In my last blog (Why the film world doesn’t owe you a living) I made the point that as a 59-year-old male screenwriter, the chances of you ‘breaking through’ into the big leagues of the movie world are almost certainly hindered by the fact that you are usually old enough to be the father of the person holding your future in their hands.
The reaction to this was, as expected, mixed. Some people claimed it was shameful of me to compare age to race or gender as a barrier with others thanking me for saying something that they’d been thinking for years.
Now in response to the former, I have no idea what it’s like to be anything other than a white heterosexual male and given that I’m currently 59 and a writer who has enjoyed a degree of success both in print and on screen, I think I’m fairly well placed to write about the impact being a 59-year-old white heterosexual male can have on a career as a writer. And since this is my blog… well, I’m sure you know where I’m going with that so please, fill in the blanks yourself.
As for those who agreed with me, which was to be fair, the majority, I’m obviously grateful for all of your comments and if in some small way I’ve inspired you to keep going, then I’m humbled.
Interestingly, the blog generated some extremely positive reaction in the US (someone even linked me with Madonna which is a bit random!) and actually led to a few interviews on the subject one of which was with the website ‘Screenwriting Staffing‘ which has just gone live.
Have a read and please, let me know what you think.
I’m not usually one for taking part in online debates about writing, mostly because I’m not that clever and have an adversity to making myself look stupid.
There is of course, also the risk that people will discover that I’ve been winging it all this time which wouldn’t do my agents heart rate any good.
However, I recently became involved in a fascinating discussion with a group of writers on the use of gratuitous violence in both books and film. Or to be more specific, the duty of the writer in the way they portray it.
I won’t go too deeply into the way it unfolded other than to say it veered from one extreme to the other and back again at least more than once. But whilst it was extremely interesting to learn how others perceive their creative responsibilities, little or nothing was said which made me change the way I think about mine. And mine, as I see them, are relatively simple. Indeed, they can be encapsulated in one single sentence. For when it comes to anything fictional, my job is to tell a decent story as honesty and realistically as I can.
This is underpinned by something I have said many times and that is the fact that the most important person in the writing process is the person at the end of the chain be that the reader or the viewer. And when you write the kind of things I do for the kind of people I primarily write them for (lads), then my sole duty is to give them something which they can not only recognise but hopefully, put themselves into the centre of without any difficulty.
In the case of a subject like hooliganism, that means street fighting and anyone who has ever been involved in a row at football knows that it isn’t Queensbury Rules Boxing or Tae Kwon Do, it’s short periods of scruffy, disjointed mayhem. It’s still violence, but it’s real violence as opposed to the stylised fighting we see in too many films and computer games and whilst for some it can be little short of a terrifying experience, for others it can border on hilarity.
That’s how I have to write it because that’s how it is. Anything else would be a betrayal and I’d lose my readers (and viewers) in a heartbeat.
Quite rightly too.
The next few weeks will hopefully see a couple of announcements on the movie front. The first will almost certainly be related to my thriller, Three Greens which has now attracted funding from one of the major distributors and the second will be details of the sale of my latest co-written project, Pizza & Miracles.
The latter script was only finished last week but has actually been a really interesting project to work on not least because it is as far from my usual genre as it is possible to get given that the subject matter centres around the subject of spiritualism and the power of the universe. But in many ways, that challenge is what made it the most fun. More of that as and when!
I can also tell you that work is progressing nicely on the third book in the The Crew/Top Dog trilogy as well as on Billy’s Log 2.
My intention at the moment is to self-publish both books but it may well be that someone comes along who will take them along the more traditional publishing route.
On which note, if you didn’t know, I’ve been publishing extracts of the latter online at Billys Blog. Feel free to take a look by clicking here!
I recently made the comment that the difference between being an author and being a screenwriter is the same as the difference between an immaculate conception and an egg donation.
This seemed to cause some confusion in certain circles although as someone who writes both novels and scripts, it seems to me to be a totally accurate statement. Therefore, what follows is a slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to the essential difference between the creative processes involved in what are after all, two very different writing disciplines.
As an author, when you write a novel, it is your baby. You sit, plot, write, edit, rewrite, edit again and then when you’re happy, you send it off to one or two trusted mates for their comments.
Dependent on what they say, you will either rewrite or polish your manuscript and then take the plunge into the real world and send it off to either your agent or your publisher. This is the terrifying time for all authors as these will be the first people within the industry to see, and judge, your latest efforts.
