Friday, 31 October 2008

Pitch Update

As I walked over to Channel Four from Victoria Station, I kept pretending to be lost, stopping people for 'directions'.

'Excuse me, Miss, do you know Horseferry Road? I'm looking for the Channel Four building. You know, the big TV place, where John Snow and Skins and Davina McCall live? I have business there. I was specially requested to come, as a matter of fact. They have my name down at reception and everything...Oh, you know, the usual, just giving a pitch to a panel of Top TV Executives...'

But if random Londoners failed to look impressed by my having an appointment at Channel Four, the building itself did not disappoint. First, you can walk back and forwards out the front, making the 4 sculpture come together and break apart in your view, just like it does on the station teasers, or whatever they're called. Inside, the place is a mixture of the Death Star, a concrete bunker, and a Marriott hotel. I was shown down some narrow winding concrete steps to a circular chamber, where there were already about twenty people waiting, sipping wine and chatting in hushed tones. I had a couple glasses of red, just to oil and calibrate the pitching gyros.

At the appointed hour, the fifty or so of us were shown in to a screening room. Tom Sutton from Stellar Network introduced the panelists, Sarah Edwards and Madeleine Knight. He also thanked Alexandra Denye for doing most of the work, organising and setting up the event.

Then, without further ado, the pitching commenced.

My hands? Clammy.
My throat? Dry.
My mind? A blank.

Fortunately, the set-up was not as threatening as I'd feared. We pitchers pitched from our seats in the audience, standing if we wished. It was a bit like Question Time. As it went on, I relaxed and took notes.

There were several pitches I thought sounded very good. I should explain at this point that the pitches, with one exception, were all factual or entertainment, mine included. I'd read the mini-CVs of the panel, posted on the Pitch Up website. When I saw that they were all that way inclined, I decided to have a go, reasoning that factual programmes need scripts too. Why not?

So, bear that in mind as you read this summary of the feedback, though much of it applies to drama and comedy, I would think.

  1. Feel-good. It's the credit-crunch, don't you know. People are going to want cheering up. They're going to be huddled together in the snow, watching through shop windows, so give them something happy to keep them warm.
  2. Accessible. Don't make snotty, stuck up programmes. Entertainment is for the masses.
  3. Watchable. Visual medium and all that.
  4. Noisy. Ever seen a circus come to town? Like that. Clowns, not ninjas.
  5. Big. Commissioners are always asking, 'Where are the big ideas?'

The panelists said it should be very clear. Commissioners ask, 'What will I see?'

If you're pitching something that needs a big presenter or celebrity, you should already have the talent lined up. Be prepared to answer the question, 'Who have you got?' (I hear Russel Brand and Jonathan Ross are looking for a gig.)

What's your subject? What sets it apart from the rest?

Be able to sum it up in 2 sentences. If you can't, rethink it.

When my turn came, I'd calmed down enough to make a coherent pitch. I kept it short and provocative, and was rewarded with being asked just the questions I'd hoped they would ask. I did not win, nor was I a runner up. (Yet read on.)

When it was all done, there were the usual huddles of writers and independent producers, swapping cards and talking about each others' ideas. I met some interesting, creative people, and will be sending them friendly hellos over the next couple of days. The panelists were swamped with people wanting a word, so I just waved and thanked them, and made my way out.

So it was a pleasant surprise when I got home to find an email from Stellar Network, letting me know that one of the panelists had asked for my contact details - she'd actually expressed interest in the idea! No word yet, so I've stopped holding my breath.

Never mind. I count it as a partial success. My pitch was good enough for someone to want my contact details. Okay, so she may not actually get in touch but still...not too bad. It just goes to show, you need to get out there, because you never know when you're going to be in the right place at the right time.

Thanks to Stellar Network, and especially Alexandra, for another cool event.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Pitch Up

I'll get around to posting a full write up of my notes in a couple days. For now, I'll just say it was a great evening, listening to wild, wacky, touching, worthy, and frankly bizarre ideas for films and series. The feedback was positive and constructive; I was impressed by how fluently the executives can discuss ideas.

