In the pipeline

Hello

It may seem that I have been rather quiet of late.  On here, that is.  In my non-virtual life I’ve been incredibly noisy.  I’m learning to play the pan pipes and the sound is far from soothing in the hands of the beginner.  The neighbours are getting irate.

In truth, I’ve been busy with many projects.  They are in a pipeline.  It’s too early to say if that pipeline will burst due to metaphorical pan-national conflicts or reach its final destination and pump television bronze into the homes of millions (or more likely thousands looking at modern day viewing figures).  We may yet have to be pleasant to Russia, say we’ll forget about Ukraine and ask them very nicely for their cheap television.

One thing I can tell you about is a BBC Radio 4 pilot from an excellent stand up comedian, Liam Mullone’s Disappointing World, which is being recorded in London on November 24th and if you want to be in the audience then click here.  It’s looking like a really good show.

Of course, I am very pleased indeed to have a passing association with the brilliant Detectorists, which will return for a second series.  It’s made by my company, but sadly I can’t claim any credit – a brilliant bunch of people, with Mackenzie Crook at the helm, made that happen and they are truly deserving of its success.

In the meantime I’ll have to keep you guessing on the other stuff I’m working on, because I don’t like talking about things that aren’t certain to make it our screens or at least to pilot stage.  There are usually several hurdles to leap and these can often cause a stumble, humiliation and a nasty graze.  A bit like when I ran for an old routemaster bus and fell on some tarmac opening a hole in both a recently purchased pair of jeans and my knee.

Also apologies for people who have contacted me and not received a response.  I’ll try to respond to questions in blog posts.  If you have sent scripts then I promise that I do look at them, but unfortunately can’t always get back to people.

I’ll try and get to a proper blog post soon, but right now I’m busy thinking of something profound to say about Dapper Laughs, but I’m just in despair.

Thanks

Matt

 

 

An Open Apology to Graeme King

So you know how to approach people and you’ve sent your amazing email/letter/pigeon/parcel full of bribes.  But what if you never get a reply?  From anyone.  Ever.  This may mean all that self doubt, the voices in your head telling you that you are rubbish are true, but it probably doesn’t.  If I listened to them I’d be back in Plymouth working for a regional stockbroker; something I did for a short period during the flurry of Thatcherite privatisations.  It seemed a complete nonsense, but I was getting £2.50 an hour and people who bought and sold their shares on the first day of trading made enough to pay for a holiday, so that was good and definitely worth it in the long term.

I’ve had several people contact me asking for advice and I will try to respond either in a blog or personally, but I felt there was someone who deserved a response first; Graeme King.  I am sorry Graeme.  Please accept this blog as a humble apology for failing to reply to your email of 11th September 2011 – I’ve just dug it out and that genuinely was the date it was sent.  Maybe picking an inauspicious date meant your approach was doomed to failure from the start.  Or maybe it shouldn’t have made any difference at all.

Often when I receive an email I’ll read it and if it’s interesting or there’s some merit in the material I’ve been sent I think, ‘I’m going to reply to that’ and then maybe the phone rings or another email comes in, I get distracted and good intention evaporates into the vapour of inaction.  Sometimes that’s the end of it, but Graeme’s case is one I’ve often thought of.  I’ll be walking somewhere and it pops into my head, but then I’m sucked back into the world of media nonsense and Graeme is left alone, unloved and reply-less.

In his email Graeme told me he had made the effort to see my Edinburgh Fringe show that summer, thus joining a highly exclusive club.  He even claimed to have enjoyed it, something most of the audiences and critics couldn’t even be arsed to lie about.  He had gone above and beyond the call of duty and still I didn’t reply.  I thought writing this blog was going to be redemptive, but no.

Not only had Graeme done his research, but he also sent some promising material – a series of well written sketches.  He very politely wrote that we must be inundated with submissions, but he was very serious, would love to work with/for us and any feedback would be greatly received.    Here’s what I should have said in response…

Dear Graeme

Thanks for sending in your sketches and for enduring my Edinburgh show.  I can recommend a counsellor to deal with the trauma this may have caused.

I enjoyed reading your sketches.  There were some good ideas and jokes.  (I won’t embarrass Graeme with specifics, but I did honestly give them a quick read and there was some good stuff that made me laugh.)  We’re not producing any sketch shows, but I would encourage you to look into opportunities where you could submit your ideas – in radio and children’s television, for example.  Also it would be worth trying to find performers to work with and try out your sketches live and/or film them.

Our main focus is developing sitcoms so if you have anything you would like me to look at in future then do send it my way and I do keep writing.

All the best and good luck.

Matt
x

By the way, the kiss at then end is a little joke.  I would never send an unsolicited kiss.  In fact I rarely initiate a kiss at the end of an email or text.  I think it’s a bit much sometimes, but if someone sends me a kiss then I think it’s rude not to kiss in reply.  If I then forget to reply with a kiss I feel bad and worry about causing offence.  It’s a kissing nightmare.

