You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘writing’ tag.
Dear Electricity & Gas Providers,
I’m writing to you because I’ve been given your name by a mutual friend / saw your stuff and really loved it. I’m currently looking for someone to heat and light my house, and was wondering if you’d be interested in doing it?
Unfortunately, there is no pay at this time, but it’s a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor as in the future I hope to be heating and lighting ever-bigger houses. It’s also a great chance to showcase your work to the sorts of demi-celebrities I spend much of my life with.
You’d be boiling the tea for Darren Strange who was in Parents on Sky1. You’d be powering the phone calls I make to all sorts of household name comedians, all of whom would be exposed to your work that way. You’d be powering tweets that are occasionally retweeted by Josie Long and Mark Thomas!
While I understand the remuneration might not be quite what you’re hoping for, I hope you’ll be excited by the opportunity to be a part of the incredible project that is my household. It’s going to be huge!
I can also offer you drinks if you’re ever in town, and tickets to an exclusive viewing of the work you do in our house next time you come to check the meter.
I know you’ll be as excited by this as I am!
First, read this…
Let’s call it Exhibit A in the case for the prosecution. I wrote it in January 2011, and, I think we can all agree, it’s a fine example of the ‘mediocre sketch with vaguely interesting premise’ genre.
Now watch this:
You see? You see? And that, my friends, was put up on the Internet back in 2009.
Conclusive evidence, if any were needed, that the writing staff of That Mitchell And Webb Look are compulsive thieves who have developed time travel. The only feasibly explanation for this is that they roam the timestreams like multidimensional magpies, purloining comedic gems wherever they go.
Or, alternatively, it was a pretty obvious idea. And one that shows exactly why a lot of new writers spend far too long worrying about people stealing their ideas.
When two people have the same idea, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone stole it. And, in this case, it’s not just the idea, the execution is fairly similar: the setup is the same, both have a gag about crystals, and the patient ends up dead. Mine doesn’t have the second-scene coda which gives some nice context, but they’re similar enough that I felt an irrational pang of anger when I saw the Mitchell & Webb clip.
But I knew that was all it was, an irrational response. It took about four seconds for me to realise and fully accept that writers sometimes have the same ideas, especially comedy writers addressing the same topic.
I often think when I see the efforts people go to to send themselves scripts by registered post, register things with the Library of Congress, and only conditionally let producers see some of what they have written after they’ve signed an NDA, that this energy could have been better used, well, writing.
No one wants to steal your scripts.
No one reputable wants to steal your scripts. For the amount of hassle and legal trouble that will be caused if they do, it’s cheaper just to buy your script. That way, you’ll also be likely to offer them your next script. If someone thinks your writing is good, they will want to make it, and they will want to make other things you write (or at least be offered them, which is unlikely if you are embroiled in a legal dispute over ownership of a previous script).
Many people won’t read unsolicited scripts now because they worry about being accused of plagiarism in the future. Rather than protecting themselves, new writers are reducing the number of people who are willing to read what they’ve written.
Are there unscrupulous people focused on short-term gain in the movie and TV businesses? Almost certainly. Moreso in films, where anyone with a mobile phone and a table at a decent restaurant can call themselves a producer. But these people are very few and far between, and they are usually too busy ‘setting up deals’ to actually make a film in which they rip off someone’s idea. There are easier ways of getting someone to work for nothing than theft. Usually you can just ask them: “Will you work for nothing, giving up all rights to your work?”
However, most people are hard-working, creative, and desperate to turn good scripts into good programmes or movies. Without exception, the people I have worked with have had one goal: making the best things they can make with the resources they have.
Your ideas are not all that important.
Ideas are ten a penny. Everyone has an idea for a film. Everyone can have ideas. You don’t need a writer to come up with ideas.
You need a writer to write a film.
The idea has very little relevance to how good a film is going to be. Just look at all the straight-to-DVD ripoffs that come out every time there is a huge hit at the cinema. The ones with a business model that depends on the confusion of the buying public. “Avatard? Didn’t that get pretty good reviews?”
Look at Deep Impact and Armageddon; Volcano and Dante’s Peak; Antz and A Bug’s Life. (What? I watched a lot of films in the 90s. What?) The fact that the premise is similar doesn’t make these films equally successful, either commercially or as films.
It’s all in the execution.
And sometimes even that comes out quite similarly. See above.
Time spent worrying about who is stealing your work is time you’re not spending working. If, contrary to all logic, there is someone out there desperate to steal the work of new writers and to pass it off as their own, paying money to ‘register’ your script won’t stop them doing it (In the UK, you hold the copyright on something you have written as soon as it is written. You do not need to register it).
