Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Vote Jones

Calling all UK Orange Broadband users, please rush along to http://bafta.orange.co.uk/rising-star-award/felicity-jones/ and vote for Chalet Girl’s own Felicity Jones to win this year’s Bafta Rising Star Award.

It’s a strong field – Hiddleston and Chastain have had great years, too – but Felicity is surely the stand-out name on the list.  Not just for the miraculous work she did on Chalet Girl (packing such depth into a role that could, in other hands, have been waffer theen) but for all the striking dramatic performances she has given over the last four or five years.  Whenever she’s on screen, that’s where you’re looking.  What is that, if not white hot talent?  I’ve seen her in Cheerful Weather for the Wedding and there are moments that leave you (left me) genuinely short of breath.  She’s also got to be one of the hardest working actors around at the moment, and long may that continue. 

Incidentally, what’s with the whole ‘only being able to vote if you’re an Orange Broadband user’?  Does that mean the winner is going to be chosen from among the twelve people in the country eligible to vote?  Seems a little unfair.  When I tried to vote anyway I was given the reply “Unfortunately it looks like your not and Orange customer, so your vote cant be counted.”  Just the three typos in that sentence then.  Nice work Orange, makes me want to rush out and bring your (or should that be you’re) quality services into my home.

Lamp post update – delivered on my corporate job, galloping towards a Her Royal Spyness rewrite delivery by Christmas, then lining up the new lamp posts for the new year.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The next lamp post

As ever, it’s been a while.  And, as ever, that’s the subject of this post.  It’s all been going on and, you know what, it’s getting slightly overwhelming.  There are never enough hours in the day, we all know that, but for the self-employed writer trying to fight a war on many fronts, there are fewer hours than for most.  The hard part comes in knowing what and how to prioritise.

Priority A, you would think, would probably be the job with the most pressing deadline.  But what about Priority B, the job that will actually pay you a little bit of money, and sooner rather than later?  And then there’s Priority C, the job that you really want to be doing, the one which will move you closer towards your ultimate goal (in my case, a sustainable career as a screenwriter) but which carries with it a higher risk, a higher chance of all your (very valuable) time and effort actually being wasted.

I won’t bore you with the specifics of what is weighing me down at the moment, suffice it to say that there’s a lot of A, B and C knocking about: paid screenplay jobs to deliver within a set period of time; unpaid screenplay rewrites that have been dragging on for months and months; a lot of treatments and proposals to write (some paid but mostly unpaid) which you hope are going to lead to something but might not; other paid work (non-screenplay) on a quicker turnaround, which you try to fit in because you never know where your next meal is coming from; films and books and scripts that you need to find time to watch and read; and on and on and on.

There was a not-so great Adam Sandler movie a while ago called, I think, Click.  Yes, there it is.  I’m not sure if I saw it or just the trailer but I remember he had a remote control and could pause time and do whatever he wanted when the rest of the world was held in limbo.  I imagine Sandler did lots of hilarious romcom things like move a chair just as someone was about to sit on it or look up girls’ skirts or punch annoying cats in the face.  But if I could press pause I would spend a week – okay, maybe I’ll take a month – to get properly up to date on all that work in my inbox, that Top 100 Films Of All Time list (shamefully, I’ve probably only watched 50-60 of them – sorry Harold and Maude, I will get to you one day I promise...), not to mention the bulbs that need fixing, batteries in children’s toys that need replacing, leaves that need raking etc.

I also remember reading once that Margaret Thatcher only need four hours’ sleep a night when she was PM.  I’d love to be Maggie, but I need my eight hours.

And all of this is compounded by the pressure I’m feeling about the stage I’m at in my career.  Chalet Girl was made!  It came out!  It did alright!  We’re even making money out of North America, which not a lot of British movies can say.  But I don’t want this to be my high water mark.  That window of opportunity is open a crack, but it won’t be open for long.  The iron is hot, and it must be struck.  Every day counts, but have I been making them?

So what to do about this whole sorry state of affairs?  Four things.  I love a list.

One, I’ve started going to bed earlier.  Who cares about the news, anyway?  Euro crisis blah blah, deficit reduction blah blah.  Better to get half an hour of good reading in (denting that pile), light off by half past ten so you can either get up a bit earlier (after your eight hours) or at least you won’t be quite as knackered as you usually are when you do get up.

Two, I’ve had to make those tough decisions about priorities, and stick to them.  I’m trying to be like the old long distance runner – just to the next lamp post...  Don’t be overwhelmed by everything that’s staring you in the face.  Break it down, think sensibly about what really needs to be done, and by when.  Strike a balance, set a plan, and then execute it.  A couple of hours here, on one project.  A day there, on something else.  It not only makes life more manageable, it also has a good motivating effect.  Look at it like an exam.  If you’ve only got two hours to work on something (say, your passion project) before you set it aside and get back to earning money, then you’d better bloody concentrate on it, and do the best you can on it, in the time allowed.  You might find you get more done in that quality two hours than you would have done in a whole day if left to your own devices.  (By the same token, don’t be distraught if, after two hours, there is still a blank page staring back at you.  Progress may yet have been made.  Writing isn’t typing.)

There is a caveat here.  Personally speaking, I only have so many ‘juicy’ hours of work in me, per day.  I can’t go 100mph from 8am till 8pm, or only in exceptional circumstances and usually only when I know precisely where I’m going.  The chewing-pencil, stroking beard stuff can’t be forced, and you can really feel it when you’re digging deep into your creative marrow.  So I need a balance of different activities, to make up a full working day.  Some outlining (the hard stuff).  Some writing up (a bit easier).  Some paid work.  Some reading.