I guess the main piece of advice to take is this; if you don’t get a reply it doesn’t mean your material is awful and you should give up.  Leave it an appropriate amount of time and then follow up.  Send your material to as many people as you can find who might look at it and do it as politely as Graeme.  Sometimes you may just get a reply even if that reply comes in a guilt-ridden, self-loathing fuelled blog two and a half years later.

I’ve Got An Idea…

Most of my ideas have, thankfully, never seen the light of day, although forthcoming appointment to view television series Britain’s Tastiest Village1 has definitely been ripped off from a proposal I sent to the Head of Daytime Twee Food Based Countryside Shows at the BBC many years ago. It’s a nest of creative blood sucking vampires out there. I guess I just didn’t have the vision to commit to the scale needed to take it from daytime to primetime without even a short toilet stop at shoulder peak. And that last sentence just proves that I have been to many commissioning briefings.

The value of the currency of ideas is something I learnt early on and TV gold is always a safe investment, even though no one has a clue which idea will transform from a scribble on the back of a fag packet into a gleaming ingot locked in the vault of Simon Cowell’s production company.

Having ideas and showing people that you can think creatively is, of course, going to help you progress in the media. But when I wrote to television companies as a young man I just thought, ‘This is a brilliant idea, they’re going to think I’m a genius and immediately make the show, stick it on the telly and this time next year I’ll be a millionaire. Or at least have paid off my student loan.’ So when I posted my letter to Chris Slade at Two Four Productions I was convinced my idea for ‘doing a programme about the Tinside Lido’ would have been brilliant even though the idea was just ‘let’s do a programme about the Tinside Lido.’ I think there were some other ideas in the letter but I can’t remember them, so they must have been even less exciting.

For those (un)fortunate enough to never have been to Plymouth, Tinside Lido is an incredible semi-circular Art Deco swimming pool that is the centre piece of the seafront. It was open when I was a kid in the seventies and eighties. I didn’t appreciate it then and just thought the water was very cold, something that didn’t seem to bother me when I snuck in with a bunch of drunken merry makers for an ill-advised midnight skinny dip when I was about 16. Happy days. Fortunately, I survived. The lido was then left to ruin until it was restored and reopened in 2005. It has been battered by the recent storms but will survive according The Evening Herald, Plymouth’s local newspaper. All very interesting, but not necessarily a great television programme without proper research or some kind of angle.

Amazingly however, Chris invited me in for a chat. Obviously I thought, ‘This is it. This is my time. We are going to make this show together, you and me Chris, and we are going to be rich,’ Chris was a television personality having presented shows in the South West for years and had co-founded a production company, Two Four, that was doing well. Turned out that it was just a chat. I guess at the time I was a bit disappointed that my life didn’t immediately change, but now I know how important those little advances are. It was just a chat, but a very encouraging one. Chris had taken the time to read my letter, invite me in, give me advice and tell me to keep in touch. Three years later I was working for Two Four.2

This was the first of many examples where sending ideas has helped me get a meeting or a foothold somewhere in the industry. There are very few of my own ideas that have been made. I did get two late night documentaries for Channel 4 commissioned – anyone see Bare & Breakfast about naturist guest houses? Hopefully not. The final shot features me running across the screen stark bollock naked. That’s what television executives might call brave, but I would like to ban use of the word brave in relation to television unless it refers to reporting from a war zone or very dangerous covert filming. My efforts just upset a friend who tuned in randomly to Channel 4 in the early hours, got excited when they heard my voice narrating this odd little documentary only to be appalled by the sight of me scurrying in my birthday suit. The reason for my exposing appearance was that it was all shot by me and I was filming an interview outside. It started raining so I had to run, turn the camera off and lug my gear inside, which seemed like an amusing way to end the film. And I was filming it naked because it was a documentary about naturism and I’m not arsed about the televisual appearance of my arse. That documentary got me through the doors of Tiger Aspect Productions where I freelanced as a producer/director regularly for a few years.

Contacting people with ideas has often lead to opportunities and I encourage you to do so. Do it with grace and research the people and companies you contact. It won’t guarantee a reply, but it will increase the chances. My current job with Channel X came about because I pitched an idea to a producer who had worked at Tiger Aspect, but was now working with Channel X.  They decided to develop it and it nearly got me a job on the television fully clothed. I’ll write about it in more detail in another post, but the salient point is that the idea lead to a relationship with Channel X which convinced them that I might be worth offering a proper job to. And the rest, as they say, is a footnote in comedy history.

1 If you don’t get the reference then watch the BBC comedy W1A.

2 Don’t worry, I wasn’t just sat on my arse for three years waiting for Chris to call again. I did other things.

A Hat Trick of Disasters

When you’re trying to get into a creative industry you would think that being a bit creative and trying to make yourself stand out is the thing to do.  Unfortunately, just like when you are desperate to get a date with someone you really fancy, desperation can be off-putting.  Animals do all sorts of show offy stuff – prancing about flashing their feathers, doing a dance, waggling their arses.  The human equivalent would be wearing a tight t-shirt with my amazing guns almost bursting out of it while clubbing on Union Street1.  Unfortunately the guns are more like those toy pistols with the BANG! flag and I had no tight t-shirts, just charity shop shirts and jackets.  Sometimes it’s better to protect your modesty.

