Sunday, 13 February 2011

Suckling at the nipple of Tony Jordan's wisdom

Which, according to the man himself, is exactly what we weren't there for on Friday as around forty Red Planet finalists met at the Century Club in Shaftesbury Avenue.Tony was joined by colleagues from Red Planet and friends from Kudos Productions.

This had a very different feeling to the workshop I went to in 2007. For one thing it was easier getting to Central London than Flitwick in Bedfordshire where Red Planet HQ is located. But the involvement of Kudos in particular signaled the intention that this was going to be bigger. Anyone who was at the London Screenwriters Festival (if you missed it scroll down the blog for my review), or has heard Tony speak elsewhere, will be familiar with his comments about the Red Planet family, the eight old farts, and finding the next generation of writers. Friday's workshop was about putting some of that into practice and the participants will now continue to build their relationship with both companies to ultimately see whether there is anything to work on together.

But although the main reason for Friday was a getting to know each other networking session, Tony can't help himself and deliver some wisdom anyway. A couple of things really stood out that are hopefully worth sharing here.

Firstly, Tony spoke about the two sides of the industry from a writing perspective - the corporate and the creative. Keep in mind we're still talking about writing now. We're not talking about producing, marketing, the money, etc, etc. Only the writing. And yet there is still, as he sees it, a creative side and a corporate side. And he doesn't care too much for the corporate side. What he means by this is that writers working on projects that they think are second guessing the industry are not as interesting to him as - in his words - writers writing something because they've just been told they have three months to live and this is the project they simply have to write before it's too late. Those are the ones he wants to see. Don't worry about what it is. He's turned off by people coming to him and saying this is a 6X60 series for Channel Four at 9pm on Thursday. Sometimes that's the first thing they say and he's like but what is it about?? That's thinking corporate when writers should be thinking creative. He'd rather hear ideas, and likes being involved with things from inception, and it might turn out to be a series, and two parter, three parter, whatever - but think idea, think characters, don't think formats and corporate.

Alongside this is chasing fads. The last one was - naturally - vampires. So vampires are hot, everyone wants vampire stories, the commissioners tell that to every single company, every single company asks their writers have you got any vampire stuff - and then the same commissioners get three hundred vampire scripts. Until they are absolutely sick to the teeth of them. And what happens is that one writer says I don't want to write about vampires, I want to write about fairies. And after reading three hundred vampire scripts and having three hundred more on their desk, and then the next script that comes in is about fairies - which is the one you think they are going to read first? You don't want to join any fad - you want to start something not end it - start a fairy revolution instead of being just another vampire junkie.

The other thing was Tony's tip to save all the rest of us from shelling out cash to see this guru or that guru. Because whatever you use - 22 steps, 3 acts, some sort of triangle thing I don't quite understand - stories all boil down to the same thing. You have a character at Point A - and at the end of the line you have what they want at Point B. And the writers job is to put complications in the way of the character getting from Point A to Point B. But the key to making this brilliant lies in how much you make the audience care about the character in the first place. Tony was pretty clear in that he loved ideas, concepts, stories, etc. But it is character that is the most vital component. Don't scrimp on the character work you do. (A tip I've heard from him before so many of you may have too, is to apply for jobs in character. Application forms ask great questions and he got both Micky Briggs and Gene Hunt job interviews!)

Friday was great fun. I had to leave early but even then it was a worthwhile couple of hours. But I have a feeling that it's what might happen next that will define whether or not my achievement of reaching the final this time will eclipse that of 2007.


Janice Okoh said...

well done.
Can't wait to find out.

Jez Freedman said...

thanks - me too!

Charlie Boddington said...

Brilliant post - I feel inspired just from reading about what Tony said!

Recently, I've had it drummed into me to think more about the corporate side of things - who the series is aimed at, what channel it's for etc etc. And when working on a Series for my Degree this is quite important. But I'm so glad I've just read this, to remind me to think CHARACTER and let the stories go from there, maybe leaving the 'corporate' side of things until later on...

Jez Freedman said...

Cheers Charlie

Look, Tony's brilliant. I love Tony. He's charismatic, inspiring, generous with his time, and let's be honest virtually the only person/company that is actively looking for new writers. (Who else for example could get a 6 part BBC1 series commissioned from an uncredited writer?)

But it's also important to remember that (perhaps even unfortunately) he is not the sole voice and opinion in the industry. I have definitely been in meetings and seminars where very experienced players have said almost exactly the opposite. Maybe not to such a specific degree, but part of knowing your audience and who you are writing for is connected to what slot and what channel your project is appropriate for.

But I think you are right in that in the main, that sort of thinking should come after the script is actually written. Be as free as possible to concentrate on character and story - whilst perhaps just keeping a one little eye on who is this actually going to be for.

Anonymous said...

Great write-up Jez. Cheers!

Mary said...

Whether he likes it or not, you write according to market demand - foolish to think otherwise; look at sites like where the whole focus is to market according to buyer expectation. I don't think there has ever been a product led approach in the way that Tony suggests; if a product is accepted that way, then it's rejigged because the producers are looking at the bottom line. Anyway..

Jez Freedman said...

Hmm not sure about that Mary. Life On Mars and Hustle are two very obvious examples of projects that no one knew they wanted until, well, they did. Eventually a broadcaster has to make the decision to make and then screen something. So in that sense they define the market and choose what product to show. But if all they've got to choose from are Vampire running around biting pretty teenagers, everyone's a bit stuck aren't they? I think that's Tony's point - it's where a project starts from, not where it ends.