It’s also sometimes hard to shift your head from one project to a next – but it can also be liberating and energising, so you see it fresh every time you come to it.  And if you’re blocked, work on something else, then come back to it.  Like that annoying crossword clue, the answer might be staring you in the face when you get back.

Three (we’re back to the list), I’m also setting myself some more distant lamp posts, and figuring out how I’m going to make it to those.  Looking back, in 2011 I have been too focussed on Priorities A and B.  I haven’t properly backed myself to go after Priority C.  It hasn’t been a retrograde year by any means – two script commissions, lots of other things-that-might-come-to-something, and a higher grade of meeting taken.  But when I stare at myself in the mirror, which I try not to do because I invariably obsess on the hair loss, but when I do I have to accept that I have taken the easy route a couple of times, gone after the pay cheque rather than (gasp) maybe trying to spend less money and working on my Hey This Guy Can Actually Write screenplays.  I went to LA in the summer, but I didn’t have my slam dunk script in my back pocket.  So it was like, ‘yeah, I’ll send you something in the September, in December, in the New Year...’.

So now it’s time to deliver.  I have a load of ‘tasks’ I need to tick off, to clear off my desk, in the near future – and Christmas is proving itself quite a natural deadline for these.  And in the New Year, things will change.  Priority C will move to the front of the queue.  I will, to some extent, press pause on my remote control, and I will work towards the Bigger Picture (“the Greater Good”, as Hot Fuzz would have it).  A month, three months, six months, who knows?  Two days a week, three days a week on Priority C.  Still earning money, of course, but shifting the focus.  Backing myself.

A very close professional colleague – who is, I must say, a few years older than I am – and I have had this chat quite a few times – “stop, I want to get off” etc.  We’ve been having the chat for the last ten years!  His circumstances are different, but the principle remains the same.  At some point, you’ve got to do it.  Jump off.  We’ve made a bit of a pact to hold the other to it.  Maybe we all need a buddy, because it certainly isn’t easy.

Four, and notwithstanding everything that has gone before, I’m also going to stop being quite so hard on myself.  I’ve got young kids to clothe, bills to pay, a wife to amuse.  Looking back on 2011 from a less self-loathing perspective, it’s been another year where I’ve made a living as a self-employed writer, had two or three meals a day with my family, and done some work I’m proud of.  The pressure to perform, to do something great, is still there, but I’m trying hard and a lot of it is out of my hands.  I’ve got to make some smarter decisions, maybe some harder ones, but there is also a wider world out there to be enjoyed, and a life that needs to be lived.  All work and no play, and so on.

So, anyway, I don’t really know where that’s got us.  It’s a jungle out there, but there’s a path through it.  And if there isn’t, get out your machete.  And don’t forget and stop to smell the flowers once in a while.  But watch out for the poisonous ones.  And if you pick a paw paw etc.  End of metaphor.  End of blog.

And in case I don’t write again before Christmas (Priority C and all that), then Yo Ho Ho and don’t forget that the Chalet Girl DVD and Blue Ray will make a perfect seasonal surprise for loved one and loathed enemy alike.

And apologies if this has all sounded like a massive white whine – it is, a bit, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that nobody actually reads my blog, and that the intended audience is, ultimately, me.  Thanks for letting me share.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Chalet Girl VoD

This is an edited version of an earlier post.

Since the middle of September, CHALET GIRL has been available for exclusive US Video on Demand download via our US Distributor IFC’s Sundance Now channel.  I don’t have (and would probably not be allowed to reveal anyway) the exact figures for downloads since then, but we’re talking in the tens of thousands.  At $14 a time, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue, with hardly any cut going to exhibitors.  There has been a big online marketing push in the US but, again, that’s pretty smart bang-for-your-buck advertising compared to expensive TV or press ads.  And this approach gives us a platform – reviews, awareness, positive word of mouth – to push out into the more mainstream Netflix / Blockbuster / DVD sell-through (sell-thru?) market in the US.  All without the need for a costly, loss-leading wide cinema release.

I have no idea what the final figures will be, or what if any will trickle back to the film’s investors, but it seems to me a pretty smart way to ‘monetise’ a small, foreign movie in the US.  VoD is the online multiplex, and accordingly the natural home for a multiplex title like CHALET GIRL.  Not that I'm saying we wouldn't have loved a 3,000 print release in the US, or a power-platform release like THE KING'S SPEECH.  But in the real world, this way makes a lot of sense.  (CHALET GIRL is currently out in cinemas in the US, but on a very limited release, and more as a contractual obligation than anything else.)

Screen International writes about this sort of thing in greater depth and with greater intelligence than I could, so you should dig into that title if you want to explore this interesting subject further.  A quote from Jeremy Kay’s article about the Toronto Film Festival in the latest monthly edition will suffice for now: “VoD and digital platforms are playing an increasingly important role here and are regarded as a potentially lucrative avenue, with or without theatrical uplift.  Magnolia and IFC have established digital pipelines and while they will never say how much their films make on VoD, word is the most successful titles can gross millions of dollars.”  This is the future, and it’s happening right now.

In other news, CHALET GIRL has been released into the home entertainment market in the UK by Momentum.  New artwork, new DVD with directors’ commentary and a feature on the premiere (hopefully they won’t show the bit where I fell over as I walked onto the stage).  This has been another very gratifying experience.  We were top 10 in all Film & TV on Amazon for a while, top spot on iTunes, and sold out in my local Morrisons in Warminster.  Twitter is all a-twitter again and there is a real feeling that the word of mouth we missed out on with our theatrical release – a combination of a release date move out of half term and the unseasonably warm weather, among other factors – is now beginning to snowball.  Hopefully we can stay on shelves long enough to hit the Christmas market and Momentum will finally receive the return on the big marketing push they made for the film’s theatrical release.

