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 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 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?