Sunday, July 05, 2020

WHY I’D RATHER NOT READ YOUR SCRIPT IF IT’S ALL THE SAME TO YOU

I’m not the first person to write this sort of piece and I doubt I’ll be the last, but I’ve had enough requests of late I do now feel justified in putting something down I can link to, saying ‘look, because of this’ rather than sending another apologetic email or twitter DM.

Because firstly, it takes bravery to put yourself out there and ask someone to look at your writing, so don’t ever feel bad for asking. However, there are a kajillion reasons I, and most other scriptwriters, aren’t going to be able to give you the detailed feedback you desire, and no doubt deserve and here are a few of them:

TIME/EMOTIONAL BANDWIDTH

My charming and wonderful wife is, like me, a professional writer. However, unlike me, she writes for businesses about technology. I think. I try not to pry. Unaccountably, this means of the two of us, she is the one with what you could broadly describe as a ‘regular income’. Consequently, I do most of the looking after of our children, taking them to school (and bringing them back, it’s important to remember this bit), cooking, shopping, most of the ironing (editor: do you mean 'some' here?)  and as little cleaning as I can get away with. Also home-schooling, because at the time of writing there’s a pandemic going on. As well as this I’m trying to write scripts, which takes a lot of effort and concentration, and often brings me no money at all, which if I’m honest is pretty much the opposite of my 'how to be a writer' business plan.

All of which means I don’t have much time for looking at writing by other people. Even when I wasn’t trying to teach my children how angles work, or to spell ‘achieve’, I still found it almost impossible to find time to read friends had sent me. I try not to think of them sitting in my inbox, wondering why they haven’t been clicked on and growing ever more afraid and alone. Which brings me to my next point:

I DON’T ACTUALLY LIKE ANYTHING

Sad but true. I probably won’t like your script because I don’t like more than two per cent of anyone or anything. It could be brilliantly crafted, ground-breaking and/or hilarious, but I’ll never know because halfway through it I’ll have failed to emotionally connect with it and wish I was dead. I like a very small amount of stuff and can’t be arsed with almost everything else and I’m the same with a. music and b. people. The sense of relief when I slowly realised I’m reasonably fond of my own children nowadays can’t be exaggerated. Also, I find reading scripts exhausting.

What this adds up to is I probably won’t like your script that much, but that has nothing to do with its level of quality. I don’t like The Godfather. Or Goodfellas. I still think the first Resident Evil film is an excellent action/horror. When everyone at my school was into The Cure, I was proudly wearing a Supertramp t-shirt to basketball practice. I can’t be arsed with the theatre. I don’t really get poetry. You don’t want to rely on my taste in any way that matters.

IT’S NOT LIKE I HAVE ANY SWAY ANYWAY

Let’s say I did read your script and thought it was amazing. What then? Well, first I’ll probably resent you for being more talented than me and I'll dedicate the rest of my life to destroying you. I’m sorry, but this isn’t a fair industry and I’m quite far down in it. But even if I liked it so much I wanted to see it made, there’s something you haven’t thought of: I find it hard enough to get my own stuff made, so it’s not like I could be much help with anyone else’s.

Perhaps I loved your script (I won’t), wrote you a glowing testimonial (I wouldn’t), and you sought to somehow leverage this in a meeting you’d managed to get with a respected producer.

YOU: This script has been read by James Henry, who wrote for Green Wing, Hey Duggee and did quite a chunk of additional material for Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon, although his official credit is limited to a ‘Special Thanks’ and he thought it was, and I quote: ‘brilliant’.
RESPECTED PRODUCER: *shrugs*

See? Dispiriting for both of us. However there is one final point, which only occurred to me very recently.

YOU DON’T NEED MY VALIDATION

See, I suddenly realised that most of the people asking if I could read their scripts were this: female. LADIES. Because, if you’ll allow me a gross oversimplification, men and women tend (and to be clear, this is only a theory, and I said ‘tend’) to react differently when they’ve typed ‘FADE OUT’ and hit ‘save’ for the last time.

MAN WRITER: This is brilliant, I will now send it to the head of the BBC and await their glowing response by the return of post. A series will surely be commissioned within a twelvemonth.