So, to conclude, it’s a brave new world and we owe it to ourselves to explore every avenue available to us to get our films seen by as many people as possible.  And box office figures are not the whole story.

To update you on my writing, I’m on the (significant) rewrite to HER ROYAL SPYNESS, and currently writing four new treatments for four different producers.  It’s high-investment, low-return work and I wonder if I will ever get paid for any of them, but in my mind it’s the most fun part of the job so I’m happy to wing it for now (but don’t tell everyone).  Also, I’ll be appearing at the Screenwriters Festival Pre-Registration Party next Thursday, 27th October at Regent’s College.  I hope to see some of you there.

Finally finally, just to plug two great films I’ve seen recently.  The first is my friend and sometime writing partner Donald Rice’s film CHEERFUL WEATHER FOR THE WEDDING with CHALET GIRL’s Felicity Jones once again on incredible form.  For a low budget film it packs a massive punch, both visually and narratively, and I desperately hope it will get a theatrical release.  And from the teeny tiny to the US box office monster, I watched THE HELP last night.  As I discussed with some friends afterwards, I felt totally emotionally manipulated, but when it is done so well, and with such charm and grace, you don’t mind.  In fact, isn’t that what you go to the movies for?

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Chalet Girl DVD now on sale

In case you had missed it, Chalet Girl is now available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray – the Amazon link is here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Chalet-Girl-DVD-Felicity-Jones/dp/B0051NH5OK

 

We’re in the top 10 across the whole of Amazon UK for Comedy and currently number 37 for all Film and TV, which I think is pretty marvellous.

 

If you enjoyed or – God forbid – missed the film when it was in cinemas in March, please think about buying a copy of the DVD to help keep that sales rank up.  The DVD has lots of fun added features / unseen clips as well as a commentary by the director, star and one of the producers (who cares what the writer thinks anyway, right?). 

 

It would make a great stocking filler for a friend / teenage niece / snowboard-loving grandparent.  It can also be used as a Frisbee, a table-leg-wobble-corrector or a novelty mouse mat, or it could just be one of those high-brow titles that you like to have on your DVD shelf to make you look more intellectual than you really are.

 

Please tell your friends – we’ve got big hopes for this as a DVD title in the run-up to Christmas, and other developments, like a possible Chalet Girl TV series, will be dependent on the film reaching out to a wide audience at this stage of its release.

 

More to follow on the blog soon, when I’m not trying to sell you anything, including information about some talks I’m giving at a couple of screenwriting festivals in the autumn.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Busy Busyness

So about twenty four hours after I posted my last entry, crowing about the fact that I had delivered the first draft of “Her Royal Spyness”, finished a quick rewrite on a Sort-Of-Top-Secret-Film project and was getting ready to sink myself into a week of reading, watching, musing and general beard-stroking (maybe even beard-growing), things took a short sharp turn for the hectic.

I got a call from the UK producer on the SOTSF who uttered the magic words “They want to fly you out to LA for a week to do a bit more work on the script.”  Words that I’ve been waiting to hear for about four years, since my last trip to LA, when I had meeting after meeting cancelled or rescheduled and I sulked back home thinking “I ain’t coming back till they fly me back.”  That time had come.

Then the producer uttered two more, slightly less magic words: “On Sunday.”  This was Wednesday evening.  Anyone with a wife, children and a dog will know that plans made are not easily broken, particularly when I had booked that particular week as Time Spent With Family.  Instead it was going to be Time Spent In The Comfort Inn In Santa Monica.  Ouch.  Sorry, wife.

Still, you don’t say no to that, so out I flew.  Air New Zealand flight 1, with no less a luminary than Stewart Till on board (a good few rows in front of me – no business class ticket quite yet).  Films watched included Rio (research for another Rio project I’m working on, with an irritatingly similar final sequence – still forewarned is etc etc), Source Code (mad but enjoyable), Limitless (also mad, very well made but questionable ethics), Thor (at x6 speed, just to find out what happens), and the highlights of the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final (we won).

Then a week sitting in a production company in Santa Monica working on the SOTSF script.  Turned out it was more of a full service overhaul than just some bodywork detailing, but hey, it’s their dime, as we say out there.  I also managed to squeeze in drinks with a couple of producers, one manager (might be time to get an LA manager, if that’s not tweaking fate’s nose too eagerly) and the Chalet Girl director Phil Traill (October 3rd DVD in the UK, comes out in Australia today, the US next week, etc etc) and his lovely family.  Skyped my own lovely family every morning at 7am, there are worse ways to start the day but it’s still a long time away from home.

Then back home on Air New Zealand flight 2 (do they only have two planes?), no luminaries, watched Unstoppable (loved it – how to make the preposterous somehow plausible), Battle: Los Angeles (so I could see the place I’d just been staying get wasted by alienbots), something else that I can’t remember, which isn’t a great sign, and various bits of Arthur, Water for Elephants and Black Swan (you know which bits) over people’s shoulders.

So now it’s back to school, for yet more rewriting on SOTSF (they want to shoot it in October), a rewrite on “Her Royal Spyness” (and, yes, I did get one of those “do we need these forty pages” notes – possibly even eighty or ninety, but so it goes...), more corporate work, a possible Chalet Girl TV series, a new pitch with Chalet Girl producers Pippa Cross and Harriet Rees and an awesome new high concept romcom that I can’t wait to sink my teeth into, and will possibly write on spec.

