While the dust has far from settled, following this enormous bombshell, I thought I’d risk some speculation.
The film and TV industries have been clear that they think it’ll be more difficult to get finance, and that fewer British and European films and programmes will show up in each other’s territories. For the next couple of years, I think we’ll see polarisation between low-budget domestic product, and material which looks as if it’ll be successful internationally. So, anyone who can write good scripts that cost very little and can be shot here, and more Harry Potter.
We might see some unexpected alliances, too, as co-production partners.
The publishing industry has also been clear it thinks Brexit is disastrous. In particular, the US and UK may war over English-language books exported to Europe. If the Americans can get cheaper editions into Europe, the UK publishers will lose many thousands of sales. In response, I think publishers will try and protect their incomes by putting even greater pressure on authors to agree to World rights deals.
It’s never been easy to make a living in this business, but the next few years will call on our best entrepreneurial and creative skills.
As some may have noticed, we’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front. We bought another agency back in April, and have been paddling hard like the proverbial duck while attempting to look serene.
The easiest part of the process was doing the deal with my agent friend. She was great and furnished me with all sorts of information: spreadsheets of current licences, contact details, email addresses of royalty departments and so forth. Granted, the deal was on the basis that the agency couldn’t accommodate a large number of new clients – not with the level of attention we like to give.
What I’ve learned in the process:
1. Agents carry a very large amount of information in their heads. You think you’ve put everything down on paper, but it’s a whole nother thing to come along as a newcomer to this information.
2. Some people need telling twice. Some people are still trying to send money to the old agency. There will be people I have to remind more than twice, I can already tell.
3. You have to take the time it takes to establish good relationships. This applies to the new clients as well as new co-agents and publishers. It’s well worth it.
4. Change makes everyone anxious. Of course.
We’ve worked out who needs what tax forms, who’s writing what and for whom, and what money hasn’t arrived. It’s also been important to work out the new clients’ preferences in style of agenting, from the ‘professional only and don’t ask me about my new dog’, to the ‘I’d quite like an opinion on everything I’ve ever written’, to the ‘I miss old-fashioned publishing lunches and I’ll be really happy if we can linger till four in the afternoon talking about old friends and bad books’.
A few things have gone by the board lately, which we should apologise for. We haven’t been as responsive as we’d like to submissions, in particular. But everything’s now getting back onto an even keel. Still paddling hard, though.
Monday – Met with an American producer. She says they’re looking further afield for projects, since there’s a shortage of fresh ideas in the States, and have acquired rights in series from Turkey, Chile and Austria.
Tuesday – Lunch with a publisher, to keep her focused on the author we share.
The run-up to the BAFTA awards has begun, and I took a client to a screening of a film that can only be charitably described as something that polarises opinion. Wish we’d spent the two hours talking about her book instead.
Wednesday – Took a client to another film, which was better but a bit dull.
Thursday – Met with a TV executive, who reckons the licence fee will be abolished within two years. Not the first time I’ve heard this theory, and predictions that this will make the BBC a second-rate broadcaster. It’s hard enough to compete with the American studios. She put an optimistic spin on it: that it would allow the BBC to broaden its work, as it could then supply programmes for anyone. It’s announced that an American company has taken a 49% stake in BBC America, so it begins to feel like the process has already begun.
Friday – Met for a catch-up with a large TV production company. It’s one of those weeks where people are interested in even some of the projects that have seemed tricky to place.
Daniel’s had exciting conversations with some writers, and we’ll be announcing more on this soon.
So, a good week here at Ki. Spare a thought for me, since I messed up the cadenza in band practice last night. I’ll be up in the morning to practice before our concert tomorrow, so spare me a thought. It’s a good thing I’m an agent rather than a professional trombonist, I guess.
I’ve been pondering (in short bursts) the effect of modern life on our concentration. When I was a kid, I’d spend a whole afternoon reading. Now, a minute seems like a long time if I’m not shifting between emails, phone calls, making notes on a contract and drafting a submission list for a new project. Looking around on the train, everyone’s checking messages and Facebook while reading short articles in the paper.
We spend a lot of time wondering how to attract someone to a book, programme or film, but it feels like an even bigger challenge to keep their attention. Does writing need to change, in response?
TV has long been viewed in relatively short periods, broken up by commercial breaks and trailers. We’re also used to thinking of it as a background to making a cup of tea, having a conversation and playing a game on our tablet. Television is the medium where the drama is slow enough to dot all the I’s and cross the T’s; lots of redundancy so we don’t miss too much. If you do, the catch-up services are good enough (and will soon be even better) that you can relax and have another look. Or, conversely, watch it in a glorious binge.
It’s harder not to be fully immersed in a film, since a screen that large is kind of hard to miss (although some people manage it – you see the annoying lit screens of their mobiles as they text).
Some books can still make me miss my stop, and I wonder if that’s what it takes now to keep someone riveted to the page: cliff-hangers, plot twists, vivid characterisation, outrageous wit – and perhaps the pacing, too, as if writing in sprints can mesh with a reader whose concentrating in sprints.
I’d hate to suggest to writers that they change their style, but perhaps it’s worth bearing this tendency in mind.
I’ve got quite a shopping list. A writer can create a TV series or movie, and then get fired, only to have another writer rewrite it and get the credit (and the residual payments). A writer’s credit can be accidentally left off a film, and the producer only has to use reasonable efforts to get this corrected (as long as it doesn’t cost them any money to do so). Most film and TV contracts assume the writer will do two drafts and a polish (and be paid accordingly) when more often they’re required to do many more drafts than this (sometimes because the producers have changed their minds). Many writers have to pitch, or write shadow scripts, on spec, before being commissioned to write for a TV series; it’s not down to their experience, and the producer’s judgement that their voice is right for the programme. Book authors are bullied into using pseudonyms that put them near a similar bestseller on a bookshop shelf. And writers’ incomes and rights have been deeply eroded over the last ten years.
The meeting took place at the Houses of Parliament on Guy Fawkes Night; luckily the fireworks happened outside rather than inside. Wish us all luck, and don’t forget to support the Society of Authors and the Writers’ Guild.
We ‘gorge’ on series these days, for all that the BBC reported today that most people still sit down in front of the telly and watch what’s on right now. I was chatting to one of my clients this week, who said he felt his brain would have exploded if he couldn’t watch Breaking Bad as back-to-back episodes.
Right now, writers have to put in cliff-hangers at precise moments – just before the commercial break – to hook viewers into staying with the programme. It’s noticeable when the plot beats come too slowly (filling time) or a twist seems manufactured. A bit like a body wearing a wrongly-shaped corset.
This way, the story can be paced in a much more organic way – and even take the time it needs, whether it’s an hour and five minutes, or 13 hours.
But a story still needs to keep the viewer’s attention. The Victorians feared that – without a corset – a woman’s vital organs would slosh about dangerously. In storytelling terms, we don’t want 13 hours of formless tale. Our forebears knew it – Homer kept us going in The Odyssey. Cliff-hangers and reversals are a couple of standard devices for this, as are changes in tone or genre.
As Chris Fowler puts it, a story is like a pudding and, every little while, there should be a nice plum. I’m looking forward to 13 hours of these storytelling rewards.