WOMAN WRITER: It’s done! Or is it? Is it any good? Am I any good? Oh god, do I even exist? Etc

YES YES this is an appalling stereotype and almost certainly wrong, but there’s something in it, otherwise why is it mostly female writers who want to send me their scripts? It’s not my twitter biog photo, there’s a cat in front of it. My theory is that female writers tend to be less confident/look for validation more than male writers, or if you like, male writers tend to be more confident/entitled than female writers.

Anyway, wherever you are on axes of gender or confidence, you've finished a script! Go you! Now read it again, if you think it's good enough to send out, send it out. If you're not sure, rewrite it until you are sure. Or you're are sure as you're going to get but you've had an idea about something else you want to write and now you want to get on with this. Scripts aren't finished, they're abandoned. Someone clever said this. Who was it? It was me, just then! (don't google this)

SO WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH MY SCRIPT INSTEAD OF SENDING IT TO YOU?

Delete it and write a book instead. More creative satisfaction and if it doesn’t get picked up by a publisher, you can self-publish it and probably make more cash that way.

Ugh, fine, keep the script, but instead of sending it to me, send it to someone who can actually do something with it, to wit: a producer. Find a show you like, make a note of the producer (not the associate producer, that’s either one of the actors or some exec who just didn’t say no at the right time, which is a skill, I’m not knocking it) and email them asking if you can send them your script to read.

If you’re looking for a bit of validation, and who isn’t, find a smart friend you can trust to be honest and ask if they’ll read it. And if they don’t give you one hundred per cent approval, ignore everything they said and send it off to the producer anyway. Or the BBC writers room, or the Red Planet prize or keep an eye out for other script competitions. You can google this yourself, I'm not doing it for you because of all the above reasons. Be wary of any that charge you more than a tenner to enter though, the theory is that money should flow towards, not away from, the writer.

Whatever you do, best of luck. But not so much luck you get in my way because I will CRUSH YOU.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

US TV DRAMA PITCH GENERATOR

... and THEN I thought, why not make a US version? In case I ever have to go and pitch over there, you never know.

Behold THE US TV DRAMA PITCH GENERATOR, which is like the UK one but has a much bigger budget.


UK TV Drama Pitch Generator

I got a bit tired of constantly coming up with new ideas for television shows, only for them to be constantly shot down, so I decided to come up with a way to randomly generate them.

Behold THE UK TV DRAMA GENERATOR

An example thereof:


(I'm trying to work out how to embed it in a blog post, not sure yet)



Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Always spell-check your email headers

It’s just occurred to me that as Steven Moffat’s run on Doctor Who has finished, I can now tell you how I sent the worst typo IN HISTORY to the production team without worrying I’ll be giving away any potential spoilers or anything.

The Doctor Who series before the last one (or possibly the one before that), I was approached for possibly writing an episode for the series, which as you can imagine is quite an exciting thing to be asked to do. The odds weren’t great, I think they had four episode slots free, and they’d asked sixteen or so writers to come in and do a pitch. So after submitting a few one-paragraph ideas, I got on the train to Cardiff and had a preliminary meeting with the lovely script editors Richard and Derek (*waves*), then worked the ideas up a bit more, and then was asked to come to another meeting in Chiswick, in front of script eds, producer and S. Moffat. I’ve met him before, he’s very nice.

The pitch meet opened thusly:

MOFFAT : So, what's your relationship with Doctor Who?
ME: Well, I wasn't allowed to watch it because it was deemed 'too scary', but my library had the Target novelisations, so in my mind there was only one Doctor who sometimes had a scarf and sometimes didn't, but didn't really have a face because I'm not great at faces, but either way, he always seemed more of a literary figure than a visual one.
MOFFAT: (shocked) You weren't allowed to watch Doctor Who?
ME: *sad face*
MOFFAT: That's basically child abuse!
ME: (getting phone out) I KNOW, RIGHT?! Please call my mum and tell her.

(I didn't actually do the last bit but MAN I wanted to).

I then did the worst pitch I’ve ever done. Started off well, then my brain clagged up I said ‘and then’ a million times and forgot bits and had to go back and start again at least twice I DON’T RECOMMEND THIS and I was reduced to asking for some water, and the sound of the water jug being slid across the table to me was exactly the screeching sound from Men In Black when Will Smith drags the table across the interview room, it was uncanny.

