Monday, 13 December 2010

What a Waste

In the last year or so, I've been writing shows with other people. Although the obvious down-side is that less money is forthcoming, the up-sides are considerable. For a start, it's less lonely, more fun, and you feel like you have allies. In fact, it hardly even feels like work. The other upside is that sometimes, your writing partner is working on the script, leaving you free to do something constructive. Or blog.

On top of that, my hands are tied on a number of other projects because I'm either waiting for someone important to read a script, or someone even more important to commission a series, neither of which I'm expecting to happen any time soon. (One idea that is 'in development' has just passed it's second birthday. What a happy day that was. The second script I wrote (free of charge) is still on the big desk of an important person with other scripts waiting to be read. But let's face it, if you were that exec, you'd pick up Paul Whitehouse's script first, wouldn't you? And then there's all those meetings about 'shows in development' to attend.)

And so today is the sort of day I have about every 3-4 months in which I can look through what other projects I have 'on the go' and ideas I'd like to work on. I'm looking at the list of possible shows, ideas and projects from a few months ago and realise that a number have gone nowhere and done nothing. Or that I was waiting to hear back from someone and didn't.

In this industry, people rarely tell you they no longer think an idea has potential. They just tend to stop responding to your emails. And being a writer, you never phone or arrange a meeting because that would put them on the spot. Then, you'll run into them at a drinks thing about six months later and they say 'Hey, sorry I never got back to you about that thing' and you say that you were the one who didn't do anything and that it just felt by the wayside and that it's no-one's fault. Which isn't true. It's mostly their fault.

But getting meetings in which they have to tell you straight that they've gone off your idea is more wasted time - even if it's both gratifying cathartic and crushing simultaneously. A few months of radio silence tells you that they obviously no longer believe in the project so you might as well abandon pursing that project with that producer. (Any producer reading this would protest, and say 'Sometimes we're just busy'. But you know I'm right) But this is where the slowness of the paperwork comes into its own. You probably haven't even signed anything even after all this time because legal departments move more slowly than aged glaciers. You can probably take the idea elsewhere. And go through the same process again. Unless your idea is about chairs, and suddenly BBC1 decides it wants a sitcom about chairs. Or BBC4 is having a 'Chairs season' (it's only a matter of time).

But the fact is that when you look back at the idea, you might have gone off it yourself, or realise it's been trumped by another show. Or that it just isn't funny (which apparently isn't the worse crime you can commit in comedy anymore).

So, today, I'm trawling through the files, reading my old lists and realising that some things are dead in the water and one or two things have a new relevance. But most of it is fine, but not fantastic. Comedy is a wasteful business - mostly in terms of time, but also in ideas. It takes years to get used to it. I'm still adjusting.


  1. Absolutely.

    "Welcome to the TV industry. Rule one for producers: if you don't like an idea, don't worry. You won't have to exercise your imagination writing a consoling yet positive yet unambiguously "no" email, simply ignore all correspondence."

    "Rule two: if the writer enquires again, simply refer to rule one."

    Taken from the book: "So you want to work in TV but have no people skills".

  2. I've noticed producers tend to be quicker if you send them a youtube clip rather than a script (say, you'll hear in a week rather than months). Of course, writing a script then making a youtube clip that looks and sounds nearly acceptable takes a lot more time and effort than just writing the script.

    I'll probably want to take this comment down later as I've never written an Internet comment I've liked 2 hours later. Dammit, it's recorded forever in cyberspace now! Oh, the fool I am.