In order to succeed you need to leave your house, meet people, and, most importantly, let them read your work. To paraphrase Cory Doctorow, obscurity is a greater threat than being ripped off. You can’t protect yourself against everything. Especially not time-travelling thieves in the pay of two of Britain’s best-loved contemporary sketch performers. More’s the pity…
About three years ago I thought it would be funny to write a blog called Having A Poo With… In each entry I would parody the thoughts of a famous person as they went to the toilet. To do a poo.
It would show off my keen ear for language that was ripe for parody (it didn’t); it would be a regular and hilarious addition to people’s inboxes (it wasn’t); and be an excuse for a lot of jokes about bums (it was). The whole thing was prompted by an image of Will Self describing the “proleptic, anti-peristaltic turtle’s head” of a stool that was proving difficult to shift from his duodenum. This would show that Craig Brown…
Needless to say, I got bored after doing one entry. It sits there, alone in a corner of the Internet, unloved, leaking misery and loneliness into the ether. As it should be.
I was reminded of this when seeing another piece of advice to young writers in which they were sternly admonished to finish those things they started. That that was what separated the professionals from the rest of you. We finish what we start. We don’t leave abandoned half-drafts all over our hard drives. We don’t start without a plan, we know where we’re going, we finish what we start.
Balls. Unalloyed donkey-balls.
Whilst it is undoubtedly true that you can never get anything made (or published) unless you finish it, I think that there’s another risk just as great as starting something you never finish. And that’s never starting the thing at all.
Whereas in the past I would have happily ploughed in to a new idea whenever it occurred to me; now I have pinboards, charts mapping out act breaks, the will to muscle on through bits of writing that might not be working the way I’d hoped, and a huge pile of projects that I haven’t ever started because I’m not happy that I’ve got a complete grasp of them yet. Before writing was my job I would have played with these ideas, tried writing them. Now that seems irresponsible unless I know how they are going to turn out.
So they sit there.
And I look at them and think that if I’d taken that first moment when the idea seemed so brilliant and written everything that enthused me about it then, then I would have at least have a bit of them written. At least a bit I could look at, decide whether there was anything in it and carry on with. A bit that would have the fire in that initially excited me. Rather than a bunch of denatured plans for incomplete ideas.
Sometimes we have to play. Sometimes we have to just follow what excites us. Sometimes we have to fail.
We have to do the bit we think is excellent to realise that we don’t want to do the rest of it.
Which is why I’m glad i wrote the one entry on Having A Poo With… It’s a testament to doing something incompletely, but still having something that you like at the end of it. Its one entry is short, but still funny, and written. It’s there.
As opposed to all the well-worked through, not-quite ideas I have planned. So whilst it’s great advice to young writers to learn to finish the things you start, I wonder whether it might not be just as important to start things you have no idea how, or even if, you are ever going to finish.
That one entry? Having A Poo With… Charlie Brooker. Here it is:
Have you ever noticed how tawdry and awful doing a shit is? No, really. It is.
You sit there with your trousers around your rotten ankles, waiting for death, and straining so hard you look like Popeye wanking himself into a stupor, as he lies alone in bed imagining Olive Oyl being savagely bummed by Bluto. Who’s dressed as a clown.
Not only do you grunt and squeal like a piglet drowning in a bathtub full of razorblades and gin, but you’re actually squeezing actual human turds through your foetid ring-piece. You disgusting cock. Get some fucking dignity.
You’d almost feel sorry for yourself if you weren’t as despicable as the rest of the human sodding race. We should all have our heads replaced with bums, so that instead of going around having opinions, we could just spoot noxious clouds of toxic guff in each others’ bum-faces. Like cocks.
As if that weren’t bad enough, you’re then expected to wipe your own arse like some sort of idiot slave with nothing better to do than to smear actual shit around a piece of semi-absorbent paper. The shame of this makes you leak hot twat-tears into the uncaring toilet bowl.
The only thing that makes the process half bearable is the knowledge that the whole degrading process is at least confirmation that you’re still alive, and taking up precious space on this rubbish planet. For now.
She gets it.
[Hat tip: Splitsider]
I have been dreadful at letting people know what I’ve been up to recently, so here’s something of an update:
1) Dick & Dom’s Funny Business: Many of you will have seen me being Gary the Useless Lion last week (for those who missed it, the iPlayer link is here). I’m recording another episode this week, so there will be more Gary on your screens in the very near future…
2) The News Quiz: This week, I’m writing additional material for The News Quiz. It will be on at 6:30, Friday, BBC Radio 4. It would be delightful if you could listen…
3) Short Story: The table of contents has been announced for the anthology which will contain my first short story to be published in an actual book. Those of you who are aware of my erudite wit, and waspish, allusive prose style will be unsurprised to learn that the book is called: The Zombie Feed Vol. 1 and will be published later this year…
I shall blog about all of these things when I have more strength / booze. Nanight.