By then, the odds had already narrowed to eight writers for two eps, although if you’re a Doctor Who fan, you’ll have spotted my name isn’t on any of the credits, so you know how this ends. Well sort of, smarty pants, although you don’t know exactly how I get there, so settle down.

Sadly, the big ideas I’d had were already taken (the Doctor organises a heist! we go deep inside the Tardis for a thing!), so I was given an idea to muck about with: Strax the Sontaran, member of the Paternoster Gang the Doctor’s occasional chum, is taken back to his home planet by his fellow Sontarans, who view him as a traitor for his regular helpings-out with the human race, not to mention one Time Lord, and place him on trial, the sentence: death. And probably a horrible death too, because if you’re not familiar with the Sontarans, they’re basically the angriest baked potatoes in the galaxy, and enter every room like this: GAAHHHHHH!



So it doesn’t look good for Strax. I had an idea for how you’d explore this, and Steven Moffat was throwing better ideas at me like one of those baseball machines in American films, I was sort of juggling his ideas while mine fell all over the floor and rolled under tables and so on, but we got somewhere in the end, and even though it was the worst pitch I’d ever done, I got to go away and write it up.

This reminds me, I had another idea about an old battle Tardis. A Tardis specifically designed by the Time Lords for WAR, and they said ‘ah, we’re just about to do this’ but clearly they never did. Where’s Battle Tardis! I LOVE Battle Tardis!

Anyway I wrote it up, and they batted it about, and by then it was me and another writer up for one remaining slot and to cut a long story short (too late!), they went with the other writer, so I didn’t get to write for the Twelfth Doctor in the end (sad face).

But that’s not what this is about. What this is about is, during the development process I got an email from the script editors/producers of Doctor Who with the RUDEST TITLE HEADING EVER.

Crikey! I thought, and also Gosh, and I Don’t Think They Meant This Email Title For Me. Had they perhaps replied to another email, forwarded it to someone, then it had got all caught up with their email to me? It seemed unlikely, but I couldn't think of a better explanation, I decided to reply to it, not mentioning the somewhat enormous faux pas in the email, they’ll spot if themselves, I thought, and realise what they did.

Only a day or so later did the horrid truth assert itself, like a Battle Tardis would have done if they’d ever done that episode. Because I suddenly realised that the email was in reply to ME, which meant the original title had been written by YOURS TRULY, and they’d just politely not mentioned it and replied back to me in much the way I’d decided to do to them.


So remember, the idea for the episode was for 'Strax' to be put 'on trial'.







Not...















... as I'd written...





















*sigh*









Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Trying to buy a watch on Oxford Street

I am in London for meetings. The meetings are fine, everything else is confusing and upsetting.

First of all I trip up on Oxford Street, which is no fun when you are in your early to mid-forties, as one's entire life flashes before one's eyes. Then, a moment later, I trip up again, with the same result, only this time I got more of the subtler background jokes, which was nice.

My watch is broken (an earlier incident), so I go into Muji on Oxford Street to buy a new one. If this was a film, a large 'A SIMPLE TASK' title card would flash up ironically, in a special font designed by Wes Anderson.

There are many watches on a display thing in front of the till. I reach out to a reasonable-looking example, only to be confounded by some sort of invisible forcefield I realise too late is clear perspex, rendered invisible by the strong overhead lighting. No worries, I think, I shall simply try again, this time extracting a watch from 'above'. I do so, only for my hand to crumple against the exact same barrier. I refuse to look round, because now a queue has built up behind me, every one of whom must be convinced I am the drunkest man in London (I've had two coffees, which is admittedly two too many).

Giving up, I ask the lady behind the till, who, I'll be honest, has been staring at me throughout, if I can have one of the watches.
'We don't have any watches', she says.
'Erm', I say, pointing at the watches. My hand accidentally hits the perspex again. I can hear a worried sigh from the queue behind me, but refuse to turn round.
'We have some watches here,' says the lady in the exact same tone, somehow not admitting this is the exact opposite of what she said just seconds ago, and lifts a battered margerine tub of slightly knocked-about watches onto the counter. For a Muji store, this feels like the least on-brand move she could have made, to be honest, but I let it slide.
'That one please', I say, pointing to the simplest possible looking watch, but my pointing doesn't seem to have worked and the lady looks confused. 'Three in from that side, and three in from that side', I say. 'The one in the middle'.

