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!)
Let’s get this out in the open from the start, rejection sucks. It sucks big.
Unfortunately, if you want to write, be it for publication or screen, you had best get used to it because like it or not, it’s coming your way.
The only comfort you’ll have to draw on is that you’ll be in good company. I’m not just talking about J.K Rowling who was famously rejected by numerous agents and publishers before someone finally noticed the pot of gold under her arm, I’m talking about all of us. For with very few exceptions, every single author, screenwriter and journalist has to deal with the dreaded R word on a regular basis. I know I do. In fact my current hit rate is one script in three actually getting anywhere near being filmed.
To be fair, I am happy to acknowledge that to most writers a 33.3% success rate will actually look half decent but to me, whilst I’m obviously delighted with the one that gets through, I’m just as pissed off about the two that don’t. For each one represents a very personal failure.
You see I’m a lazy screenwriter and by that I mean that generally speaking, I’ll only write a script when I’m being paid. Therefore, if I write one on spec, it means that I think it’s something special and so if it subsequently gets rejected, it’s personal. Very personal. However, what makes it even tougher to handle is that often, the rebuff will come after I’ve already taken a few steps along the development path and the anticipation of a dream actually coming true has begun to take hold.
To give you an example; a few years ago I wrote a script called Boots on the Ground which examines the thorny issue of PTSD amongst British military veterans. For obvious reasons, this is a subject that has special significance to me and so once we were happy with it, we went out and pushed it as hard as we could.
Eventually, it landed on the desk of the head script reader at a studio who took it to his boss claiming it to be the best script he’d read all year. After reading it for himself, the studio head rang me to give me his word that he would put up most of the money to get it made and then introduced me to a very high-profile British director who was all over it like a rash. We even had BAFTA making some very positive noises about putting money in.
Then, as soon as it began and for reasons which I’ve never quite been able to fully fathom, it all went cold. And now, like Wings of a Sparrow and numerous other scripts I’ve written, it sits languishing on my hard drive until we stumble across the right person to put it in front of next.
Gutted? No, I was devastated, and continue to be so. Not just because it’s possibly the best thing I’ve ever written but because it talks about something that this country HAS to talk about.
But as I say, rejection is a part of the writers job so the question is, how do you get used to it?
The answer is that you don’t. And nor should you because if you want to write for a living, rejection HAS to hurt. And for one very specific reason.
A mate of mine, Brad Burton, is a motivational speaker and one of his ‘braddisms’ is that if you have a plan B, don’t get upset when others don’t believe in your plan A. In other words, if you prepare for rejection, it means that somewhere in the back of your head, you’re expecting it. And if you’re expecting it, how can you possibly put everything you have into your script?
The answer is that you can’t. But what you can do is to take the gut wrenching pain of being knocked back and pour it into your next script or book. Keep doing that and eventually that pain will be replaced by the ecstasy of success. And it will. Because if you want to call yourself a proper writer, you have to have absolute and total belief that it will.
Because if you don’t, if you’re not totally committed to yourself and your work, what the hell are you wasting your time for?
Speaking of being committed, my latest thriller, Three Greens, is moving swiftly toward production with casting of the major roles currently underway. In addition, I am delighted to announce that another project has now been given the green light and with finance in place, is also heading toward casting.
For reasons which will soon become obvious, I can’t say much about this new movie at the moment other than I can guarantee that when it’s announced, it’s going to cause quite a stir in certain circles.
When I first started out on what is laughingly called my writing career, I imagined that at some point, I would end up sitting somewhere warm doing pretty much sod all whilst my bank account was being drip fed a steady stream of royalty payments.
This money would then be spent fuelling my passions for motorcycles, stock car racing and Adidas Gazelles with the remainder being wasted on expensive holidays and flash restaurants. Sadly, it has not turned out like that.
Instead, like most writers battling against the combined curses of mid-list anonymity and the explosion of electronic publishing, I find myself working long hours developing new projects whilst waiting for decisions from people who are either barely qualified to make them or are simply too terrified to. These days, saying ‘no’ is both easier and safer than saying ‘yes’ or even ‘maybe’.
