First off, hello to everyone I met at the weekend! I had a brilliant time as always, though many apologies both to Elinor (I threw coleslaw over her) and MA David for the coughing fit. Whoops.
So: onto my notes since that's why everyone's really here...
Stand Out Scripts. In no particular order then, largely because my notes are in chaos: Adrian took the morning session and talked about three main points that make out "stand out" TV scripts. These were
- "New Realisation"
- High Concept
Originality is straight forward: it's that elusive quality all us writers face - just how original is our latest original idea? How many times have we had a flash of inspiration, only to find it's central to the latest blockbuster/soap opera/whatever. Nuts. Controversy is an interesting one; something often overlooked in my opinion by writers. Issues are issues because people want to talk about them, explore them, get right into the heart of them. Putting an issue then at the heart of your script can only be a good thing. I wrote a script about child abuse and yes, some readers hated it, but only one out of the many, many Readers who read it didn't understand what it was about. Controversy is a good thing.
New Realisation was the one I hadn't thought of before; Adrian explained this might be to do with arena, the philosophy behind the script or issue, structure (in terms of the "story telling format"), the ability to change minds or give viewers an insight into something or someone they have never seen or thought of before. If you can tap into this special *something* you could be on to something. For example: I read a script about what it means to be a Working Single Mother recently. Nothing too remarkable about that you might think, until you factor in the point this particular writer is male. Reading the script, I was blown away by his insight - because I experienced everything this man wrote about! The guilt, the struggle, the juggling. It was all there. And you know what? I recommended the screenplay.
High Concept is interesting, since it was traditionally thought of as movie fare. Movies were all-singing, all-dancing; TV was gritty, realist and DEADLY SERIOUS. There's been a blurring of the lines though in recent years; high concepts are now behind much of British TV drama - LIFELINE a recent, good example. The supernatural in particular has crossed the line from the movie world and into TV; mini series are not all about murder mysteries and health scares any more. You needn't stick to writing your ninety minute features just because you like to explore the more "out there" concepts in any case.
Goal Setting. Adrian insists that writers who get made make goals and I agree with him. This does not mean making goals along the lines of "Well, I'll give it fice years and if I've made no progress, that's it for me." Rather it means working out what you want and making a series of smaller goals in the short term that will help you achieve that goal in the long term. No one gets anything handed to them on a plate in this game. You have to work for it and this takes time. For me, my goal is getting my own TV Series, so I have to decide just what route I need to take to achieve this. Getting short films made would perhaps gain me some attention, but it possibly isn't quite the right road for me at this juncture in my career since I already have an agent. So I need to really buckle down, polish up my specs and get my agent to target all those existing shows in the hope I can gain some work on an existing series. No one will give an untried, untested writer their own drama series, out of the blue, no matter how great their spec is. We're talking hundreds of thousands of pounds of development money. Why risk it? You have to be patient, but equally you must be realistic too.
Agents. Having an agent is not a 100% must in TV - one of the afternoon panelists, Louise Ironside confessed she hasn't got one since she's "too busy" to find one (what a nice problem to have!); however, I get the impression one is hampered without one. Adrian talked us through the "Big 5" agents and how they like to be approached:
The Agency. These guys like Adrian's "agent pack" idea.
Curtis Brown. They like writers to be pro-active and well-researched, contacting the relevant agent best suited to that writers' style.
PFD. They prefer recommendations from producers and/or course tutors and have recently taken on an MA Screenwriting Graduate, not only because of his fabulous writing, but his great personality and motivation! So it's not just what's on the page, remember.
Tessa Sayle Agency. They like the agent packs, but also invites to screenings, readings or personal recommendations are good too.
Dench Arnold. This agency is "always looking for the next masterpiece" so welcome the agent packs Adrian has designed.
For a comprehensive list of literary agents, click here.
Agents liaise alot with TV people and Adrian told us about the "favourite" agents TV people like to work with:
At ICM, Cathy King, Michelle McCoy, Jessica Sykes and Josh Varney all came highly recommended; favourites from The Agency included Faye Webber, Norman North and Bethanne Evan; Curtis Brown's TV champions are Tally Garner, Nick Marsden and Ben Hall. Smaller agencies that have also proved popular with TV people include MBA, Cecily West, Val Hoskins and London Management.
Agents told Adrian that when they are approached by potential clients, they not only like scripts to "reek of polished prowess", but the candidate to as well! They ask that the potential client put themselves in the Assistant's position and appreciate it takes time to read scripts (often this work is undertaken out of hours!). They also mentioned that there was nothing wrong with phoning, but that there is nothing more annoying that writers outstaying their welcome or asking for advice about their career! So you've been told...
Tomorrow: Part Two where I detail the many opportunities and websites Adrian recommended. See you then!