Who says everything shuts down in August?  Not I, not I.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Back in blog

We’re back.  Honestly, I leave my blog for a month and the world falls to pieces.  Economic collapse, moral meltdown, hideousness in Norway.  Still, at least we won the cricket.

This is just by way of a quick update, although I hope to post more in the coming weeks.  I’ve finished and submitted my first draft of Her Royal Spyness to Matador Pictures.  I’ve made mention in a previous post of my frustration at not being able to find quite enough time to devote myself to this, utterly and exclusively.  Fortunately, in the second half of July the clouds lifted and I motored through to the finish under clear skies and with a fair wind.  It’s going to be interesting to see what notes come back, as it always is.  Scene-by-scene I’m sure there is loads that can be pumped up and tightened.  But I imagine there will also be quite a few ‘do we need this character’ or ‘do we need this scene’ comments (hopefully not too many ‘do we need these forty pages’), which is when you have to totally re-imagine the shape and flow of the whole piece.  Still, as I’m forever finding out, there are a million different ways of looking at a story, none altogether right or wrong.  In rewriting, I’ve got to keep my mind open to new suggestions and directions – often great ideas that I wouldn’t have got to on my own – while at the same time retaining that sense of unity and purity that I felt at the end of the first draft.  A complex and challenging balancing act.

I’ve also just spent a fascinating two weeks on a very short and sharp rewrite job.  I can’t say too much about it at the moment (which always makes things sound more mysterious than they really are) but there is a chance that the movie could go into production in the next couple of months.  It was a great gig, too.  The contract literally stipulated start and end dates (1st to 12th August).  I spent a week or so getting my rewrite outline approved.  Then, because it transpired that it was essentially a page one rewrite, I sat down last week and wrote twenty pages a day, for five days.  I was bouncing my pages off one of the key guys on the project as I went along, so I would spend two or three hours every morning rewriting the previous day’s work, then crank out the next twenty.  I imagine these sorts of deadlines are common in Hollywood, where production rewrites are a big income source for established writers.  But it’s not something I’ve ever done before.  It was exhausting but incredibly rewarding and I genuinely believe I delivered a good piece of work at the end of those five days.

Both of these jobs have contributed to a growing sense that I’m getting at the moment, that of demystifying the job of the writer.  So much is written and talked about the art of writing, of finding your voice and understanding your art, as if it’s some impenetrable, alchemical mystery whose secrets are revealed only to a chosen few.  And it certainly can be like this, particularly I suppose when you’re looking for your voice in the first place.  But it’s also a craft, a job, a process that can be understood, broken down and replicated at will.  Perhaps this comes with a growing confidence, when you know your way around a screenplay and you know that A must lead to B which must lead to C.  But I feel like my approach to my job has changed in the last twelve months.  What’s the brief, what are the project parameters, then go ahead and execute.  This attitude is informed both by the many on-set rewrites I did for Chalet Girl, where budget and schedule and locations and cast availability start to dictate the creative process (have you pre-ordered your DVD, by the way – October 3rd in UK), and also from all the corporate work I’ve done over the last ten years.  The objectives, in my mind, are no different whether it’s a £50k training drama or a £5m thriller – craft an effective piece of writing that delivers a satisfying experience for its intended audience.  Maybe this is too linear, maybe it will make me a painting-by-numbers kind of writer.  Or maybe it will make me a more confident, more efficient, more useful craftsman who can peddle his trade in a variety of situations.  We shall see.

I’m taking this week as a well earned and much needed reading and research week.  I’m finally, finally reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces, which is blowing my mind on pretty much every page (and which, incidentally, plays well into my ‘demystifying’ thesis – we’re not doing anything new here).  I’ve also got The Hare With Amber Eyes and How To Be A Woman to get through, and then I want to attack by David Lean Centenary Collection DVD Box Set – I haven’t seen either of his Dickens films, to my shame.  This is precious time which I’m determined not to waste.  August is quiet, and I get Her Royal Spyness notes back on 22nd.  Time to make creative hay while the sun isn’t shining and the phone isn’t ringing – I’ll need it during the long cold winter ahead.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Film London - Market Place Live

Film London - Market Place Live is kind of interesting also. Angus Finney is a smart fellow, I went on a South West Screen / CASS Business School course led by him in 2008/9, one of the most useful training experiences I've undertaken. Worth a watch. Although I haven't actually made it through to the end yet.

The Scriptwriter's Life

Found The Scriptwriter's Life today through a link from another blog. Written by a guy I know, and I kind of like it. Food for thought, at any rate.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Simply not enough

A very quick one this.  I’m conscious I’ve been letting my bloggery levels slip but that’s the point of this postlet.  There simply are not enough hours in the day.

This last couple of weeks I’ve been wrestling with: the first draft of “Her Royal Spyness” on commission for Matador Pictures; a twenty page treatment for a new romcom with the Chalet Girl producers Pippa Cross and Harriet Rees; a new romcom idea that I pitched to another producer and which they have asked me to flesh out; the rewrite on “Romeo and Rosaline”; another rewrite on my BASE jumping script (with Ed Caesar) called “Exit Point”; two more new ideas that I think have legs and which I don’t want to let go of; an old treatment that my agent wants me to dust off and submit to the BBC; a monstrously complicated training film script for BP; three more corporate in various stages of development; helping two friends with the development of their feature scripts; not to mention scripts to read, books to read, films and tv shows to watch, lawns to mow and lives to lead.

And there are simply not enough hours for all this.

