Monday, March 16, 2009

The Big Writing FAQ

Hello! James Moran here. As you may or may not know, I get asked a lot of questions about writing, breaking in, and all sorts of other stuff. Many of the same questions crop up repeatedly, so this post is an attempt to put all the answers in one place for handy reference. I'll be adding to this regularly, so it will change and update from time to time. It's broken up into sections, and each question has separate links to make it easier to find everything. If you have emailed me with a question, and I have sent you a link here, it just means that your question has an answer in the list. I'm always happy to answer questions, and will continue to do so, but hopefully this will save us both a bit of time. If there's a question you'd like answered on here, email it over or add a comment. But please check this list first and make sure your question hasn't already been answered. You can click on a question to be taken directly to the answer, or read the whole thing, it's up to you.

And remember - any writing info I give, that's purely specific to me. Feel free to follow it, or completely ignore it, it's just what works for me. If you want my advice, then here it is, do with it as you wish. There will be some swearing. I'm not going to beat around the bush here, because I'd just be wasting everyone's time, especially yours. If you want to be told that you're brilliant and talented, go and ask your mum. She loves you. So, let's get started.

Becoming a writer and breaking in:

I really want to be a writer, what should I do?
How did you break in?
What about writing courses, or books, or contests? Are they any good?
How do I get better at writing?
If I send you my stuff, will you read it and give me feedback?
So who can I get feedback from?
Can we collaborate on a script? Or if I have an idea, do you want to write it?
Is writer's block real? What do I do if I have it?
Okay, I've rewritten my script, what now?
How do I get an agent?
Will you recommend me to an agent? Or pass my stuff on to producers/companies/etc?
Do you have a list of agencies or companies that accept submissions?
Is it really that hard to break in?
Is it who you know, rather than what you know?
What if I'm no good? Should I just give up?
What should I write? What are TV/film producers looking for?

General, day to day writing and so on:

When you still had a day job how much did you write daily? Did you have a set goal?
How fast did you write?
Do you have a writing routine? What's your writing process?
Any opinions or experience with collaborative writing?
Can I interview you for my university course/project?

Doctor Who and Torchwood:

How do I get to write for Doctor Who? Or Torchwood?
Did you get to meet Russell T. Davies / Julie Gardner / David Tennant / John Barrowman / etc etc? What are they like?
Can you get me David Tennant's/John Barrowman's autograph/email/mobile number?

Other things

Can I have a part in your TV show/movie? Can I do the music, make up, costume, special effects, etc?
Are you going to be at a particular event or convention / Will you come to our event or convention?

Becoming a writer and breaking in:

I really want to be a writer, what should I do?

Start writing. Keep writing.

Seriously. Sounds simple, and it is, it just requires a lot of work. If you want to be a writer, you have to write, a lot, and read a lot, and rewrite a lot. You write and write and write, and you might not be any good for a long time, maybe several years, until you get a bit better, then you keep going, then eventually you'll get good at it. There is no short cut, no magic solution. There is nothing I can tell you that will help you jump the queue. How did I get in? Is there a secret to it? Yes: write stuff! Keep writing until you get good. I wrote and wrote and wrote, for years, got better at it, and then managed to sell something. THIS IS THE ONLY WAY TO BECOME A WRITER. I can't make it any clearer than that. When you finally write something really good, it will probably sell. It might not sell immediately, but if it is genuinely good, it will find its own way. People are always looking for good stuff.

How did you break in?

I wrote, for years and years, until I got better. I was close to giving up, because I didn't know if I was any good. I entered a script competition, the Sci Fi Channel's Sci Fi Shorts - if you won, then they made your script into a short film. I didn't place the first year, then won the second year. They made my short, Cheap Rate Gravity, and it was shown in cinemas in front of other movies. But that wasn't me breaking in - it would have all ended there if I hadn't worked my arse off. It gave me the motivation and validation to keep going. I got some more scripts together, then narrowed them down to two - a film script and a TV episode. I drew up a list of agencies, put them in order of preference, and started submitting. The first agency I approached took me on, and I then spent a year - a YEAR - writing and rewriting Severance. My agent sent it out, it sold, and I was in the movie business. But that still wasn't enough, I couldn't rest on my laurels. I had to keep writing stuff, keep pitching for jobs, keep sending stuff out. Until eventually I got my meeting with the Torchwood producer and script editor. Once I got a few TV jobs under my belt, the work started coming in more regularly. It takes a lot of hard work - a lot of writing. And rewriting.