Gambling’s for losers.
Not the sort of gambling you do with a few friends, a couple of bottles of whisky and a deck of cards, that’s good gambling. Of course it is. But loser-gambling. That shit’s for losers.
The kind of gambling that involves dressing in a velveteen track suit and hauling your enormous arse onto a tiny stool to pump your hopes and dreams into a machine that may as well just be cackling at you, whilst dispensing actual turds into your grateful cup. The kind of gambling that means it’s impossible to buy a paper on a Saturday because of all the broken lives queueing in the newsagents, hoping for a win this week to wash away all of their bad decisions, all of the things that haven’t turned out the way they want them to, all of the failed relationships. That’s loser-gambling.
When the odds are 14-million to one against you winning? That’s loser-gambling.
It’s the kind of gambling you keep doing because you’re not losing a little. You’re almost-winning a lot. It’s the reason you get money for getting five numbers right instead of six, that the slots line up so tantalisingly close to three cherries. You didn’t just lose, you almost won. You were so close. You almost won. You’re not losing, you’re almost winning! You should try again…
And back they go, time after time: never learning anything, never stopping to think about how much time and money they are investing in something that has not happened, and that probably never will. Losers.
I don’t play the Lottery. That’s why I felt so smug when I won.
It wasn’t a huge amount, and it was to be paid in kind – I was awarded £55 for script reading services from ScreenSouth – but it was enough. I’d got some Lottery money (or its notional equivalent) without even buying a ticket. Technically, I’m a good cause. And a winner.
If I’m honest, I’ve had a few setbacks in the last year. I haven’t blogged about them because the relentlessly upbeat nature of writing blogs tends to single out anyone not gladly taking the punches and bouncing back up again as a freak, loser, and weirdo who doesn’t understand how lucky they are.
Writers’ blogs are, at least in part, an advert for how easy and fun they are to work with. They are filled with tales of the latest commission, how grinding down and doing the work and ignoring the bad stuff will get you through. It’s inspiring and helpful and good advice. However, it doesn’t make it the easiest forum to admit your failures in.
Since last May, a number of projects I have been commissioned to write has been pulled before they were finished. These range from web series to corporate writing to even some promotional work that involved dressing as a gangster in various Travelodges around the country. Month after month, project after project has fallen through at the last minute, or when work was well underway.
Add to this the pitches I didn’t get, the ideas I got asked to submit that just weren’t what people were looking for, the auditions I didn’t do too well in…
When some regular writing I was doing was abruptly cancelled at the end of June, I really felt as if it were probably time to give up. I’ve got two young children, who absurdly insist on having food every single day. I wondered about how selfish I was being in pursuing a career that was so unpredictable, and so dependent on the whims of others. I wondered how often and how massively I would have to fail before I took the hint.
I sullenly pondered jobs sites online, and railed against a world where getting a few things on telly doesn’t automatically make you ‘a writer’. Or, at least, doesn’t keep you there for very long. I spent a couple of days just gnawing at the bits of my face I could reach with my bottom teeth and snarling at people who came near.
And then I won the Lottery. At least, it felt like a win.
Over the next couple of weeks, buoyed by the knowledge that someone, somewhere still thought my stuff was good enough to, at least, read, I took a deep breath and got on with what had to be done. I hustled.
I phoned production companies, sent shameless emails, pressed scripts upon people, and generally made a nuisance of myself. And it worked. And no matter how maudlin I was, how self-pitying I was, and how close to despair, all it took was a few good meetings to make it feel like the most wonderful job in the world again.
I got a couple of new commissions, was cast in some new things, had some good reviews and coverage and did a terrible corporate gig. Things were looking up. That little win was all it took to get me going again.
And that’s when I had a revelation. All of that time when things were falling through: I wasn’t failing, I was almost succeeding!
Not like those stupid loser-gamblers.
Ha. Losers. I pity them. I really do…
The new episode of ITG is out. A very silly and quite horrible episode this month.
Starring: Ruth Bratt, Sally Chattaway, John Hopkins, Emma Powell, Lizzie Roper, Darren Strange, Nathaniel Tapley
Sound design & production: Raoul Brand
Written & directed: Nathaniel Tapley