I’ve been working myself into a bit of a lather about it.  Clearly the most important of all of these is the script commission for Matador, because it’s a real job with a real company that I’m being paid real money for.  But, given the 58 other things that are crowding in and around it, I haven’t been able to give it the time or the focus it demands.  And this is crazy.  For one thing, I’m loving the work when I finally get stuck into it.  For another thing, I’m on a deadline and I don’t want to miss it.  And for a third thing, THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN WORKING TEN YEARS TO GET TO.  I’M BEING PAID TO WRITE.  And now that it’s finally happening, I’m being distracted by everything else, all those other little jobs that pay a bit of money here, or might lead to something else there.  Whereas in fact what I should be doing is SITTING DOWN AND WRITING WHAT I’M BEING PAID TO WRITE.

The “Chalet Girl” experience was career-changing, no doubt about it.  But it’s done now, and the window of opportunity that it opened is closing with every passing week that I don’t fire out a brilliant new script.  So what I need to be doing is focusing every ounce of my creative being on making “Her Royal Spyness” as brilliant and professional and filmable as possible.  Then those nice people at Matador will tell everyone they work with what a brilliant, professional and filmable writer Tom Williams is.  Then I’ll get more jobs.  And so on.  That’s the theory at least.  And that’s all that matters right now.  The rest can wait.

So I’ve come up with four strategies.

One, I’ve rented an office, out of the house.  I love my kids, but they’re not great writing partners.

Two, I’m cutting down on my corporate work.  It’s interesting, and it pays the bills, but there’s a bigger picture here. 

Three, every morning, 8.30am – 1pm, I’m working on “Her Royal Spyness”.  Everything else can wait till the afternoon.

Four, longer term, I’m learning to say no, and to prioritise.  You can’t do everything, all the time.  Have two, maximum three projects on the go, and give those your all.  When they’re done, move on.  But I’ve found that the more food I throw at the wall (if that’s the right image), the less actually sticks.

And that includes not writing as many blog posts.  Until next time, whenever that might be.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Four things

No blog post for a month and then four points-worth-mentioning come along at once, like the proverbial number 22 bus (giving away my SW6 roots there).  What can I say?  I’ve been writing Her Royal Spyness (treatment signed off, embarking on first draft), been working on some new treatments (point four, below), and also been on holiday (Bordeaux, delightful).  So here are my four things.

First thing.  Danny Stack, arch-blogger and king of all things online, has just launched a comedy web series called Liquid Lunch, and he’s asked me to spread the word through my not-very-extensive social network.  It's about two guys who regularly meet in the pub to break up the monotony of their working day but when they realise life is passing them by, they decide to do something about it.  I’ve had a look and it’s pretty funny, and shows what you can do when you just do it.  Main website HERE.  YouTube channel HERE.  And he’s been blogging about the 'making of' here.

Second thing.  Got a Kindle for my birthday.  Great for reading scripts on, if you can manage the small font size.  Also great for downloading all those free books from Amazon.  I now feel immensely wise and erudite having Great Expectations available at the touch of a button (not that it will make it any more likely that I will actually read it, of course).  I’m sure I’m behind the curve on this but I would recommend it to all readers and writers out there.  Also, because the Kindle is not as snazzy as the iPad and doesn’t have Angry Birds on it, there is less chance of it being stolen by your wife / children.

Third thing.  In the last month about a half a dozen people have sent me their scripts / books to read.  I really don’t mind reading other people’s work, it’s part of one’s general moral contribution to the Great Writing Community.  I’ve certainly asked people to give me feedback on my scripts in the past (and continue to do so) and have always appreciated a fresh or unbiased set of eyes on my work.  What has begun slightly to grate is the way in which some people have made the request, namely that they don’t really request it at all.  They just send it over and say ‘let me know what you think’.  In my opinion, this sort of approach doesn’t sufficiently acknowledge the fact that I, as a self-employed writer, will have to take probably two or three hours out of my working day to ‘let them know what I think’.  It’s reading the script, it’s having a think, it’s writing my response or (better still) meeting up and feeding back my thoughts in person.  It’s a fair old chunk of time, time when I’m not working on my own stuff.  Time that I might charge a couple of hundred quid for if the job came to me through a reading agency like The Script Connection, for whom I still occasionally work.  Like I said, it’s not that I mind doing it, and I’m certainly not at this stage yet, but when I ask someone to read my script I make sure I ask them first if they have the time / inclination to read, before I send over the script.  And then I give them a month before I follow up.  I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive in this; just make sure you fully appreciate what you are asking before you type up the next ‘let me know what you think’ email.

Fourth thing.  Timeless writerly gripe.  I’ve recently spent quite a bit of time developing a treatment for a decent-sized British production company.  They brought the basic idea to me, we had two or three meetings when I pitched my take on it, we agreed that I would go away and write it up into a treatment.  I delivered a ten page treatment, the result of about a week’s work.  Then they called me up and said they don’t really have enough development money to pursue new projects at the moment, so thanks for my time and they hope they will work with me again in the future.  Again, am I being precious when I say that that has left me a tiny bit fed up?  I know how the system works – lots of writers knocking on not many doors, and the writer has to make the early running if they want to get anything started, certainly in the UK.  This company has made some great films and I’m more than willing to jump through hoops if it gives me a chance to work with them.  And I’ve no doubt that if I had delivered The Treatment Of The Century, they wouldn’t have dropped the project.  But this system does feel unfairly weighted against the writer.  The production company has little to lose – a bit of time spent in those meetings, a bit of time reading my thoughts.  But they didn’t pay me any money for my work, and when they don’t like what I’ve offered they can say ‘thanks but no thanks’.  Now I’ve just wasted a week of work chasing a long shot when, it seems, they didn’t really have the money there to commission a script in the first place.  (There is perhaps a wider discussion about a hiatus in the UK development business while the BFI sets up its shop, but that is for another time.)  As we all know, writing a script takes (say) six months and you only write the bloody thing in the last (say) couple of months.  The pitch, the one-pager, the treatment are all massively important building blocks in the writing process.  I’ve been working hard on Her Royal Spyness for most of this year and am only now moving onto the script stage.  Is it fair that production companies should routinely expect writers to make that much of the early running for free, with no commitment on their part?  In the future I’m going to take Julian Friedmann’s oft-repeated advice (try to) ask for a couple of grand for this sort of work, up front.  Then at least you can take the temperature of the producers (how keen are they really on this idea?) and at least you get paid for working on the outline (which is, lest I repeat myself, as important / time-consuming / difficult as writing the actual script).