What about writing courses, or books, or contests? Are they any good?

Not as good as writing and then rewriting, over and over. I haven't done any screenwriting courses myself, but I know several people who have, and got a lot out of them. But from what I can tell, the biggest advantage of any course seems to be that they get you to write a lot of stuff, and get feedback. Some books are helpful, in that they help you analyse movies. Some are not. But you don't *need* any of them. What you need to do is write. A lot. When a script lands on someone's desk, they don't care what qualifications you have, what books you've read, who you are. All they care about is that script - is it good or not? There is no book or course or magic trick that will turn you into a screenwriter. The only thing that turns you into one, is writing. A lot.

There are some books that give you valuable advice - none of them will tell you how to write, but some will give you good pointers on how to start and build a career. The one I'd highly recommend is Adrian Mead's "Making It As A Screenwriter" - it has lots of good strategies to break into the business, the proceeds go to Childline, and I (as well as many, many others) have happily endorsed it. But again, all the strategies assume that you are going to write, a lot, to become a better writer. You have to put the work in.

As for the screenwriting books - again, some are helpful for analysing movie structure. But they analyse the structure of existing, *finished* movies. They are of no help, in my opinion, when you are sitting staring at a blank page trying to work our your story. And I wouldn't touch anything written by anyone who isn't a writer or some sort of film-maker. Seriously. The Syd Field books have some useful analyses, but he's not a screenwriter. "Story", by Robert McKee, I found to be a monstrous, dull, dry bag of tripe. It's a billion pages long, has a few decent, common sense points buried among pages of waffle, and actually has charts and graphs. Graphs! About writing! I hated every second I spent reading it. And yes, I read it all the way through, just to make sure I gave it a fair chance. Complete waste of my time. I could have written two drafts of a script in that time, and learned *more* by doing that.

Books I'd recommend by writers, directors, filmmakers - some have good advice, some have good stories, I learned something from all of these: "On Writing" by Stephen King. "Adventures in the Screen Trade" by William Goldman (and the follow-ups). "Hollywood Animal" and "The Devil's Guide to Hollywood" by Joe Eszterhas. "On Film-making" by Alexander Mackendrick (a director, but I learned more about writing from this than all of the "how to write" books put together). "Rebel Without A Crew" by Robert Rodriguez. "Hitchcock" by Francois Truffaut (series of interviews that share the thought processes behind many of the movies he directed). But you don't *need* any of them.

Contests are a mixed bag. It all depends on the prizes. Some have a cash prize and some generic "we'll show it to industry professionals" nonsense. Some make the script as the prize (the Sci Fi Shorts competition I won, for example). Some give you valuable, actual industry feedback and help (the Red Planet Prize, still the best UK contest ever, I reckon - mentoring, script commission, cash, and an agent). Some have entry fees, some don't. I personally wouldn't enter a contest with a fee - but then some of them are incredibly useful, and can kick start your career if you win or place highly (the Nicholl Fellowships, for example). If it's worth a go, then it's worth a go. But read the fine print. If the prize is to have it made into a film, and you get paid a small amount for it, then it might be worth just sending it out for sale - you'll make much more if it sells to a production company.

And don't get disheartened if you don't win - you can't always be the very best at everything. Suppose, to make up a silly example, you entered a competition the same year that the script for The Godfather was entered. It wins, and you don't. Does that make your script shit? No. Best case scenario if you lose - you've written a good script, as quickly as you could, and now you have something to sell or send to an agent.

How do I get better at writing?

Write more. Read more. Write more. Rewrite lots.

The more you write, the better you get. Read as many books as you can - fiction, I mean. Read all the scripts you can get your hands on. I'm not going to provide links, if you can't manage to find scripts on the internet, with a simple Google search, then maybe you're not cut out for this. Read good scripts, see what they do well. Figure out how they work. See how lean and minimalist they are. Rewrite your own stuff, be merciless, cut out anything you don't need. Watch good movies and TV shows. Listen to the commentaries, watch the documentaries, see how they were made, hear what choices the writers and directors and producers made.

Anything that helps you increase your vocabulary or learn more about the world is good - so read a lot. And write a lot.

If I send you my stuff, will you read it and give me feedback?


