The death of a script & knowing when to move on.

After my absence (ten days in Menorca don’t you know, with a few days of sloth either side), I thought I would kick off my blog entries again with a little more about rejection. Ah, rejection, my old friend.

                You see, dealing with rejection comes hand in hand with life anyway, but I’ve found even more so when trying to pursue a career in the creative arts. I’m sure you will have at some point heard the familiar story of a now-famous author who collected rejection letters by the box load, the pop and rock stars that were turned down by some retrospectively stupid talent scout. Well, that’s because it’s true no doubt. There must be a handful of people who tried something first time and were given licence to continue by some purse-string, but I would guess it is the few, not the many.

                The more important question I’ve found is how you deal with it and what you make of it. There seems to be a number of stages and responses that occur, whether you like it or not, normal, human responses to someone telling they don’t think you (or your work) is good enough:

DenialYes it is good enough! The person has obviously had a taste transplant or wasn’t paying close attention! They have all the potential-spotting potential of a grapefruit!

Woe Oh god. It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough, basically. I may as well give up on everything, ever.

ResolveSo, one person doesn’t think it’s good enough? I need to try someone else then. Do I trust the future of my work to one person I’ve never met, who for all I know, didn’t even read/hear/see the thing? Keep on at it.

AcceptanceYeah. It isn’t good enough. I need to start again and make it or the next project better.

                Can you guess which two of the above are my recommended options in this situation? That’s right, resolve and acceptance (in that order – resolve has to give way to acceptance eventually, if rejection is still happening). Not saying that I’ve eliminated denial and woe, they are instinctive reactions, you can’t stop them, but you can deal with them.

                To use an example that spurred me into writing this brief exploration of rejection, I’ve just had two rejections for the same sit-com script from two different production houses.

                The first was the BBC. They have a submission window twice a year now where you can send off your scripts for any genre/platform, along with the thousands of others, and hope it progresses through the review stages. First stage, where 80% of all submissions fail, is a scan through the first ten pages. If nothing jumps out, slaps the readers face, tweaks their nose and says ‘I’m fresh, unique and exemplary!” – you won’t get past this stage. Which is fair enough. This is the stage my script failed at. Which again, is fair enough. After this stage, if you are lucky, the remaining 20% of submissions get filtered further by more detailed reading and second opinions, and they are eventually left with just 1% being taken further, and even then there is no guarantee it will get past the first development meeting and even get made.

                Unfortunately, being one of thousands rejected at stage one, you get absolutely no feedback, other than the generic ‘don’t be disheartened, it just didn’t grab out attention this time etc…’. So, I have no specific advice to build on here. I understand why they can’t offer this though, they really do have a lot of scripts to read.

                The second rejection I received was from an independent production house, responsible for most of the better radio comedy on BBC4 at the moment, and a huge chunk of the television comedy legacy to come out of the rallying, alternative 80’s and beyond. This was what I like to call positive rejection. I received a letter, specific to me, referencing my script name and the characters in it, with actual feedback about the reasons for not wanting to take it on.

                Before I go into those reasons, here is the programme synopsis, can you spot why it failed?

“Set in and around the offices of small-town weekly newspaper ‘The Herald’ in the fictional market town of ‘Dulton’ in the Midlands. The Herald and its small team are thrown into turmoil with the arrival of a new editor, Barry Barryson, an American with a mysterious past who seems to have walked straight out of the ‘Daily Planet’ and into rural England. Barryson wants sex, scandal and scoops, but these things are in short supply in a town where planning application for a new lamp-post is front page news.

                Senior journalist James Boon is the old guard of an easy life and easy journalism. The arrival of Barryson rocks his world, and he doesn’t like it. Together with his junior journalist Erica Roberts and photographer Steveo Brough, he is determined to oust Barryson or at the very least, ignore him and his crazy ideas and hope he eventually goes away. In the meantime however, the paper must go on! That cow that thinks he’s a horse won’t interview himself.

                 ‘The Herald’ will revolve around the main cast of Boon, Erica and Steveo while Barryson wanders in and out of the action with frantic speeches and bizarre ideas that set the pace and story of the action. It will focus on the dynamic between the core cast within the coverage of the various twee local news stories that arise in Dulton. Other characters will come in as necessary for each storyline, but never at the expense of the core cast who will drive the episodes with their banter and reflections on events, rather than being overly ‘situation’ based. Boon is the dominant voice, the real leader of the group, who believes himself to be senior in both years and wit to his junior colleagues. In this he is at least half right, but as with all great schemers, his plans often go awry.

