Friday, 22 June 2012

Manners Cost Nothing


A couple of weeks ago, I heard some good news. A show that I had been developing with a producer at one of the bigger independent production companies had been given a green light. How exciting! And well-deserved, I can tell you. I had put some serious hours in to the pitch document. I had been up and down to their Soho offices (at my own expense) to have numerous meetings with the development producer. I’d had a meeting with the author of the book on which the show was going to be based and got along famously with her. It all went on hold whilst the development producer went on maternity leave, but she assured me that someone would be looking after her slate and they’d be in touch.

That was two years ago. So imagine my utter joy when I saw that the show really had been looked after. Looked after so well that it starts shooting next month. Hang on! That doesn’t leave me a lot of time to actually write the scripts. Blimey, I had better clear my schedule and cancel my holidays… Wait a minute.

Of course, the show has been commissioned but with a different writer. And that is absolutely fine. It happens. But what also happens is that production companies and producers don’t have the common courtesy to get in touch with writers to tell them that their services are no longer required. I have a folder on my computer called ‘Dead???’; it is full of projects that I developed with producers that now I simply don’t know whether they are dead in the water or still bouncing around on someone’s desk.

Actually, I do know. Those projects are deader than Bin Laden. I know in the same way that you know that the bloke you went on the really nice date with three weeks ago who said ‘Hey, so this was great. We should totally do this again’ is a lying sack of shit and is not going to be rocking up to your doorstep with a bunch of roses and an engagement ring any time soon. The producer is just not that into you and your little idea. Get over it.

But this isn’t a match.com date. It’s a professional relationship.

Now, I’d like to think that the reason those producers never bothered to get in touch is that they thought I was delicate flower who would go all Sylvia Plath the moment someone even thought the word ‘rejection’ in my general vicinity. Actually, they just don’t give a flying fuck. What they actually think is that writers and their ideas are expendable. Like small children with a new toy, they only love you until your paint gets scratched and your batteries run out.

Sidebar: I think a recent TV experiment in ‘improvised dialogue’ has shown us that writers are far from expendable. If writing was a match.com relationship, a certain broadcaster should be stood outside our houses holding up a boom box and playing a Peter Gabriel song right about now.

In fairness, a lot of development producers are only passing on the treatment that they have received at the hands of their own employers. Let’s put it this way, if my job title included the word ‘development’ I wouldn’t bother learning the receptionist’s name and unpacking my favourite mug. Those poor buggers are rarely in the same job for longer than a year. So, the reality is that when writers do one of their periodical ring-rounds to chase up their projects, the chances of speaking to your contact is pretty slim. And that is true of both independent production companies and good old Aunty Beeb. We keep being told that it is important as writers to foster relationships with like-minded producers. Yeah, good luck with that. At best, your relationship with a development producer is like an intense holiday romance. Nice whilst it lasts, but there’s no way that Pedro is going to still remember your name once your tan has faded.

That fact is that it is still unacceptable to treat people in this way. Those ideas of mine that are languishing on hard drives across London are my babies. I don’t let pitch documents away from my desk unless I really love the idea. I don’t involve myself in projects unless (at the outset at least) I genuinely want to see it on screen with my name on the credits. Those ideas are my currency, my product. How dare anyone treat them with such a cavalier attitude?

Now, let me just quickly say that not all producers and companies have treated me this way. Some producers are nothing short of conscientious about keeping writers informed. In my case, those producers know who they are because I’ve continued to bring ideas to them. You guys are the tops.

As for you other buggers, here is what I’m going to do. Sometime soon I’m going to book a week in London and I’m going to pay a visit to all the producers of all the projects in my Dead??? file. I’m going to stride into their offices, clapping my hands together in an industrious fashion and I’m going to say ‘So, when do we start filming?’ Because if no news is good news…

Obviously, I’m not going to do that. But I should. We all should. We should demand a basic level of courtesy and etiquette from the people to whom we entrust our precious ideas. And so my real message to those producers is this: - Oi! Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?

15 comments:

  1. I like the cut of your jib Ms Holdsworth. Rejection may be painful but it's easier to deal with than being kept in limbo by a producer who has moved on - actually or metaphorically.