Sadly, in 1994, desperate times called for desperate and ill-thought out measures.  I had tried writing the usual formal letters to production companies begging them for work experience to no avail.  I had applied for jobs and kept getting rejected, unless working in HMV counts.  What I needed to do was show my creativity.  I loved comedy, so why not write to one of the biggest comedy production companies and wow them with how hilarious I am?  A sure fire route to success.

I had enjoyed Jimmy Mulville’s work on Who Dares Wins, Chelmsford 123 and was a big fan of Drop the Dead Donkey and Have I Got News For You. My plan was to write the funniest covering letter to Jimmy at Hat Trick Productions and he would find enclosed the most brilliantly comic made up CV possible.  He would read it, literally wet himself and hire me on the spot.  Deal.

The letter and CV probably exists on a now obsolete floppy disc somewhere in my archive of shame. I can’t remember much about the content, but the CV was entirely fictional and the letter probably contained an offer to prostitute myself to the entire company.  One thing I do remember very clearly is writing that I would be happy to prepare lines of cocaine for Angus Deayton.  It was a long time before that scandal broke, so little did I know this was obviously too close to the bone.  Jimmy probably burnt the letter while on his own powder binge cursing my name and vowing never to employ me.2  I’m sure this is why Hat Trick has never given me a job, although I don’t think I ever applied for one after this.

Worse than sending the letter, I tried another kamikaze approach.  On a visit to London – possibly at the same time as the abortive Byker Grove interview – I decided to pay Hat Trick a visit.  I don’t know why, but I must have read stories of people turning up on doorsteps and walking into a job.  London is Britain’s city of opportunity, you go there to make something of yourself.  You take risks.  You make your mark.  It was lunacy.  My method was a bit like when Michael Moore or Mark Thomas turn up in the lobby of an evil corporation and demand answers while the poor receptionist wonders what to do.  The difference is that Michael and Mark have charisma, a camera crew and a reason to be there.  I turned up, shuffled in, gave the receptionist my name and told her that I’d sent a CV.  I was convinced that they’d recognise my name and want to chat.  But it soon became apparent that my communication had not had the impact I desired.

Time decided that it would move horrendously slowly just to milk the moment as I sat nervously sweating while the receptionist wondered what on earth to do with me.  She did pop into the office and returned to tell me that they weren’t aware of me.  There was no sign of Jimmy, nor any of the celebrities associated with Hat Trick. It did dawn on me almost as soon as I’d entered that this mission was doomed to failure.  Maybe if I’d had the presence of say Matt Berry or Johnny Vegas then things might have been different, but even then they’d have probably just wondered what a brazen, voluminous, beast was doing in the building as opposed to the shy, quiet, slim, young man that I was.

At the time the failure just seemed to prove how difficult and how painfully far away my goal was.  What I eventually learned was that just trying to be funny in an approach is not enough.  And just doing that looks like you’re trying too hard.  You need to have substance.  If I’d sent my hilarious letter with a brilliant idea for a show, a script or a video then maybe they’d have overlooked the facetiousness and appreciated that I had something to offer.

I often get emails that try this method and occasionally people turn up at the office, but they’re never anywhere near as embarrassing as my effort and if they do appear at the door, they usually have a CV, a script or DVD to hand over.  If someone makes some attempt to be funny then I don’t mind that and sometimes I even drop my hard hearted executive air and laugh.  But that alone is never enough.  It has to come with some signal of intent that you’re serious about working in the industry.  Produce some evidence that you really are up to the job, before trying to help celebrities indulge in substance abuse.3

I’m very lucky that, having ditched my early career development techniques, I have been able to work with some great comedy producers.  Sadly I have never worked with Jimmy or the late, great Geoffrey Perkins, who was at Hat Trick, became the BBC’s Head of Comedy and then moved to Tiger Aspect when I was freelancing for the factual department and had the air of a very lovely man, but I do have the pleasure of developing comedy with Jim Reid and Alan Marke at Channel X and have worked with Henry Normal at Baby Cow, thankfully without having to make an arse of myself in their reception areas.

 

1 Union Street is a notorious Plymouth night time destination.  As a teenage goth, then indie kid, my friends and I would be out in our ‘alternative’ gear avoiding eye contact with the drunken hordes. Many would have beaten us to a pulp just for accidentally looking at them.  We had to walk the entire length of Union Street, because the indie club was at the far end past the glossy nightspots of Jester, Garters and Sergeant Peppers, where I once worked as a glass collector and barman.  Fights broke out every weekend, but I could duck behind the bar.

2 Jimmy Mulville has talked publicly about his personal life in many honest and inspirational interviews.

3 When I finally got a job in television I was disappointed to discover that cocaine was not to be found in every cubicle and what I’ve seen has never been anything like an episode of Mad Men.  I’m glad, because I’m not really like that, but the occasional bit of glamour wouldn’t go amiss.