                In this pilot episode we are introduced to the cast through the arrival of Barryson and the reactions of the existing staff. Future episodes will continue to run the core plotline of Boon’s attempt to oust or avoid Barryson, while introducing individual plots based on various overblown local news stories.

                This idea was inspired by a weekly newspaper in a small town where I used to live that literally ran an article once on a cow that thought it was a horse. It was published weekly, so if anything exciting really did happen, you had to wait a week to read about it. This paper and others like it are a constant source of comedy plots so I think ‘The Herald’ has potentially a long life-span without fear of falling into cliché and forced situations.

                Coupled with a vibrant dynamic between the main characters and their individual stories, I believe this is a formula for a successful radio comedy along the lines of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Cabin Pressure’, and will appeal to a similar demographic.”

                Okay, so without the actual script to read (available on request by the way), maybe this isn’t enough to go on, but I will give you a clue – it was the crazy American editor. At least, that was one of the reasons cited in the rejection letter. His presence, his character, just wasn’t ‘believable’, I’m told, and I agree.

                The positive feedback I received was that the opening scene was ‘better than most’ and made the producer laugh. The opening scene featured the existing staff of the newspaper talking amongst themselves, and as I was writing it, I felt at ease with the dynamic. Unfortunately, this scene led up to the arrival of the new crazy American editor, bursting into their lives, and basically disrupting my easy dynamic and setting the tone-o-meter to ‘whacky’.

                This may have worked for other production houses – think of the IT crowd with the two bosses (played by Chris Morris and Matt Berry respectively). They were both ‘whacky’, ‘whirlwind’ characters who owned all their scenes and scoffed in the face of believability… but it wasn’t the producers of ‘The IT crowd’ I had sent this to, and even if I had, would they want to pursue another show with that kind of force present in it, having done it so well already?

                So do I re-write (again) this script sans whacky American editor? No. I don’t think so. I think it’s time to move on. This was only my second attempt at a sit-com pilot script, which I had already adapted from a TV script to Radio, figuring that the overheads of radio production would make it more likely to get looked at (a tip I still think is correct). The original TV version had its own round of rejections some time ago, and all in all, this idea is now a few years old and it’s sad to see it limping to its demise, one rejection letter at a time, when I could just take it out back, and blow its brains out.

                I have reached acceptance, and now it is time for something new, learning the lessons that this script has taught me, absorbing the advice of the industry professionals who have offered it, wrapped as it was in rejection, and pouring this into the next project. Of course, this script will lurk in the background, and may even surface again one day, but even if not, it will be just as important as my successes, for it will have informed them and shaped them by its negative presence.

                I suppose there is some kind of metaphor in there for more important things in life, but that wasn’t the point, but if you want it, take it… I don’t care. Eat my metaphor.

                Thanks for reading.

                Ps – If anyone wants to read the script of ‘the Herald’ – please message me. You are welcome.

                P.ps – If any ‘budding’ writers are reading this, one thing I need to mention, while this script was being submitted and I was waiting for a response, I didn’t sit idle – Sit-com scripts are just one aspect of my work, and the best advice I’ve heard when submitting work is to forget about it until you get your response. In the meantime I worked on several other projects, and that is the key. There’s no point writing one thing and then waiting for several weeks or months to find out it has been rejected. Send it, move on, send it, move one and so on. 

A Guest Blog by Tipsy McElroy.

This week, as I am rather busy, I have decided to allow a guest blogger a spot on my blog. May I introduce to you, Tipsy McElroy, the home help guru.

Home tips, by Tipsy McElroy.

Image

We live such hectic lives now, don’t we? I know I do, and technology, far from being the shiny robot help that was promised to us in the 1950s, has turned out to be even more of a distraction. It’s hard to get anything done for the barrage of tweet’s and facebook’s, ever demanding of your precious time and energy. It’s a wonder any housework gets done at all, but don’t fear! Tipsy is here to show you a few tips that can help elevate your day by blasting through those tiresome chores in super-quick, fibre-optic speed! And, for all you planet-lovers out there, it’s organic!

Tip #1. How to clean an oven in super-quick time, with a potato.

Tired of spending hours scrubbing away at the greasy blackened carbon coating of an over-used and under loved oven? I know I was, until one day, I accidentally forgot to put the oven on when making a baked potato family (for those who don’t know, a baked potato family is when you pick two or more potatoes of increasing smaller sizes and bake them all together – it’s a great way to get kids eating healthy potatoes! Who wants to eat mummy-potato? Me! Me!) Anyway, when I returned to my oven, two hours later, guess what? It was as clean as the day I bought it from the police auction.

So get your spuds out, pop them in, and wait for the magic to happen!

