Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tales From The Trenches

This time last year, I got a commission to write an episode for a new series. It came out of the blue, I didn't know the producer or the production company, so it was a very welcome offer, especially in the run-up to Christmas. There was more episodes potentially available, too, providing all went well with my first script. Naturally, I was determined to make my first episode a success.

To start, pitch a few ideas. This is the norm. The producer commissioned one idea quite quickly, and wanted an outline/script done before Christmas, if at all possible. I was visiting relatives in Ireland BEFORE the holiday break but I thought I could accommodate the producer's pressing deadlines. I did an outline, she approved it without much fuss, and I happily went to 1st draft script. Within a couple of days, I had it done, and I was keen to send it on. However, my agent told me to hold on for a second while she had a closer look at the contract, just to be sure that everything was ay-ok. All very standard and above board.

I sat by my computer but didn't want the producer to think that I was missing a deadline or falling behind, so I dropped her an email, telling her that I had the script ready but was just waiting for my agent to give me the nod after she read the contract. I then travelled to Dublin, thinking all was well but when I next checked my email, my face fell to the floor.

The producer took great offence at my previous message and claimed never to have been so insulted in all her working years. Plus, she was really irritated that my agent was 'holding things up' and asking for more money (standard negotiation request, and all very politely dealt with). Furthermore, she blasted my script as one of the worst she'd seen, and clearly I hadn't grasped the show or the characters from the couple of scripts I had been given as a guide. Ouch! I felt sick. It seemed just as soon as the opportunity came out of the blue, it was going to be taken away over a stupid misunderstanding.

I replied to the producer, trying to assure her that no offence was intended. Perhaps my email had been naive. I apologised. And if my script was rubbish, then please let me have another go to get it right. My agent also sent an apology, both she and I quite flabbergasted at the turn of events. However, the producer replied in an aggressive tone, still offended by the whole affair, but this time insulting me and my agent, accusing us of playing silly games. Now I was annoyed. Still, I was still determined to fix the script, if not the situation.

So, after some notes from the irked producer, I rewrote the script. She conceded that the 2nd draft was better but she did a rewrite of her own, and sent me back the finished result. Fine, not a problem but that was it, opportunity over. OK, it didn't work out, and it won't pop up on my CV but I least I got paid. What did I learn? Even if you apply what you think are the highest professional standards to an assignment, it can still go pear shaped over unforeseen, and often trivial, developments. Or sensitive egos. Who knows.

This year, on completely the other end of the scale, I had a dream commission with Badly Drawn Roy, which was a joy from start to finish. Just goes to show you can never tell how things are going to go, even when you think you're doing the right thing.

16 comments:

Stephen Gallagher said...

The producer took great offence at my previous message and claimed never to have been so insulted in all her working years

She should get out more.

Dan said...

How terrible. That producer sounds like an arse, if you ask me. Did your e-mail read like it could be taken the wrong way? Include lots of smilies next time, perhaps :) Similar things happen in other lines of work. I always read important e-mails back to myself, in a cold fashion. It's amazing how innocent phrases can seem quite rude when you write in a "conversational" style, too.

Andy Phillips said...

On the upside, opportunities sometimes follow hitting it off really well with people.

James Moran said...

It's funny, the people who seem to get most insulted when money is even mentioned, are usually the ones who lie and try to avoid paying you...

In my experience, so I've heard, nobody real was mentioned in this comment, etc etc.

Danny Stack said...

I know it's my side of the story but it was really weird and upsetting, especially since the producer does have a good rep, so she must have read the email the wrong way, I guess. But when her indignation turned to aggression, I had had enough.

Kevin said...

Sorry to hear that, Danny. Youa always come across so considered. I can't imagine this producer being anything other than unprofessional.

Off topic slightly, but I was wondering, in your experiences -- and maybe through your friend's experience -- is it common practice here to do spec scripts on UK TV shows? I know this might sound incredibly ignorant, but I'm trying to remember if I ever heard of a writer doing a spec of Spooks or Dr. Who? Much like the US system. It's common practice there.

Thanks!

Paul Parkes said...

Some jobs are diamonds; some jobs are rocks. Sounds like this one was a boulder...

Anonymous said...

I find it very strange that the producer did a rewrite at all. Why? Was she just showing you ‘this is how you should write’, knowing she wasn’t going to take the material any further?

louise pennington said...

my comment didn@t show first time around _ so apologies for testing testing testing>>>

louise pennington said...

me again>>> it worked as you see except I@M getting strange symbols in between>>> anyway all i wanted to say was that i agree with dan that she behaved rather anally> and i do so wish she wasnt a member of my own sex>>>

Danny Stack said...

Anon: they're still gonna use the ep, so a rewrite/polish by exec/script editor is quite common.

Hi Louise! Cheers, although I'm sure the producer would have her own version of the events, no doubt making me out to be a bit of a tit.

Danny Stack said...

Oh, and Kevin, good question, will answer in next post.

Anonymous said...

There's something I don't get. When you started to work on that project, didn't you have a contract detailing the schedule and the writing fees?

If you didn't have any contract prior commencing your work, was it an exceptional situation?

If you had a contract that was signed by both parties, why would your agent ask for more money?

David Lemon said...

A weird but in my experience not unusual thing to happen. While great producers, script editors and notes (and by that I DONT mean people who always agree with you) can make your work better than you ever thought possible, the bad 'uns can be incredibly destructive and confidence shattering.
It sounds like your producer was determined to take out their insecurities/previous bad experience on you. Or they were just an arse.
I'd definitely place being able to pick yourself up after a bad experience- and not let it affect future work- as an essential part of going the distance as a professional writer. The only trouble is you can't learn it; you just have to wait for it to happen (and it will) and see how you cope...

Danny Stack said...

Anon: I had started work before the contract had been seen/negotiated, which isn't uncommon. Of course, in terms of payment, you won't receive a penny until the contract is agreed, and the invoice process is broken down into various stages, which usually drags on long after you've actually finished the work. C'est la vie.

David: Absolutely! Wise words. I was feeling shaky after that experience but soon got my mojo back on the next gig, which thankfully wasn't long in coming.

Antonia said...

That sounds like an awful experience, Danny. At least you came out the other end and battled on to do other things.

As you say, that could have put a lot of people off.

Well done.