Wednesday, November 15, 2017

COLLABORATION & COOPERATION

Collaboration and cooperation are a massive part of being a successful working writer. Not only do they highlight to producers and directors that you're willing to work with others, they also help to promote your work.

Over the years I've heard of several instances where writers have ruined opportunities for themselves by either not being prepared to collaborate or not cooperating. Here are a few of those examples.

  1. A writer had his feature optioned and was asked to rewrite it and change a few bits. He went away and wrote a completely new screenplay loosely based on his original. He changed most of the story and the majority of the characters, so much so that the screenplay was hardly recognisable compared to the original. Because of this, he sunk the project and the producer lost money.
  2. Two writers wrote a sitcom together and a major broadcaster commissioned them to write the entire series. One of the writers got cold feet and walked away killing the project for both of them as he wouldn't sign over the rights to the other writer.
  3. A new writing duo had their screenplay optioned and the finance was raised. As they were about to sign the contract they decided to renegotiate so they could also direct the film. The producer tried to tell them if they insisted on this the financiers would pull out, but they wouldn't listen and this is exactly what happened. The project crashed, was never resurrected and the writers were never heard of again.
  4. A new writer went to an experienced writer with a great project and asked him if he would be interested in a collaboration if he would show it to his contacts when it was done. The experienced writer agreed as he loved the project. Six months later the new writer took back ownership of his idea as he thought things weren't progressing quickly enough, just as the experienced writer had managed to get significant interest in the project from one of his producer contacts. The project and the new writer went nowhere and the experienced writer was so embarrassed in front of his contact that he vowed never to work with amateurs again.
All of these examples are true stories and illustrate how easy it is to not only get a bad name for being unreliable in the busineess but how quickly you can end your career before it's even begun. How could the above have avoided this?
  1. The writer should have listened closer to what the producer wanted and rewritten his screenplay accordingly, rather than going off and writing what he wanted to.
  2. The writer who had cold feet should have worked on the first series to completion before walking away and then let the other writer carry on alone with the second, either that or sign over the rights so the writer could continue without him.
  3. The writing duo shouldn't have got greedy or precious about their work and instead should have trusted in the process to ensure their debut film was made, which would have put them in a much stronger position if they wanted to direct in the future.
  4. The new writer should have had more patience as it takes time for a project to be picked up, greenlit and broadcast. If he had trusted the more experienced writer the series might now have been commissioned and broadcast.
So how can you help yourself? There are two great examples that have happened to me recently and they are...
  1. I sat down with two producers to discuss a long-gestating project. Times have moved on and one of the producers felt the idea and the screenplay should also. We discussed it, debated and suggested new ways we could look at the story. In the end, we have a new, fresher vision we all agree is way better than the original. We will now work together to make that new version a reality.
  2. I was contacted by a friend I was at university with who now teaches. She asked if I had any short screenplays her students could film as part of her course. I had eight which had been lying around gathering dust for years. The students picked the ones they liked and asked if they could make changes. Some changes were minor, some for practical reasons and others a little more drastic. I could have been precious about my work and insist they film them as I wrote them, but I was intrigued to see what they could come up with and gave them permission to change whatever they wanted. I even made a few suggestions for changes myself. I can't wait to see what they deliver.
Collaborating and cooperating shows everyone how well you can work with others, that you're reliable and that you understand how the media business works. If you have a reputation for being easy to work with you're more likely to be approached with work. That doesn't mean you have to bend over backwards and do everything you've been asked no matter how ridiculous. You can always decide not to change something you've been asked to, as long as you've talked it over with them and explained your reasons why in a polite and respectful manner. It's a collaborative business after all.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

COPYRIGHT

"If somebody writes a screenplay, shouldn't they own a copyright before making it public?" - posted in response to one of my posts on the SCREENWRITING Facebook page by Leon Stansfield.

Those of us who have been around for a while will have seen this query, and other's very similar, pop up on a regular basis on screenwriting pages. Why are new writers obsessed with protecting their work and is there really a need to do so? Here are some answers for you, Leon.

CAN YOU PROTECT YOUR IDEA?