Given that I am keen to eat once in a while (well, this belly doesn’t maintain itself!) what this means in real terms is that since time is one of only two tools I have for the generation of income (the other being what could jokingly be called ‘talent’) it has become an extremely valuable commodity. One which once consumed, is irreplaceable.
I mention this not in an effort to elicit any kind of sympathy but for a very specific reason. For I recently read an amazing article by a best-selling American writer called Leslie Banks in which she talked about the demands placed on a writer’s time and in particular, the value placed on that time by other people. And what she says is correct.
You see, like most writers I receive a steady stream of unsolicited mails from people asking for either help or advice and in the main I’ve always welcomed these and been happy to help if I can. After all, we all started somewhere right?
Recently however, increasing numbers of these mails have gone beyond simple questions about the basics of writing or publishing into requests to critique whole manuscripts, help find an agent and/or publisher or even come on board to help develop a project from scratch. This would be fine were there ever the offer of any money to carry out this work but this is rarely, if ever the case. Remember that, because I will return to it in a moment.
I’d also ask you to consider another point raised by the fabulous Ms Banks. For like her I rarely read anything else whilst I’m writing because I have learned from experience that if I do, I tend to adopt that authors style in my own work. But equally, whatever I’m reading sinks into my brain and on one occasion, something actually fell out of my subconscious and made it onto a page I’d written. Thankfully, I caught it whilst editing but supposing I hadn’t noticed it and it had made it into print only to be picked up by some eagle eyed reader who went on to point it out to the offended author. Can you imagine?
Indeed, with more and more people paranoid about the theft of ideas, it’s only a matter of time before a writer is dragged into court and accused of ripping off a plot line.
Now, put all this together and you might start to understand why more and more writers are not simply reluctant to respond to requests for help but are becoming increasingly angry about them. Because when that mail drops in my inbox what it’s actually asking is “Dear Mr Brimson, can I take advantage of your 20 odd years worth of experience and a shed load of your time to offer you the opportunity to risk getting sued to shit and back? Oh, and can you do it all for free?”
Not exactly the most attractive proposition and in all honesty, it’s actually quite insulting. After all, would you go to any other experienced professional and ask for their time free of charge? What do you think a lawyer would say to that? Or a plumber? What would you say if I came to you at your place of work and asked for something on a non-existent account? I rest my case.
So the bottom line is this; if you want to be a writer, then write. And if you want to be a published author or a credited screenwriter, then as you write, learn. Learn about the delights of plotting, the fineries of character arcs, the stress of editing, the nightmare of pitching, the complexities of contracts, the (occasional) thrill of PR, the gut-wrenching pain of rejection and the never-ending irritation of waiting.
But if you want to circumnavigate any of that and take advantage of someone else’s experience, then be prepared to put your hand in your pocket. It might cost you in the short-term but it will almost certainly save you an awful lot of both angst and time in the long terms.
And as Leslie Banks says only too well, time is money. My money.
I am a Falklands Veteran. Yes, that’s right, 36 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.
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?
As anyone who knows me will know, I rarely describe myself as either a screenwriter or an author. Not out of any kind of false modesty, but because I’ve never felt that I’ve earned that right.
Yes, I know I’ve written a few books and a number of movies but I’ve always considered the ’S’ and ‘A’ words to be far too grandiose for the likes of someone like me who basically got lucky. And let’s face it, given the lack of acknowledgment or recognition from either industry over the years, I have a feeling I’m not alone in that thinking although that’s another debate.
However, the other day I had an experience which has actually made me rethink things and consider the fact that I haven’t actually done that bad. It happened, ironically, in a pub where I was having a late afternoon drink with the actor Leo Gregory who starred in both Green Street and Top Dog.
As we were chatting, the door burst open and in came a group of Man City fans on their way to their FA Cup tie at West Ham. Within seconds, they’d recognised Leo and as the cries of ‘fuck me, it’s Bovver’ went up they came across and surrounded us. As gracious as ever, Leo took the time to shake hands and pose for selfies and fairly soon, the pub settled back into normality.
