Thursday, September 26, 2013


There's a new sitcom coming out this week, the appearance of which in the schedules suddenly cast me back, in a manner I can only imagine as being similar to a Vietnam flashback, but more serious than that, to a meeting I had with one of that shows' producers/commissioners/let's not be too specific, a couple of years ago.

PRODUCER (I'm not saying it was a producer, just that when you're a writer, everyone who isn't an actor or a lighting technician seems to be a producer) had 'read my new spec script', 'loved it' and 'wanted to get me in for a chat'. Reception looked blank when I turned up, but toddled off anyway, and soon the sounds of befuddlement could be heard from behind closed doors. Receptionist emerges.

RECEPTIONIST: Hi James, they're a bit busy in a meeting at the moment, you can go in in a bit.

Note that I can't hear PRODUCER talking to anyone on the phone, and I'm fairly sure I can hear the speedy rustling of paper. When the door finally opens, I can't help noticing there was no-one else in the room, unless they leaped out of the window before I went it, which to be fair, is possible. Also, ten minutes is about how long it takes to read a half-hour script if you're in a hurry, because, say, you weren't entirely aware you had a meeting with the writer, and hadn't read the script you'd been sent.

PRODUCER: Come in then, COME IN!

I could swear that before I'm ushered into the room, the PRODUCER looks furtively around the building, as if to make sure they're not missing anyone more important (quite likely, to be fair), although also worried that someone's seen me go in with them.

PRODUCER: Soooooooooooo……. what have you been up to?
ME: Writing spec scripts?
PRODUCER: YES. Yes indeed. (pause) Didn't work for me, didn't understand a word of it, what else have you got?

Luckily I have got some ideas, most of which, I will allow, are a bit on the nerdy side. To be safe, I mentally file off the 'In Space!' off the end of them, just in case. I finish to a long silence.

PRODUCER: Hmmmmmm. We're looking for a stuff that's a bit more grounded, to be honest.
ME: Okay.

And then, IN THEIR FACE, because I also have a load of pitches that have not a trace of geeky weirdness, but are about competing dads, and failed actors, and cops and eighteenth century debutantes - okay, I'll allow my version of 'grounded' may vary from others.

PRODUCER: Hmmmmmm again.

A silence grows that could easily be described as 'desperate'.

ME: Okay, what sort of thing are you looking for?

PRODUCER shakes their head disappointedly.

PRODUCER: Oh James, no. No no no. Never that. That's not how it works.
ME: (cunning) Okay, what sort of things *aren't* you looking for?
PRODUCER: Would have worked if you'd gone in with that, but now you're just trying to be clever.

PRODUCER sighs, leans back, looks at me through steepled fingers (their own, fortunately).

PRODUCER: You see, when a good idea comes in, we KNOW it.

Now I have read books ('seen' books) about business jargon, and this seems like a good idea to pull something out of the box.

ME: Example me.

I have their attention. Previously they thought they was dealing with a 'writer'. Now they've realised I am able to talk their language and shit.

PRODUCER: We had some new writers come in last week. Their idea? "Young Irish People In London".
ME: (cautiously) Okay.
PRODUCER: We snapped that shit up pronto.
ME: Right.
PRODUCER: So you see, the kind of thing we're after-
ME: Young Cornish people in London.
ME: Young Welsh people in London.
ME: Young Scottish people in London.

I'm starting to get desperate now.

ME: Young Mexican people in London?

PRODUCER: Why don't you write a couple of pages of ideas, send them to me?

I do that. I don't hear back. Two months later, I send another two pages of ideas. I don't hear back on those either.


John Cowan said...

Well, you know conditions in your industry better than I, but right after "Didn't work for me, didn't understand a word of it, what else have you got?" I would have said:

"Any twelve-year-old could understand it, which means you didn't bother to read a word of it. I'm a professional, and you're wasting my valuable time. Call me back when you're ready to be serious." And then walked out.

James Henry said...

Well yeeeeeeeees, but to be honest, most of the good projects I'm doing came from someone saying a variation of 'I didn't really understand the script of yours someone put in front of me, but what else have you got?'

So you have to be tactful about these things.

Tim F said...

If anyone ever says "example me" in my hearing they will quickly become a conceptual art piece made of bone fragments and organ slivers all over the fucking ceiling.

John Cowan said...

Fair enough. But in this case you knew going into it that they hadn't given your work due consideration, and were basically playing games from the get-go. That's the time to walk out.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry it didn't work out that time. I wonder if a sit-com featuring Tim Footman as an Irish Vampire in London would work?

Robin said...

Would not have been able to resist saying ".....Monkey tennis?"

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