My own pitch seems to have gone down pretty well; we shall see if anything comes of it.

That's all for now. Off on hols for a couple of days. Taking a notebook, instead of a laptop. Nice to write with a pen sometimes.


Monday, 27 October 2008

Son of a Pitch

Here I go, up to London to Channel Four with a fistful of hot, sticky pitch.

What I remember from the various bits of pitching advice I've received:

1. Make a good impression. Be someone they would want to work with. The first aim of any communication is to leave your interlocutor wanting more of you.

2. Keep it short, and to the point. Let them ask questions afterwards; don't splurge it all out too soon. (This is good advice generally)

3. Get a response: laughter, tears, and provocative thoughts, all in the right places.

4. If it's television, make sure you know the slot and audience you're aiming for.

5. Umm

I forgot number 5. What was it again?

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Rough Treatment

With my second assignment not due until November 12th, and the rough draft for it written and resting, I've decided to concentrate on the new project for another week or so. In that time, I aim to have a treatment and a step outline done, and hopefully a rough draft. Keep the momentum going to the end, until I have a thing to work on.

To every script,
Draft, draft, draft,
There is a story
Draft, draft, draft,
And a three act structure,
Which emerges organically out of your characters' desires, and escalating conflict.

An act to set up,
An act to develop,
An act to resolve,
And a surprising ending.
An act, you will cut out
An act you'll redo, in light of your emerging theme.

To every script,
Draft, draft, draft,
There are visual motifs,
Draft, draft, draft,
And inventive set ups, which you tie in in clever ways
To subvert the audience's expectations.

A draft to explore
A draft to cohere
A draft to tear up
A draft to despair
A draft, to show all your mates
A draft to redo in light of feedback.

To every script,
Draft, draft, draft,
There is pathos,
Draft, draft, draft,
And humour which also serves to underline the emotional resonance.

A draft to put in,
A draft to take out
A draft for transitions
A draft for dialogue
A draft to cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut
A draft oh bugger it I should shut up and get to work.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Pitch Up!

I'm through to Pitch Up. Yikes!

I just found out now. Should have known last Wednesday, but the stupid email ended up in 'Bulk.' So I was puzzled when I opened the Stellar Network email, to find instructions, time-limits...etc.

Whoo hoo! Yikes.

How cool!

How horrible!

On the upside, I've always wanted to see the inside of the Channel 4 building.


Saturday, 18 October 2008


I first experienced Theatre Alibi when they came to visit my last school with Bonjour Bob, by Daniel Jamieson. I walked into the school hall, having prepped my little darlings to behave themselves and not call out or fidget, to really listen and clap at the end. But no one prepared me for the emotional punch of this simple, beautiful story of two lonely old men. They write messages in the sand of their separate beaches, and find that someone's writing back. It's The Sea, carrying their messages to each other.

Each man has joyful memories of lost best friends. Bob has lost his wife forever, but he cheerfully bears up, sifting through objects in his beach hut, and remembering her with a heartbreaking smile. Pierre has lost his lovely grandson, who has moved away to a tropical island. I was in bits within ten minutes, almost wishing I could be distracted by a figeting or calling out child. No such luck. The children were all perfectly absorbed, entertained and nourished. The cellist didn't help matters either.

So I was left to focus on Bob's joyful memories, brought vividly to life, The Sea playing the part of his wonderful, adventurous wife, who teaches him to sail and fish and be brave, knowing full well the scene would end with him alone, looking into the empty picture frame. Cue cello. Cue tears.

I took the family to see Teapot today, also by Jamieson. Another lovely story, with cheerful, brave characters and a bloody cello.

Oh Dear

I write this with a thumping head and a creeping sense of guilty embarrassment. Last night, I drank too much, and argued loudly in the kebab shop.

