Monday, February 06, 2006

London or Bust

“I’m fed up with London this week… It does nothing for me anymore.”
David Hemmings in Blow Up.

In America, there’s an on-going debate for screenwriters whether they should stay where they are (in US suburbia) or head for the sunnier climbs of Los Angeles, cinema’s epicentre. There’s certainly a lot of practical logic with the idea that if you want to be part of something then you should be there to participate, and moving to LA to duck and dive within the system is a must for those young, old, brave, lucky and desperate enough to succeed.

Fortunately, because screenwriters can make a living without ostensibly having to deal with another human being, there is an argument about whether you have to be in the physical locality of LA at all. However, while most execs, agents and production companies will be after a good script no matter where it’s written or where the writer hails from, there can be no denying that if you’re not part of the scene, it’s unlikely that you’ll be given the respect and credibility that you would prefer. In a world where the swift efficiency of a “meet and greet” is king, there’s little substitute for face-to-face networking and familiarity.

Here in the UK the question is: ‘do I need to move to London to establish and advance my career?’ The answer: preferably yes, not catastrophic if no. Why? Because the UK is a very small place compared to the grand expanse of America. If you live in the Scottish Highlands and manage to snag a producer’s interest in London, and he invites you for a meeting, the worst you’re looking at is a six hour train journey to England’s capital. Bosh, done. And of course, the advent of broadband and everyone’s over-reliance on email means that ongoing communication can be maintained at an agreeable level.

For television, it’s a completely different picture because various regions and broadcasters have plenty of exciting production and activity. In London itself, most of the film world is controlled in Soho and its immediate vicinity. It’s a small community, incestuous and parochial, and nepotism and favouritism flourishes with the ease of an email. If you live outside of this world, then you’re not part of it, and you’re not being spoken about, and you’re not being known, and you’re not being mentioned. Your script may land in their in-box but you’re just another wannabe or just another reject until they can put a face to the name.

This sounds like a harsh reality but it has different shades of truth to it. Yes, it’s better to schmooze in London and to be known within the industry than it is if you’re just a graduate from Leicester with no real contacts. But access to London is easy and fairly reliable so if you’ve really got a great script, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from.

When I first arrived in the capital, it was a fun and exciting time, and within six months of media temping, I got my break at Channel 4. This could not and would not have happened in Dublin where I was previously residing. My work there had come to a standstill and I was barely making enough money to pay the rent, hence my move to London to give it a shot. And within a very short period of time, I had settled in nicely with an exciting job and equally interesting prospects down the line.

That’s what being and living in London gets you. Opportunity. It’s certainly granted me the chance to live and learn, and to apply that knowledge to advance my goals. Ironically, after eleven years of living in London, I’ve just moved to the south coast, near Bournemouth.

In my effort and focus to be a screenwriter over the last six/seven years, I inevitably didn’t have much reason or desire to be in the centre of town. Script reading helped to maintain contact with those in the know while the odd social occasion was also useful for showing my face. This line of socialising meant I was in London once or twice a week (unless you have lots of money, you’re probably living in Zone 4 or more, an hour’s commute each way).

But I grew weary of the tube and the trains, of the crowds, of the over-priced beer, of the dirt. So I’ve moved two hours away from the city as it provides me with easy access to continue my once/twice weekly jaunts whilst also enjoying the invigorating lifestyle of the coast. I’m far but not too far. I'm maintaining contact and shaking hands with the right people whilst also letting the growing strength of my work do most of the talking. But it’s important to continually make new contacts because you never know where opportunity will strike…


Lee said...

I'd take Bournemouth over London any day. Actually, after living there for several years, I'd take pretty much anywhere over London, but Bournemouth's a particularly pleasant choice.

And like you say, in Britain, you're never far from anywhere.

James Moran said...

Outlander! Outlanderrrr!

I'm in Enfield at the moment, which is about half an hour from Moorgate, or Oxford Circus, or Tottenham Court Road - I need to go into town regularly, as I'm still building my career up, but I'm nicely out of the way out here in Zone 5. I'm only saying that cause I secretly want a trendy Zone 1 apartment, though.

Anonymous said...

I ran away from london five years ago - to cape town (here there's writing work!)and still submit sporadically to the UK..Sometimes I miss the neurotics

Paul Campbell said...

We have a rolling five year plan to move out of London.

"Rolling" because the move always seems to be five years from the present.

And, yes, Bournemouth is on the radar. Maybe we'll pop in and visit sometime so we can get a better idea of what the place has to offer.

Tim Clague said...

Good to see you down here. Fresh air! Remember that?

Lucy said...

I went to uni in Bournemouth so lived there for YEARS. Whereabouts are you? I was on the outskirts between Poole and Ferndown in a place called Redhill which was neither red, nor a hill, but still rather nice.

I love London, but then that's cos I don't live there. Since being persuaded to move to DEVON (well, dragged) I have been pleasantly surprised to find it takes one hr and 55 mins to get from my outlander train station in the middle of nowhere to Paddington. When I was in Bournemouth, I had to often change at Brockenhurst and there was that weird train announcer at Reading - is he still there? Anyway, in total, average time was 2 hrs 36, so though technically I'm further away, I have saved 41 mins of my life per journey. Considering I go every 4 or 5 weeks to meet clients and for meetings, seminars etc, that'll add up to a fair few hours over a year!