The lady looks at the watch. 'We don't have that one', she says.
'But it's right there!' I say. We are both becoming tearful now.
'I will look downstairs' says the lady, and flees.

The queue is making rumbling noises behind me now, but I refuse to turn round. After an hour or the lady returns with a small cardboard box.

'I have a watch', she says, and shows it to me. It isn't the one I wanted, but it could conceivably be a man's watch, and it has hands, which fit almost all my requirements.

'Yes!' I nearly shout. I buy it and leave the shop, refusing to look anyone in the vast queue in the eye on the way out.

(This is the watch I ended up buying, which I quite like, although it verges on fussy for my tastes)


Outside, even though I am on the different side of Oxford Street (on the south side heading east to west, rather than the north side heading west to east, compass fans), I trip twice more. The first time I notice that a lady who played an assembly line work at the small electronics factory I worked at in the early nineties now plays a South African dental technician at my current dentists. The second (or fourth, to be technically accurate), time, I become annoyed by the intrusive background music.

BUT THAT'S NOT ALL.

At Paddington Station, I go to pick up my small suitcase thing from left luggage.
'That will be FORTY POUNDS', chuckles the man in left luggage. His co-worker is giggling alongside him, and they are both waiting for me to get the joke.
'Forty pounds?' I ask, confused. They instantly stop laughing.
'No', says the first one, offended. 'Fourteen pounds'.
'It says twelve pounds here', I say, pointing at a thing.
'Yes,' says the first one. 'Really it is only twelve pounds'. The co-worker sighs deflatedly in a manner that suggests they had a whole routine going and I RUINED IT.
'Because fourteen pounds isn't that much more than twelve pounds', I start to say, confusedly, but the first man is holding up my suitcase.
'Or we could KEEP YOUR BAG FOREVER!' shouts the man, laughing again.
'No', I say firmly, pay the money and take the bag.

A small queue has built up behind me. I do not look any of them in the eyes on the way out.

Today I have to go into London once more. I am not entirely looking forward to it.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Dan Black - Symphonies





Cor, just stumbled across this on my ipod random shuffle thing, and realised I hadn't heard it for years (since 2009 to be exact). Amazing video as well.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Skype meetings

I’d already had one meeting with two television producers, to discuss a two page outline I’d written for a series based in Cornwall, about people who work with the sea, specifically the coastal bits of it, although I’ve probably said too much already.

That first meeting had gone very well. We’d discussed tone, plot, the central character’s emotional arc (I’d remembered to suggest he had one, I don’t always), and we’d all gone away content we were going to start making something amazing.

However, just to make sure, a Skype meeting had been arranged, for a couple of weeks later. I’d put aside forty minutes, maybe even an hour. This was going to be done properly. And after five or so minutes of chit-chat, we got right down to it.

PRODUCER 1: ….so, what we need to discuss is how we see this show developing. Where it goes. Where the characters go, and where we, the audience, go.

PRODUCER 2:  As well where we, the makers of the show, go.

PRODUCER 1: Well obviously. Also the feel. What kind of feel does it have?

ME: Cool! Well, I see this as having a Seventies thriller kind of vibe. A bit Desmond Bagley, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsythe maybe? So-

PRODUCER 1: Oh.

PRODUCER 2: Hmm.

ME: (desperately tacking in the opposite direction) Although obviously more contemporary than that. Technology’s going to play a big part in it, so-

PRODUCER 1: Sure, sure.

PRODUCER 2: Sure.

PRODUCER 1: Hmm.

LONG SILENCE.

ME: That’s not how you saw it at all, is it?

PRODUCER 1: No.

PRODUCER 2: Not really.

ME: Shall we leave it then?

PRODUCER 1: Let’s do that.

ME: Right okay cheers then.

I press Control and Q on my keyboard, which turns off the Skype app. And tells me the call has lasted exactly seven minutes.

ME: OH FOR FUCK’S-

A gentle ‘ding’ from the laptop as the Skype actually turns off.

ME: (weakly) - sake….

Friday, November 18, 2016

Je Suis Ron

I had to write this whole experience down as it was so bizarre I thought if I didn’t, it might evaporate like it had never happened, which would be a shame.

