Hello! To celebrate January and the need for austerity shopping, here’s a song in celebration of everyone’s favourite discount supermarkets and their speedy checkout staff…
As I sit in my lounge pants pondering the creation of 2018’s, well, probably 2019’s1, comedy hit of the year, I thought it would be a good time to think about interrogating those sure fire hits you’re dreaming up. Tie that idea to a chair in front of your desk, shine a light in its eyes and threaten it with ways you can make it talk. When it comes to generating concepts for television shows I totally advocate the use of torture. As a member of Amnesty International, like the fully paid up member of the guilt laden middle-libtard classes I am, I do not advocate torture in real life.
But how do you do that other than make sure it’s the best script ever? Surely that’s enough? ‘Hello commissioning editor, here is a brilliant script, let’s rock.’ Sadly it doesn’t work like that even if you are the most well connected, talented person in the world ever. Okay, so sometimes it does because there are brilliant well connected people who have made their connections throughs being brilliant working their arses off and not being dicks. Yeah, I know there are exceptions but don’t start thinking like that, don’t get bitter. It’s not becoming and it’s the festive season so let a little love into your heart. Okay, so there’s that bloke who’s doing really well in the US and he’s really irritating but remember how he was great in that thing years ago, and that other thing, so maybe his talent got him there? Yes, I have heard that he’s a total dick a lot of the time, but forget about him, we’re talking about you here and thinking about what other people are doing while you’re trying to get your thing moving is not going to help. Stop it.
Back to the point. The fact is there are a massive number of scripts floating about. Most are quite good and a few are genuinely brilliant – well crafted, funny with great characters. Scripts that you could see making a really strong comedy show (before some producer or exec comes along and messes it right up, obvs). But with all those scripts chugging their way through the e-pipes, being read on devices and occasionally printed out and bound together in a loving, old-school manner, that is rarely enough these days. If you ask the question, why isn’t that enough?, just think about how many shows get made each year. It’s not that many, so why should your show be made alongside or above Detectorists, Motherland, The End of the F***ing World, Man Down, Quacks, Timewasters… it’d have to be pretty incredible.
Yes, there are slots for newer talent, but those are largely for people who have been spotted on the live circuit or for their creations online. So, if you’re not doing either of those things then you can’t expect to compete for those slots.
So, what can elevate your project? Here’s a few back of the ALDI own brand cereal packet (I don’t smoke, so I have to make do with what I can find) ideas…
1) Is your idea relevant to now? Does it have a reason to be made and is there a reason why you should be doing it? ‘You spent a year in a far right/left organisation and this is a comedy based on that time, interesting.’ Think about what’s going on in the world and what you can bring to that idea. It’s going to be more interesting to commissioners and, if it’s done well, more interesting to viewers.
2) Can you bring talent to the project? I know this is almost impossible for a new writer without connections. To be honest it is hard for anyone, even top producers, to attach the kind of massive name that will open doors. But if you seek out unique talent with their own voice and work with them then perhaps you can create an opportunity.
3) Is the format unique? A couple of the shows I referenced above have different, unique elements to them; Timewasters and The End of the F***ing World had an original vision that would have made them stand out at pitching stage.
4) Don’t know if there’s anything else, but if you find any other great ways to make your project stand out do let me know as I’m doing a new year review of my development slate.
So, good luck in 2018. Read, watch, write and pitch like the wind. And dig deep into your idea, so deep that you get to the other side, become enlightened and discover that it really is shit, but that other notion you scribbled down the other day could be the one. Yes, that one has something about it. That is the one. I’m excited about it for you. I hope your show gets commissioned at the same time as mine.
1 Pilot in 2018, series commission before the year is out, shoot Summer 2019 for an autumn TX followed by global acclaim.
I’m having meetings this week. I know, this is pretty mind-blowing stuff. But will they be meetings of minds or meltings of minds? Or just a bit awkward and British? One thing I do know is that I really could have done with a haircut beforehand but I haven’t got round to it. Do I address the elephant on the head or will they even care1.
In fact, as this blog ended up going on a bit, I didn’t finish it before I had some of the meetings. They went pretty well, thanks for asking.
Having a meeting can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’ve not had many, or any, before. So here are some tips from someone who has done a lot of meetings from a position of being a totally new to the industry, naive person meeting someone seemingly important to being a writer/performer trying to sell an idea to being that seemingly important person listening to pitches. So here are a few back of the herbal fag packet tips which might be useful…
1. Prepare for it. Know what you want to get out of it whether that’s advice, interest in a project, interest in you for a job or something else. You have to know a bit about what the person has done and is doing so you can flatter them, disarm them with your charm and then get them to invest one million dollars in your arthouse short film.
2. Just try and be nice. Most people are nice or at the very least, okay. And if the person you’re meeting is not nice just be nice to them and then slag them off in private later. Or just be nice about it, maybe they were going through a difficult time or had a particularly stressful work situation. Or maybe you’re right, they are a nob for being on their phone the whole time and not really listening to you. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t resort to being a nob too. Two nobs don’t make a television show happen.
3. Small talk. Tricky one this. On the one hand you don’t want be all American about it, unless you are American or are in America in which case go for it, but also you don’t want to waste all your time talking nonsense and then rushing through what you wanted to talk about. If I’m doing the pitching then I like to get into it fairly quickly so you have time to talk around projects. And hopefully my pitch for a dark comedy drama about a talking elephant on a revenge rampage is more interesting than the weather outlook for Penge.