Talking of which, I will definitely let you know how Tony Jordan goes this saturday! : )

Lincoln lass said...

Saw your Doctors episode this afternoon, Danny. I thought the girl who played Claire did a good job. How do you think it turned out, compared to your intentions? And what does it feel like, seeing your name come up on screen?

Danny Stack said...

It turned out okay. I thought Claire was good too (actress Eve Kennedy I think, may have got that wrong), her physio a bit less so. And I did not, repeat not, write that scene with the two guys outside the house at the end, *shudder*.

It feels great to see your name up there. The script editor emailed right after it finished to say 'hope you enjoyed it, we think it came out really well', which was nice, and as long as the people who pay you think it's okay, then that's half the battle!!

The Constipated Writer said...

The question is, should I move to London instead of LA? :)

Paul Campbell said...

Congratulations on the Doctors transmission, Danny. God, that must feel good after all that time.

I thought the boy done good. They gave you a pretty difficult episode with a lot of background through-stories, none of which came to any kind of climax, so holding it all together and getting your story in there as well must have been tough.

I don't think they made enough of your "twist" half way through. The fact that she wasn't just ill, but was going to die, just sort of leaked out.

And, if you didn't write the scene at the end with the two blokes outside the house, how did YOUR version conclude?

Anyway, I was dead chuffed for you. Congratulations again.

Will you be working on any more? Or have you had enough already?

I'm still waiting for that first commission. I've got three stories banked and was promised something before Christmas, but nothing seems to be happening at the moment.

Danny Stack said...

Thanks Paul. You're too kind. It was okay I guess, some clunky dialogue & iffy scenes but fairly pleased overall. I've seen better, but I've seen worse.

In my version, Claire's story line ends when she kicks James out at the front door ("with a resolve and confidence that will see her through...") but I guess that didn't do it for them so they made up the scene with the two guys outside (but didn't tell me). There was also some new and unfamiliar bits here and there throughout the ep. Funnily enough though, I hit all the soap elements on the first draft, so I was chuffed about that.

That's great that you've got 3 banked, respect for bashing at their door. I've got one more banked (it's been months already) and have pitched a few more but it's not the best system for a satisfying turnaround, is it?

Lucy said...

I didn't watch it I'm afraid as I was teaching and don't know how to use the video recorder. (I know, pathetic! Told you I was a luddite)

Danny - When you and Paul say you have ideas "banked", does that mean you've pitched it but haven't heard anything (story of my life!), or you know you're definitely going to get your episode, but you just don't know when?

I pitched to CBBC recently - apparently they get back to applicants in March, they only commission once a year I was told in that dept. They wanted a one page outline only as they like to develop material from the outset apparently (tho this was for a series rather than one that already exists). Is it very different for Doctors?

Danny Stack said...

'Banked' means that you've pitched them your two page synopsis and they've accepted it but they wait until a suitable 'block' (week of eps) comes free for you to write it.

I also pitched a one-pager to CBBC but Docs is quite different as you're pitching a 'story of the day' in your two page synopsis rather than any long lasting serial elements...

And my other ep of Docs this week is on tomorrow, Wednesday, at 2.05pm

Lucy said...

Thanks Danny, that's v interesting - and sorry, but I'll be teaching again at that time!! Maybe I can get Him Indoors to set the video for me before he goes to work in the morning...

Paul Campbell said...


I'm afraid I missed most of your second episode today. I got carried away with a treatment I'm working on and forgot the time.

But I caught the last five minutes, and I was well confused.

Was it actually your episode? The reason I ask is that the doctor involved was Greg, but you wrote this two years back which was before he joined the team, wasn't it?

And at the end they had Greg putting a phone call through to Rico, which wouldn't happen in a lifesaver (unless they just added it on the end because they saw a neat fit with the theme of loneliness).

Just curious.

If it was your episode, then I hope the rest of it went well. The five minutes I saw was pretty much a monologue, but very good.

Anonymous said...

I watch Doctors here on BBC Prime but I think we're around 2months behind the UK and it was Helen's birthday episode this week - so will look out for yours March/April?

Danny Stack said...

Oh god, today's episode was torture. For me anyway.

It was a good lesson in how what you had written & had hoped for went completely in the other direction.

The first half of the episode was vastly rewritten, without my knowledge or approval, and the 'fantasy' sequences from the lead character were supposed to play 'for real', not in some 'colourful la/la land with backing music to boot'.

The latter half was not as bad, thankfully, and stuck mostly to my script.

And yes, Paul, you're right. I wrote it two years ago for Ben but he left and so it was changed to Greg. Then, well after it had been signed off, I was asked to add in some scenes about the Rico situation, but my version of these scenes didn't end up in the episode!

Eeuh, am very disappointed and hurting at the moment. A valuable lesson nonetheless...

Paul Campbell said...

Ow! That hurts. But at least I don't feel so bad about missing most of it!

I can understand a bit of rewriting here and there, but it's a bit much to take so many liberties with it. Didn't they even give you the chance to rewrite?

Mind you, Doctors is done so much on the cheap that they probably rewrote on set and wouldn't have had time to bring in the writer. Doesn't stop it hurting though.

Was it so bad that you would have Alan Smithee'd it if you'd had the chance?