It was a silly argument. I pointed out to my friends, can't remember why, that without modern infrastructure Britain could only support some ten percent of its population. Funny, last night, I knew that I was completely right about everything. Now I'm not so sure. Is it ten percent, or twenty? Did I forget to mention that this is a study I heard about on a YouTube video, and that it was commissioned in the 1950s, looking into what would happen in the event of a nuclear attack? (I think the figure was, 10% of those who died would die of the initial blast and radiation poisoning, the rest would die because of loss of infrastructure) I can't think why it was so important for me to convince my drinking buddies, the young couple, the bloke with the wrinkly dog, the staff of the Kebab shop...that I was right.

Kebab Shop Owner: 'People would find a way to survive. You only need a cow.'

Me: 'Oh yeah, where's your cow?'

KSO: 'Turkey.'

Me. 'How you gonna get to Turkey?' (In my scenario, there was no transport)

KSO: 'I will sail to France and walk from there.'

Me: 'Right. What will you eat along the way?'

Guy With the Wrinkly Dog: 'There's cows right here in England, mate.'

Me: 'What are you going to feed them?' (There will be no cattle-feed deliveries. This is a total breakdown of everything.)

GWWD: 'Grass. Cows eat grass.'

Me: 'How much grass do you need to support a cow? How many people can one cow feed?'

...and so on. I 'proved' to them that, according to my scenario, which is backed up by a dilligent and precise scientific and mathematical study, by highly intelligent and honest people, who dedicated their lives to it, and what have you done with your life that gives you the right to criticize them?... every item in the kebab shop, from Coke to lettuce, would be unavailable to us, and that we would all starve to death.

I ended up walking home alone, eating a chicken kebab as if it were my last.

When I got back, I tried to google up the study. I couldn't. So I watched the YouTube video again.

It's this one, in case you're wondering.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008


Funny how taking a couple days off writing sucked me into a cosmic timewarp. One minute, I was enjoying some well-earned rest. I watched a bit of telly. I went shopping. I longed for a camcorder. I read Obama's book. (Yay Barack! If there's a more reasonable man on this planet, I'd like to know about him.) Next thing I know, I rematerialise in a universe where I have to finish a final draft within hours. Harsh, and unfair.

So I did it, and have just emailed it, with 12 hours and four minutes to spare.

Funny thing about writing late at night. You can give the whole script one more pass. You can improve lines and put some fine touches on the ending. But can you manage to save the right file as a .pdf onto the usb disk and take it to the other computer to email it, or realise your mistake and correct it without swearing?

No you can't. You get it wrong, and you say all the really bad swear words.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Putting it together

Looks like my plan to stage a community production of my one act play will go ahead early in the New Year. Still lots to organise, but in principle, it's going to happen. I'm going to direct it and all. This is going to be a huge learning experience, a massive challenge, and the start of a new turn in my career. It's going to 'wrinkle my brain,' as my daughter says.

Naturally, I still want some producer to fall in love with one of my scripts, hire a director and crew to do all the work for me, like little elves, and present the finished work to me next morning. And who knows? Might just happen; the right script might just land on the right desk at the right time. Maybe. But I'm not going to sit around waiting for someone else to introduce my work to an audience. That's a connection I can start making myself. Loads of people go to community theatre productions. I'm going to give them something fresh, new and exciting, and I will strive for a professional standard. As writer-director, I'll be able to communicate to the actors exactly what the subtext is, exactly what the scene is about. And, by the same token, I'll learn from them, and rewrite accordingly. And ultimately, I will be able to experience the audience's reaction, and see how well it played.

So, while I will continue to approach people with my scripts, I'm also going to start making them myself, for (community) stage and (computer) screen. That's what will complete the MA, and make it a true education in dramatic writing.

I call this next stage of my career 'Putting it together.' It's not just about writing. I'm aiming to be a screenwriter, a playwright, and that means understanding the audience.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

I really, really, really want...

I'm yearning to have a digital video camera. I can afford a cheapie off ebay no problem. But I want a professional one, a Sony, or Canon, one that looks impressive. It's a long, long time since I've wanted a thing like I want a camera now.

I need it. I need a camera. I need to start making films. IWANNACAMCORDER.

But I can't have it.

