Saturday, 17 March 2012

Selling ice to the eskimos

I think part of the journey of being a screenwriter is getting out of your room where you and your laptop live, and meeting and speaking to people who work in the industry, but have never written a word of a screenplay in their life. As writers we can become quite insular. We bust a gut to make sure everything on the page is perfect... but then what? And I'm not just talking about generating the contacts to send scripts to. I'm talking about learning the process of what it takes to get the words on the page onto the screen - and then into cinemas so people actually see it. Take this for example, number 16 on the Another 50 ways into the industry session at the last LSWF:

Get a job in a Distribution or Sales Agency to see the cutthroat decisions on which films get made and why.

Chris Hill had done just that and pointed out it's generally not about the script, more about casting. But it's interesting to see which scripts cut the mustard and informs, to some extent, what he writes now.

Vadim Jean added that on the one hand it's great to know this stuff and you have to write for the market. But so often the best stuff he reads does not come from this mindset.

I recently had my first meeting with a Sales Agent. I was involved in the meeting, and didn't feel like the third wheel. But in situations like this my strategy is usually to say as little as possible. There can be an awful lot of pressure to just say something, anything, for the sake of it, because the concern is if you don't, you might look dumb, or bored, or out of your depth - or all three. What makes it even harder is that guys like this talk a different language. Writers are used to talking about plot structure and character arcs, maybe dialogue, sometimes genre. That doesn't go out the window, it's all expected to be there, but it's now being approached from a subtly different angle.

It's almost accepted that what you have already works on the page. You probably wouldn't be in the meeting if it didn't. But now it's about how the thing on the page is going to work on screen - and how it's going to be 'sold' (marketed in other words) so people actually want to come a watch it. And the two are not necessarily the same thing. Because people who are looking at your script from a different perspective, will spot things and suggest things that you may never have thought of. And it's important to remember that you're in the room because they already really like what you've done. Ultimately, everyone involved wants the same thing.

I'm still relatively new at this. But I know enough to know that this process isn't always hunky dory. Things can go wrong. People seeing things in a different way can sometimes lead to others trying to impose their vision on your script. That might be very bad news indeed because you can bet your bottom dollar you'll end up with, at the very least, not the film you intended, or at worst, a complete mess.

But it's also worth keeping in mind to treat the horror stories with a pinch of salt. The key with film is always to surround yourself with good people. That can be hard and a learning process in and of itself. Film is so collaborative that a handful of people are never going to be enough to take it from script to screen. And whilst you may have written it, and spent more time on it than anyone else ever will, it's really important not to close yourself to the ideas of others. They just want to help. If they are good people, they will say themselves that not everything they suggest should find its way into the script. It's just brainstorming. The same thing you might do at script stage if you're lucky enough to have a writers group. But there difference is these other people are not writers. And from the point of view of the overall project, the input is all the better for it.