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.