Friday, October 28, 2005


Well, I managed to rustle up an idea for the Afternoon Play. It’s always a bit frustrating with a brief that’s encouraging you to be “bold and aspirational” because although they’re sound and positive ideals, they’re pretty generic and unspecific as it’s so subjective as to what makes a bold and aspirational idea. Still, briefs are nearly always like this, which is fine as it perpetuates the myth of the storytelling process (“so like, how do you come up with ideas?”) and it gives you, the writer, a certain leeway to wow them with your creative spark if an idea of yours really hits home.

As a writer, you are continuously offered comments or questions like: “I don’t know how you do what you do”, or “how do you come up with ideas?” And although I try to maintain a certain allure and mystery as to how it’s all done, my response usually comes down to: “how to do you not come up with ideas; how could you not be inclined to sit down and write something?” It seems to me that ideas are everywhere and all around you. They may not be good ideas but that’s what the thought process is for - to sieve and filter the sludge of information waste to see if there’s any spark or jewel of potential left in your pan.

The more frustrating aspect of being a writer is not how to come up with ideas but how to cope with the waiting period in between submission and inevitable rejection. This waiting period is an aching chasm full of optimism, frustration, depression and delight. The optimism and delight usually stems from your mind trying to imagine the exec or reader’s reaction to your script: “wow, this is really great. Really, really great. Let’s commission this straight away”. This is usually followed a couple of days later with the more likely scenario being conjured up in your head: “Jeez, this is awful. Really, really bad. Did Danny really think this would pass?”

And as this frustration and depression sets in, the wait becomes longer and longer, until you have to chase them up to see where they’re at. You’re still holding on to a twig of optimism that they’re in love with your script and have taken so much time mulling it over because of the various bosses that need to be consulted. Usually however, you’ll chase them up, they’ll apologise, find your script near the bottom of their pile, read it over the next few days, and then give you a kind rejection straight away because you’ve chased them up in the first place.

Which begs the question: should I continue to wait for a response on my submission or should I get my agent to chase them to hurry it up a bit? It’s difficult to say what exact length of time is best to gauge what kind of reaction your project is receiving. Generally, the longer you haven’t heard, the more likely it’s a case that your script or pitch or outline, or bribe, has bombed. But on the other hand, producers and execs are incredibly busy people (really; constant distraction and pressure) so sometimes your script may have just got lost in their big spec pile and after a nudge from you, they may find & read, and hey, like it enough to have you in for a meeting.

It really is difficult to know exactly what’s going on behind closed doors so it’s dangerous to second guess what’s happeing or lapse into an easy sense of dread & disappointment (“there’s just no point”). Keep at it. Keep going. Waiting is part and parcel of being a writer but don’t sit around waiting. We're all guilty of it - I've been waiting for a rewrite reaction, and a few pitches I've made, and haven't done much proper writing since. It's important to stay busy and active with other ideas and projects so when the inevitable rejection does finally arrive, you can be psychologically past it because you’re busy with a script you’re more excited by.

All I've written this year has been Doctors and outlines for feature films, and I made the short film. Not bad. I've also rewritten one of my scripts in developoment but I haven't written something new, i.e. a full script, which is something I want to rectify before the year is out. My agent recently advised me not to write scripts anymore, just write outlines so I can be paid to write the script but I miss the spec experience. I like it. Maybe it's masochistic as the best they're ever likely going to be in this country is another good sample of your work but as a writer, there's a certain joy and satisfaction in expressing your story in its full and proper format.

I've got those outlines to develop to first draft as well as a couple of new ideas I'm excited about so I've now got to choose one of them to get on with if I'm going to complete a new script before Christmas. That should keep me ticking over while the waiting period goes on with all my other stuff that's "gone out there".


Anonymous said...

Hi Danny,

Thanks for your advice about submitting to afternoon tv play, I too managed to get something in, but it is a bit odd that the scheme wasn't very well publicised and that it left practicaly no time to get a decent idea in. Guidelines are also incredibly confusing, no magic, what does even mean?

Regarding just writing outlines, would a company actually pay a decent amount for an outline for a script which hasn't even been written? Also, and I know it varies, but how much would an established company like Working Title pay for an outline compared to how much they would pay for a completed spec script? Could a writer 'survive' by writing just one film script a year, assuming it actually got bought. I don't know much about film-rates but radio rates are lousy 2 grandish for an afternoon play, 45 mins, and maybe 2 and a half for an hour, this would mean a writer having to write a minimum of eight or so plays a year to make a living, but the reality is that most writers only get to write one, if they are really lucky, two and competition is rife. How do tv rates such as Doctors compare?

C P Healey.

Anonymous said...

Hi Danny,

Great site - found many links from here that I've followed - it's been a real journey of discovery! :)

Re: The Afternoon Play - I cannot find details of this anywhere? Any chance you could point us in the right direction?



Danny Stack said...

Hi F - welcome! The Afternoon Play is managed by Will Trotter in BBC Birmingham (Drama Village). Don't know if they've publicised the details anywhere but all I got was that brief and I sent my idea to my agent.

C P: In general, the standard rate given to a new writer to pen a first draft is about £15k (which may breakdown into £5k first draft, £5k delivery, £5k revisions etc). This could be the fee offered from the outline stage, alternatively they may offer a low option on the outline in order to develop to 1st draft. The Head of Business Affairs at Working Title explained in a Q&A once that £15k is roughly what they offer to pay to a new writer because they're an unknown quantity.

It's unlikely a writer could survive by writing one film script a year, even if it's bought. If once script was made every year now that would be a different matter but that's cloud cuckoo land for now.

Doctors pay shy of £3k per ep (it goes up as you do more), which isn't bad and kids' stuff usually pays between £1-2k.

So a variety of work is the key to making a living unless you're lucky enough to be an exclusive 'feature film writer' who can get by on constant options and the elusive rewrite gigs.