In response to their comments, you’ll either do more polishing or more rewriting after which it’ll go off to a proper editor who will fix your appalling grammar. Only then will it head off in the direction of the actual production process and eventually, print (or internet).
Yet from concept to shelf or kindle, the writer retains pretty much total creative control and as such, the finished article remains in essence, all your own work. Indeed, once it’s published the whole thing becomes about you and you alone. Have you ever seen a book publicised as ‘edited by….’? Of course not.
This is what I mean by immaculate conception. You’ve created something from nothing and now face the consequences. Be it praise or grief.
A screenplay is a totally different animal because in terms of the creative process, you as the writer have very little power over what finally ends up on-screen. Yes, you might well come up with the initial concept and you will certainly put the initial layer of flesh on the bones but generally speaking, your place is and always will be on the bottom rung of a very long development ladder. Indeed, a script will go through so many rewrites it might as well be written in pencil and it’s certainly safe to say that by the time it gets to the point when a director calls ‘action’, the shooting script will be very different from your initial draft
There are of course, very specific reasons for this be they creative improvements the director has made or something as mundane as location, cast or budget. Yet however much it might irritate you as the writer, everything is underpinned by one very simple fact and that is that everyone involved in the process wants to get the best thing that they possibly can onto the screen.
And that is the key difference. For unlike a novel, a script is a true collaboration and your pages are usually the starting point. Or to use my original statement, the egg.
You see, simple.
There are of course, occasions when the two elements meet and an author ends up adapting their own novel for the screen as I did with Top Dog. Whilst an interesting experience, it was quite possibly the single most challenging thing I’ve done as a writer and whilst I learned a lot, it’s not something I would advise an author to do unless they have either a very thick skin, a good therapist or access to a shotgun.
This isn’t something I would normally do, but with three projects currently in development and taking the bulk of my time, I have a number of additional scripts in work so thought I would offer a few out via my blog. All are at the second draft stage so if any are of interest to anyone in the industry, please drop me an email via firstname.lastname@example.org
Boots on the Ground:Drama (feature or TV): A soldier loses his legs after an ambush in Afghanistan and returns home to the brutal realisation that his real war has only just begun.
Wings of a Sparrow: Comedy (feature or TV): A fanatical football fan inherits a multi-million pound fortune and thinks that all of his dreams have come true. However, his dreams soon turn to nightmares when he learns that the money comes with some very unsavoury strings attached!
First Parallel: Supernatural Drama (returnable TV): A shy, unassuming woman girl discovers that she is the only hope for mankind in a supernatural war being fought against an army of evil led by the malevolent spirit of her dead mother.
As someone who has pulled it off more than once, I’m often asked how to go about selling a script.
Whilst an obvious question, it is actually the wrong question. For the truth is that anyone can sell a script just as anyone can buy one. So what people should be asking is what are the chances of selling a script into the industry. Be it to a producer, a studio or even to an agent.
The answer, for a first time writer is slim, very slim. In fact the odds are stacked firmly against you. Not because the film industry is some kind of closed shop -although in many respects it is exactly that- but because of simple mathematics.
You may well have written an awesome script, maybe even a potential Oscar winner, but the second you send it out into the world you’re entering a competition for attention and that competition is fierce. Not merely in terms of quality, but because of pure numbers.
The Writers Guild of America register anywhere between 30 and 50 thousand scripts every year. A number that can probably be doubled if you factor in screenplays written by writers who don’t register their work but still punt it out. That’s EVERY year, and the average screenplay floats around for at least 5 years, usually longer. So even using conservative figures, that’s 250,000 spec scripts floating around waiting to be picked up at any one time.
Since the vast majority of movies which actually get made are written by writers with some kind of track record, as a first time writer the chances of anyone even reading your script let alone buying it are reduced even further. Indeed it is estimated that even in a good year, only 50 spec scripts are actually sold into the business.
In real terms, that’s 1 per 5000 or 5000 to one. Or, to put it in more realistic terms, you’re twice as likely to die by falling in the shower as you are of someone buying your script.
Simple as that.
(It’s also important to remember that selling a script, whilst a great achievement in itself, does not guarantee that it will ever get anywhere near actually being filmed. And before anyone asks, it’s also worth noting that many spec scripts are sold for nominal fees, sometimes as low as £1!)
I am a Falklands Veteran. Yes, that’s right, 37 years ago I was one of those brave souls who headed south to drive the invading Argentinean scum from our land.
