Meetings of Minds

 

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.

A Taste of Things to Come

 

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.

 

 

New Year, New Stuff…

 

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.

Sleigh – A Merry Short Film

Merry Christmas! Here for your festive delectation is a short film I did a bit of my executive producing on. What does that mean? No idea, but I did whatever I could in an executive fashion. All the hard work on Sleigh was done by the brilliant John Panton who directed and co-wrote with David Quantick and producer Michael Knowles. It features a song specially composed by Elbow and has been released on the Dead Parrot comedy channel. Enjoy…

Sleighing It…

Here’s a festive treat. Sleigh is a short film starring Matt Berry and Nigel Planer with a Christmas song specially composed by Elbow. It’ll be released soon and here’s the trailer…

SLEIGH is directed by John Panton and co-written with Emmy Award winning writer David Quantick (Veep).

 

The producer is Michael Knowles  (‘Away’ starring Timothy Spall was released earlier this year), and I’ve helped out with a bit of exec producing.

Elbow, have written a track specifically for the film and Jeremy Marshall has done for the artwork.

 

Flat Packing – a lesson in re-working ideas

Interest declared. I am only writing this blog in a bid to get you to watch my video and buy my song. But there’s a lesson in it. Not the view/purchase, that’d just be you showing what a good person you are and doing something nice for once in your life. Look at all the free content I’ve provided. And it’s a good song, so buy the blimmin’ thing. Is that a deal? Excellent. Here’s  the link to buy Flat Packing Anger Management on iTunes.

Why is there a lesson in it? Well, this song and the subsequent album came about because a couple of years of ago something amazing happened – Channel 4 commissioned me to make a short pilot – or taster as we often call it in televisual show business – of a spec musical sitcom script I’d written. As you can imagine I leapt around the room when I got that call and screamed with excitement. I was surprised because it’s quite a risky idea, but they liked the script and if someone likes something I’ve done then I like them, they’re ace. Genocidal maniac gives me a five star review? Cool!

The commission meant recording a few songs with a full band and working with my musical production genius of a friend, Gus Bousfield, who not only used to work with me in TV, but who also writes, performs and produces brilliant music. His band Gurgles have become faves of Stuart Maconie on BBC 6Music. Nice work, Gus.

As a creative process it was immensely challenging but incredible fun and I felt very privileged to have been given even a small budget to produce the music and then shoot some scenes to show how the script would come to life. We cast Diana Vickers and David Elms who made a really great couple and Javone Prince as a crazy ex-boyfriend of Diana’s character. It’s rare that a pilot feels perfect – you want it to be brilliant and guarantee a series, but even if it’s close to doing that, it should at the very least be something you can build on to develop an idea further – and this was no exception. The cast was great, lots of elements worked and overall I was really happy with the result. There were certainly things I’d change moving forward but I was proud of something I’d put a huge amount of effort into.

I’ve used this from the taster as a video for the single….

The reception to it was positive at the channel, but in the end like most projects it didn’t move forward. Gutting, but them’s the breaks. Pick your self up, dust yourself down and scream into the abyss. The chances of me getting the project as far as I did were slim, they always are. Of course, I think it would have made a really good series but the competition is incredibly tough and I always see rejections as part of the process. Even the most talented people have to be committed, persevere and bounce back from rejection to succeed.

What I decided to do, though, was use the songs I’d recorded as the basis for an album. I’d enjoyed the process of recording with a band so much that I thought, ‘what the hell, keep on rocking.’ I’ve got some good songs really well performed and arranged, so it would be a shame to just hide them away on a hard drive.

I think there’s a lesson in this somewhere. Maybe it’s that having completed something that you think works or has something so it, then it’s worth looking at different avenues to move it forward. I don’t believe it’s a good to focus on one idea for one medium for too long once it’s been rejected by everyone. It is good to be passionate and committed to an idea; you should care for a horse that’s living, treat a horse that’s injured or unwell with love and attention, but as for a dying one… put it out of its misery and bury it in your bottom drawer until all the commissioning editors have moved on. Then you can whip the horse repeatedly until it comes back to life. What you should never do is keep flogging a dead idiom.

But if you can find another format or arena where your horse can live on, then feed it some hay, strap on your saddle and ride off into the sunset.

My short album about stuff can be pre-ordered on iTunes now.

Should I take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe?

If you follow any comedians on Twitter, read arts pages in newspapers / online content providers or are in Edinburgh in August then you’ll know that the Edinburgh Fringe is happening. Right now. I’m on the train heading up there, literally now. Has it finished yet? No, it goes on for blimmin’ ages. It lasts pretty much the whole of August. Which is why people bang on and on about if for ages in August. I’ve done it, I know. Talk to my friends. Actually, don’t; they wish to hear no more about it. But as a writer/performer/producer/directer, whether you’ve got your foot in the door and stepped directly onto the ladder while passing go and collecting £200 or are stood waiting at the door in the pissing rain with no coat or umbrella then it’s worth thinking about Edinburgh.

