Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Wait

If there's one thing more frustrating than the gap between procrastination and writing, it's the wait for a potential commission or a reaction to a pitch/meeting.

It's an agonising time because it's the important business end of screenwriting - waiting to hear if you've got the gig or not. Paid work. A commission. A credit. A rewrite. A development deal. Whatever.

'The Wait' is an inevitable part of the process, no-one is immune. Even more agonising is the wait for competitions and schemes to get back to you as you cling on to the slim hope that you might have been shortlisted or won a prize.

In the previous post, Jamie asked about how to navigate the gap between having your shadow script approved by a continuing drama and finding out whether or not you'll get commissioned. What's the time in between approval and commissioning like?

Well, as you can imagine, it's no fun at all. You can barely focus or work on anything else because you're anxious to get the news whether it's a 'yay' or a 'nay'. As the silence festers, your brain rides the roller coaster of two distinct possibilities. One, they love it/you, and it's in the bag. The script is genius, you can't see how they could possibly turn you down. Confident. Two, come crushing down with the thought that the reverse is true, and while the meeting/pitch/shadow scheme went well, there are 5 trillion better writers up for the same gig, and you can't possibly get it.

Unfortunately, there is no simple way of knowing whether something has gone well or not. I've been in interviews, pitches and trial opportunities where I thought I did terrifically well and I couldn't possibly miss out only for the crushing rejection to follow and bring me back down to earth.

When you do shadow schemes/trial episodes, they are usually dealt with by the script editors who work on the show. This means that their priority is the real writers and broadcast episodes for the series, so it may take them a while to assess your trial script. 'First draft, script editor notes, second draft' is the norm so waiting a few months for notes and/or a decision on your second draft can seem like an eternity. The script editors are busy so you've just got to wait.

The first time I tried out for EastEnders, the wait was about six months, and it was a frustrating experience. Now, however, they've completely streamlined the process and it's someone's job to focus exclusively on the shadow scheme, so the wait isn't as bad. For my second try-out on the show, there was a quick turnaround for script notes, and about a month or so before I got the nod on my 2nd draft, and it was a much more enjoyable experience.

In general, trial scripts bring about the worst case of The Wait, but the silence and frustration lurks between every pitch and meeting. It's not uncommon to NEVER hear back from a producer at all, even when you've made a pitch, which is just plain rude whatever way you spin it. It's far better to receive a rejection than to face the infinite silence of what could have been.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010



Last week was fairly hectic but hugely enjoyable nonetheless. First, there was the little matter of Story Engine in Newcastle, a screenwriting panel/workshop run by the mighty Ian Fenton. I was honoured to be one of the guests and had an utterly fab time with the likes of Jason Arnopp, Lisa Holdsworth, Ludo Smolski, Gavin Williams, comedy writers Messina & Rusling, Cecil & Riley, not to mention all the fantastic drinking talent, sorry, creative talent of the north east. I'd thoroughly recommend a visit to Newcastle ('twas my first time) but it would be even better to coincide it when Story Engine is on, as it's a cracking screenwriting shindig.

I arrived home late on Thursday night, couldn't sleep, then was up promptly for the train to London on Friday morning to finish off Origin (m'short film) at BBC Post-Production.

It's always exciting to go to BBC TV Centre, and I was anticipating a lot of election buzz in the building (Dimbleby holding court in Studio 1) but it was strangely quiet all day. Still, they've got a TARDIS and a place to take your photo next to the Doctor (although this is also a smoking area, so, um, odd).

It's a bit of a strange time work-wise at the moment. Lots of uncertainty seems to be the prevailing feeling for most writers I know while the usual amount of optimism, exciting prospects and promising leads continue to dangle their carrots within tantalising grasp. Everything could happen, nothing could happen. Nothing new there, then.

As I finish up Origin - it's done but there's one final, final thing I want to do - I'm already gearing up to make my next short. I should direct again. Now that I've glimpsed what that world is like, I miss it and am keen for another crack. No point waiting around for someone to give me the opportunity; got to take care of it myself. I've already got the ball rolling so it'll be interesting to see where it'll end up (bigger and more ambitious than Origin). More details as they happen.

In the meantime, got to keep my head down with the writing so there may be a bit of blog silence for a little bit. But if anyone's got any questions or topics they'd like to see covered on the blog, then let me know and that should ensure some regular postage of some sort. No news on this year's Red Planet Prize yet but I'll keep it on this bat channel if anything breaks.