Tip #2. Blocked drains? How to get that waste moving again, with a potato.

We’ve all been there. Covering up the smell of our blocked drains when entertaining guests by constantly having to pretend you’ve broken wind. It’s no wonder nowadays, with all the saturated fat in our poisonous food, dripping down the plug hole when we wash up, oozing out of our pores and into the bath tub.

I used to wait hours for commercially available bleach to do its work, literally just watching it slowly erode the fatty deposits though a series of small camera’s installed in the plumbing (a great buy by the way – ‘STV’ (sewage TV) – available for as little as £1000 from most Russian embassies). But not anymore! Imagine my surprise when after having my usual ‘mash and a shower’ session (one of my guilty pleasures), I accidentally slipped and dropped my bowl of mashed potatoes down the sink-hole. Oh dear, I thought, best get the plunger and go fire up the control room to track its movements. But when I switched on the monitors, what did I see? The most gleaming, capacious network of pipes and u-bends since they day they were first installed by that lovely man we found by the pub bins that fateful evening in ‘84.

So, if like me, you enjoy taking a little shower and eating mash potato at the same time, why not try dropping a little down that blocked drain, and you’ll smell the difference!

Tip #3. Cats at the furniture again? Mucky dog paws on the recliner? Rat hair? Try a potato.

There’s a reason the phrase ‘couch-potato’ exists, and I can tell you, it’s not what you think! I have three cats, half a dog and a number or rodents. As much as I love them, they do make a mess of my three piece! (we’ve all been there). Once upon a time, much of my day was spent sponging and rolling the furniture for cat/dog/rat hair and muddy footprints, only for it to all happen again when the automatic timed locks in the laboratory would open up for exercise hour.

So it was that one day, after an unusually large shipment of potatoes from the Korean ambassador (his little way of a thank-you, bless), that 7pm came along with the familiar hiss of the airlock and the scampering footsteps of my genetically modified brood as usual, but then, something wonderful happened. Instead of the normal scratching at the windows and trying to eat the sofa (and each other), they all curled up together for an adorable little sleep on the spud sacks. And so it has been ever since.

So, simply leave a few sacks of plutonium grade spuds lying around your living room and watch the little darlings relax – leaving you free to get on with contesting that niggling court order you’ve been meaning to get around to!

Tip #4 – Money problems? Try a potato.

My last tip for today is one that not only will save you time, it will save you money, so two big ticks for this big tip!

I discovered this tip one day at Hyde park, awaiting my weekly transaction with Red Eagle (not his real name of course! That would be telling!). As I sat with my briefcase ready on my lap, my GPS sensor chip burning away under the thin layer of skin behind my right ear, I reached into my pocket for a small snack, and what did I find? A wad of unmarked, used £50 notes! Well, I soon realised that it was meant to be in the case with the rest of that month’s bribe, but before I put it back, I reached into my other pocket, and pulled out the snack as originally intended: A glorious raw, average sized potato.

As I sat there, £5000 in one hand, an average potato in the other, I found something quite startling. They weighed almost exactly the same! Don’t worry if you’re not very good at guessing weights, take my word for it, my cybernetic implant takes all the hassle out of that sort of thing. Anyway, this happy accident made me realise that for anonymous money drops, you know, the one-off extortionists who rarely look inside the package and are probably too weak to follow up on the threats, the simple use of an average sized potato for every £5000 of notes in a briefcase is just the right weight to fool them long enough for hubby to get in a good shot as they walk away.

So next time you’re being bribed by some jumped up whistle-blower or Cyborg hunter, don’t waste good cash on the possibility that the set-up might go wrong – trick them with a potato! Remember, one average sized potato is £5000 in used £50 notes. For new season crops, adjust to one large for £2000 in £20’s. Do not use chips.

So that’s it for now folks! I hope you’ve found this helpful, and thanks to Garry for allowing me to use his blog. I’ve never met him, nor am I likely to. We don’t mix in the same circles, and I’m usually very heavily armed, and from the look of his blog, he’s a bit of a hippy pacifist. Peace not war and all that ideological anarchy. Bless. And don’t forget, the dead will rise! Be prepared!

Tipsy.

About the Author

Tipsy McElroy is the author of “1001 Ways to Hell” and “Good Housekeeping for the Digital Age”. She is a regular guest on ITV’s loose women, where she uses her skills as  a character actor to portray most of the audience. To contact Tipsy, please leave a comment, or if you’d prefer, £50,000 in used £50 notes in an unlocked briefcase by the Churchill memorial bench in Hyde Park (or approx ten average winter potatoes / 25 large new season).