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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Relationships & Teamwork

We all know by now it's not JUST about the writing. We should all be getting "out there" and creating relationships, too. But what does this really mean, bar the obvious, like not hiding away out of sight?

I am not a religious person and nor is my family, but I went to a church school when I was a little kid. Obviously much was made then of various tales and parables in the scriptures, particularly ones about teamwork, like:

A father takes his son out to a forest and shows him a stick. He gives it to his son and tells him to break it. The son does so, easily. Then the father gives his son a whole bunch of sticks and tells him to break those instead. The son tries and can't. The message? "Strength in numbers".

Or perhaps the slightly creepier:

A man doubts if there's an Afterlife, so an angel comes down and says he will prove it to him. First, the angel takes the man to Hell. Far from being the firepit he imagines, the man is escorted into a large banquet hall. There is a huge table and it is filled with wonderful, sumptuous food. But everyone who is seated at the table is totally miserable. Why? Because they have to use giant chopsticks to eat the food, which they can't get into their own bowls and mouths - they are damned instead for eternity to look at this great stuff and not enjoy themselves. Ouch. Then the angel takes the man to Heaven - and the man is knocked over sideways when he sees EXACTLY THE SAME SCENARIO there. "How can this be?" The man says, "This is supposed to be Heaven!" But the angel smiles knowingly and sure enough, the people in Heaven pick up *their* chopsticks and instead feed the person OPPOSITE with their food, who in turns reciprocates the action for them, unlike down in Hell. The message? "Happiness is working together".

So, this is not a post about the rights and wrongs of the Bible (or indeed religion in general), but about the joys of teamwork.

I spend a lot of time talking to and working with writers and it always surprises me how few are receptive to the notion of teamwork. Instead, they often seem to think it's all about writing *the* great script, then taking it out into the world, then snaring an option, producer and development deal (and eventually production) with some kind of virtual butterfly net.

Of course, for some writers this does happen. But they are not the norm. And the likelihood of it happening? Must be millions to one. For one thing, your great script is probably not as great as you think it is. And even if it is, it has to be the *right* time for it. And there has to be money available (which doesn't suddenly disappear). And then you have to find a producer who doesn't want to make HIS/HER own ideas instead.

Talk about lining up all your ducks in a row!!! But the purpose of this post is not to depress you, so let me continue.

We all know the odds are against us. Some of us carry doggedly on... and good for you, if you're one of these people. After all, anything can happen. I really believe that. And if you apply and enter EVERYTHING in the known universe to do with writing, go to all the events and network your ass off, then by the law of averages something has to happen eventually. How can it not? As long as you can withstand the rejection and that worse feeling of "standing still" that sometimes comes for months or even years on end, it's the way to go.

But if you DO get depressed at throwing spaghetti at the wall like this, then I have a solution for you:

Don't work alone. Become part of a TEAM.

In this team, you're the writer. So get a director, a producer - and anything else you feel you need. What about a script editor? Editor? Cinematographer? Actors if you know them; if they have a "following" or are famous, even better. What about a person with *the knowledge* if you need it, ie. an advisor of some kind if you're writing about something specialist. Hey, have someone on board who's dead good at MORAL SUPPORT, why not? Those people can be worth their weight in gold when everyone else is freaking out and wanting to throw the project out the window.

Basically, get anyone. Anyone you can. But think about it and make sure you're all on the same page. Maybe one person is a combo of various things on the list - even better. Make your decisions wisely, be upfront, know the market, be passionate, let everyone know what you want to do and how you intend to go about it - and see if their ideas match with yours. If they do, you could be on to a winner.

So build this project from the bottom up. Or, in other words: create a team, identify a premise for a project based on real market research, get it written and made and sold. It CAN be done.

That's of course what so many writers cannot accept. Very often they are hostile or even antagonistic to the idea. "How do I find a producer? You can't get them *just like that*." They might sneer.

Um, yes you can. It's called The Internet and networking. You just do it BEFORE the script is written, instead of afterwards. If you post on various sites, meet people & go to events you WILL find producers. And if you just stop chasing after THAT BIG PRODUCER WHO DID THAT THING, you will probably find one standing right next to you DESPERATE to do a project with you...

... IF you ask them.

... IF you don't make it all about you - or more accurately, *your* script/idea which you just won't bend on.

... IF you are realistic.

... IF you make a team.


... IF you look to the marketplace, identify who your audience is and how you're going to get their interest (and thus sell the film to the distributors or in TV, networks).

But the naysayers start off again, "Oh no," they say, "I'M not working for free while the producer lives in his or her gold house, no chance."

But that producer will be doing all s/he can for the film, same as you, as part of a collaboration... Everybody's equal in this team. That's the point!

But still they argue: "Well if the producer is on the same level as me, I might as well work alone, because I want to step up to the next level."

And how will you do that, without or with few credits? And how do you know the producer you *could* be working with isn't the next BIG PRODUCER WHO DOES THAT THING - and you've been *in* with them from the beginning??

But STILL they continue: "I'm not writing FOR the marketplace. I have more passion/integrity than that."

Ignore the market at your peril. I'm NOT advocating being cynical about it: if Thriller is selling, but you believe 100% in your new science fiction world, OF COURSE you should go for the latter. But you also need to remember who your audience is and that without them, there might as well be no project. Sometimes you will have to junk ideas and scripts - it is not worth continuing, you must be realistic. But it makes the times things join up all the sweeter.

Yet: "There are no guarantees... it's not as easy as that."

Who said it was easy??? Working as a team doesn't mean you won't all have a hard slog on getting your work to screen. But it DOES give you more control over your own destiny. Given the amount of time writers spend complaining about not being taken seriously, I would have thought more writers would JUMP at the chance to make the kind of relationships that WILL get them taken seriously.

But: "I want MY idea, 100% - or nothing.".

Then friend, I cannot help you. Good luck on your solo journey. Hope you get to the destination you want.

But if you think there *could* be something in this idea of teamwork:

Two heads are better than one. Even more are EVEN BETTER. The more people who know you and your ambitions, the more chance you have of getting somewhere with it. This is how the film and TV industry operates. Sometimes the films and TV programmes are great; sometimes they are bloody awful. Sometimes it doesn't even matter how good OR bad they are because despite our best efforts they misfire and no one really watches them anyway. But they EXIST and are SOLD - which is a lot better than being 99.9999999999% of nothing in my view.

So why not start that way, from the beginning?

Make a team. Decide on an idea, based on good knowledge of the marketplace. Now... do it. Write it, get it financed, make it, get it sold to distributors or networks. You probably can't do it alone but choose the right people to work with and you WILL see your words as images.

See you on the other side. Or not. The choice is yours.

N.B. A great post from Film Utopia's Sunday Blog on the same subject, Why We Should Destroy The Spec Script Market

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