As writers we often look to others who have *the success we want* and think, “If I could do what s/he’s doing, I would be happy with my writing career.” I bet you’ve done it, ‘cos I totally have.
Yet knowing lots of what I call “grown up” writers now (ie. writers who consistently get commissioned in TV, on feature rewrites, etc and GET PAID FOR IT), I’m always struck by how they STILL feel the same, it’s just their goals have changed slightly: “If I could get to Hollywood… If I could do a feature instead of all this soap opera… If I could get my novel published… If I could get into TV instead of movies… If I could direct a short…” The list goes on and on.
A conversation with a new writer pulled me up short this week when they said, “I’d love to do what you’ve been doing.” My first thought was, “EH?” After all, “all I’ve done” this year is a bunch pitches and meetings, some script editing on a couple of movies, some training, development/collaboration with a couple of prodcos, a trial script for a TV show, some magazine articles, a couple of DIY films. I’ve earnt either a pittance to nothing at all. What the hell was this guy talking about?!
But I’m on my way, whilst he’s just beginning – and we all remember what that’s like: it’s exciting, but incredibly daunting. Which is why it’s important sometimes to think about how far we’ve come, rather than how much time has passed or how much we have not advanced at what we want:
Five years ago I had no portfolio. Now I have four polished features, a children’s TV series, a half hour comedy and approximately thirty pitch documents and three or four other scripts in various states of development. That’s got to be progress.
Four years ago I had no real understanding of the difference between a feature and television script. That’s right – whilst I knew about structure for features, how it changes according to the various shows I was completely blind on: I didn’t know about “story of the week” vs the “serial element” and nor did I twig soap operas had three or four strands in each episode. When I decided just two and a half years ago to get a trial script *somewhere* however, I had one within six months. It came to nothing, but started me on a journey I still haven’t finished: I will get a soap commission, by hook or by crook. What’s more it fed nicely into my script reading, because suddenly there was a BURST of TV specs doing the rounds, when before it was all features and shorts.
Three years ago I had never really done any pitching. I’d done some of course at university, but all the work I had done so far was for people I had been “hired” for on the basis either of samples, my corporate work or because of someone else I knew. I’d never really done any *real* pitching to prodcos or people I might be able to work with. And the first ten or so meetings “about me and my work” I had with producers or companies I completely cocked up. But I decided nerves weren’t going to get me and I decided to hone my ability and really work at it.
And it worked, because people did start to respond to my ideas. My favourite pitch so far was one about two years ago on a Friday night when a director emailed last thing saying, “Do you know anyone with a script about _______?” I’d had a few beers and I cheekily typed back: “Yeah, me.” (I didn’t). He says, “Okay what’s the logline?” So I gave him a logline I’d totally made up, expecting him to say “Okay, I’ll get back to you.” Instead he says, “Great, got a short treatment, say four pages?” I say, “Yeah, sure…” THEN he emails back and says, “Great, send it to me.” ARGH. Luckily for me the Gods of Scriptwriting smiled on me, ‘cos I get another email that says: “Forgot – I’m on holiday Monday. Can you send it to me when I get back?” HALLELUJAH!!! I ended up writing three versions of the treatment in the time he was away with the help of Scott the Reader. The director got back, read it and phoned me: he loved it. It’s been in development ever since and a revised version has just gone in for iFeatures. We’re both really committed to the project and I have no doubt it will get made eventually.
Two years ago I had never script edited an actual movie, rather than just a script As a reader or editor most of them I read, even for companies, sank without trace before getting into the can – and those that did make it were not really anything to do with me; I was a glorified reader/proofer, rather than a dedicated script editor. But this all changed with Act of Grace which went on to get me other work doing the same. AoG is still in the can, without a distribution deal, but I have faith it will make it – sometimes it just takes aeons. It’s a great story with a massive heart and some fab actors. Watch this space.
One year ago I had never produced a short. It was exactly this time last year I rang Schuman Hoque and said, “You know we’ve been talking about making a short together for about two years? Why don’t we just do it? And by the way I want to produce it.” Instead of saying, “Are you NUTS? You’ve never produced anything!” He said, “Cool, let’s do it.” And in February we shot our no-budget short, Safe, about a young single mother who dies and as a ghost has to ensure her baby is found. It’s not perfect, but I’m really proud of it – and it produced a fab response: it seems to have really spoken to people – especially the parents in the audience, some of whom wrote to me about how they had had a similar fear themselves which made me feel the film really hit the spot. Now of course we’re in post-prod on our second, Slash, a spoof horror about a couple who go into the woods and die (but how? *Spooky music*) and which was in part funded by the wonderful readers of this blog.
That’s not all of it – and of course the bad things happen too, to counter-balance. But next time you’re tempted to say you *haven’t really done anything* or you’d be happier if you could just do *whatever someone else is doing*, remember: you’ve done plenty. And you will do more… If you just keep going forwards.
Sounds like there's plenty to be proud of there. And you're right, it's so easy to be envious of what others are doing.
I think one of the hardest thing is to commit to a personal project that has no direct financial potential. I find I spend so much time jumping through hoops and trying to be a writer that maybe I'm just not instead of just being the best writer I can be and finding where I fit from there.
Congrats on a solid year and best wishes for 2010.
It's really good to read about the real nuts and bolts of what you've been up to in the last four years, because your post shows perfectly how you can only get going on the road that leads to your creative goals by a) taking the all-important first steps and by b) WALKING HARD.
I'm scared my kids are being brainwashed these days into thinking that fame and fortune is a relatively easy thing to come by – that it is some kind of birthright to have our fifteen minutes of fame – and the saccharine version of creativity that my children are fed in programmes like The X Factor and Search For A Star do not really show exactly how much hard work really goes into the creative process, if that is how one makes one's living.
The envy thing .. a prolific writer-friend of mine said on Twitter a while ago that he did envy me and my music. Sometimes it is so easy to look at what other people are doing, creatively, and feeling a kind of jealousy that they are 'doing it' and we … so it feels to us, are not.
Inspiring as always, Lucy (and Lozzie Cap): hard work is the only way, but it's important to see how far we've all come. Best for 2010.
So true. Very well observed!
Thanks everyone – a very merry Christmas to you all!