Friday, January 19, 2007

Post 300


Yesterday, I was four hours late for a meeting, surely a new record. I got on a train at Bournemouth at 12.30pm to attend a meeting in London at 3pm, and eventually made it to the capital at 7 o’clock in the evening (for international readers, severe gales caused massive disruption on the UK train lines). In fact, I only made it to Wimbledon, where the train ceased to exist, and so I schlepped it on the tube to Piccadilly Circus before racing to Great Marlborough Street to attend the meeting. The fact that they were still around and willing to meet tells me that they’re either very keen, or were luckily available.

The meeting lasts half an hour as we have a very nice chat about a very interesting project, and I’m promptly on my way to Waterloo where there’s a delayed train to Bournemouth just about to depart (so I don’t have to take up my agent’s generous offer of accommodation if I was left stranded - bless her heart!). Four hours later (nine hours of total train time), I’m at home eating jacket potato and beans watching that night’s taped ER (quite good but soured by a misogynist streak which was slightly jarring coming from the characters that I know and love).


Expectation & Reward

As your writing career develops, it is sometimes difficult to recognise the key moments and transitions that define the level of your success. When you’re planning ahead, or picturing how your career might shape up, it is natural to imagine golden scenes like receiving the phone call that bags your first commission, or having lunch with the producer who buys your hot script.

However, when these do happen, or moments like them, it’s never how you pictured it, and more often than not, it’s a feeling of relief and justification that overwhelms you rather than the anticipated elation or euphoria. That’s because you’ve been working hard to reach that point, and the reward has been achieved through small gradual moments of progress. You’re like a sailor staring at the horizon, eagerly anticipating the switch from night to day but only becoming aware of a gradual shift in the stars' hue as sunrise slowly infuses the sky. The reality of the occasion is greeted with gracious acknowledgement but it’s not quite the emotion you were expecting.


Calling Card

A director recently said to me: “Send me the script that you’re most proud of, or the one that represents your best abilities”. And then, an exec mentioned: “It doesn’t matter if a script is well-written, it’s more to do with if it’s ready for the market. Will it sell?”

For new writers, it’s vital to have a strong calling card script. Whether it be a personal character-driven piece, or an original take on a familiar genre. The character-driven scripts will attract more attention and praise (basically what the director was after) because it will usually demonstrate the writer’s specific voice, while writing a genre flick as your calling card can be problematic because you really need to know your stuff (respect the genre and hit its marks) whilst coming up with devastatingly original fare (and thus be ready for the market).

After a few years of script reading and a couple of poor feature scripts under my belt, I decided I needed to write a new script, something that demonstrated my original voice and proved that I could do what I dished out. In other words, put up or shut up regarding who I was as a reader, and what I wanted to be as a writer. I sat down to write a sample script, and I opted for the low-concept, character-driven approach, something which I thought would have a slim chance of getting made but would effectively demonstrate my abilities.

These are the areas that I specifically focused on: original idea and setting, original/interesting characters that went on a suitable emotional journey, a clear and inviting writing style, and a structure that suitably supported the drama without being gimmicky/rigid or bringing attention to itself. The result was Run For Home, a coming-of-age drama about a young boy who goes to live with his aunt after the death of his mother but as he struggles to settle into his new surroundings, he discovers the shattering truth of his mother’s death.

While the idea’s not earth shatteringly original, it’s still interesting enough, and I set the film in Cobh, Co. Cork, a striking and picturesque harbour town in Ireland where I grew up; ideal for a film especially as no-one’s used the location as of yet. The script isn’t autobiographical (although everyone assumes it is: hello, my mother’s still alive, thanks) but there are some personal elements or observations in there about my home town that relate to the characters that inhabit the story.

I wrote it in 2003, and it won the BBC Tony Doyle Award the following year, and to this day, it still gets me meetings and attention, especially since it has undergone healthy development with Parallel Films, who optioned the material and lined up Liam Cunningham to star. The script has done exactly what I intended it to do, and has surprised me by winning the award and earning me some money in the process, which is great! So, a good calling card script is a must. I would recommend something original and character-driven, but if you’re a die-hard genre fan, then feel free to show everyone that you’ve got what it takes with your distinct approach to the game.


This is my 300th post. Come get some.


James Moran said...

Congrats on the 300th post! Top notch as always, sir.

Dead right about the relief instead of excitement, you get so used to knockbacks all you can think is "oh thank Christ, they didn't hate me and reject me"...

Lee said...

Glad to see you made it off the train before it ceased to exist, otherwise you could be in a bit of a pickle right now. Also, to have your blogging cut off a 299 posts - a great tragedy. Congratulations on surviving the gales, you brave soul.

Phill Barron said...

Sage advice, Danny. I've found myself in the odd position of having my best scripts under option in various stages of development/production. I had a an American agent read what I consider to be my best script and love it, then ask to see what else I had.

The truth is, nothing worth reading. I ended up giving him my fifth, sixth and seventh best scripts - all basically first drafts waiting for a serious re-write.

Needless to say, he never got back in touch.

Andy Phillips said...

Brilliant post, Danny.

I waiting for a call now, and can't stand it.

Dan said...

Yeah, give me some of that 300 baby.

Well done. There's a drink waiting for you at the virtual bar. Don't touch the virtual peanuts though.

Lee said...

Is that because the virtual gentlemen never wash their virtual hands?

Anonymous said...

Didn't opt for the Jackpottoonsweets then? Every time I see Run For Home, I start singing Lindisfarne (sp.?), and wish I wouldn't. It has gotten that Humps lovely lady lumps atrocity now out of my head though, which I heard on the way to work. I am on nights. Sigh.

Glad you survived the journey! x

Dominic Carver said...

As usual, Danny, an excellent post.

Also good advice about the calling card script. From This Day Forth (a character driven script about four brothers returning home for the wedding of a friend) got some good interest from two production companies, so I'm giving it yet another polish before sending it out at the end of this month.

Hopefully it will do the job.

? said...

You're from Cobh? That place is riddled with drugs. Do you reference this in your script? I'm from Cork City, in fact, I grew up two doors down from Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

Congratulations on your script award.

Near by said...


Dan said...

Lee - spot on. I'm guessing you've visited a few virtual bars in your virtual time and seen them in the virtual toilets. The dirty virtual bastards.

Lee said...

What can I say? I always seem to end up slumped in the booth of some dive or other after a long night on the bytes. If I have to go to the bathroom, I try not to interfere.

Lucy V said...

"The dirty virtual bastards."

Hey! Shouldn't we be preaching virtual tolerance here? ; )

Vic Trundles said...

Once agains, you are of much help to even the worse writer (me). I am shall use your aide and heed your advise. From Olaf.