Friday, May 15, 2009

Television Outlines: Incarnates Part Five

Newf asks

'James, I wanna 'would like' (see me) to know how close these kind of experiences are to this:'



Heh. Well, I didn't take my concept round to as many people as Charlie did his, so it didn't have the opportunity to get shat on to the extent the man in black with the word 'IDEA' (they should have added a 'D' at the end, I reckon) did.

My teen drama certainly got chopped and changed around before making it to the very last stage of commissioning (and being turned down), but I never felt I was making any great compromise with quality - just the way the format worked (changing the plot from being a ongoing thriller to a more story of the week basis, boosting the central cast of characters so instead of just following four locals, there were now four locals and four posh kids). I didn't mind any of these changes, because all I really had in my head going in was an idea of tone, and a way of referencing the very typical American genre of teen shows in a way that was emotionally more realistic, and certainly more representative of my own upbringing, than you were tending to get in UK shows at the time.

Had it been commissioned, yes, I may well have been asked to find a part for Lily Allen. Seriously, that was my number one concern were it to be commissioned, bearing in mind it was BBC3 doing the commisioning. But it wasn't, and I still have the perfect, unblemished series in my head, and a couple of scripts that went down very well inside BBC Drama, and are currently getting me plenty of work. And if you're finding your work being horribly taken away from you, and Lily Allen added, you can either a) tell them to feck orf and wash your hands of the project, or b) take the money but get your agent to have your name taken off the project. It happens all the time.

I don't know why I'm having a go at Lilly Allen, by the way, I really liked that 'The Fear' song, and the fact she was quite rude about her own chat show. Nuff respect Lils.

Lots of nice comments from people asking what I'm going to do with it next. Make it into a graphic novel? Or, as Dan suggested:

'.,. perhaps try Sky? They're having a push for original drama right now, and a lot of it has been genre stuff (Terry Pratchett's, Skellig). It may be out of their price-range, though, as you say. Could it be adjusted into a two-hour one-off for Christmas?'

Those two-part dramas are both adaptations of existing literary works, which seem to be what Sky is after these days. My agent put me up for a similar adaptation recently, but Sky turned me down because I wasn't A-list enough. And by 'enough', they meant 'at all'. Which is fair enough.

So, what's happening with INCARNATE now? Well, nothing really. Carnival own the rights to the treatment, so if another broadcaster becomes interested in the possibility of a superhero series (possible) and has the available budget (unlikely), then I'm sure Carnival will slide it under their noses. I don't think it's terribly likely, to be honest, and you might be surprised to find I don't mind that much.

Because this happens all the time. This is what a large part of my job is: coming up with a stream of outlines and treatments for television shows that are (if I'm honest) unlikely ever to be made. Currently I'm working on four treatments. The first is for Hotel Babylon series five, so not my show, but the episode should see the light of day unless something goes terribly wrong. The second is for a prospective sitcom, which is pretty unlikely to get made, but it's an idea that I'm excited about, so for the first time in a few years I'm prepared to dip a toe into the (DELETED) choppy (changed on the advice of attorney Patroclus) waters that is the current UK television comedy world. The third is for a six-part literary adaptation for BBC4 (prestige!) which I'm very excited about, and has a reasonable chance of a series commission. And the fourth is an original (as in I would own the format rights) cop show for BBC1. So this is possibly the most likely-to-be-productive bunch of treatments I've ever worked on, and there are still no guarantees.

The other reason I don't mind that much is because I learned a while ago not to take it too personally, because otherwise you could go completely mad. And way more successful writers than me get their ideas turned down all the time.

To illustrate this, a couple of years ago, I had the idea of adapting a sort-of-obscure, but very well-regarded Edwardian comic novel as a television drama series. The novel is sort of odd and surreal, which suits me, and has a surprising number of references to contemporary issues such as domestic terrorism, undercover police work and religion.

I finally got a meeting with a pretty big UK television production company, who had a good track record with comedy, but were looking to branch out into drama, so I thought this idea would be right up their street. As it was, it just wasn't for them. But the producer obviously saw the downcast look on my face and knew exactly what to say to cheer me up.

PRODUCER: If it makes you feel any better, Stephen Fry came in with this exact idea two weeks ago, and we turned him down too.

YES! IN YOUR FACE, FRY!

13 comments:

Neil said...

Glad there's still a chance to get that idea out there. Let us know about the cop idea when you can; how is it different to every other I wonder.....? I know it will be, but how? Hmmm.....

Can't believe you had a go at Stephen Fry!? What a legend he is! He needs casting in something awesome methinks. Something with vampires or something. I could atually see him playing (and this isn't meant to offend ANYONE) a gender-challenged werewolf with learning disabilities. That accent with stupidity has got to be all manner of fun!

Anonymous said...

Have really enjoyed your Incarnates strand - fascinating.

Have to disagree with you about Ms Allen though and say personally, I would *love* to have Lily Allen in the comedy drama I'm working on. So long as she can act of course.... She's bright, sassy, independent, intelligent, pretty complicated and does vulnerability - perfect. In fact we've been writing it all along with her in mind....

james henry said...

