a new sketch show that’s looking for writers.  Now, obviously, the show sounds pretty ghastly, with the kind of paper-thin premise you know means it’s heading straight to BBC3, but it’s still the chance of some cash, which I will of course, use to fund the revolutionary opus I know I have in me.  Besides, which, if the Beeb are happy to bung out Little Miss Jocelyn on BBC2, even a sketch show based on one man banging his head against a bed of nails for half an hour would have a pretty good prospect of making its way to terrestrial.

As I say, I owe this extra earning prospect to my present agent.  Having a good agent is a new experience for me and one I’m thoroughly enjoying.  Having a good agent is also one of the most vital things for a career in writing (after small matters like having some basic level of talent … and the fact I have had any kind of career at all might suggest that not even that is necessary).  The most vital thing however, in my experience at least, is not having a bad agent.  A bad agent can put your career on hold quicker than Virgin Broadband’s technical support line.  How can you spot a bad agent?  Here are some vital signs:

  1. Look at the agent’s client list – if most of the people on it last had a big hit with a cheerfully racist sitcom written in the late 70s, now is the time to move on.
  2. Look at the client list again – if you can only identify a couple more names beyond those of the racist sitcom writers, and both those names belong to people who “might have played … y’know, that guy in the bar … in that film with the thing … y’know” then this is another reason to worry.
  3. On the other hand, if your agent has got a lot of really good clients, is he or she always too busy to take your call due to being off at “Stephen’s latest premiere … so witty.  Now, you’re the one with that little play about the … no don’t tell me, it’ll come to me, I’m sure“?
  4. Whenever you phone your agent, is he or she always out “at lunch” even when it’s gone five-thirty in the afternoon?
  5. Whenever you meet, does your agent always have a misty look in his or her eyes and a large and rapidly-draining glass in hand?
  6. Is your agent’s idea of feedback a note saying “‘there’ is spelt as ‘their’ on page 118?
  7. When you mention your agent’s name to other agents/producers/writers, do their faces suddenly take on a resemblance to Edvard Munch’s The Scream?
  8. Have you been paid anything for that work you did 6 months ago?
  9. When you go to meet your agent, is his or her desk covered with unopened mail from various production companies, postmarked more than 6 months ago, that may well contain cheques?
  10. Or, worse still, is your agent currently “holidaying” in a country with which the UK has no extradition treaty, with no plans to return?

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… well, mainly the chest cold that has been having its way with me for the past few days.  And then there’re my eyes of course.  After nearly four decades of faithful service they have decided that all that “focusing” stuff is getting a bit old hat.  Whilst I respect the reasons for their decision I can’t really agree with it – especially as the focusing stuff really worked very well for (a) reading and (b) writing, which are the two things I spend most of my days doing (you’ll understand that “reading” in this regard also refers to reading the descriptions of various TV shows as they appear onscreen as I flick between channels and reading the, frankly excessively small, type on the PSP iteration of Final Fantasy Tactics).

When I went to see him last week my optician seemed quite reluctant to give me a prescription for glasses.  Normally I like this kind of attitude – I’d much rather see a doctor who was reluctant to prescribe me something rather than one of those sorts who hands out antibiotics like Jay Leno hands out muffins to writers (especially as I don’t want my doctor to sneak off and do my job behind my back).  Unfortunately, in this case I wanted those glasses and no amount of telling me “Of course if you were a road digger you could definitely survive without spectacles” could convince me otherwise, mainly because I’m not a road digger.

I got the prescription in the end and went to pick it up today.  This, of course, ate into my writing time (though not as much as the time I had to spend on facebook, scouring assorted news websites, popping out for a quick walk and a coffee to get some “thinking time” &c &c) and when I finally got back and tried to work with my new specs on I found myself in a scary new word where the words on the page and screen finally appeared a nice, solid black but the screen they appeared on appeared wider at the top than the bottom and any attempt to turn my head resulted in a powerful desire to vomit.

So those are my excuses for today.  Still, I did get a fair bit of research done.  And I came up with some pretty promising ideas for sketches.  In fact, I even  managed to get a bit of work done on the novel.  It’s just I didn’t get as much done as I’d have liked.  And that irks me.  Which is why I blame the cold … and my eyes … and definitely not me, myself or I.

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