Thursday, June 18, 2009

What's next?

Warning: long, rambly, self reflective, self indulgent blogwank ahead.

I've been in a funny mood lately, feeling a bit down, a bit directionless. This year, I've mostly been working on in-development stuff. It's all commissioned (i.e. paid) work for brand new TV shows, some at outline stage, some at script stage, but as with all in-development stuff, execs could say no at any point if they don't like it, or it's too expensive, or difficult, or not the right time, or some other channel has something similar, etc etc. I'm loving all of the work, but there's the constant nagging worry that none of it will end up on a TV screen. I really want these things to get made, because I'm really proud of them, and think they'll be great. One is solely created by me, some I'm co-creating, and two are single episodes of someone else's show. But everywhere is cutting back these days, and new shows face even more of a struggle to get made.

Whereas last year, and the year before, everything I worked on was actually in production. Getting hired to do an episode for a show that's already filming, means that the thing you're typing right now will be filmed in just a few months. There's more pressure, less time, but it WILL be filmed and broadcast. Usually you'll even have a rough idea of when it'll be on TV. Nothing focuses the mind quite like a transmission date...

So for the first time in my TV adventure, everything I'm working on might only ever be seen by me, the production companies, the execs, and nobody else. It's worrying, and makes me feel really uncertain about what lies ahead. I might spend the whole year writing these things, only to have it all fall apart. Yeah yeah, how terrible your life is, woe is you, pity the poor TV writer whose dreams have come true, welcome to the real world, that's what many writers face all the time, you could be unemployed or dead, etc etc. Look, I know how fortunate I've been - but I made that luck happen by working my arse off, and I continue to work my arse off to sustain it. And just because "it could be worse", it doesn't mean I'm not allowed to be frustrated by it. My point is, what can any of us do in these uncertain times? What if all of these projects never see the light of day? What happens next?

Well, I need to take stock, and plan out the next move in my career, decide what I want to do. Whether these projects take off or not, I need to have the next thing all ready to go. Never stop moving, plotting, always have a backup plan, always think three moves ahead. I'm already trying to get my own shows off the ground, which are 4 of the above projects. That's currently the stage I want to get to, much as I love doing episodes for other people's shows, I still have to play by their rules, put the toys back in one piece when I'm finished. I want to be heading up my own show, making the overall decisions on characters, story arcs, making my own rules, deciding who lives, who dies, smashing the toys and making all new ones. I have big stories I want to tell, which will only be possible during the run of a whole series that I oversee. It will happen, hopefully sooner rather than later. And I'm always trying to come up with new stuff, just in case the current stuff doesn't happen.

I'm also dipping a toe back into the movie world. After getting utterly shafted on a script back in 2007, I've kept far away from the evil, soulless vampires that seem to circle around many movie projects. But now that I don't actually *need* to sell a movie script, I'll be in a stronger position to negotiate. I want to collaborate with smart, cool people, and I want to be treated like a human being, given that I made the story up out of my head from nothing. With that in mind, I have two new specs, one of which is almost ready to go out. And I've recently been hired to write two movies for other people. One is a new horror comedy for some lovely, smart, cool people I've worked with before - the pitch outline is currently out there, seeking funding. If all goes well, then I'll be writing it this year, hopefully shooting in winter. The other is a rewrite job, for another horror comedy - again, it's with smart, cool people who I've wanted to work with for a while. That's the most important thing to me - choose who you work with, very carefully, and you'll have a much better time of it.

I'm also hoping to venture into another arena at some point this year - comics. As a long-time comic reader, I've always wanted to write for them, but have been worried that I might not have the right toolkit. I know that it's nothing like normal scriptwriting, and I'll need to learn a new set of skills. But I really want to go for it. So I'm currently doing my research and preparation, figuring out the format, coming up with pitches for my own stuff and for established characters, making contacts and working out who to approach. It's scary, different, and out of my comfort zone, which is why I really want to try it. If you're not trying new things, scaring yourself, and making mistakes, then you're not learning anything.

There are a few other side projects too, one of which will mean trying something completely different and terrifying. All of which means lots of planning, researching, brainstorming, contacting people, and working out ideas and pitches for all kinds of things. It sometimes feels like I haven't achieved anything solid by the end of the day, because none of it involves scripting or outlining. But it's all crucial, and needs to be done if I want to move forward.

So it's been a strange year. A great year, really creative and exciting - but unsettling, because it feels like I'm on uncertain ground, and am not sure where things are going. But whatever happens next, I need to *make* it happen. And I will. Because ultimately, we're all in control of our own lives, and nobody else can get you where you want to be.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and conquer the world. WITH THE TERRIBLE POWER OF MY MIND. FEAR ME.


Rosby said...