Why not? Five reasons. (1) Because I get tons of requests like this, and I'd never get any writing done if I started saying yes. (2) Because if your story features a giant robot, and in a year's time you see a Doctor Who story with a giant robot, you might think I nicked your idea and sold it to the production team. (3) Because if I'm already writing something similar to yours, I'll have to abandon it, otherwise I'll feel like I'm copying it - unless it's different enough to carry on, and then you might sue me. (4) Because I don't have the spare time, the spare brainpower, the spare energy to work for you - and it would be work, for me. (5) Because I'd probably be completely wrong about your script anyway - sure, I love A Clockwork Orange and all sorts of clever movies. But I also love movies like Road House. And I'll defend Road House to the death, passionately, not in a "so bad it's good" kind of way, I genuinely love it and think it's a great movie. I might read your script and say it's no good, because it doesn't have a fight scene between two men in sweaty pants. You don't want that.

So who can I get feedback from?

Find 3 friends, with different personality types and different interests. Don't ask people who will just say it's all great, and don't get ones who will just slag it off mercilessly, neither approach is helpful. Ask people who will be honest, but not cruel - constructive criticism is the way to go, things like "I didn't understand that bit, I liked the end but wanted the hero to do X as well, thought the beginning went on too long" etc. Things that are useful, that you can work with. You want people who will pick the script to pieces, and point out every logic flaw or plothole, or twist that doesn't work. Some things they say, you won't agree with. But if all three say the same thing, then maybe it needs fixing.

If you don't know anyone who can give you useful feedback, then the internet awaits you. Start a blog, join the scribobloggosphere-o-tron, and offer to give feedback to other bloggers if they help you out too. Again, if one person doesn't like the ending, it's up to you if you want to change it. But if 10 people say the same, you should have a look at it. Update: I linked to two peer review websites originally, but they don't exist anymore. If someone in the writer blogging world wants to set one up, I'm sure people would find it useful. Although one of them disappeared due to lack of interest - for all the complaining about "I can't get feedback!", people apparently ignored a genuinely helpful website when it existed for that very reason. Maybe things are different now, if someone wants to give it another go.

Or you could try It's more focussed on film scripts, but you'll get feedback. You have to review other scripts, and others have to review yours.

If you want professional feedback, then you can always pay for a pro script reader to give you coverage. They'll analyse the script thoroughly, say what worked, flag up areas they think need work, and so on. Prices are usually about 30 or 40 quid. Only go to them when you've done several drafts, there's no point giving them your first draft.

Can we collaborate on a script? Or if I have an idea, do you want to write it?

No. I'm concentrating on my own stuff right now. And I have plenty of my own ideas that I want to write.

Also, I don't know you, and you could be crazy. And you don't know me either - *I* could be crazy. I probably am. I only collaborate with people I know and trust, and so should you. It is a very rare event. And 999 times out of a thousand, I'd rather write it myself, because that's the way I work. I'm a loner, a maverick, sometimes I break the rules but I always get the job done, dammit. I have done and still do rewrites, but only on professional projects, and only when I'm taking over. If it's going to have my name on it, then every word on every page has to go through me. Unless it's something that has been rewritten by a showrunner, but that doesn't apply to this question.

While we're on the subject, don't be so quick to throw away your sole credit. Right now, it's your idea, your script - you haven't even finished it yet and already you want to share your credit? What does that tell you? Many people think that getting an established writer to help them finish their script will give them a way in. It won't. It just suggests that you want a shortcut and don't actually care about writing at all, or you can't be bothered finishing your work and want someone else to do the hard work for you.

Finish your script, for better or worse, because right now it's yours. If you can't finish one script, then maybe you're not ready for this business. If the thing really isn't working, and you want to abandon it, fine, but finish *something*. You have to finish what you started.

Is writer's block real? What do I do if I have it?

If by writer's block you mean "getting stuck", then yes, it's very real. For more on that, I've gone into further details here.

As for dealing with it, here is another, very long post about that very subject.

Okay, I've rewritten my script, what now?

Rewrite it again. And again. And again. I *guarantee* you it's too long. Be ruthless. There's nothing you have done that is so brilliant it can't possibly be trimmed down a bit. If it's a TV episode for a one hour show, anything from 58 to 65 pages is okay. If it's a movie, try and keep it between 90 and 105 pages - that's a general guideline, I always try and keep mine shorter, 90 to 95 is my personal preference. If your script is 120 pages, it's too long. It just is. Again, this is a general guideline, for newcomers submitting scripts to agents or production companies etc, not for everyone or every project. But trim it down anyway.

How do I get an agent?