Actually, I have a feeling she could turn out to be a really good actor - I'm just concerned at the way celebs seem to get crowbarred into roles no-one's bothered to check they'd actually be any good in.

Interesting article by the late Harry Thompson here showing that 'star-led' shows might be more likely to get commissioned, but actually tend, if anything, to get lower ratings than pieces with completely unknown actors.

Anonymous said...

yeah, I hate the crow bar thing. And the fact there appears to be a very very short list of actors who get cast in stuff. The whole names thing does my head in. I think it can give a false economy - those actors are way more expensive. Life as an actor not on that list is awful - especially in these credit crunch times. Some of the casting that happens just doesn't make any sense at all and totally buggers things up. Theatre's as guilty as TV and film.

But with the Lily Allen thing - that wouldn't be a crow bar at all. She's been our muse on the project - though she has no idea of course.

Will check out that Harry Thompson article!

Si said...

Hi James - thank you for being so open about your experiences. It's both reassuring and depressing. Look on the bright side, you've created a brand new emotion - reappressing! Keep buggering. Sorry, I mean keep buggering on - you know, like Churchill and that?

BlackLOG said...

I just found out, shortly after I purchased tickets to see Ms Allen that a friend has got me complimentary tickets to see her. All be it on a different night. Now I Like Lily but seeing her twice in quick succession (With her track record there is a real danger she will write a song about me stalking her).

Why don't I just not go on one of the nights, you are probably asking. It's not that easy who do you let down?

The person who went the extra mile and got you free tickets for a gig that had sold out. (Even if they did say at one point say there was no way on earth they could get them). "Sorry don't want to join you now you have gone to all the effort!"

or

The person you talked into joining you into actually purchasing a ticket. "Sorry about this but I'm not going anymore, I'm sure you will have a much better time on your own!"

If only they had been on the same night I could have arranged to meet them separately and then flitted back a forth between them all night, like some bad sitcom - Sure it would have ended badly and I would have upset them both and neither would ever talk to me again, but it would have been a challenge.

As it is, call me chicken, I'm going to risk ending up in the Stalker song.....

Newf said...

James – OH, WE'RE TURNING INTO A REAL TEACHER NOW, AREN'T WE. You have a red pen, don't you? I bet you have a red pen.

(I got that first writey job I mentioned last week, by the way. I dunno why I’m mentioning it, this is someone else’s blog, and yes. Anyway. I’m going to go and sit on the floor.)

I guess the "will I have to sacrifice 'integrity' as a writer?!" (I put 'integrity' in inverted commas there, because I dunno who tries to put that word to their name) question comes up all the time. That's a good answer. And you're a stalk-worthy creature with all that writey stuff going on - especially the BBC4 literary adaptation thing. We wanna hear more. We wanna hear more about that.

Also, I don’t want to watch Lily Allen’s comedy vehicle, plz.

Robert Lynn said...

Thanks for these posts, James. They made me realise something. I've been writing scripts for years. Full scripts. And I've been submitting these full scripts to production companies, and the production companies have been very impressed, and ask to see more. So I've been continuing to write full scripts.
Now I'm wondering should I just be writing treatments and outlines. The companies know who I am, they like my work, so I'm wondering also if writing full scripts is becoming, while not a complete waste, at least not the most efficient use of my time.
Am I answering my own question?
Yes, yes I think I am.
Any thoughts?
And big thanks again for the generosity of these posts.

james henry said...

Newf - congratulations! Can we hear more about that?

Robert Lynn - well, it's always good to write spec scripts (never a waste of time to write scripts, because that's how you get better as a writer), but yeah, now you've got those connections, brief outlines might be the way to go.

Valerie said...

I publish a tiny literary magazine, and I got a furious response to a rejection slip last month -- very colorful really. I was half-amused and half-sad, because it really does pay to get past the agony of rejection and to realize how many things besides the quality of your work such responses represent. (That said, he was reacting to a single word in my canned response that he considered loaded, which I have changed for the future -- I'm not trying to make anyone miserable, after all!)

I got very lucky and had a high school teacher who actually instructed us in processing rejection slips. Subsequently, I garnered dozens of them myself, but have somewhere along the way published many poems and even sold a number of short stories.

But it seems to me that when your livelihood depends on your writing, there is more at stake. You've clearly learned not to take the outcome as a reflection on your writing skills -- but doesn't it affect your stress about daily bill-paying?

Newf said...

Do you have to pay bills every day? I don't want to be a grown-up.

(And thanks, James! It's writing promotional voiceovers. I don't know why they want me. They're silly)

alwayslurking said...

IMDB suggests someone is making The Man Who Was Thursday, so you might get to watch it, at least.

Incarnates brought Zenith to mind, in a good way. Hopefully you could be bothered to get round to actually writing an ending...

Fat Roland said...

Top blogging, Mr Bluecat. I reckon it won't be long before you bag a massive Saturday night TV series, a spin-off movie, an XBox game tie-in and an eventual spot on the judging panel of a superhero version of Britain's Got Talent.