Reading this back, a consistent theme has, perhaps surprisingly, emerged.  It’s about time, and the value we place on it.  Danny took the time to make a short comedy series – hopefully that will prove a good investment for him.  My Kindle saves me time and means I can always be catching up on my reading, wherever I am.  And I find that I’m often being asked to commit my time, either to read other people’s work or to pitch and develop new ideas, for free.  I’m often happy to do this, but I just have to be careful about it, otherwise I’ll never get anything else done.  Time is a finite resource, and we must mine it with care.  (Wonder if that will make it into ‘Wit and Wisdom’ in The Week?  Probably not.)

While I’m on a roll, here is a round-up of some other bits of blog-worthy miscellany that I should probably save for a separate post but I want to save ‘time’ so I’ll do it now:

My friend and boules-partner Alexander Fiske-Harrison has written a most compelling book on bull-fighting called Into The Arena – please investigate and then buy.

I am becoming obsessed with Melvin Bragg’s weekly ‘In Our Time’ emails – I recommend you sign up, he’s such a Renaissance dude – as one friend put it he ‘is the only person informing me these days about the details of the 16th century Chinese trade routes or Kiekergarrds love life’, which should be more than enough reason for you to sign on.  He also appears to dictate them to a minion as he is striding through Green Park, which paints a splendid image.

Felicity Jones, our lovely Chalet Girl, is appearing in Luise Miller at the Donmar – she will almost certainly be wonderful, and it will almost certainly sell out, so catch it if you can.

Does anyone else think that this would make an amazing film, or is it just me?  Even if it probably isn’t true.  And does that even matter anyway?

Monday, 9 May 2011

Why I'm not going to Cannes this year

First off, I think I should be congratulated for not titling this post ‘No Cannes Do?’ or ‘Cannes of worms’ or ‘Let’s all do the Cannes-Cannes’.  Believe me, I thought about it but, like a man, I held back.

Second, this is neither an original (many people have written on this subject in the past, including me) nor a detailed (I’m very busy) post about ‘should a screenwriter go to the Cannes Film Festival’.  Nor is it a polemic about me boycotting Cannes in protest at their soft line on Israel (I don’t know if they have a soft line, or indeed any line at all, but even if they did it wouldn’t bother me massively.)

Instead, it’s just a short justification – to myself, mainly – about why I’m not going to Cannes this year.  At least, I think I’m not.  Pretty certain.

I’ve been going to Cannes regularly since I ‘went freelance’ (or ‘got made redundant’, depending on how you choose to look at it) in 2001.  The first few years were total jaw-droppers and eye-openers (‘so THIS is how the movie business really works’).  You want market intelligence, go to the market, simple.  The middle years I acted rather cool about it all (‘yeah, I might go to that party, depends when my dinner finishes’, which usually meant I didn’t have an invite).  Only in the last couple of years have I genuinely made professional mileage out of my visits, off the back of Chalet Girl script interest (in 2009) and Chalet Girl film interest (last year).

I took the occasional year off, either when finances were limited (more so than usual) or, one year, because I had a real fear that producers would start to see me as a lush who spent more time and effort trying to blag his way into the BBC Films party than actually writing good scripts.  And to be fair, they had a point.  However you try to justify it, for a screenwriter Cannes is 90% fun and maybe 10% active professional development.  Producers, distributors, sales agents all have a valid reason to go – it’s where the international film community comes together.  But my career is largely based here right now, so I can meet everyone I need to back in the UK, albeit perhaps not with a cocktail in hand.  And anyway, if I’m honest it’s probably about 30% fun, 10% professional development and 60% people cancelling meetings and you sitting in the Palais wondering how you’re going to spend the next three hours and secretly wishing you were back at home with the kids.

This year I could justifiably go – maybe even should go.  Chalet Girl did well, I have another script that is out to cast and I’m currently working on two active, commissioned projects, so there is a small wave of good news that I could surf, a gentle breeze of career progression on which I could sail my way into some previously unvisited ports, not to mangle the metaphor too hideously.  It’s always nice to get some early summer sun (not that we’ve been spoiled back home, of course) and you can usually track down a friendly producer to buy you supper in the old town.  Accommodation can be tricky, or expensive, although in fact I don’t think I have ever paid for a night’s accommodation in all my years of going to Cannes.  I was found out two years ago when a friend had promised me a bed in his villa in the hills.  I took a twenty euro cab up there and watched the taxi drive off into the night before I realised no-one was at home, and my mate’s cell phone battery had died.  I shinned over the wall and slept on a sun lounger by the pool (ew) under a discarded towel (double-ew) until he returned at 5am.  The tart.