Write something really good. Send a short, polite query letter to an agent, asking if they'd like to read it. If they say yes, then send it to that agent. If they reject it, send it to the next agent. Repeat until someone takes you on. If the script is really good, then you will get taken on. That's what I did. I sent a film script and episode 1 of a TV script, an agent liked them, and took me on. Actually, he only liked the TV script, he thought the film script was shit. So that 30 page episode script was enough, because he liked it. I liked it. It got me in.

It will probably take you a while to do this. While you're doing that, send scripts to production companies - again, you can find places online that accept submissions. Look at the credits of shows you like, and the name of the company will be there. Enter script competitions, put scripts on Triggerstreet for feedback, go to to see if anyone is looking for short film scripts (they always are), see if you can get a short made or hook up with other up and coming writers or tv/film makers. Try and get a temp job or free work experience at any media company - the pay's shit, but it's good experience. Keep pushing yourself, keep writing, keep rewriting, keep sending stuff out. You can't just write one thing and hope that everything will magically fall into place.

Will you recommend me to an agent? Or pass my stuff on to producers/companies/etc?

I'd have to read your stuff to make sure it was something I wanted to pass on, and I can't do that (see above). But you're actually better off without my recommendation, as the agent/producer/company won't then feel guilt tripped into reading your stuff just because I've asked them to. If your work is good enough, then it will speak for itself. Trust me.

Do you have a list of agencies or companies that accept submissions?

No. I have an agent, and don't keep up to date with every other agency and what they're looking for, that's something you should be doing! You can find a full list of them in the Writers & Artists Yearbook, or by Googling. I have no idea which production companies accept submissions either, but again, Google is your friend. See the next question for more on this.

Is it really that hard to break in?

Yes. It really is.

If you want it badly enough, you have to work at it. I got an agent, but that didn't mean the job offers suddenly came rolling in. I did more than 20 drafts of Severance, over the course of a year, evenings and weekends while working a full time job, 5 days a week. I was fucking exhausted, nobody gave a shit who I was, I was nothing and nobody. But I made it happen, because it's the only thing I've ever been really good at, and I wanted it more than anything. If you're talented, and prepared to work your arse off, you'll get in. Nobody's going to do it for you. Sometimes people email me and ask me for information that can easily be found with a quick Google - like lists of agencies. Now, I have an agent, so I don't have an up to date list of agencies - when I started out, I Googled them, and got the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook for backup. How did I find them in Google? I typed "uk film tv agencies" into Google, and spent half an hour looking through different websites. You have to put the work in, if you want it badly enough, then you'll make the effort. Seriously, if you're not prepared to even do a bit of Googling, then you're in the wrong business. If you think I'm being unfair when I say that, then you're *definitely* in the wrong business.

It's really, really, really hard. Of course it is. Is it unfair? No. It is what it is. The "system" isn't keeping you out. Some of you will break in, some will take longer than others, and some will never break in. If you're good at what you do, you'll break in. Just like any other job. Complaining about it won't help. Spend that time writing instead, and improving your work. I might as well say that the "system" is preventing me from being a fire fighter, even though one time I helped to put out a small fire in a dustbin. Don't they recognise my talent?? Well, no. They need a bit more than that. So hang on to the day job for now, you'll need the money for luxuries such as food, rent, electricity, etc.

Is it who you know, rather than what you know?

No. A good script is a good script. Knowing people is helpful, in that it gets you meetings and so on, but without a good script to back it up, they're not interested. They want good scripts, good writers. End of story. To stretch my already painfully thin analogy, suppose my uncle Fred worked at a fire station, and got me an interview. Would I then be immediately hired as a fire fighter, and sent straight into a burning building? No, of course not. Same with TV and movies. They don't care who you know, they care what you can do. And if you force your way in somewhere with a friend or family connection, you'll have to work ten times as hard to impress them, because they'll automatically be annoyed.

What if I'm no good? Should I just give up?

I don't know. Maybe. Unless you have a talent for it, then you'll never get anywhere. You can be taught the mechanics of scripts, story structure, screenplay format, and all that, but unless you have that spark, that certain something, it won't happen for you. I don't know if you have it or not. You may not know. For a while, back in the bad old days before I won the short film competition, I wasn't sure myself if I was good enough to break in. What made me keep going? My wife convinced me to keep writing, she was always honest with me, and I knew she wouldn't have said it if she didn't really, really mean it. After that, I just knew I had *something*, some sort of a voice, something to say. Maybe I wasn't brilliant, but I definitely had a talent for it. I didn't know if I'd ever be good enough to make a career out of it, or even sell one single thing. But I knew I had something.