Do I:

a. practise self-denial, and continue to live without a digital camcorder
b. get a cheapie, and start making cheap-looking films
c. spend money I haven't got and get A REALLY COOL CAMERA LIKE WHAT i WANT
d. find a clever angle, and obtain what I want through other means
e. other

I'm leaning towards b, which will give partial satisfaction now. What's the cheapest one that would be okay for like posting stuff on YouTube?

Saturday, 11 October 2008


Today, walking around Exeter, I wished I'd brought a notebook. Everyone I saw was a character in a story. I was having some kind of empathy rush. I loved everyone.

Take the girl I saw, helping her drunk boyfriend onto a train. She brought him onto the platform with a few minutes to wait. He was falling-down drunk, and much bigger than her, but the girl was solid, strong. She stood on these massive tree-trunk legs and supported him, never let him fall as he clung to her. She radiated this tremendous confidence and stability. I thought 'Wow, what is she, 17?' She looked around at me and met my stare. I had the impression of a girl who's not afraid of anything, who would not be shocked by anything. But this guy's going to let her down one day. He's not going to carry her when she needs him to. And then, she's going to pick herself up and do something admirable.

I felt like one of the angels in Wings of Desire or something, connecting with strangers.

Maybe I just don't get out enough.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The Magic of Drafts

It's working! My cunning plan is magic. I'm already thinking about the draft, responding to the characters, asking questions about why they do what they do. Thinking like the audience, not buying certain things. And it's filling in gaps, awakening new possibilities.

The questions feed back into the structure, bringing new information to fit in. So you get your story hat back on (mine's a fetching wooly one) and set to work. 'Ah hah, I'm glad you asked that because...' And you've got more to get in, forcing you into cleverer, more energetic story-making.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

A bit shy

Finished the draft a little while ago. Came in at 25 pages, a bit short as I feared.

I'm glad I can work a lot quicker these days.

So now I leave leave it while I rewrite the other one.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Writing Day!

Yes! Looks like I'm set to have a writing day today. I'm back to full-time work, so have been writing instead of sleeping. Did okay all week, thanks to the magic of coffee. Then last night, I collapsed. I'm roughly at the half-way point of the script, page 14. My eyes were hurting, so I decided to lie down on the sofa to do a little deep imagining. I had my lovely wooly hat on (not quite poncho time yet, but it's coming) and a nice soft blanket.

Ah. This is what sofas were actually designed for. Next thing I know, it's 6:30 in the morning. I creep into bed. C stirs and asks if I've been up all night. I just said no, which is not a complete lie. She worries I don't get enough sleep, don't go out enough, spend too much time in front of a computer screen.

All true, so I've got to make the most of today. I'm aiming for 'Fade Out.'

Thursday, 2 October 2008


Step outline's working a treat. Got up to page seven, not bad for a late night stint. The first big turning point looks like it will fall around 9 or 10, about right for 30 minutes. Not that I'm trying to write by the numbers, but you have to keep a little eye on them when you've been given a page-count.

So what do you tell yourself when you're tired, and the sofa's whispering sweet nothings? How do you get yourself going? Sometimes I pretend I'm setting the laptop up for no particular reason, then just randomly sitting down at it. Sort of gently sucker myself into writing something.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

One More Step

Did a step outline, to try and gauge if I have the right amount of story for thirty minutes. Came in at five pages, fourteen scenes.

That's probably a little light, but I'm going to write it as is, just to get a draft on the table. Mark Barrowcliffe wrote, in his very funny novel, The Elfish Gene, that writing is a way of imagining. He gives the example of trying to visualise yourself parachuting out of an aeroplane. If you just close your eyes and do it, you might summon brief flashes of imagery, the sky, the ground, the blast of wind. But if you write it, you can scaffold your imagination, putting together each bit, until you've described the whole thing, and you're thumping down in a certain field in Dorset, if you want.

That's what I get from writing drafts. After a few, I'm telling something that I've actually witnessed in my imagination.

So I'm going to write this up now, just what I have, but with an eye to the father-daughter relationship, which needs a bit of setting up.