I remain in awe at the sheer amount of stuff you do at any given moment; how do you decide which one takes priority? Is it a question of deadlines, or personal preference by you, or...?

The uncertainty must be worrying, but you seem like you're already forging forward regardless, which is brilliant; you have other options and a whole host of other plans to get you through if things go badly. You're in a fantastic position but you remain self-aware, which is the best thing for the situation; if you lost sight of where you were at it might have an adverse effect.

Like you said to me (although how useful it is coming from this side of the tracks, I don't know); keep at it! You're doing brilliantly and you've got loads of people supporting you. (This blog remains my reference point for how it all really works!)

As for the long, rambly, self-indulgent and reflective blog-wank...what else are blogs for?

Nicole said...

Great update. I didn't think this was too rambly at all.

I love that you are doing all these different projects, and even wanting to try something new.

I'm interested in hearing how the comic book stuff does.

And on that note I can't wait for comic con :-)

Anonymous said...

Silly iggle piggle.

Loved Severance. Love your blogs. What I like about this blog (compared to other established writers) is the fact that you are so much fun and don't talk down to your audience.

No more foolish talk. You rock.

TJ said...

I love this update. I don't normally comment, but I had to on this one. It's sorta sad to read that you guys over there in England are having the same sort of downturn that we're having here in the States as far as T.V. writing is concerned.

But, the thing that I love most of all, is that you're still so positive, and in a week of trying to be that way too, it's heartening to hear it from someone whose work I admire. Yeah, that'd be you. ;) So thanks!

Phill Barron said...

At the Screenwriters' Festival launch last week (or maybe the week before?) Christopher Hampton said he'd written 42 feature scripts and considered his record impressive at 14 produced - 1 in 3.

Basically, it does seem to be par for the course to have the majority of your work go unseen and whereas you could just keep writing for established shows - like you know, if that's all you do, that's all you'll ever do.

So I guess it depends how you look at it all - you can find it depressing that a large percentage of what you're working on may never see the light of day; but is it really much different to writing four or five drafts and people only seeing the fifth?

Even if a project dies, the ideas don't have to - you can always recycle them for something else - and as long as you're enjoying the process then a successful outcome can be seen as merely a bonus.

Frustrating though, I imagine ... I can only imagine because I'm not you; but if the price of success is a few knockbacks - it's got to be worth it, surely?

And anyway, fuck 'em - if they don't use your ideas that's their loss. Who in their right mind would pass up a James Moran original?

The tone of this comment is meant to be supportive; but owing to severe jetlag and cake poisoning it may come across badly.

C.A. Young said...

I think anybody who writes feels this way sometimes. It gets to you, that feeling of screaming into a void when what you really want to do is make amazing things.

Which, you know, you do.

In any case, I wish you luck with all of these projects. My mind is blown (in really excellent ways) at the prospect of the sort of show you'd dream up. Likewise comics.


Anonymous said...

Wow, I get overwhelmed at a mere 4 pieces of coursework *bows to superiority*. As for comics, I can't wait to read it, how about doing one for the TW mag to get started? At least you know what the process to do a proper comic will actually entail.
I do hope some or all of your programmes get made rather then the garbage out there. *coughs*AnimalsAtWork*coughs*

Bill Reed said...

Please write comics. I will buy them.

Chuck said...

This sort of feeling really cuts across many creative professions.
For a couple of years I got assigned to dream-up cool new products that would be outside the scope of our normal line-up. I designed these products right up to the point of putting them into production. Most never made although there was universal agreement that they were very cool. I cared about what happened to my brain children and it was sad to see them piled into a box for storage.

But here is what I learned. I HAD FUN DOING IT. And the things I learned are helping immensely now that I am back to a normal job. Even though the brain children never made it to production the bist and pieces of the things are living on in other ways.

SO HAVE SOME FUN, YOU EARNED IT. Use the brilliant pieces for something new, flush the rest.

Julia said...

Despite your uncertainty (is that what it is?) about your work, reading your blog still makes me want to be writing. I've had to give it up due to the time constraints of academia (and professional fanpersoning). I'll get back to it, but in the meantime, I can just live vicariously though you. Hope you don't mind.

Julia said...
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Dim said...

Wow. Read your comments, TV's James Moran. Even if you did NOTHING ELSE for the rest of your life, you'd have a loyal army of people who would read your blog and receive your tweets (give us this day our hourly tweets, but lead us not into Thames station...)and count themselves lucky to have the chance to do so. But no, you do not rest on your laurels, even though there are so many it would be a comfy matress indeed, you carry on, you hammer that keyboard and rattle the cages of execs as they drool at their desks (damn, mixed metaphor! and I was doing so well...) You have already conquered the world, so shoot for the moon! We shall cheer you on, and try to feel joyously inspired, rather than a bit miffed we don't seem to have your drive and devilishly handsome good looks.

