I am in the charts, the Contemporary Musical Comedy chart. This means I am a fully-fledged, living, breathing person who is making musical comedy right now in contemporary times. It’s lovely to be included alongside a load of very good people who are on the radio and television…
‘It’s not what you know, but who you know and who you can bullshit.’
Is this the mantra that has launched me into the stratospheric position I occupy now? Yes. If you follow my advice, you too could be nominated for a regional Royal Television Society award and, eventually, even win one. Actually, Absolutely Fine, the online series I produced with Tom Rosenthal for Comedy Central has just been nominated for a Broadcast Digital Award . Things are on the up.
I’ve never really liked the ‘it’s not what you know’ line because it doesn’t reflect the work someone put in to make those contacts and get themselves noticed. Sure, there are a few people who are so well connected they’d have to vomit on the shoes of every significant person they met to fail, but for most of us creating those connections is all part of the journey. Don’t stop believing etc.
But this blog is not about that, it’s about bullshit. How far should you twist the truth in a career situation? There are times when I’ve claimed to have more knowledge or skills than I really did. I never exactly lied, but maybe I was a little economical with the truth. Or generous with the ever so slightly inaccurate.
You have to tread the line of credibility so you don’t come across like a bullshitter — and I have met a few — knowing that, if offered the job, you can do it. Otherwise your bullshit will land you in the shit which will then splatter upwards hitting a fan revolving at high speed and you’ll have a big load of shitty egg on your face as well as being sat in a big, miserable pile of it. An absolute shitfest. And that’s not what I want for you.
There’s one moment that sticks out for me at a crucial, or it seemed it at the time, point in my career. I decided to leave the bright, seaside lights of Plymouth, where I’d been working as a Researcher then Assistant Producer (AP) at Two Four on seminal productions such as Westcountry TV’s short-lived Mad About Shopping1 and BBC One’s short-lived daytime show What Would You Do?2 and head for the bright, smoggy lights of London to work on Living TV’s highbrow, yet cruelly short-lived, offering Relationship SOS. What do you mean, you haven’t seen it?
Relationship SOS was a studio show featuring people with personal issues who were given advice by a panel of experts. We’d then see how the advice worked by filming the participants at home or an appropriate location before they later returned to the studio to discuss how it had worked.
I had to apply for the job first, of course, and being just a young boy from the Westcountry trying to make his way in the big smoke was a bit daunted — it’s kinda Dick Whittington meets a budget Nathan Barley. So, when I was invited to an interview for an AP role, I was incredibly excited.
At the interview I discovered the producers needed people with DV (Digital Video) skills — the ability to shoot these VT inserts3 as well find and book the participants. Now, while I had picked up and played with a camera and been on plenty of shoots watching directors and camera operators work, I’d never really shot or directed anything. In the interview one of the producers said something like, ‘Your DV skills will come in very handy.’ In my head I was thinking, ‘Er, what DV skills?’ But, desperate to make my mark in low budget daytime television, I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’
Amazingly, I got the job; a three month contract in London. I was convinced I’d be found out within seconds and ignominiously shoved on the next train from Paddington back to Plymouth with my tail between my over-stretched legs. In a bid to prevent that humiliation, I borrowed a camera and sound gear (as I’d have to be doing both), took advice from anyone I knew who’d ever shot or directed anything and practiced. I had one weekend to gain those much vaunted ‘DV skills.’
Somewhere in my disorganised archives, there’s a funny picture of me holding a camera but I couldn’t find it, so here’s a pic of me about the same age looking ridiculous with a cocktail and sporting ineffective facial hair…
In the end you’ll be relieved to know, dear reader, that it all turned out okay. I mean, the show was absolute bobbins but somehow I managed to scrape through. By throwing myself into it and doing as much preparation as I could, the unravelling was averted. In fact, and this is a bit trumpet-blowy (while being entirely aware that I wasn’t quite following in the path of Spielberg), the producers told me I’d made the best VTs across the series. My fear of coming a cropper in the big city abated. Bravo’s Future Fighting Machines, Channel 4’s Bare & Breakfast and of course Channel 5’s Shaving Ryan’s Privates4 all lay ahead on my glittering career path…
So, yes, bullshit to your hearts content. As long as you’re prepared to put in the work needed to get away with it.