If you really want to write, if all you want to do is tell stories, if you have a head full of ideas and desperately need to get them out - then write your arse off, rewrite, and keep going. If you "really want to be a writer", but have never written, have no ideas, and simply like the idea of it, then it's probably not going to happen. Sorry. If you want to do something, then do it. Sit your arse down on that chair, and do it. If you're not prepared to do that, then it's impossible.

What should I write? What are TV/film producers looking for?

Okay, this is a closely held secret, that all of us professionals try to keep you from discovering, but I'm going to break the code of silence and tell you: TV/film producers are looking for GOOD STUFF. That's it. Don't waste time wondering what genre or type of story is "in" right now, because by the time you write it, sell it, get it made and released, something else will be "in". Any time a producer or channel says "we're not looking for X, and Y doesn't work", ignore it - if they got a script that was fucking amazing, about X *and* Y, they'd snap it up. Things don't work until they do. The second you start trying to tailor something to the market, your script will suffer. If you have a story to tell, something you're dying to get out into the world, write that. Write from the heart, put your soul, blood, sweat and tears into it. And it'll get you noticed (if it's good, obviously). Producers want to see your original voice, not something you think they want, or a carbon copy of whatever's popular at the moment.

General, day to day writing and so on:

When you still had a day job how much did you write daily? Did you have a set goal?

As much as I could manage. I'd get home about 6 or 7pm, eat, then get straight on to the computer and write until 10 or 11pm, sometimes later. Some days, I'd be too tired or fed up to do anything. This was during the Severance days, before I sold it, and was still trying to figure out the story while on the 12th or 13th draft.

How fast did you write?

Back when I was on my journalism course, in 1993-1994, I managed just over 60 words per minute. When I moved to London and had been working in offices for a few years, and writing at night, I was much higher than that. I'm still pretty fast now. As long as I have the storyline roughly worked out, I can crack through loads of pages a day.

Do you have a writing routine? What's your writing process?

I try not to have a writing routine, because as soon as I decide to write at a certain time of day, that immediately makes my mind go blank at that exact time. Some people write during certain hours, and if that works for you, fine. I probably should do that. But I just can't. If I'm working on a script, then I get up, have breakfast, procrastinate, and when I get to the point where I can't put it off any longer, I make myself start writing. Every project is different, so I don't have a standard page goal. On the first day of scripting something new, I take it easy, and see how many pages I get done. That then becomes the unofficial daily goal for the rest of that draft.

Update: inevitably, my lack of routine started to become a routine. For the past year or so, when I've got work to do, I have a new routine - I get up, have breakfast, check email/blogs/etc, then get started, and keep going until dinner time. I'm a lot better about sticking to daytime working hours now, because I know my brain won't be as useful later in the day. Although it's nowhere near a 9 to 5 routine, I could never do that. Some days, your brain just doesn't work properly. Some days, you get up bursting with ideas and can't stop writing until after midnight. My one rule is: get it on the page, now, and don't look back until you get to the end.

As for my writing process, I'm constantly tinkering with ways of finding the soul of a story, and am always fascinated to hear about how other writers figure things out. You never stop learning in this business, and it's never too late to add a new gadget to the toolbox. Right now, I've got a process I enjoy and that works well for me. I go into detail on that current writing process here.

Any opinions or experience with collaborative writing?

During the actual scripting stage, I usually work alone, and prefer it that way. I have collaborated a few times, and sometimes two heads are better than one, you can spark off the other person, get instant feedback - but it's easier if I'm on my own, and can just rattle on with it, then get feedback afterwards. Just the way I prefer to work, really. A way that can work is the "taking it in turns" method, where one person writes something, then the other person has a go at the next bit, or reworks the first bit, and so on. If you're sitting there at the same time, both trying to decide what comes next, it can be a bit awkward. Better to work out the stuff you want to do by talking about it, and then moving to the page. Brainstorm first, then write.

Most TV shows are collaborative in that you'll be bouncing ideas off the script editor, exec producer, head writer, etc, and sometimes the other writers too. You're fully supported at every stage. But when it's time to write and rewrite the script, you still have to sit in a room and do it yourself. I've rewritten others, been rewritten, but you're still working alone when you go to the keyboard.

Can I interview you for a magazine/university course/project?

