First-hand anxiety

I was introduced to a terrifying new idea at Harbottle’s interesting legal seminar this week – the concept of second-hand computer files.

It’s possible (and legal) to buy second-hand programmes and games.  But should this be extended to books and films?

Of course, everything in my agent’s heart rebels.  Anything that might erode writers’ earnings is just Wrong.

You can see how you might see the logic in it, legally speaking.  The ‘first use’ is exhausted: it’s been sold, someone’s used it, traditionally it’s something that can be sold on as used goods.

But films and books don’t date in the way that programmes do (or a buggier or more primitive earlier version of a game, for example).  An e-book doesn’t get dog-eared and worn; an electronic file of a movie doesn’t come in a battered DVD box which is sticky with a bit of spilled wine (as mine are).

One of the pleasures of being an agent is that while it’s good professional sense to understand someone else’s point of view, you can be unashamedly biased towards writers.  I’m really enjoying the fact that everyone’s buying ebooks and downloaded films first-hand.  God knows, there are enough price cuts that the consumer isn’t suffering much.  All that’s happening right now is that second-hand dealers in these haven’t sprung up (and Amazon hasn’t opened that department).

Let’s just step away from this idea, right now.old books

The tough pitch

Yesterday I went to see a TV company, to catch up with what they’re doing and hopefully sell them a series idea.

When I got there, I realised I’d met the head of development before and she was hard work.  Normally I can get a producer to agree to consider five or six possible projects, but she shot down in flames every last thing I pitched to her.  It was all perfectly friendly, but I came back to the office really discouraged.

Of course, agents grow a thick skin over time (maybe that should be ‘hide’ or even ‘scales’), so I bounced back after blowing off a bit of steam with my colleagues.  But it got me thinking about tough pitching sessions.

As with any selling, smiling, manners and professionalism are givens.  You try and work out what they think they need, and what do you think they need.  Sometimes the most successful sale is something unexpected and delightful.

Maybe she’s incredibly focused on getting exactly what she thinks she wants.

Maybe she only likes to find things for herself, and it’s irritating to have someone else suggesting ideas.

Maybe she doesn’t really need anything right now.

Maybe I just didn’t ‘get’ her, and pitched things in the wrong way.

Maybe she likes to say no first, and re-consider later on.

Maybe she feels safer buying something that someone else wants too.

One of my favourite-ever short stories is Through Other Eyes by R A Lafferty.  It’s about a team of scientists who invent a machine that lets you experience the world through someone else’s eyes.  They’re all shocked by how different it looks to their own experience.  I often wish I had that machine.  I guess fiction and drama are as close as we can get right now.

Screening season!

For some reason the pace of work seems to double at the beginning of September.  Screening season’s now begun, too – members of the British Academy (BAFTA) are being flooded with invitations to screenings of this year’s film award contenders.  It’ll ramp up even more just before Christmas, with stacks of movies arriving on blu-ray.  A film junkie’s dream.

Last night’s was a good one – although a couple of guys behind me were complaining about how awful they thought Snow White and the Huntsman was.  Unfair on a movie that rises well above a genre usually loaded with sugar, fats and additives.

Anyway, last night’s film was Smashed.  It’s about a young couple who drink too much – way too much.  It opens as the alarm clock goes off on a working day.  Hideously hungover, they find they’ve wet the bed again.  She’s got to shower, dress, and go to school, where she teaches six-year-olds.  A couple of scary episodes convince her to join AA.  That solves one big problem in her life – but exposes the other problems.

It’s not easy viewing but well worth seeing.

Scriptwriting: Inside Track

On Saturday I spoke on a panel for a scriptwriting conference:

http://www.st-hildas.ox.ac.uk/scriptwriting-inside-track

The St Hilda’s College Media Network put together four good sessions on radio drama, radio and TV comedy, TV drama, and film.  Some great professionals there including producers Karen Holden, Marion Nancarrow, Harriet Rees and Sioned William, and writers Lizzy Edmondson, Juliet McKenna, and Jean Buchanan.

It was the TV drama session, rather than the comedy, that was especially giggly – Sarah Pinborough and Katherine Way to see the funny side of the business.   Katherine had an anecdote about a script that had had so much rewriting that they’d run out of different colours of paper for the changed scenes.  Actually that’s not funny if you’re the writer.

The audience loved hearing about Tina Pepler’s radio play involving a chiropodist whose left foot talks to his right.

Lawyer Roger Kirby and screenwriter Whit Stillman got a real deadpan volley of humour going.  I’m a fan of Whit’s films; he’s a quiet guy who gives the impression he’s listening carefully to everything.  Roger was a subversive Chair, and kept us not only on our toes, but seemed to bring out the areas in which we disagree.  Does everything need to be solidly in genre nowadays, or can you still make an idiosyncratic piece?  Can you just send your script to a producer or actor, and will this get better and quicker results than sending it to an agent?  Is there any funding out there any more?

I’m hoping there’ll be another one next year, although it must be a hell of a lot of work.