By the way, this is part one of a series of two blogs about bullshit. The next will be about why you shouldn’t bullshit for anyone else…
1 I made a pitch for the theme tune… ‘We’re just hopping / BONKERS / mad about shopping.’ Sadly, it was not picked up but I’m suing Dizzee Rascal as he clearly stole the idea. Can’t remember what the chosen theme was, but mine would definitely have been better and turned the show into a massive ratings hit.
2 Theme tune pitch (sing to a jaunty melody) ‘Ooh, ooh, I’m in a stew / What Would You Do-ooooh?’
3 VT stands for Video Tape and is still used to describe short filmed items that are then played into a studio show – such as news reports, ‘sideways looks’ at something or other on The One Show or cringeworthy attempts at topical comedy on The Daily Politics.
4 That one’s not on my CV and I can’t quite remember if that was the title, but I definitely went to Naples (well, an industrial estate in a Naples suburb) to shoot footage for the programme, a one-off ‘documentary’ about pornographic remakes of Hollywood blockbusters. I was filming behind the scenes of a remake of Cleopatra, cue shot after shot of hilarious items obscuring intimate parts. Oh dear. It was, naturally, a huge ratings success.
In between my professional dabbling in television and my semi-amateur dabbling in musical comedy I occasionally dabble in a bit of semi-professional journalism. Here’s my latest effort for The Daily Star Sunday on my time in Kyoto. Yes, you did read that correctly…
Hello! I recently got my acoustic guitar repaired (the electrics were in bits) and set up (I have no idea how to look after my guitars) by a nearby expert John Procter. Should have got it sorted ages ago, but delighted that I now have a guitar that is much easier to play and sounding great.
To celebrate I’ve busted out a bit of a new tune. I’m working on some to release later this year and they are mostly slightly wonky love songs. The usual nonsense….
Thanks and if you aren’t following me on Spotify then please do – there’s loads of tunes on there many of which have been properly recorded rather than knocked up in this mess of an office/studio/junkyard.
The brilliant filmmakers at Meat Bingo have just released this beautifully shot, eerie short. Great cast, great location, great direction, cinematography and sound design. And great dog…
Oh and great executive producing. Well, I helped a tiny, tiny, wee bit.
Yep. Everyone’s banging on about it. If you’re on my mailing list that’s great – you would have signed up here or at a gig. If you don’t want to be on it then leave. Go on, get out of here…
My mailing list is held by Mailchimp who are fully compliant, so we’re all good. Still here’s a stupid song about it…
I started the year with good intentions. I was, quite literally, a soul whose intentions were good. But y’know, things got busy. Someone gave me a job for a couple of months which was very kind (or stupid) of them and at the same time I’ve continued to develop a bunch of projects as per my previous Numbers Game post. Throw enough sh*t at the wall and something might just stick.
And then I went off on honeymoon for a few weeks to Japan. Poor me. Here I am waving through a hole in a massive red pumpkin.
It’s on the Japanese island of Naoshima, which is stuffed full of art. Yep, the pumpkin is art.1
I am inside art and enhancing it through the medium of interpretive photo posing.
Now I’m back working on my slate, so I’ll attempt to keep you updated and throw out any witterings that I think might be useful. Do keep in touch. I am always happy to hear from people with questions and comments. I’m sorry I can’t read and feedback on your material – it’s impossible at the moment – but I try to offer as much advice as I can here.
1 It’s Yayoi Kusama‘s Red Pumpkin. She loves pumpkins. She nuts for them. There’s a massive yellow one on the island too which is ace although you can’t get inside that one.
Something often crosses my mind. ‘How many things should I be working on right now?’. Am I diluting my unquestionable genius and creating a mushy sea of mediocrity? Or by loading up a blunderbuss with so many killer fragments and then pulling the trigger, might one of those fragments tear through the addled brain of a commissioning editor causing them to, possibly mistakenly, order a fifty-six part series? Or are my metaphors an indication of a descent into some kind of creative abyss? Only you, or the commissioning editors who are very much looking forward to my pitch meetings, can decide…
Here I am working on my slate at my ergonomic stand up desk system…… well, taking a selfie pretending to work, but you get the gist.
