Tuesday, July 01, 2008


I'm knackered but, to be honest, that's my own fault, after all only mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun. Which makes me either a mad dog or an Englishman. Briefly: I ran out of cash, I misunderstood the location of the nearest cash machine. I walked 4 miles in the heat of the day. I got a sunburnt bonce (actually not too serious). In fact I enjoyed the walk but it was a little exhausting. I had plenty of liquids with me. I did get the cash and didn't miss anything because there was rather a long break in the proceedings or, at least, the proceedings I was interested in.

Here's how my day went: Woke at 6:30am, made myself beautiful, walked to the event location following signs and looking like I knew what I was doing. Waited with other silly people who were there first thing (8:00am). Signed in, got a bag of heavy magazines. Very annoying. Put unnecessary clutter into backpack. With new friends went to breakfast.

Met two of the people who I'd decided I wanted to meet. Didn't talk business with the one I should have talked business with. It didn't feel "the right time". Must find him again tomorrow.

Ate large breakfast (knowing I was going to need it) and at 9:30am wandered with new friends to the front row of main theatre for opening address from Barbara Machin. Was suitably impressed. She said: write interesting and new stuff. And don't worry, new writers don't have to write for long running TV series (meaning the likes of East Enders and Casualty) to get "in" any more. I was grateful.

The opening had been delayed to get in late registrants, so the opening speech ran almost straight into the next thing "How to make a living as a writer". I'm afraid I wasn't very impressed, but then it's not something I want. I hadn't actually been planning to even watch it because I wasn't interested.

Piers and Jason who were sitting next to me did a runner after 10 minutes.

Honestly I have nothing against good life coaches, and certainly nothing against people who've succeeded in giving up the day job and now make a living through writing of various sorts. As I've mentioned, I like my day job, people pay me to do something I consider relaxation and I have time to write in the evening without distraction. I'm lucky.

But I seriously disagree with suggesting that anyone and everyone who wants to be a writer should give up the day job they don't enjoy and start a new and untested business idea that's supposed to be related to writing. It will not work for most of them. And many have responsibilities that make it a very bad idea indeed. (Like me, for example, even if I didn't like my job.)

The three example people they had were creditable gentlemen who clearly worked very hard at what they do, and I admire them for that ... but they work hard at what they do and have managed to be successful. Regardless of them, how many have failed? I felt the session was irresponsible and basically just an advertisement for the life coach concerned. Not impressed.

That's my opinion, and the opinion of many of the people I spoke to.

Anyway, back to the good stuff.

"Protect Your Writing" this was a talk given by a media lawyer, Guy Sheppard, and covered the various legal things that are dealt with in contracts. It was good stuff, if very dry, filled with jargon which he explained clearly. He gave the analogy of copyright (which is a collection of rights) being like a townhouse where you can, for example, let-out a floor and put any restrictions on it you like: "You can have exclusive use of the basement for the next 6 months".

Being a proper suit (sorry Guy) we had print-outs of his Powerpoint presentation as take-aways.

Guy was also one of the people I wanted to talk to, but I got the chance to ask my question in the Q&A at the end. Unfortunately he wasn't sure what I meant. Oh well, more of that later.

Next would have been lunch but I had no money. This is when I went on the long march.

Arriving back having eaten, drunk, and burnt, I rested for 40 minutes or so until the best session of the day for me:

"How to be Good" this was presented by the comedy duo Krait and Leys: Rob Krait an agent with AP Watts, and Kate Leys, a script editor. They were amusing, thorough and had real advice that was good to take away. The best tidbit for me was based on William Goldberg's "Nobody knows nothing" principle which is this: Nobody believes they know anything, so they are scared, all of them, every exec, everyone involved in monetary decisions, they are scared. So they behave like scared people in meetings: they say silly things; they do silly things; they prevaricate etc etc. So it's up to you, as the writer, to understand this and help to calm them down, help them have faith in what they are doing. Say things like: "What do we need to achieve in this meeting?" or "What do you need from me today?" in order to help them focus.

They said lots of other really good stuff, but hey, I paid for this. Kate with some offhand comment actually answered the question I'd tried to ask Guy, and I had a quick chat with her afterwards. I came away a very happy bunny because it meant I could actually write an adaptation of a book that I've been longing to do. (It's not an out-of-copyright thing, the author is still alive.)

This session was closely followed by "The Right Treatment" by Jenna Milly who's a script editor in the States. I've always had a serious problem with treatments which is why I wanted to do this one. And it really helped, in some ways. Apparently the format of a treatment is more clearly defined in the States than here, she went over the structure required and what it should consist of which was very useful. However tying that in with the excellent previous session, in the UK when someone asks for a "treatment" or an "outline" always ask what they're actually expecting to see, otherwise you could get it seriously wrong.

Finally she gave us a practical test which was to watch the first 5 minutes of Jaws and then write the opening of the treatment for that sequence. I nailed it in about 50 words (though they might not have been a good 50 words) my neighbour was into his third paragraph. There was no checking. She also gave us homework: find two films that had a similar tone to the our Work-In-Progress, watch one of them and then do the same trick with that. And for extra credit, write the treatment for the whole film.

And that's about it for me. I didn't go to see Mike Leigh doing a talk, because I was completely shattered. I had a long and pleasant chat with another of the "Pitch in Time" finalists, John Robertson from Edinburgh.

Apparently the Pitch in Time coaching that all the finalists received today was pretty rugged, and their efforts were torn apart. This follows what happened last year but, unlike last year, they at least have a day to pull their pitch back together before the final tomorrow.

And good luck to them all.

What's on the turntable? "Oxygene (Part II)" by Jean-Michel Jarre from "Oxygene"


Rachael Howard said...

Thanks for that. Really informative. Just got the niggling suspicion you posted it to make the rest of us suffer, wishing we were there.

Yep? Come on. Confession time.

Adaddinsane said...

Not at all, my dear, the fewer attendees there are the more time I get to spend with IMPORTANT PEOPLE.