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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
You don’t have to be mad to write comedy, but it helps. I should get some mugs and t-towels made for my merch page and become a millionaire. I recently had an email with the subject line ‘Catch 22?’ and there does seem to be an impossible and conflicting dilemma for aspiring writers. While not quite as life-threatening as a Captain Yossarian situation it can drive people to the brink. Still, I thought I would answer the query while probably failing to answer the query.
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So, you’ve written something; a sitcom pilot script, short film, web series, brilliant comic feature film. You nervously send it out into the world to anyone and everyone who might just take a look at it. Chances are you won’t get many replies, but maybe one or two people respond and say nice things. If you show some promise, great potential or even generate genuine interest in your work then this is just the start of what could be a great ride. But, unless you are brilliant and lucky, it will be a bumpy one, like a comedy writer’s version of World’s Most Dangerous Roads, Ice Road Truckers or if you’re a partnership, Touching the Void.
My recent correspondent had written a web series which received some interest and nice comments from industry professionals. And you know what? That is great; it’s encouraging, someone has actually given you feedback and you feel like you’re making progress. And you are. But then… nothing. Back to square one like the worst game of Snakes and Ladders you’ve ever played and you scream and cry like a child while your competitive dad laughs smugly while he whizzes up another ladder. Then I shout, ‘It’s not fair!’ and he replies, ‘Life’s not fair.’ And I think, well okay maybe life isn’t fair but if people were less of a dick about it then maybe life would be a bit nicer. And now that I’m just as bad as my dad when I play board games, my girlfriend refuses to play Scrabble with me. It’s the circle of life.
Sorry about that tangent, but sometimes it’s good to get these things out. So, you feel there are barriers in the way of your writing moving forward, such as the fact that you haven’t got an agent when you can’t get an agent because you haven’t had anything produced. I know what that feels like, but while having an agent is great, it shouldn’t and doesn’t stop you pursuing your writing. In fact, you can waste precious time trying to get an agent when an agent isn’t going to be interested in signing you.
If producers are reading your work, enjoying it and giving you good feedback and even asking you in to meetings, but not pursuing projects further then, frustrating as that is, you just have to see it as step forward. Most industry folk do try and take time to encourage talent and even if nothing comes of those contacts now, they may do in the future. They have to look at your work and decide whether or not they have a chance of selling it and if they think that’s unlikely then they can’t afford to spend more time on it. This is particularly true if your first projects are sketches or web series. The ideas and scripts might be great, but there’s not a lot you can do with them, so you have to pursue them yourself. There are a few outlets on radio for sketches and gags but whether it’s a sketch, an online series or short film, the only way forward might be to make it yourself. And, yes, there’s probably a whole other post on this, but the only real answer to, ‘how do I do that?’ is, ‘by going out and doing it, learning from your mistakes and doing it again.’
As a new writer without an agent it is difficult to get people to read your work, but some people do and if they really love it, have time to pursue it and believe they have a chance of getting it made then they will. Those three things coming together is rare, but the issue of whether or not someone has an agent has never been an issue in my experience. In fact there are writers and performers whose scripts I have developed who have gone on to get an agent and develop a career and most of them had been through exactly this process. So, dust yourself down if you’re feeling dusty, get up again if you’re feeling Chumabwumba-y and make stuff, write more, write what you want but try and write something someone might want too. Be aware of what’s out there. Watch shows, read scripts. And one day you could be writing a blog and considering merch with snappy slogans in a foolhardy attempt to monetise it.
Just a footnote; David Quantick’s book How to Write Everything is well worth a read and will help anyone in this situation, I think.
Hello. As you may have read on such illustrious platforms as Chortle or televisual industry websites I have a new job working for Comedy Central. The articles were accompanied by either an old picture of me holding a guitar or a recent hurriedly taken self-portrait. In both I have the cold dead-eyed stare of a killer. When I took the new pictures I rejected one where I was smiling because my girlfriend said I looked like too much of a pushover. It seems I now have to strike fear into anyone who is pitching to me. I bet you’re quaking in your fashionable boots.
A friend texted me this picture from the print edition of Broadcast, which I never actually saw. Now I have a proper job it seems I’ve gone fully Partridge…
In the full quote I make a self-deprecating joke, obviously. But they’ve edited it down, as is their right, to bring out the full media tosser.
It’s a really interesting, exciting and challenging role which I’m very lucky to have and I am throwing myself into with gusto (obvs, but also just in case my new employers are reading this). One of the big issues for me to deal with now is how I respond to people who contact me through the website. I’ve enjoyed being open, receiving ideas and I do try to respond – I generally can’t give detailed feedback on projects, but I’ve read every message and, apart from a recent backlog due to being a bit busy, what with the new job ‘n that, have responded to pretty much all of them. I only ignore those who make no effort to be courteous and only slightly prioritise those who heap praise on my vain little head.
From now on, however, I probably won’t look at your script or idea. I don’t want to close my email, because I think it’s useful all round for people to be able to contact me. A question might inspire a blog post that can then help more of you, for example. But for reasons of both practicality, legality and all round retention of sanity I’ll have to stop reading unsolicited scripts.
I know it’s disappointing, because it’s hard to get anyone to look at your work. That’s why the people who make progress are those who display brilliantly bloody minded ambition mixed with politeness, a thick skin and openness. Do have a read of my blogs and hopefully there is some useful advice.
I have considered charging people for a script reading service, but while I am in gainful employment that doesn’t feel right and I don’t really have the time to dedicate to it. James Cary – a very experienced sitcom script writer and editor – has just opened a window of opportunity to get him to read your work in return for backing one of his projects. I think this is very fair and something I have considered and may yet do in the future. You may be forced to buy my music in return for me reading your work. Well, not forced, but you get what I mean. I think these kind of deals are a fair trade. As James writes in his blog, a considerable amount of time really is needed to give proper notes on a script – three or four hours – and even to give something a quick read and general thoughts on whether or not it’s any good takes a good chunk of time.
If you want to get in touch with offers of a multi-million pound record deal for my music or similar amounts to turn the blog into a book, then that’s, like, totally cool. Drop me an email. If you do then I’ll read your script in return – yep, I am that shallow. Soz everyone and good luck.