A hundred quid return from Easyjet, catch the bus into town, buy that cheeky E40-for-3-days-market-pass that gets you into the Palais and the British pavilion (and some screenings if you ask nicely), hit the early evening receptions to load up on canap├ęs and sharpeners, then see where the wind takes you.  A couple of days, in and out.  It’s pretty easy, and it shouldn’t do your career any harm.

But I’m not going.  I’m heads down in HER ROYAL SPYNESS, and in treatment work on my new script for Harriet and Pippa.  Whichever way you look at it, it’s two or three days away from the desk, and two or three hundred quid (minimum) that I’ll have to recover, one way or another.  And the other thing that has probably swung it is that nobody has given me a good reason to go, this year.  When I think back to the last three or four times I’ve gone, there has usually been at least one meeting, or party, or person, or film, or Q&A, that I have specifically gone out there to see or do or go to.  Just one, but it’s all I needed.  All the other fun bits and pieces (my appearance on the red carpet for the premiere of X MEN: LAST STAND was a strange and giddying high point) have come off the back of that initial prompt – and often when that initial meeting has been cancelled, or found to be not that useful after all.

At last we come to the rub, then.  The reason I’m not going to Cannes this year is because I haven’t been able to come up with a good enough excuse.  That, and the fact that last year I stayed on a yacht, which was always going to be hard to beat.  I’ll wait for Harvey to put me up at the du Cap next time.

Further reading:

-          I’ve just uploaded a load of video diaries from my trip to Cannes in 2006 to http://www.youtube.com/user/tajwilliams.  (I filmed them for the pioneering but now sadly defunct vlog.tv.)  Five years ago, and hasn’t technology advanced, and my hairline receded?  There are some fun interviews with industry figures (and Tessa Jowell) and some top tips, and Vlog 13 001 has a bit of the X Men Premiere story.  Great days.

-          I’ll try to attach my old ‘Cheltenham vs Cannes’ article that I wrote for Scriptwriter Magazine back in the day to this blog – sure they won’t mind – http://www.tajwilliams.com/Cannes.pdf

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

New gig

As previously mentioned, I have just been commissioned to adapt some books by Rhys Bowen, called the “Her Royal Spyness” series, for Matador Pictures.  The protagonist is a young member of the British royal family, 34th in line to the throne, who – as you might guess – becomes a spy.  The books are set in the 1930s but we are updating them to the present day.  My personal inspirations (and ambition) for this job are movies like GROSSE POINTE BLANK, TRUE LIES and MR AND MRS SMITH.  Action, comedy, romance – the holy trinity of popular entertainment!

I’ve never done an adaptation before, and so I’m excited to get going.  The challenge is to deliver something that pleases fans of the source material while making it a fun and relevant movie experience in its own right.  Above all, I am currently Being Paid To Write, which is a pretty awesome feeling.

Here is the full article from Screen Daily:

Matador to develop Her Royal Spyness franchise

The UK production company has acquired the rights to Rhys Bowen’s adventure novel series Her Royal Spyness; Chalet Girl writer Tom Williams to pen the script.

UK production company Matador Pictures has secured the rights to Rhys Bowen’s bestselling series of teen comedy-adventure novels Her Royal Spyness, with plans to develop a feature franchise.

The first feature is currently being written by Tom Williams, who penned the recent Chalet Girl. Rachel Belofsky of US-based Candy Heart Productions will co-produce with Matador. It is due to go into production late 2011/early 2012.

Part rom-com, part espionage adventure, the film follows the story of 18-year-old Georgie (aka Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie) who becomes entangled in a world of international espionage whilst trying to survive in the big city as an ordinary person.

Matador Pictures’ CEO Nigel Thomas described it as a “brilliant project”.

“It marks another step in the evolution of our growing development and production slate. We’re especially delighted to be working with Tom Williams,” he added.

 

 

ps I had a flying visit to The London Comedy Writers Festival on Saturday, organised by the tireless Chris Jones.  I was speaking on a panel with Sophie Meyer, Vadim Jean and Jonny Newman, about the spec script market in the UK, or lack thereof.  Conclusion was: write them but don’t expect to sell them.  They’re kind of ‘writing samples with benefits’.  A little weird to be up on the stage rather than in the audience (or indeed filming sessions for my video diary), but a good experience and a lovely crowd as ever.  Well done to the team behind it all, long may it prosper.

pps Chalet Girl coming to the end of its UK box office run, looks like we’ll clear £2 million which should set us up for a long shelf life in VOD / DVD etc.  And apparently we’re big in Russia!  If you haven’t already, then please try to go and see it at the cinemas while you can.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Moving On

Chalet Girl has now been in cinemas for almost three weeks.  We were the highest new opener in our first week and look set to take over £2 million in our box office run.  A decent total, maybe not quite as much as we might have hoped for (damn that sunshine) but certainly no disgrace.  The critical and audience responses have both been gratifying, and what a massive learning curve the whole process has been.  Some of the ‘lessons’ are outlined in this old post.

But now, it’s time to move on.  The cinema run will continue, and the subsequent distribution ‘windows’ will open and shut over the next couple of years.  But I’m looking to the future, and am excited about the many new projects that I am getting stuck into.  I’m talking to the producers Harriet Rees and Pippa Cross about our next joint venture.  I’m doing a detailed rewrite of the ROMEO AND ROSALINE project that I discussed in one of my first posts, while my writing partner Donald Rice completes filming on his own Felicity Jones project.  I’m about to start work on an adaptation project for Matador Pictures, which will be announced shortly, as well as pitching for another couple of jobs.  And of course, there are all the little ideas that are incubating away in my writerly nest, waiting to see if any of them will hatch into something special.  In all of these I hope to apply my experiences from the great Chalet Girl script-to-screen journey, to learn from my mistakes and write better scripts, and to make new and exciting mistakes in the future.