Like many people who work from home, I am plagued, PLAGUED I tell you by scam callers. Usually the ones who claim to be called Bernard or Kevin or Helen even though they have quite a thick Indian-ish accent - it's NOT RACIST to think there might be a contradiction there although I'd be perfectly happy to be set straight on that matter - and tell me there’s a problem with my Windows computer, which seems quite likely, or would be if I didn’t have a Mac, which for Apple’s many faults (being actively evil on a global scale, continually trying to remove the star ratings on iTunes etc), doesn’t actually go wrong very often.

Either way, Bernard or Kevin or Helen seem awfully keen on my following instructions which a cynical person might suspect will lead to money being moved from my bank account to anothers' in a post-ethical manner that would make it hard to retrieve. The thing is though, I can’t bring myself to be rude to these people, because that’s probably the best job they could get, and also I’m weak-willed and scared of confrontation.

So normally I say ‘ooh I’ll go and get my laptop’ and spend ten minutes bumbling about, periodically returning to the phone and saying things like ‘maybe it was in the East Wing, I’m sure I was there this morning’ then wandering off again until eventually they give up. This way I haven’t been rude to anyone, but that’s ten minutes they couldn’t trick my elderly nan into email them her savings, which would be difficult to be fair, because she’s dead.

Anyway, I haven’t had a scam call for ages, and I almost miss those crazy guys, then this morning, Ron called.

RON: (thick Bangladesh accent, but in your head so you're the racist one NOT ME) Hello, my name is Ron there is a problem with your Windows computer.

I immediately minimise the document I’m working on because it’s not like I need an excuse to not write.

ME: Right, gosh, what shall I do?
RON: Is your computer in front of you?
ME: No.

Long pause.

RON: (helpfully) Could you perhaps go and get it?
ME: Yes!

Followed by a good long while of me bumbling about and doing the ‘ooh I'll find it in a minute damn that butler etc’ stuff. When I return, Ron is still on the line. He has not given up!

ME: Okay, I have found my laptop.
RON: This is great, sir.
ME: It is, isn’t it?
RON: What is on your laptop at the moment?
ME: A word document.
RON: You must close it.
ME: Right-oh.

I do close it, because I am METHOD, and it’s only work.

RON: Have you closed it?
ME: Yes, but it’s happening verrrrrry slowwwwwwwly.

A very long silence.

RON: Is it closed yet?
ME: Neaaaaarrrrrrllllllyyy.
RON: I know what you’re doing.
ME: (guilt) What?
RON: I know what you’re doing. I know what you’re doing. I know what you’re doing.

Pause.

RON: I know what you’re doing.
ME: You’re freaking me out a bit Ron.
RON: I know what you’re doing.
ME: At this point, I really don’t know what I’m doing.
RON: I know what you’re doing.

I decide to play Ron at his own unnerving game.

ME: (Unintelligible whispering)
Ron decides to join in.
RON: (Unintelligible whispering)

We are now whispering unintelligibly at each other. It’s weirdly intimate, and I give in first, by giggling. Then Ron starts giggling.

RON: You fucker.
ME: (shocked) Ron!

More giggling from Ron.

ME: I'll be honest, I am stringing you along a bit because that stops you getting money from other, more vulnerable people, nice grans etc.
RON: (cheerful) Okay.

Bit of a pause.

ME: So where are you calling from?
RON: Bangladesh.
ME: Is it a big office?
RON: Yes.
ME: Are there many people in your office?
RON: Yes. Do you speak any other languages?
ME: (immediately) I speak fluent French. (I don’t).
RON: What is French for ‘my name is’?
ME: That would be ‘je suis’ – NO WAIT! That’s ‘I am’. My name is ‘Je m’appelle’ something.
RON: Say, my name is (Bangladesh word).
ME: Ron. Are you trying to make me say ‘My name is fucker’ in your native tongue?

Ron giggles.

ME: I should say Ron, I don’t approve of your business practices, but I am at least enjoying this conversation.
RON: Goodbye.

There is a long silence. Ron doesn’t seem to want to put the phone down.

ME: We both know this has to end, Ron.
RON: I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING.
ME: Goodbye Ron.

Ron giggles. I put down the phone.

Goodbye Ron.