Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Starting Again

Last week, after Cannes, I was exhausted. And not much happened. The week kind of just trailed by with post-Cannes follow ups and titbits of writing but with no real focus or promise of cash, which is what was/is really needed. Before Cannes, I was busy on numerous projects, mostly spec work but a couple of small commissions thrown in for good measure, and I was also preparing for the right kind of walk and talk along the Croissette.

Since my return, it occurred to me that I need to hit the ‘reset’ button and start working on new projects, try to generate new ideas, scripts, pitches, proposals. It was a frustrating thought because my mind is still very much attached to the recent work I’ve just completed, and am eager to hear people’s responses to my material. But it’s out of my hands. It’s all reliant on a second or third party now. And I’ve got to wait. We all know waiting is bad though so we have to remain proactive. Keep busy. Keep writing.

Easier said than done. But that’s all we have in our power as writers. We write. And if we’re good, we write commercial and interesting scripts that people want to purchase. The BBC Films/Pathé announcement might seem vague, generic and frustrating even if you have only a passing knowledge of the industry, and how writers are generally treated, but the one true action we can solely control and influence is our capacity to write the stories we want to tell.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how writers are treated, and how the industry regards us, and how it could be/should be so much better. One of the main problems is that the industry holds so much power over us because we’re dependent on their approval and finance. As a result, they can dictate their own terms, and make sure they look after themselves with minimum risk while the writer makes the biggest risk of all by living on the seat of his/her pants, taking the time and effort to write a script, and not getting any return while they hope for their work to pay off.

It would take enormous effort and organisation to gather writers everywhere to generate the singular voice required that expresses the way we should to be treated, and the basic rights/courtesies that should be extended to the lowly writer. The snag is that the writers-in-waiting, can say ‘fine, no problem, we’ll do it then, we’ll write for free or whatever’, and a wave of replacement is easily filled. The Writers' Guild of Great Britain is working hard to build their clout to protect and represent the writer. They're great people and we need their voice, but by their own admission, they haven't had a good year.

There’s a certain practicality, professionalism and awareness that writers need to embrace about the industry (occasionally, a free option might be acceptable given the producer’s standing and/or reliance on third parties himself) but that doesn’t mean we need to bend over at every request.

However, that’s not really the point of the post. The point is that we keep writing. It’s okay to get frustrated, it’s okay to let off steam, it’s okay to rant. But it’s not okay to stop writing, or continue to complain, or become that writer grouch in the corner that no-one wants to work with. And even when you get exhausted from the amount of effort and projects you’ve been working on, and feel you’ve hit a wall with your creativity, then by all means take a break. Have a beer, a long weekend. But do come back; stronger, eager and as passionate as ever.

Hit ‘reset’ and start again. Writers write. No excuses.



"One of the main problems is that the industry holds so much power over us because we’re dependent on their approval and finance. As a result, they can dictate their own terms, and make sure they look after themselves with minimum risk while the writer makes the biggest risk of all by living on the seat of his/her pants, taking the time and effort to write a script, and not getting any return while they hope for their work to pay off."

Without getting too glass half full, it's worth remembering that writers get paid first in most instances. Scribes might not hold the power of approval or the purse strings, but they possess a different power - imagination. It's hard to start a film or a TV drama without a script or story. Writers come first, IMHO.

Danny Stack said...

Hi David - didn't know you were out there - congrats on the radion play, will try to 'listen again' later on...

I think it's true what you say for TV as the writer gets paid half the fee up front and the other half on 'acceptance' (and the Beeb are prompt bless 'em) but for film, even with a commission, the writer could be waiting aaages for his signature fee even well after he's submitted the completed script! That's when things get annoying.

Anonymous said...

You're right Danny, writers must write. Our ideas are our currency and that's what we should never forget. But... I've been thinking more and more recently that the other thing writers need to do is PRODUCE. Why doesn't the UK have a tradition of writer-producers or writer-"show runners" as in the States? Imagine the advantage we would have over other producers if we could actually come up with the material ourselves. An army of creative, imaginative, commercially-minded writer-producers would do more to change the industry than a thousand Writers Guilds.