However, I have a confession to make. You see I wasn’t one of the amazing Para’s who yomped across the Islands carrying a weight akin to a medium sized child on their backs, nor was I one of the sailors who spent their war bobbing up and down on waves which, from the films I’ve seen, gave them a ride like a non-stop trip on the Big One at Blackpool.
No, my war was easy. More importantly, it was fun.
You see as a member of her majesties Royal Air Force, my war was spent on the relative luxury of Wideawake Airfild on Ascension Island which, for those that don’t know, is a pile of volcanic rock in the middle of the Atlantic. Being close to the Equator, it’s also quite warm. Well, very warm.
Now I won’t go into what my actual job was (I’d have to hunt you all down and kill you) but after a very exciting flight down, most of which was spent in the cockpit of a VC10 talking UFO’s with the crew –well at least those who were awake- it involved a lot of sitting around and waiting. Now this sounds fun and to be honest, as someone who does pretty much that for a living now, it generally is. But when you’re at war and both chaos and uncertainty are all around you, you do kind of get caught up in things and so in an effort to do my bit, I ended up working with the American Fire Crews who, it’s fair to say, pretty much ran the Island. As a result, I would be tasked with all kinds of odd things from dragging extremely stubborn donkeys from the runway with a Landrover through to sorting through the endless pallets of gifts which had been sent down to the Task Force from the fabulous people back home. Gifts which included everything from beer and fags to hard core porn!
And when I wasn’t doing that, I spent my time doing everything from swimming with what I later learned to be sea-water Piranhas (yes, really) and trying to break into the NASA station in the middle of the Island through to being spied on by the SAS. And that really is a tale!
I was also prone to playing practical jokes on people. Jokes which included placing a huge land crab in my bosses sleeping bag which he only found when he climbed into it after a 24 hour shift and scaring the shit out of the intelligence officers by hiding in their porta-loo in the middle of the night and screaming ‘BOO!’ when they pulled the door open. Trust me, the impact that can have when you’ve been told to expect an Argentinean Special Forces attack is quite dramatic!
Of course, things changed dramatically when rumours of the Vulcan raids began to break -and I cannot even begin to describe what it was like to be involved with those- and once our fabulous soldiers had actually landed and the fight to reclaim the Islands began, even those of us thousands of miles away felt like we really were at war. Which of course, we were.
And then the losses began, and when the injured started to drift back I started to actually understand the realities of war for those who had been on the front line. That really was an experience I will never forget nor is it one I would ever want to repeat. Humbling doesn’t come close.
Victories were of course, celebrated in time-honoured style but oddly, the actual surrender came as something of an anti-climax. But whilst I remember exactly where I was when I heard it, nothing much changed for me, at least not initially. My job, such as it was, continued whilst supplies still had to sorted, planes still took off and landed and donkeys still had to moved!
When troops started making their way back it actually became even busier and in fact one of my most emotional periods of the entire war came when a Hercules full of Harrier lads landed en route back home. Amongst them were lads I knew personally having worked with them on 4 Squadron in Germany only months previous.
Then out of the blue came the news that I was to go home. In fact, I was the first RAF serviceman on Ascension Island to be told that their job had been stood down which is something I’m quite proud of. Within days, I was geared up to head back to the UK, thankfully, on the very plane that the new (and first) Station Warrant Officer arrived on and those of you with experience of the RAF will know what that means!
My arrival back at RAF Brize Norton was unintentionally hilarious as I flew back with a group of those special men from Hereford who had no intention of hanging around for the elaborate ceremony that had been organised to welcome back the other soldiers on the plane (Cue potentially very violent stand-off!). This being followed by a three-hour wait for a car to take me back to Abingdon and a row with the orderly Sergeant who refused to take my rifle off me. Hence my having to sleep with it in my bed.
And that was that. Not for me the civic receptions nor the big parades but I cherish my South Atlantic campaign medal and am as proud of that as I am of anything I have ever done before or since.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. War may be hell for some but for many it’s also where they feel more alive than you can possibly imagine. Even those of us who played only a minor part.
To all those who lost loved ones or who have endured untold suffering since 1982, please do not think for one second that I am trying to belittle what you have gone and are going though. Nothing could be further from the truth as I am, and continue to be, in awe of you all.
All of my books, including the comedy Wings of a Sparrow are available in ebook and paperback format from either Amazon or iTunes.
The audio version of Top Dog is also now available to download and joins the ebook, paperback and movie to make the clean sweep of all platforms! Not too shabby if I say so myself.
Work continues apace on a variety of movie projects including a brand new comedy about a group of very special old ladies. More on this as and when.