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  2. I am at the very beginning of my writing career and have not submitted any script writing yet (only short fiction, poetry and a novel which I admit isn't ready yet). When I am looking at targets, one of the things I identify is how long the response is likely to take. No matter how reputable the target is, if the website says, "We are snowed under at the moment, and it is taking us 6 months to get round to reading what we receive" then I don't bother. If the target says, as The Fiction Desk says, "If you pay £2 we will get back to you in 2 weeks", then I pay the £2 every time.

    I am about to email an American publisher who has had my story for 6 weeks and not responded. It is not that I don't appreciate how busy they are, it is just that if they are that busy then I don't want to make their predicament any worse. Now I am getting to know the market a bit, there is always somewhere else I can go.

    I can't imagine how I would feel if I did a lot of work on a proposal and then it went forward with another writer. Having an idea rejected out of hand is fine: my work is certainly not to everybody's taste and I am very thick skinned, but accepting the proposal and then giving it some-one else to write sounds to me like a sadistic mind-game. To do so without any communication is cruel and unusual. To quote Mr Murbles: You horrify me. I have known men sent to the gallows for crimes with which I had more sympathy than that.

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  3. Totally agree. I'm constantly amazed that as a freelance writer, I'm often the most professional person in the room- time keeping, replying to emails, making deadlines, returning phonecalls promptly and other basic professional courtesies. And I've been on the receiving end of the opposite of all of that from producers. As you say, not all by any stretch of the imagination. But there are some real pricks out there.

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  4. A classic example of not unrelated behaviour: producers on a conference call who ask the writers for a new draft by Monday, is told that's a Bank Holiday and moves deadline to Tuesday, announces they're off on a glam city-break and asks what everyone else is doing for the long weekend. And you can guarantee they won't read the draft you deliver on Tuesday for at least another week... Grrr!

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  5. I have bad-temperedly answered the 'Hey, what's everyone doing with their weekend' question with a hissed 'What's a weekend?' Usually does the trick.

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  6. A number of years ago a young solicitr old me of his first day in the office. He was called into the senior partner's office, where Mr Levi held up a five pound note saying, 'This is the only thing that doesn't lie.'

    No one but the cheque writer has any authority. And by the time your great idea gets to him... Well, it just aint as great as when you were enthusing it over the table.

    Great blog, btw

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    1. Thanks, David. Although I would say that great ideas tend to be made less great by othere folks faffing about with it for eons until they lose interest in it. Like a cat with a half dead mouse.

      Lx

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  7. I read this post going "oh my god...this is me" - I was shafted by a another writer who was also my friend. He wanted his best-selling book made into a major project, and had everything lined up for it and asked me to be the writer. Alarm bells rang straight off when he said he would have the credit for writer as it was from his book, and also that we'd share the fee but he'd get all box office returns as again, it was from his book. I happened to meet the producer who said the only money was the fee (which wasn't much) and they NEVER give away box office.
    The whole project started badly and go worse, he'd never do any of the written work I asked (which were just simple notes to help me understand his point of view for the project), he'd cancel meetings five minutes before they began and then he just disappeared altogether. Then when he finally reappeared six months later he said he'd scrapped this idea and wanted to make the book into a comedy opera. He'd had a meeting with a friend of his who said he'd write the 'operay bits" (which gave me no confidence that he could actually write opera) and that they had discussed how they could make millions of pounds from this project, as people like Andrew Lloyd Webber made his money from musicals so therefore they would be able to as well.
    At which point I said I had quite a few other things I was working on, and to try to find someone else. He never did. And this was all worse because I thought he was one of my oldest friends!! Not anymore.

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    1. Ugh, what a horrible experience. I wonder how much longer you'd have hung on in there if you hadn't been friends. I'm trying to be a lot less emotional about these things - but it's hard. Lx

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  8. Great blog Lisa - glad I happened upon it.

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    1. Thanks Jane! And thanks for taking the time to comment. :-) Lx

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  9. Savages we call them because their manners differ from ours.

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