I've done a lot of interviews for various things, and while I enjoy doing them, they take up a lot of time. You can still ask, and let me know what it's for and how long it'll be, but depending on what I'm working on or how many interviews I've just done, I may have to decline. Don't be offended, but I have to say no a lot of the time.

As for interviewing me for your university course or project - I don't do that. Interviews involve promoting something I've worked on, helping out with fanzines, having fun on podcasts, or getting wider exposure for me or for writers in general. School and university projects involve me helping you do your homework, and are not interviews. I didn't like doing homework back when I had to do it, and I like it even less now. Again, I get asked to do a lot of these, and I can't do them.

Doctor Who and Torchwood:

How do I get to write for Doctor Who? Or Torchwood?

First of all, DON'T write a spec episode, or an idea, or a pitch, or anything even remotely related to the show. They're not allowed to read it, and nobody else can do anything with it. All spec episodes or ideas are binned or returned, unread. I keep telling people this, but the question keeps coming up. It's not a "slim chance" that you'll get an idea through. It just won't happen, because they're not legally allowed to read anything like that.

The best thing to do, is write something of your own. They need to see that you can write, that you can tell a story. So write your own thing, anything, even if you don't think it's commercial, even if you don't think it'll ever get made - they want to see your voice, what drives you, what you love. Write the first episode of the best TV show in the world, according to you. Write something from the heart, something you feel passionate about. It has to be a story you're burning to tell, and if you feel *that* strongly about it, it will come across on the page. Show off what you can do.

I got my agent based on the first episode of a mad TV idea I had. It'll never, ever get made (it's sort of a comedy, and a surreal science fiction horror hybrid, but features kids being brutally killed and eaten by alligators). But it's got me more meetings than anything else. Later, the script editor on Torchwood read Severance and Curfew, and I got a meeting with him and the producer at the time. Severance is a horror comedy, Curfew is a none-more-black horror with no jokes or light at the end of the tunnel. Neither of those would seem a good basis for eventually working on a family TV show. But they could see that I could write, tell a story. After working with them on Torchwood for a few months, they offered me the Doctor Who job. But I had to show everyone what I could do first.

If you show that you can write, then get an agent, then hopefully write some more good stuff, then you can get your agent to send the production team your work. But be patient. You can't break into the industry but *only* write for Doctor Who, you have to write other stuff along the way, gaining the skills and experience of a working writer. Otherwise you won't get the job - they want people who can write. If you're a writer, then you have a burning desire to write all kinds of stories, not just for one particular show. Either you're a writer, or you're not. So go and write stuff.

Did you get to meet Russell T. Davies / Julie Gardner / David Tennant / John Barrowman / etc etc? What are they like?

Yes. RTD and JG were in charge of the whole thing when I was hired, so obviously I worked with them a lot. And then there's the readthrough and a set visit, so I got to meet most of the cast, including David Tennant and Catherine Tate, everyone except Billie, who wasn't in my episode, and Freema, who also wasn't in my episode (although I eventually met her later when she joined Law & Order). I met John and the rest of the Torchwood cast when I did Torchwood. What are they like? I realise it sounds like a load of PR nonsense, but they are all genuinely lovely, clever, and fun to work with. Although RTD likes to bite people. If you ever work with him, and can't think of an answer quickly enough, guard your shins, he'll gnaw right through them. There's nothing quite as terrifying as a very tall man crouching on the floor and gnawing your shins.

Can you get me David Tennant's/John Barrowman's/anybody else's autograph/email/mobile number?

No. Even if I was their best mate (which I'm not) and had all their contact details (which I don't), they'd hardly want me giving them out to strangers, would they? As for autographs, sure, I *could* probably contact the office, hassle the crew and wheedle an autograph somehow, but I'm not going to. I mean, I *could* come and help you do your shopping, defrost your freezer, or set the timer on your DVD player. But I'm not going to. I have my own life to live.

Other things

Can I have a part in your TV show/movie? Can I do the music, make up, costume, special effects, etc?

To clarify, I must explain that there are two stages to everything I work on:

Stage 1: this might never, ever happen, it's YEARS away. In which case, things are still being written, and important people with big hats have to decide whether it's worth spending the money to maybe film them one day.

Stage 2: ohmygoditsontellyin2weekshurryupandfilmthefucker. By the time it gets greenlit, suddenly there's a huge rush, and things have to happen immediately.