And yes, the third book in the The Crew/Top Dog trilogy is almost finished!
armed forces, hooligan, british film, top dog, green street, self publishing, manchester united, liverpool, sex, maggie thatcher, veteran, UKIP, tory Argentina
green street, falklands, top dog, martin kemp, leo gregory, author, writing, screenwriting, script, hooliganism, violence, football, soccer, war, Ukraine, Russia, Crimea, sex, porn, perversion
When people ask you what you do for a living and you say ‘I’m a screenwriter’ one of two things will happen.
Either they will look at you as if you’re some kind of head case or they will say something along the lines of ‘that must be awesome’.
Both of these things are true of course, at least occasionally, but the reality sits somewhere in the middle. Or to be more precise, closer to the former. For the norm for most of us who follow this path is a life spent in solitude, wallowing in self-doubt or waiting for either inspiration, feedback or decisions.
This obviously begs the question as to why we do it and the answer to that is simple. At least it is for me. In fact it can be encapsulated into one single word. It’s a word that comes rarely but it’s arrival is greeted with every kind of emotion from relief to pure joy. But equally, it provides justification for the hours, days and weeks spent toiling away on something you have the utmost faith and belief in.
That word is ‘yes’.
I’ve heard that word twice in recent months. Once for a movie called Three Greens which is currently in pre-production with a truly massive budget and the second time was for a project that we should be able to announce fairly soon but which I already know is going to be a cracking movie to work on.
As a consequence, features number four and five are on their way which makes me a happy writer at the moment. And it’s not often you’ll hear me say that.
First off, I must apologise for the title of this blog.
The truth is, as a simple writer I am but a tiny cog in the movie making machine and if I did genuinely know how these things happen, I’d have bottled it, patented it, franchised the shit out of it and be long gone by now.
What I do know however, is how mine happen although to be fair, my experience is hardly standard. My first, the now infamous Green Street, came about as a result of a conversation on an internet forum whilst my next one (that will be #4) is the product of an idea my co-writer first had decades ago but could never make work until he had the quite brilliant idea of asking me to help him.
This proves to me, and should do to you, that there is no actual ‘way’ for a movie to happen but there are instead, a myriad of ‘ways’. And for the average writer, most of those will be entirely out of your control and more often than not be almost entirely dependent on huge amounts of luck. Sad, but undoubtedly true.
That said, there are plenty of ways to heighten your chances of escaping the anonymity of the slush pile although in truth, none will ever guarantee success.
For a start, turning in a script which is both properly formatted and free of either spelling or grammatical errors should be a given (and if you don’t do that anyway, then you don’t deserve to have your script even read let alone produced) whilst having a decent title certainly helps. Attaching a star is also a great way to gain attention but all of this should be the territory of your agent or manager if you have one. On which note, if you don’t, then get one. They are effectively filters who keep crap away from script readers and so a pile of paper coming from an agent is going to have far more of a chance of being looked at and taken seriously than one that doesn’t.
If you’re not adverse to networking (and I am, I hate it) then get out there and sell yourself as often and as hard as you can because in the film industry, people buy people as much as they buy what they can actually do. If you can’t or won’t do that and aren’t getting anywhere via any other means, then entering any of the numerous screenwriting competitions may well increase your chances of getting your work in front of the right people.
And that’s what all about; placing your work in the hands of someone who will hopefully read your script because that’s when it all turns back around and becomes all about you. Or rather, what you’ve produced.
That brings me back to one fundamental element of your script and it’s the thing you have the most control over, the story. Because whilst a great story will sell a crap script, a crap story won’t sell a great script.
So nail your story from day one and if you do the work and get it right, it’ll increase your chances markedly.
On which note, for reasons which will become obvious in the fullness of time, details of my next project are being kept a closely guarded secret but rest assured, I will pass them on as soon as I’m allowed.
What I can tell you is that it’s going to be a cracker and is certain to shock a few people. Well, hopefully more than a few.
And that’s all you’re getting for now.
Oh, one final thing; for those waiting for the third book in the The Crew/Top Dog trilogy, it’s almost finished and if I’m honest, it’s shaping up to be the best of the three. Patience my pretties!!
Talk to any writer for long enough and they will inevitably tell you that their heads are pretty messed up.
Not in the sense that they/we have some kind of mental issue (well, not all of us), but in the sense that our brains are constantly filtering random thoughts and ideas. Be they for books, characters or even simple scenes.