I will continue to blog, when I feel like I’ve got something to say, and in the meantime let me leave you with a few memories of my Chalet Girl adventure.






































Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Every silver lining

What a lovely weekend that was.  Spring arrived in a major way, a couple of days before its official start date.  The sun shone, the birds sang and the cherry blossomed.  All of which was seriously irritating if you had a new movie opening.

Chalet Girl opened last weekend and became that week’s highest new entry.  Yay.  But overall admissions were considerably down on the previous weekend, due in large part to the ‘if it’s sunny people tend to want to be outside mowing the lawn rather than sweating in a dark cinema’ principle.  Suddenly, as the line from the movie goes, not so yay.

4th is great, behind three fairly chunky, wide-release studio movies.  Highest new entry is also great – have some of that McConaughey.  A million bucks sounds big and the screen average was respectable.  But, however you spin it, the numbers weren’t what we might have hoped for.  Of the 400,000 buttocks we were hoping to entice into our lovely padded seats, we maybe only got half that number.

It’s all relative and, relative to others, we did fine.  And in hindsight, opening a ski season movie as the daffodils are blooming and the short sleeves are appearing, was a little risky.  But there are a thousand and one reasons why we chose that date (I outlined some of those on an earlier post that I was then asked to take down, because it exposed a bit too much of the sausage-making process for some people’s liking).  And what’s done is done.

The good news is threefold.  Firstly, we got off to a start, and we can build from that.  Secondly, we have ‘held onto our screens’ for next weekend.  With not much looming in the way of big releases this Friday (Momentum’s ‘Limitless’, as well as ‘The Eagle’ and something about turtles) the cinema owners clearly think that Chalet Girl still has some legs, and some audience to find.  So we still have a certain amount of ‘penetration’, as the distribution lingo has it.

Thirdly, and most importantly, people are loving our movie.  Search for “Chalet Girl” on Twitter, as I have been doing a lot of late, and you will read some incredibly encouraging and lovely responses from people have been to see the movie.  They group into the ‘Ed Westwick is fit’ category, the ‘better than I expected’ category and, of course, the ‘I thought it was a pile of sh1t’ category, on a ratio of about 60:30:10.  Which isn’t bad, I reckon.

So now we need to bow down and make a votive offering at the altar of WOM.  That’s Word of Mouth, to the uninitiated.  Our fate is now largely out of our hands.  Yes, we can keep banging the drum, working the PR, running the ads.  But either people are going to tell their mates that Chalet Girl rocks and they should go and see it, or they aren’t.  If they do, we could rumble on for a few more weeks.  If they don’t, we might be out of cinemas before school holidays kick in.  Which would be a shame.

So tell your mates.  And pray to WOM.  And pray for rain.

Right, I’m off to mow the lawn.

 

Box Office figures from Screen International:

 

UK/IRELAND

Three-day weekend March 18-20, 2011

 

Rank

Film/Origin/Distributor

Week

3-day gross
£

3-day gross
$

Sites

Site avg $

3-day change

Total gross $ to 
20 Mar 2011

1(2)

Rango (US) Paramount Pictures International

3

1,045,326

1,698,060

470

3,613

-32

8,155,856

2(1)

Battle: Los Angeles (US) Sony Pictures Releasing International

2

874,265

1,420,184

417

3,406

-51

5,611,355

3(3)

Unknown (UK, Ger, Fr, Can, Jap, US) Optimum Releasing

3

775,576

1,259,870

367

3,433

-25

7,304,250

4(-)

Chalet Girl (UK, Ger, Aust) Paramount Pictures International

NEW

677,716

1,100,903

381

2,890

-

1,100,903

5(-)

The Lincoln Lawyer (US) Entertainment Film Distributors

NEW

571,836

928,908

378

2,457

-

928,908

6(5)

Hall Pass (US) Warner Bros

2

556,292

903,658

395

2,288

-38

3,238,601

7(-)

Anuvahood (UK) Revolver

NEW

536,818

872,024

149

5,853

-

872,024

8(4)

The Adjustment Bureau (US) Universal Pictures International

3

532,325

864,725

390

2,217

-42

6,653,741

9(6)

The King's Speech (UK, Aus) Momentum Pictures

11

350,417

569,228

407

1,399

-49

71,494,168

10(8)

Gnomeo & Juliet (UK, US) Entertainment One (eOne) Films International

6

295,023

479,245

455

1,053

-47

24,572,963

11(7)

Paul (Sp, Fr, US, UK) Universal Pictures International

5

289,621

470,469

296

1,589

-48

22,382,044

12(-)

Submarine (UK, US) Optimum Releasing

NEW

244,476

397,135

60

6,619

-

397,135

13(10)

West Is West (UK) Icon Film Distribution

4

138,422

224,857

102

2,204

-44

3,847,378

14(11)

Yogi Bear (US, NZ) Warner Bros

6

113,301

184,050

326

565

-51

14,011,784

15(-)

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (US, Sp) Warner Bros

NEW

112,168

182,209

101

1,804

-

182,209

16(14)

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (US) 20th Century Fox

5

112,025

181,977

201

905

-43

8,242,609

17(12)

Tangled (US) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International

8

97,906

159,042

285

558

-56

32,637,242

18(9)

Fair Game (US, ) Entertainment One (eOne) Films International

2

93,128

151,280

152

995

-69

949,834

19(13)

True Grit (US) Paramount Pictures International

6

84,560

137,362

137

1,003

-60

13,256,821

20(15)

I Am Number Four (US) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International

4

64,721

105,135

119

883

-60

4,997,235