Stage 1 is way too early to even think about hiring cast or crew. Stage 2 is where you could come in. However. Usually, as the writer, I am the last person to have any sort of say about casting, music, etc etc. Or the show is already established, has its own people, and I'm simply doing an episode.

Unless it's a show I create or co-create - some of which I'm working on at the moment. But they are all in Stage 1 right now. If they move to Stage 2, and I get my own show up and running, then I'll probably have some say, or can at least put things in front of the right people (casting director, etc). If it is at all in my power, then I will post details of the places to send these sort of things, or make it as easy as possible for you to get your stuff to them. I'm well aware that there are tons of incredibly talented people out there, and it makes sense to cast a wide net for some jobs, unless there's a specific person we already want for various reasons. But I'll do my best to make it fair, and make things open and available. Your part of the bargain? Be professional, do your best, and if it doesn't happen, take it on the chin, and try again next time.

But until I put out the call or point you towards a place/website/etc - there is NO POINT sending me things, like headshots, or work samples, because right now, I can't do anything with them, and will probably lose them by the time we're ready to look for people. So hold on. I'll shout if/when things happen, trust me.

Are you going to be at a particular event or convention / Will you come to our event or convention?

Update: Here is a regularly updated page with my event schedule.

I usually announce it on the blog when I'm going to be a guest anywhere. If I haven't mentioned it, then I may not know yet, or sometimes negotiations may still be under way. I love going to things as a speaker, it's always great fun to meet new people and talk about the work. But I can only go to things that I've been invited to, I can't just turn up and demand to be given a panel and a Q&A (it never works). Like a vampire, I must be invited in. If you would like me to be at a particular thing, contact the organisers, and ask them to invite me, my contact details are on the blog (tell them to contact me *directly* by email, *not* my agency). The organisers will then (hopefully) contact me, and invite me along.

If you are the organiser and you want me to be a speaker/guest at your event or convention, just email me and ask - don't ask my agent, email me directly, he's busy getting me work and draining the lifeforce out of lawyers. I'll check my calendar, see if I'm available, see what my workload is like, then see if it's something/somewhere I'd like to go. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. I'm up for anything really, and always like to see new places.


Tara said...

Dood, this is awesome. I am now going to pimp it in my El jay like a 15 year old runaway straight off the bus from Kansas.

Splinter073 said...

An amazing post!! I bet that took longer to write than Severance!

You could write a book with all this advice... But then no-one would buy it 'cause you've advised them that they don't need it... ;)

Many Thanks for all the info!

Jez Freedman said...

my my you have been busy. great post

Dim said...

Well worth the wait if nly for the tip about the shins...Oh, and the GOOD STUFF secret too. All these years I've wasted writing shit. I shall reform immediately. Or maybe tomorrow.

Lee said...

You mean someone else out there loves Road House? James, you have made my day.


Cheers James. Great post. As always.

Blossom said...

Excellent post! Thanks! Hmmm, think I might go and do some writing...

Adrian said...

Thanks James.

Great post as always.

Can you also mention Sharpshooters as a place to get script feedback

This works the same way as Robin's Peerage site but is more used.

FRANK said...

Fantastic advice, James. It has perked me up and I have resolved to keep trying with the old writing.

Cheers m'dear.

Sally A said...


What a brilliant post - I'm going to direct SO many people to this. I love your honesty and your fearsome tenacity.

And that thing about GOOD STUFF - I've been saying that for years - there's only one thing a writer has to do... one thing only... write BRILLIANTLY. There is no conspiracy - everyone I meet just wants GOOD STUFF, that's it... and people know when they find good stuff cos there's so much rubbish out there.

You rock!

Right *ahem* back to my writing deadline and no dilly-dallying.

Sally x

Matt M said...

So, basically, the only way to become a writer is to keep writing stuff?


I was hoping there was some way around that part.

Andy Phillips said...

Informative and entertaining as always, Mr. Moran. Thank you.

Jason Arnopp said...

Have you met John Barrowman?

James Moran said...

Cheers for all the comments, glad it's helpful in some way.

Adrian: Have added it to the section, thanks for that.

Jason: Why yes, actually I have-- wait a minute! You are a caution, sir, and no mistake.

potdoll said...

loved this thanks. x

Le Mc said...

You, sir, are the coolest.

And yes, we are ever-so-grateful you agreed to the interview with TTZ. That was awfully kind of you.

Kya-tic said...