This is especially true of those writers who tackle contemporary issues because if we have any intention of injecting reality into our work it is vital to actually get out there and experience a bit of it. In my case, as someone who tends to feature football in most of my work, watching games really is research (which is why my local and most fabulous Watford FC supporting tax officer always tells me to deduct it against my tax!). It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Sometimes of course, an idea will fly in and fly out, other times it’ll hang about for a bit and then be forgotten whilst a few will eventually find their way into a project. But there are others which, by virtue of the fact that they are just too good to ignore, simply wedge themselves into my consciousness like some kind of mental post-it note. And if an idea can survive my Alzheimer like memory, it generally means it is worth taking notice of.
I have a few of those hanging around and hopefully, most will see the light of day at some point in the near future. Indeed one in particular already has me buzzing even though I have two books to write before I can even think about tackling it. And much as I’d like to tell you what it is, I can’t. Or rather I won’t.
Because you see in my warped world, ideas are currency. They are after all, the very basis of my creative output and so I need to not only nurture, but protect them!
I mention this now because my new book, a comedy entitled Wings of a Sparrow, is the result of such a process because it stems from an idea I first had over six years ago. I actually pitched it to my publishers at the time and even though they turned it down, I knew it was a great idea which is why I kept tinkering with it. Now, thanks to the joys of self-publishing, it will very shortly see the light of day. Hopefully as soon as the first week in December.
Full details of what will be my fifteenth book (how did that happen??) can be found on its dedicated website but I have to say that I am genuinely excited about this one, more so in fact than I have been about a project for a long time. It just feels…. well, right, although ultimately of course, that will be for you lot to decide!
And now, having finished Wings, I am already onto the next one which is, as promised, the sequel to Top Dog, the third book in the Billy Evans trilogy.
The plot-line I’ve developed is quite possibly the best I’ve ever come up with and as I’ve been fleshing this out, I’ve been buzzing with ideas including some which will involve characters from the previous books. Indeed, I am almost certain that I’ll be writing this in a way which means it will be quite difficult to read it without having read the previous two. To me, and to others I’ve discussed it with, given the nature of the central character and the world he inhabits, that makes perfect sense but if you have any thoughts, please let me know.
Two things I am certain of are the title and the fact that it will be released as an eBook initially, all being well around late spring.
But in the meantime, I have the release of Wings of a Sparrow to deal with and that should hit the online stores in the first week of December. Test-reads have been universally positive and hopefully, given the subject matter (and the fact that there is no mention of hooliganism!) it should attract some decent press.
As ever… watch this space!!!
I know I seem to say this every month but thanks to everyone who continues to keep The Crew at number one on the free soccer book download charts of both Amazon and iTunes.
That’s into 15 straight months now which is some kind of achievement and something I am incredibly proud of. Top Dog also continues to sell really well (it’s currently at #2) so here’s hoping the new book does just as well.
As a professional writer, I’m often asked what I find most difficult about my job.
Aside from the obvious answer of ‘getting paid’ my usual response isn’t finding an idea, nor is it getting motivated, it’s remaining motivated. Indeed, when a project will inevitably take many months to put together, it takes a special kind of commitment (or madness) to keep the enthusiasm and motivation going long enough to be able to sit down every day and drive it along to completion.
However, it is important to remember that motivation isn’t within us, it’s something we have to provide for ourselves. And having been at it for over twenty year now, I have learned that key to doing that are two things: routine and reward.
WRITING ROUTINE There is no way to write, only ways. Therefore it is vital that you find what works for you and stick with it.
For some, that will mean an office, a quiet corner or even the sofa whilst for others, it will mean Starbucks or even the local beach. Some like to write in silence, others like noise, some in the morning, some late at night. Whatever it is, once you have established a routine, stepping into it will help your creative mindset and you’ll be away.
WRITING REWARD A simple love of writing or a desire to tell a specific story may well be all the reward you need but for others, like me, there have to be two specific and personal incentives. The first when you hit your daily word count can be something as simple as a glass of wine or a Mars bar and the second, when you hand over the finished work, can be something major such as a holiday or even a new motorbike.
Whatever they are, keep them fixed firmly in your mind (maybe even write them as your screensaver) and make sure that when you’ve earned them, you take them and you savour them.
Fairly soon, these, like your routine, will become part and parcel of your writing life and with any luck, the process of writing won’t ever be a chore, it’ll become relatively easy. Which is pretty much what’s happened to me although to be fair, I have been doing it a long time.
So I know what works for me, the question is, what works for you?