4. Do give them a bit of background if they don’t know you. Enough to show that you have some credentials, but without banging for ages about how amazing you are and sounding like a bell end who might have taken a Class A substance. Which is not classy no matter what you’ve heard about the glamorous world of television, film and digital content. Easy
5. If you are pitching ideas then there’s probably a whole other blog or series of blogs to be done, but here’s a few thoughts.
a) Practice the short pitch, because you need to sell what the idea is quickly and clearly. What is your log line? If you haven’t got one then you haven’t got a pitch. Then go on to explain it in a bit more detail, but not too much. They just want to get the basic idea and If they just don’t respond with much then ask them what they reckon – it’s better to get a clear no than just talk fuzzily around the issue.
b) If you’re there just to pitch one idea then of course be passionate about it and go into detail, but try and engage them and get them asking questions about it.
c) If they don’t seem sure at first, it’s fine to try and explain the idea in a different way to win them round or at least get them to the point where they understand it, but there’s no point flogging a dead horse. It just gets messy and unpleasant.
d) Not sure that any of these pointers are that helpful… you have to feel your own way through it. Be yourself. Unless you’re a bell end in which case pretend to be someone else.
6. If it’s going badly, get off. If it’s going well, get off. That’s a standard bit of advice for stand up comics and applies here too. Don’t overstay your welcome.
Right, I hope that was some use. I’ve got meetings to prepare for. I just need to sell three sitcoms, a visual online series and a bunch of films in the next few days. Wish me luck.
1 They probably won’t care, it’s just me getting anxious about the fact that I’m in that hair zone when it can look great or can look like an ice-cream van operator who’s been on a massive drink and drugs bender the night before has squirted it onto my head from a Mr. Whippy dispenser.
I watched this yesterday and I know a few of the people involved as it’s made by my old colleagues at Channel X so I declare an interest, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and reckon it’s a great pitch for a series.
Channel 4’s Comedy Blaps are just that – lower budget ways to pilot potential series ideas which have lead to shows like Chewing Gum and a couple of series coming this year I think. And many broadcasters have commissioned tasters – shorts usually based on a few scenes from a full half hour script – that have then gone straight to series. Many are not made public, but it’s great that some now are so we can see things in their nascent form. Tasters give everyone a chance to test the writing, direction and cast but it’s not easy to do, of course.
I’m not going to do a full analysis because I have a life but this works and is well produced because….
It’s a timely idea, relevant and interesting.
The writing is excellent – a great set of characters from whom great comedy can emerge. The reveal of Sami and how they all react is a great set piece and there are some lovely lines ‘hard bristle’ stood out for me.
It’s written by Rufus Jones who plays Peter so the cast has a great foundation to build on and they’re all very good indeed.
The set up for the story and where it might go is all there. And all the relationships are well thought through and explored efficiently with an ending that leaves you wanting to see more.
I know if you’re trying to make shorts and tasters on no budget at all (this was, of course, funded by Channel 4, but the budget would be low) then it is difficult to match, but you must look at what other shows have been successful and aspire to them.
Hello and a very happy new year. I hope you are excited by the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead. Even if you are currently sat in your dressing gown typing nonsense for your website attempting to stave off the fear. Just by the very act of typing, you are doing that. I think just did a bit of ironic self-congratulation. Not sure if that’s good or not – you decide.
For the last couple of years I was working for Comedy Central where I had a great time working on a bunch of stuff like Drunk History, which is a really great show and looks incredible, and the shorts I’ve posted about with Tom Rosenthal, Absolutely Fine, which are brilliant so do have a watch…
Now I’m back working independently, developing and writing projects all of which will definitely hit your screens at some point1.
So, here’s the plan… I’ve decided to be more open about what I’m up to. I’ve always been wary of sharing things too early, not because I worry about people stealing ideas – if you stress about that, you’ll honestly get nowhere. I remember reading a quote from a writer or producer (I think it was in David Quantick’s How To Write Everything) that the size and frequency of copyright notices on a submission is almost always inversely proportional to the quality of the writing. That rang true to me.
I can’t always give all the information, if I’m working on something with another writer then it’s not really fair to divulge it without their permission. But where I can, I’ll write about what I’m doing. I hope it’ll be interesting and useful, but mainly it’s an entirely selfish action – I reckon that if I tell people what I’m up to then it’ll motivate me to get stuff done, because it’ll be embarrassing otherwise. Expect loads of blogs saying, ‘I sent (INSERT PROJECT HERE) to (INSERT BROADCASTER OR EXECUTIVE HERE) and, ‘I am waiting to hear back from (INSERT BROADCASTER HERE).
Today I’m back to work and looking at a treatment for a silent comedy I’ve co-created. I think it’s a strong idea but it’s a bit of a re-working of a previous project. This is something that is always worth trying but it can be difficult to let stuff go. All I have to do it let all the great scenes and jokes that won’t work in the new format go. Let it go.
Sorry if you now have that song from Frozen going round in your head.
Good luck in 2018.
1 Okay, maybe 5-10% have a realistic chance, but you have to start with the belief that all will be good enough otherwise you might as well go back to working in a luxury fruit goods packing factory in Devon. That was my worst job ever. Worse than working in Sergeant Pepper’s Fun Pub where, on my first shift aged eighteen, a drunk middle-age woman leant over the bar while my hands were occupied pouring a pint and started undoing my trousers.