There's a gradual movement towards writers as showrunners in British television: witness the crucial role of Russell T Davies in the revival of Doctor Who. Or the creators of Life on Mars. Or JImmy McGovern on The Street. Or Paul Abbott's more recent work. Or Tony Jordan setting up Red Planet as a home for writer-led projects. The rise of the indie drama producers is creating an environment where the current generation of big name writers can become showrunners, if they wish.

What UK TV certainly doesn't have is the US tradition of the writers' room, where new scribes learn the ropes and gradually rise through the ranks to become showrunners themselves. More's the pity!

James Moran said...

I see that the Writers' Guild have negotiated some minimum agreements with the Beeb and ITV and so on - would it be possible for them to do something similar for film contracts? It takes aaaaages to get a contract agreed, and it would help if lots of the common sense stuff was standard. Obviously there's nobody to agree this with, but if they drew up a set they might be able to pressure companies to agree to it when hiring a member writer. Would that be a realistic goal, do you reckon?

For example, some kind of clause guaranteeing that the company pays you when the contract says they're supposed to, no matter what the excuses (finance Tim is away on holiday, didn't get the email, can you send the invoice again, etc etc etc - to quote Henry Hill, "fuck you, pay me")...

Dominic Carver said...

There was a big temptation to sit back and wait for this production company to get back to me about the second draft of my script, but I soon realised that could be a while. Now I have my head in two more scripts getting them ready for sending out and I'm also working on one new one.

It was being busy that got this production company interested in me in the first place, so to take my foot off the gas would be foolish.

Anonymous said...

The Writers Guild of Great Britain does seem a little toothless, especially when compared to the WGAw for example.

They seem more like a supportive realtive, an old aunt perhaps, rather than a union body looking out for writers.

Just my tuppence worth.

jula meadows said...

The WGGB will never be as powerful as the WGAw, because UK law will never allow it to be a closed shop.

Nonetheless, the Guild negotiates a wide range of minimum terms agreements that benefit all writers - including those who never pay a penny to join. And the Guild fights for the status of writers on matters such as credits and residuals. Not just in film, but in TV, radio, theatre, books and games.

In addition to the small team of paid staff (of which I am a freelance part), the Guild relies on the voluntary contribution of members. If, anonymous, you really think that the work they do is like "an old aunt" then I'd suggest that you don't know much about it. The recently completed negotiations for a new radio drama agreement with the BBC, for example, were a huge achievement for a Guild team led by Alan Drury (a member volunteering his time).

If you want the Guild to do other things then join. It's a democracy. You can have your say and get involved. That, in my opinion, is the best way to make the world a better place for writers.

Anonymous said...

om - I sincerely apologise. I made a glib comment and you are right I didn't fully appreciate what WGGB do. I feel thoroughly ashamed. (seriously, I am not being ironic or sarcastic)

You are of course right, the WGGB has achieved many things that individual writers alone could never have and I should not have dismissed it so frivolously. I take it back 100%.

Ironically, it was a combination of your fact-packed reply and Danny's next post about the Inland Revenue that made me stop and really think about the WGGB - without it writers truly would be shafted.

I hope the WGGB is going to take the Inland Revenue to task over its ridiculous attempts to tax writers further and once again I sincerely apologise.

Thank God I posted anonymously - cause I feel like a complete shit now! :)

Anonymous said...

And of course the "om" at the start of that post should have been "Tom"....


A-Lyric said...

Something else about the Guild, it's very active at a European level lobbying, networking and generally pushing the writers' interests forward. If that sounds a bit abstract, I invite readers to plunge their noses into the ongoing TV Without Frontiers Directive and all the little "details" it entails. Only a body such as the Guild (and their European counterparts) could do this. The other people at the table include the major TV channels and telecom operators. Do we want them determining our future all on their ownio? I think not.