Now this is a fairly routine occurrence when you’re with Leo and god only knows what it must be like to have the shadow of Bovver follow you around all the time as it surely must. But as I reflected on it later, it struck me that whilst that’s my fault for creating that role, I have every right to feel pretty pleased with myself.
After all, Green Street was released in 2005 and whilst huge credit must go to Leo for what he did with him, to have created a character that people still recognise in the street 12 years later is an achievement to be proud of.
And d’you know what, I bloody am.
Talking of movies, thanks for all the messages about my next project, Three Greens. As is the way with these things, there’s not much I can say at the moment but I’ll release more details as soon as I can.
I’ve received a number of mails recently from people who are keen to write books and need advice on how to go about it.
Invariably, these mails ask about finding an agent and/or a publisher as well as any one of twenty questions relating to the actual process of getting a book from brain to bookshelf. However, whilst I’m always keen to encourage new writers, it’s fair to say that most of the people who contact me need (and receive) a reality check.
The truth is that when you’re starting out on the rocky road of penmanship, you don’t need an agent and unless you are incredibly famous or staggeringly lucky, the chances of you securing a publishing deal are pretty much zero. What you do need however, are words on pages. Lots of them.
So if you want to write a book, the best way to start is to simply sit down and get writing. And once you have a few thousand words on your hard drive, you’ll soon realise any number of things. Not least if you have the imagination and drive to actually see it through. Most don’t, but if you actually reach the point where you can say ‘yes’ to both of those questions, that’s when you need to start thinking about the next stage in the process.
Until then, it’s all about actually doing the graft. And you do know it’s hard graft right?
A lot of people have been contacting me recently to ask if my football comedy novel, Wings of a Sparrow is ever going to make the leap from book to screen. My response is always the same, I’m working on it. However, the truth is that whilst I continue to push it as much as I can, the next step isn’t really up to me. I wish it were.
In an ideal world, I would write a script, show it to someone and they would hand me a few million pounds to get it made. Better still, they’d buy it off me and I could sit back while they did all the hard work. However, it doesn’t work like that, not for me anyway. Instead, like hundreds if not thousands of other scripts, Wings is having to go through what is called ‘the pitching process’ and since I suspect that many of you don’t understand how that works, I thought I’d put together a layman’s guide and tell you where my baby is currently sitting.
1. You write a script. – Done. Both film and TV versions have been written together with various outlines ranging from two sentences to 15 pages. Plus there’s the best-selling novel of course.
2. You send it all to your agent who identifies those production companies who might be interested and sends it out to them. – Done.
3. You wait. And wait. And wait. In the meantime, you network the shit out of it and maybe attach potential cast members or even a director. If you can add a well known name, this is a huge plus. – Doing.
4. If you’re lucky, one or two (from up to ten or even more of the companies it will have been sent to) will actually come back to you and say that whilst they like it, it’s not for them. This is normal as many production companies will only be looking for certain types of films although in many cases, some of the reasoning for the rejection is questionable (but never open for discussion). ’Football films don’t ever work’ being the most irritating response we’ve had to Wings. – Done.
5. You wait some more, and possibly follow up with those who haven’t responded. You also send it out to more potential producers and maybe a director or two. Then you wait, again. – Done/doing.
6. You give up pitching it and go onto the next project in the hope that one day, someone will possibly stumble across it and like it enough to show interest. – Pretty much done.
And unless someone actually comes in with an offer to either option or make it, which can be at any point in the process or the future, that’s the brutal and frustrating reality of how it works for most of us. It’s even harder for those writers who have never had anything produced because you have no track record to back you up. However, we all know that and as I’ve said many times, if you don’t like it, don’t do it.
Do I think that Wings would make an awesome and very funny low-budget movie? Of course! Do I think it would work on TV as either a two part comedy drama or even a sit-com? Too right! But what I think doesn’t matter. It’s all down to what a person sitting behind a desk at a production company or studio thinks and more importantly, what they are looking for at that moment in time.