A good friend of mine asked for some advice about this recently. Someone who is already a successful actor and a very good writer. They thought it would be an idea to ask someone who has never appeared on telly – unless you count Points of View or a, thankfully fleeting, moment in my critically acclaimed Channel 4 documentary, Bare & Breakfast – for some thoughts on the matter. So, as someone who has taken several shows to the fringe and achieved no small success whatsoever, here’s my two penneth.

You definitely should put on a show. Edinburgh is a great, but expensive way to do it. It is gruelling and can at times be dispiriting, but it is also inspiring, challenging and can lead to opportunities you’d never imagined even if you are not nominated for any awards, which I certainly never was. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but writing and performing fringe shows got me into comedy professionally. It was a loss leader on the road to moderate achievements.

And here’s some specific tips, numbered to give it that clickbaity, buzzfeedy vibe….

1) Go to Edinburgh to watch stuff. You can’t imagine what it’s like until you’ve been. I visited for the first time in 2002 with my erstwhile partner Michael Spicer. Some shows were amazing and many were just okay. I thought I could definitely do an okay show and have certainly proved it. Michael and I returned full of ludicrous vigour and ambition before embarking on our highly successful 4 star – or 2 depending on your choice of publication – two hander sketch show Soft Toys in 2003.

2) Start writing. Now. You can never have too long to write your script. Want to do a show next year? Start getting your ideas down. Work on your structure. You want to be ready to perform previews early in the new year if you can – even if it’s just trying out sections of a show, putting something before an audience is the best way to see what’s working or not. Stand ups, character acts and sketch groups generally try out material across the year as they gather an hour of sure fire rock solid comedy gold. That’s the idea, anyhow. And many have been writing and performing for a few years before they take their first full show up, so it’s often three or more years in the making.

3) If you’re unknown or even if you do have a bit of profile, it’s probably best to start on the free fringe unless you know you’re going to have a knock out, very professional show that is worthy of people’s time and money. And if you put a great free fringe show on people will come, they will put money in your bucket, then you can take your show on tour around the country, then the globe, clean up and you will be a millionaire within months. That’s my guarantee to you.

4) Be your own producer. When you do your first show you could spend a huge amount of effort trying to find someone who will produce your show. And they do cost money. I’ve done it both ways and having a producer is great; it takes a huge amount of stress and time out of the process and you have someone to moan at, but you still have to be responsible for your show and getting people to watch it. It’s tedious admin but you can do it. Other shows had their highlights, but that 2003 show is still probably the most successful I did and the most cost effective. Deadlines for submissions to the fringe programme etc. come early in spring (I can’t remember exactly when and I’m on a train, the wifi is intermittent so you’ll have to do a bit of research, soz) so start planning early.

5) If you can’t afford PR (which can be expensive) then do your own. Find an angle, write a press release and send it out to any relevant publications. Contact people throughout the run to keep momentum. If anything happens, a small newsworthy (at least in the festival press) story, then contact journalists and you might get a mention. In 2003 there was an incident – I was accused of theft by a small Edinburgh post office where I was doing some photocopying. It really kicked off. You literally couldn’t write this better. Let me paint a picture of the drama; a post office worker said, ‘Did you nick that Blutack?’ and I replied, ‘No, it’s mine. I already had it on me.’ And they said, ‘Oh, sorry mate.’ The story somehow exploded into me being apprehended for an hour before breaking free and only making it on stage with seconds to go. I know, shock PR tactics. I was helped by a journalist friend that year, so I did have an advantage.

6) Have an idea of what you want to get out of it. I certainly had no idea when I started. For stand ups there is a clear path to follow, so if you’re in that game then talk to others and have a look at what they do. For character acts and sketch groups there is also a well-trod path; do a show, get great reviews, get an agent, get on radio then on telly, do a bunch of shows, have a lean period, split and do some serious acting, be a comedy walk on or baddie in a Hollywood movie, get back together for a money-spinning tour. Or do a few bits and bobs, then get a regular job in TV production and blog about it in a bid to make people think you know what you’re talking about.

If you’re a stand up or are involved in the circuit then you’ll be talking to people who know what the game is about. I guess it’s similar if you’re involved in fringe theatre. If you’re from outside those worlds then it may seem like a mystery, but throw yourself in. It’s like eating olives; you don’t know what you’re missing until you force yourself to eat them. There is still plenty to be gained and learned by taking a show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I still don’t like olives, though.

Essentially my advice is; talk to anyone who might know anything and read loads of stuff online. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface with this but I’m approaching Edinburgh and will need to get off the train, jump in a taxi and head straight to destination comedy. So this must end now. Good luck.