Cor blimey and other cockney cliched drivel - that, sir, is a rather excellent post. It is blog royalty. It is the creme de la creme of stuff. But seriously, it's good to get a real view of how the industry works, so thanks, and good luck with all the writey stuff, sure it will go well for you!
And damn it, when can we expect Torchwood to be on our screens again?!

Danny Stack said...

I didn't realise Moran was a Jedi name. Feel the force. Rock.

Anonymous said...


Great post. Thankyou very much!

I'm a struggling writer! When I feel confident I write loads and loads, but sometimes my confidence just disappears and I just can't write all all. Its quite extreme really. Do you have any tips for getting over those dark periods?

Thanks Steve

Steve Barber said...


What if what you really want to do is direct?

charlotte3006 said...

Fantastic! Thanks a lot for putting in all this time and effort just to help us all out! Really appreciate the advice. Top man!
Charl :)

James Moran said...

Tom: I've deleted your comment because I don't want to advertise something I have no personal experience of. Also, I strongly disagree that you have to pay 200 quid for a script reading service, I know of several that charge around 30 to 40 quid for the full service - some are pro script readers (ie, employed by film and TV companies), some are working screenwriters, all with valuable experience. Again, I'm not linking to any of them, because I don't want to advertise or take advantage of my position. People can search for the services they want, and decide which one is best for them.

Ella said...

Very encouraging to know that it is possible to take a long, long time and write lots and lots of stuff, without much positive feedback, maybe because not much of what was written is actually any good, and still eventually write something of real value. Eventually. I will keep trying.

Anonymous said...

On the face of it, the BBC Writers Room project seems to be the easiest way for a new writers to break into writing for the BBC. Do you have any views on this project, or know any writers who've got their 'break' through this route ?

Tony Sarrecchia... said...

Wow...thanks for laying it all out like that.

James Moran said...

Kya-tic: Whenever the Beeb decides, I have no idea. I feel your pain though...

Steve: Will answer the confidence thing, and add it to the post. The short version: you just have to keep going. Tell yourself it's okay if it's bad, just as long as it gets down on the page. Then when it's finished, it's much easier to do draft 2.

Anonymous: I have no direct experience of the Writers Room, but it is a very good thing - everything gets read (first ten pages at least), good stuff gets feedback. And the lead writer on a new project I'm working on came through this way, she's brilliant and is now a highly respected writer.

Cathe: Of course! Just link it here, as I'll be updating this regularly.

Anonymous said...

Great post, gave me more courage. I was just fussin about the fact that most of my scripts are based in different venues and wondered about the cost of producing etc. and just could not find ways to make it in one place without compromising the script. Now I have courage to carry on.

Shane Knight said...

I've never really thought about writing to agents. Know it sounds daft but I've always focused more on Competitions and the Writers room.

May I ask what i was you wrote to them to get them intrested?

Anonymous said...

Great post.

Re: what producers say they want, vs what they want... I read an interview with a commisioner type who said they wanted A, B, and definitiley no C or D. My script had no A or B and a bucketload of C and D, and they loved it.

Re: who you know vs what you know, I'd say both. Who you know helps a huge huge amount... to get you meetings. Once you're there, you're on your own.

Carriertone Studios said...

So, you won't read my script then? It's reallllly goooood though.

Seriously, great tips and advice. I have been pointing a couple screenwriter friends here.

Well, back to writing. Cheers.

James Moran said...

Anon: Don't compromise, don't worry about budget or location - that's not your problem. Tell the best story you can, and let them worry about how to make it!

Shane: It was a brief letter, explaining who I was, and that I wanted to make it as a writer and needed help getting to the next step. Told them what I'd done, and included a film script and a 30 page TV episode script, both originals.

I've just deleted another comment, so let me say this again: please do not advertise other products or services here. I have no experience of them, and will not even indirectly endorse anything I haven't tried.

StormWolf said...

Good lord, has someone actually asked you for David's personal contact info? Insane...and a little bit disturbing.

I'm very late in reading this, but you've got some great info out there. I was despairing for a while there, but at least there's hope. Yes, as you said, it really is that hard, but seeing as I was thinking it was damn near impossible, it's not as hard as *I* thought it was. ;)

Thanks again.

Anne Lyken-Garner said...

I love this. I work in TV so have met David, Freema, Billie, Catherine, John B. etc. People ask me the same thing, 'Can I get their authograph.' The answer of course, is always no. When you're working, you're working. Great blog. I've linked to you for some time and today I'm doing my blog's follow friday on you. I'll send you the link when it's done.