I often look in the mirror and shout, ‘am I developing too many projects?’ I don’t actually shout in the in the mirror, but I do look at my reflection in an attempt to find a soul. And when I’ve found it, it’ll be available, at a price, to the devil or Channel Five.
What I can definitely tell you is that just focussing on one project alone for months and years on end is a pathway to frustration and despair. Of course you should focus on one project at a time to get it into the best shape possible to pitch, but then you should pitch it and move on to something new. Of course, it’s always worth going back to it once you have some time away. Sometimes that period of reflection can be very helpful… maybe Downton Abbey The Gameshow hosted but the CGI Paddington will be a major hit.
I’ve had a few instances where someone has been overly insistent on one particular project. Often it’s something they’ve had a bit of interest in, so it’s probably quite good. Maybe a producer said they really liked it. Maybe a commissioning editor or some other kind of highly important individual has said, ‘It’s great, but not for us right now.’ And maybe I’ve read it and thought, ‘Yeah, this is pretty good.’ But then, if no one at that moment has bought into it, it’s time to move on at least for a while until everyone has moved jobs and you can send it to someone new.1
Being passionate about something is great, but you also need to know when to move on and put that passion project to one side for a minute and slip out another one your passionate about. Do focus on things you care about, but make sure you have loads of ideas you think are ace. Or at least a handful. You want to go into a meeting with more than one, but not so many that it looks like you’re taking the blunderbuss approach. Which I think is probably a bit haphazard and likely to lead to you accidentally shooting yourself in both feet with a load of metallic fragments. Funny in a cartoon, not in real life and a frankly a stretched metaphor in both this paragraph and the entire post.
So, I thought it might be handy to let you know what I’m up to. Some of these have to be vague because I’m working on them with other people, but where I can I’ve set out the top line. Why not – are you going to nick them? I doubt it, I mean you’d be an idiot to really, just look at them…
- A low budget feature about a singer songwriter whose dreams have been trampled by his parents but is encouraged to break them by a carefree spirit. But she goes and dies, which is a pretty shitty thing to do. Once meets Truly Madly Deeply is how someone described it – not me, I don’t do ‘thing meets thing descriptions.’ But it does kinda make sense.
- A feature that is really great that I can’t go into more detail about.
- A silent comedy drama which I have to be a bit more vague about.
- A sitcom with a rising stand up attached.
- A comedy drama about a girl who ends up running the family B&B in Plymouth when her dad goes missing only to find he and the guest house are embroiled in the local drug trade. Breaking Bad meets Fawlty Towers (but not really).
- Another sitcom.
- A comedy drama about some stuff.
- A silent series of digital shorts about an awkward relationship.
- A zombie thing – could be a feature or series, I’ve only written one page so far, but it’s a cool idea…. I would say that, wouldn’t I?
- 11,12,13,14….. Various other bits and bobs with other people.
Of course, I’m not working on all these at the same time. Some are in a position to be pitched, so I pitch them and continue looking at the others while waiting for a response, which could take months. And then if something gets some interest I focus energy on that.
Maybe that is too many, but it’s definitely good to have ideas. I could do a whole other blog about whether or not someone will steal your idea by the way. They won’t. Or at least if you’re the sort of person who worries about that then you’re not approaching it in the right way. Concentrate on getting your stuff into great shape and then telling people about it. Otherwise it ain’t never going to happen anyway.
Good luck out there. And wish me luck with my ludicrous list. I’d appreciate that.
1 Make sure you check all the references though. There’s no clearer clue to a dated script than references to Craig out of Bros or President Reagan. Unless it’s an eighties period piece, obvs.
Hello. You know when you’re living with someone, a significant husband/girlfriend or boyfriend/wife, you think something’s gone missing you often blame then when actually the story is somewhat different? Maybe you left the thing on the bus, maybe it’s in your coat pocket, or maybe you didn’t eat that last piece of your favourite cheese after all. Well, here’s a song about men being f**kwits with added cheese puns….
Having said that, yesterday I was, like, totally vexed as to the whereabouts of my headphones. And then my wife pulled a tangled web of wires from her coat pocket and put them on the table. There were four earpieces. Yes, she had taken my headphones. But then she did apologise directly using the power of speech rather than bang on about it in a song, so who’s the better person. You decide.*
*It’s her, obviously.