Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Screenwriting DIY

Don’t let not having an agent stop you from getting out there and nabbing work or missing a networking opportunity. In How to Get an Agent I mentioned that to register on an agent’s radar, you will need to have applied a bit of hard graft and created some momentum of your own first (short, play, radio etc).

Too many people are whingers. They complain about the system instead of getting underneath what makes the system tick and trying to manipulate it to their own ends. The whingers will have written one, possibly two, scripts but will have had them rejected around town so they think - “that blasted Writers’ Room” or “bloody script readers, what do they know?” or “I am a genius, can’t they see that!”.

Having your work rejected or unappreciated by people in the business is the first rung on your career ladder. Once you accept it and move on, then you’re ready to raise your game to the next stage. It’s all about your belief, passion and conviction. You may receive a further twenty rejections and knockbacks but with a combination of common sense, a passion to succeed and the odd new contact you’ll make, inevitably an opportunity will arise somewhere, at some stage.

“Everything happens for a reason” is usually a phrase I disregard as a load of old tosh but when you take direct responsibility for the phrase, as in, “I’m going to make sure something happens, and the reason will be because I worked very hard”, then it takes on a whole new practical meaning. “No fate but the fate you make”. I believe in that.

Tim Clague, my new Bournemouth colleague, is an inspiration in this regard. If you don’t already know, Tim was nominated for a BAFTA with his short film Eight, directed by Stephen Daldry before he went on to do Billy Elliot. Since then, Tim has gone on to write and direct a number of shorts, and secure some feature development deals.

Has he done this with an agent? Did he wait for representation to roll in when he got nominated for a BAFTA (back in 1998)? Hell no. He’s done it all himself with his passion and conviction for filmmaking. And Tim believes wholeheartedly in the skill of self-marketing and getting yourself out there. In his blog, he recently spoke about attending the Meet the Agents seminar at BAFTA (and followed it up with this).

Tim is preparing a pitch to South West Screen and the Film Council to sponsor an alternative course for new writers: Sales. Using marketing tools and common business practices to sell you, the writer, as a product and what you have to offer. Never mind the agent. Do it yourself.

To really convince SWScreen and/or the Film Council that they should sponsor Tim’s idea, he needs to hear from writers who are interested in such a course. Visit Tim’s blog and get in touch to let him know. If he’s got a list of 50 writers, he can approach the funding bodies and say: “look, I haven’t done a market survey but 50 writers have told me that they’d be interested in something like this, so it’s worth doing”. So if you’ve got some gumption and think you’re ready to advance your career but not yet right for an agent, then it’s time to learn the essential practical skills needed to present yourself and your work in a more appealing fashion.

Being street-savvy and having bags of common sense will get you a long way but practical and professional practice will also help you to get that bit further than the rest of the wannabes that are out there.

Let’s rock this joint.


Tim Clague said...

Cheers for that Danny. Being a professional writer is in two parts. Being a writer - but also being a professional with all that that entails. No one really likes that side of the job (sales, logging work in a diary etc) but its got to be done. The proposed course would be about making this part of our career as easy as possible so we can get on with the writing!

I'm excited about the impact however. In other industries when I've help create courses / materials we've managed to increase work by about 20%. If this happened for UK writers what an impact that would have!

Anonymous said...

Right on, Danny. So tired of hearing writers slag off stuff instead of getting out there and doing it. Isn't "no one understands me" a teenager's mantra anyway?! It does take ages but as you say, getting rejected is the first part of your journey. Some of my best advice on how to get ahead has come from rejection letters.

James Moran said...

That's exactly what I did when the Beeb rejected my action-packed reinvention of a Casualty episode, several years ago - assumed they were a bunch of idiots who didn't understand drama, when they were actually a bunch of clever people looking for properly developed characters and realistic storylines.

As for the course - great idea. Even with an agent, we need to sell ourselves, "work the room", and look like we know what we're doing. Agents can only do so much, and they can't ram their hand up you and make you talk the talk, like some skin-puppet. And with that delightful image, I declare my support for this course.

Seriously, we could all do with help in the whole self-promotion area, it's getting more and more important these days.