Hopeful news for the UK film industry



There’s some good news about the British film industry (see the link above), although clearly there’s some work to do in getting more jobs for writers.  Let’s hope that the good performance of UK films will trickle down and stimulate more commissions for UK writers – especially women.

What can writers do, in the meantime, to increase their own chances?  A lot of rookies make the mistake of writing something that’s filmable on a small budget.  This makes a certain amount of sense – producers would be shy of investing a lot of money in a less established writer.

However, it’s mostly enthusiasm that wins the day.  When an agent pitches something, the producer can always tell if they’re genuinely excited.  When a producer is talking to their financiers, and trying to bring on board a director and cast who will help make the film viable, it’s enthusiasm that indicates there’s something special here.

So writers help themselves by writing a script that shows their intelligence, their heart, their soul, and their writing muscles.  That’s what sets the fireworks going.

Galbraith or Rowling?


Whether you believe that this week’s revelation that Galbraith’s novel was actually written by J K Rowling is a publishing scam or an accident, it underlines how difficult and slow it is to launch a writer.

Personally, I believe David Shelley that it wasn’t a callous marketing exercise, but I know the pressures on publishers to make money on authors quickly.  I can imagine a publisher losing their nerve and resorting to stunts, if sales aren’t fast enough, and you know a simple act on your part could change that overnight.

The problem is that producers and publishers – or the people who own and fund them – want faster results than the business will usually deliver.  I’m told a fast movie takes 7 years.  A fast sale will take maybe 6 weeks to make, if you exclude the time it takes to have everything in place to do a fast sale: your relationship with the writer, your relationship with the buyer, and the writer’s development time on the idea.  I’ve done a film deal in a week, but usually a fast negotiation takes three.

For a writer to develop their craft, probably allow 10 years starting when they begin to be interesting, around the age of 40.

For a brand to be successful, a generation?  Two?

Granted, there are notable exceptions, but it’s much more common for ‘overnight successes’ to have taken decades.

So to dump a writer if they’re not bringing in money quickly enough is like putting a few coins in a piggy bank, then smashing it, spending the cash and starting again.  The whole business – writers, agents, publishers, producers, and investors – have to choose to produce good work, and patiently keep putting the coins in that bank.

Description – the Cinderella of the writing world


Editorial notes concentrate rightly on plot and characters, but description is often neglected or taken for granted.  It can add so much to a novel or script that it doesn’t deserve to be a Cinderella.

In a script, (besides denoting the action) description consists of the crucial few words you use to tell a director what mood you’re after for a scene.

In a novel, description is where the author is also the director.  Besides the obvious need to ground the characters in a time and place, there are four other functions to consider:

1.  Tone/atmosphere

Your character is shown to their room a badly-run hotel.   You can vividly show this with the unpleasant hairs in the bath-tub, the sticky patch on the carpet, the television that receives only channels in Welsh.  The tone can convey whether the character is depressed, infuriated, or amused – and the reader picks up on that, entering into the mood.

2.  Sub-text

A woman brings her emotionally cold husband a Coke with too much ice.  That’s all the author needs to say, in order to drop this clearly but inconspicuously into the reader’s head.

3.  Pauses and passage of time

A character considers how to answer their companion.  The author can drop in a bit of set dressing here, while there’s a pause, rather than clogging up the momentum with it earlier on when action needs to happen.

4.  What’s going through the character’s head

A boy’s walking down the street with his girlfriend, but the description tells us about the graffiti on the wall.  What’s going on?  Clearly he’s so blinded by love that he can hardly bear to look at her.

Description is one of the most subtle but most powerful set of tools a writer has.