Julia said...

Yes, I double-posted and then deleted. Sorry. Blogger, no love.

Dozeymagz said...

The downs are always horrible... you'll get where you want to be though. Hang on in there.

(You've probably got several comic type chums already, but I'd be more than happy to point you in the direction of a particularly nice and hugely talented artist with a very impressive track record if you want - just wheek me an email if you need any further info.)

Ani said...

I can relate with the uncertainty in your writing career, though you are certainly much farther along in that than I. You seem, though, to have answered your own question of “what can any of us do?” and have kept on truckin’, as they say in my neck of the woods. You got for yourself a really excellent resume and an amazing little following going right now, so I can only assume with your talent and wit that you will get to write your own show one day soon. And comics. And, y’know, your own space opera/horror/comedy/rom com/whatever-else-you-like the epicness of which would make every other writer out there weep with envy.

Your blog wasn’t rambling at all, by the way. Even if it was—who cares? Blogs are for rambling and tangents.

PS: As a one-time photocopy bitch for a small film company I am glad to find out I'm not the only one who finds the movie industry to be filled with evil vampires.

David Lemon said...

I can completely relate to your less than fun experience back in 2007, having had a pretty, er, challenging time on my first produced feature script for Film 4. It's amazing how easily the creator of a story - the person who decided everything that happens and why- can be pushed to one side.
Times are indeed tough but I'm sure your adventures in comics will kick all kinds of bottom.

-And if you haven't read it do check out Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's 'WE3'. It's sort of 'The Incredible Journey' as directed by James Cameron. Yep, that good.

James Moran said...

Wow. Without sounding like I've won an award or something: thank you, everyone, for all your comments and lovely messages, I really appreciate the support. It's good to know you're all out there and on my side.

Rosby: Usually the one that has the closer deadline. Or sometimes I'll do a first draft early, then work on something else, then go over the first draft again, to give myself time away from it. And thank you for the backup and lovely message, it's all helpful!

Nicole: New things are good, though scary... Are you going to Comic Con too? Say hello!

Jane: NOBODY calls me a piggle and- oh, I thought it meant something else. Thank you!

TJ: We'll get through it together, and fight anyone who tries to stop us.

Phill: Indeed, it's all worth it in the end, just tricky to get to that point. And I can give you a long, long list of people who have passed on a "James Moran original". Unfortunately they all met with tragic accidents soon afterwards, so you can't ask them why.

C.A. Young, mrhapptits, Bill Reed: I will be counting on you to buy the comics if/when they happen. Otherwise, I'll find you... and, er, take your money, or something.

Chuck: Will have as much fun as legally possible, sir!

Julia: Don't mind at all, glad to be of service!

Dim: Thank you for cheering! And also for recognising my dashing, matinee idol good looks.

Dozeymagz: Thank you, I may be in touch (God help you)...

Ani: Thank you - I hope I get there too.

David: I certainly hope so. And will check that out, sounds great!

Lucy said...

Tell me about it; I've lost count of the amount of stuff I've been paid for that's sunk w/o trace for some reason or another. Still, the upshot is you get a free pass to kill all those producers/directors/people who go nowhere w/ your script (it's the writer's privilege - check the WGGB rules). It does mean I'm now running out of people to work with, but hey: swings and roundabouts, my bloodlust is satisfied.

Antonia said...

Well, good luck with all of those projects. Hope they all, or at least, a big percentage of them get off the ground, and you end up calling the shots. Must be a wonderful feeling.

Le Mc said...

I'm excited you're thinking about doing comics. Yes, there must necessarily be a bit of envy from Us still gazing up in awe at You with your TV-produced writing, but that's no reason for you not to feel frustrated that the stuff you're been working so hard on maybe not make it to broadcast. You seem inexhaustible, and that's a good thing. Keep those 3 moves ahead going and you should be fine!

Steve B said...

If I may, mon ami, let me suggest that you need a good conversation with Sir Harlan or Lord Josh, either of which will lend a gentle ear to your plight. I am sure they have been there, done that.

Also, forgive the unnaturally pretentious tone to my screed. Just that kind of week, and it is only Monday. I promise to correct this by the time you visit.

Steve B

Steve B said...
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Paul Parkes said...

I found that uncertainty is pretty much the nature of the beast. But you're obviously doing something right, so I really wouldn't worry!

If it makes you feel any better, I'm going through exactly the same thing; I have 6 new shows that are in various stages of development and I sometimes get the feeling I'm walking on extremely thin ice. But you know what, sometimes, you just have to carry on regardless and ignore the doubts.

Btw, I meant to get in touch much earlier to say that I caught 'Severance' when it was on TV a while ago. Excellent! Well done!