In short, no, you can't protect an idea. If someone likes your basic idea or outline and wants to go and write their version of it, they can. Do you remember in 1991 there were two versions of Robin Hood made and released - Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner and Robin Hood starring Patrick Bergin? There was no copyright issue there even though it was the same idea because they were two very different versions. However, if someone lifted chunks of your story and your characters straight out of your screenplay and put them into theirs, then that can be considered theft.

IS YOUR WORK GOOD ENOUGH?

While many new writers concern themselves far too much with copyright and protecting their work, they fail to realise that in reality their writing or their idea probably aren't good enough (yet). It takes time to become a good writer, to find your own writing style and to perfect it and to recognise cliched ideas and why most screenplays fail. There are always a few exceptions to the rule, but in my experience most of the screenplays new writers are desperate to protect aren't really of a standard worth stealing. That sounds harsh, I know, but never the less it's true. Those more established and practised writers worry about copyright theft a lot less, or in most cases not at all.

MAKING YOUR WORK PUBLIC.

Why would you want to post your whole screenplay on a Facebook page? Send it to friends, peers you trust and professional readers to get feedback. Send it to producers, production companies and competitions when your work is ready. But there's really no need to post your screenplay on a public website in full view of any Tom, Dick and Harry.

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR WORK (if you really have to).

  1. Once you've written your screenplay, that version belongs to you, it is your intellectual copyright. There really isn't any need to protect it further.
  2. The Writers Guild of America West will, for a fee, register your screenplay for copyright purposes.
  3. For every draft you write save it in a sperate folder on your hard drive and backup, making sure you put the date in the file name. Each time you start a new draft make a copy and then rename it. Then at least if the worse does happen you'll have a chronological record of what you've written and when.
  4. Print out your finished screenplay, put it in a sealed envelop and post it to yourself. When it arrives keep it safe unopened. Alternatively, give it to your lawyer to keep in his safe.
WHY NO ONE IS GOING TO STEAL YOUR WORK

Why would they? If they want to take your screenplay and have it written by someone else, they'll just buy it off you and go and do that. If they steal your screenplay and get found out it will be the end of their career and it's not worth the risk. Why risk their reputation?

However, there are a rare few people out there that will risk doing this. In my experience, I've only ever had it happen twice to me and both times it was a student who tried to claim my screenplay as theirs to get a better mark on their uni project. I simply went to see their tutors and made sure I got the credit I had earned. End of! I can assure you that I've never come across a single working professional who has stolen any of my work or anyone's that I know.

THE BBC/ITV/SKY/NETFLICKS STOLE MY IDEA.

No, they didn't. I can guarantee you that somewhere right now, someone is writing a screenplay that is pretty much identical to your idea. The more cliched the idea, the more likely this is happening. I can't remember how many times I've been working on an idea only to have to drop it after finding out a broadcaster is working on something similar.

Last year I had a cracking school playground comedy idea and pitched it to a TV production company, only for them to tell me about a BBC comedy in production called MOTHERLAND. It's disappointing, but it happens. It doesn't mean someone has stolen your idea, it just means someone had the same idea and got there first. Tough luck! Move on!

So my advice is to stop worrying about trying to copyright and protect your work and spend that energy learning your craft and finely tuning your screenplays instead.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

SCARY

Yesterday was deadline day for a screenplay to be handed in. I sent it off as scheduled. But I'm not relaxed about it. I'm anything but. I'm terrified I've ballsed it up, that they won't like it, or that their situation has changed and they'll go off and work on other projects. The irony isn't lost on me that I emailed the screenplay off on the scariest day of the year... HALLOWEEN.

It's scary because it matters and not because I doubt my ability as a writer. I know the screenplay's good, they told me they love it. They just wanted a few minor changes. It matters because it's my award-winning script. It's been optioned before, only for the option to run out and the rights return to me. It matters because I've spent years refining and honing this screenplay, polishing it and improving it with every draft. I love this script. I poured my heart and soul into it. I want other people to love it as much as I do. And I really, really, really want to see it on the big screen. More so than any of my other projects.

I think every writer experiences a little fear when they send out their work for others' approval. It's only natural. But I don't fear the fear, I embrace it. I'm scared because I care. If it didn't matter or I didn't care I wouldn't be half the writer I am. A little fear now and then keeps me on my toes.

But it's out of my hands now. I've done my best. The screenplay is bloody awesome. So deep breath and on to the next project. That one is going to be awesome too!

Happy writing!