On a good writing day, I turn out roughly half a page of script an hour.
In terms of sheer time spent tip-tapping away at the laptop, I put about one-hundred-and-eighty hours of writing into the first draft of a screenplay. Actually, that isn’t the true figure, because for every hour spent writing, I spend about two hours in research, rewrites, polishing, tweaking and pondering. I believe that realistically, every single feature length script I write, is the result of about five-hundred hours work. What this means, is if I were to pay myself the UK minimum wage for that time, it is an investment of nearly £3,000 (nearly $5K) per script.
If I were to add up all of the time that I have spent learning how to write a screenplay and all of the years I have put into understanding how stories are told cinematically, even calculating those hours at minimum wage levels, the cost would be frankly staggering. There are days when I really don’t want to think about all of those hours, days, months and years spent writing without any clear indication that anyone but me cared about the outcome. I’ve been thinking about that investment a lot recently.
I’ve said many times in this past year, that for a writer or a creative, the actual act of writing or making has to be enough. In the end, the actual doing of the thing, has to be the only payment that you need. I still believe this to be true. No matter how dedicated a writer or film-maker is, there is always going to be a point in the process where all hope of seeing a reward for your endeavours has gone from the burning certainty of your first attempts, to a dull and lifeless ember which is more ash than coal. That is the point at which the vast majority of people give up, move on, grow up and do something else.
The thing is, almost every writer you meet believes they are doing this because they have to, it is their calling… and yet, almost all of them will quit when it gets too hard, too unrewarding, when the cost of what they’ve invested becomes so monumental they can no longer comprehend the magnitude of it. It is only when you reach that point, I believe, that you really find out whether you are a writer, or just someone who is in love with the idea of being a writer. It’s a fascinating experience. Seminal, in fact. I have been though that experience half a dozen times over the years. Times when I could no longer understand why I kept on doing this. And, ironically, every single time that happened I carried on, not out of a sense of artistic integrity or any kind of calling, but more because I couldn’t think of anything else to do instead. In learning how to do this one thing, I have all but ruined myself for any other kind of work.
I’ve never considered myself a gambler. It’s one of the very few vices I’ve managed to dodge. But, I can’t think of any image that has suited suited me more, than that of a compulsive gambler, so deep in the hole, that only a big win can redeem him.
Which brings me to past few weeks. Apparently, the cards have finally turned in my favour.
Ever since I finished the script to the new TV series, my life has been turned upside down. My phone rings all day. Emails appear every other second. Literally everyone who reads the script, wants to be involved with it. Everyone who reads it, tells me it is incredible. As a result of that, I have been offered a job with a new company. That company has put aside the money to shoot the pilot episode of the series… and, every single actor we’ve approached has immediately said, “Yes, I want to be in this.” In fact, even the absolutely huge star, who we wanted for the lead role, said yes within hours of his agent getting the script. Unlike any other project I have been involved with, this idea and this script just seems to resonate with people.
Personally, I don’t know what to make of all it. If I am honest, I had given up on ever having a career breakthrough. I really had. I had decided that this following yearthat I would work on some novels, that I would self-publish, and some DIY films that I would give away… and that really it was time to give myself the freedom to write for pleasure.
I can’t even really tell you what it is about this project that is different from anything else I’ve written. I really can’t. Perhaps it is too soon for me to be able to figure out what I have done right, this time. I do have one idea theory though. It is to do with the difference between writing for cinema and writing for television… and also, to do with independent movie making.
I have ignored the television industry for pretty much all of my career, simply because my interest lay in writing for cinema. For all kinds of reasons, cinema is larger than television as a medium. Writing cinematically is different from writing TV Drama. One of the reasons for this is to do with budgets. Cinema, historically, has been more expensive to produce than TV. Cinema is writ large. TV is writ small. I’ve said for many years that one of the reason the UK film industry is in such a dire state, is because writers learn their craft in TV and when it comes time to make a movie, they write expensive television, rather than cinema.
One of the affects of the growth of indie-filmmaking, has been a growing movement of writers and film-makers who have been trying to make cinema on TV sized budgets, In fact, people like me, have been trying to make cinema on lower than TV sized budgets. I think, in the process of trying to write big enough to justify a cinema budget, I learnt how to many make TV budget drama look and feel huge. (I don’t know, this just a theory)
This script, is my first attempt to write for the world of Television, since my first days of writing and pitching sitcoms, back in the mid 1990’s. I can’t, for the life of me, remember why I suddenly decided to write it for TV! I honestly can’t remember making the decision to do that. How weird is that?
Anyway, the bottom line is, things are going well. I have no idea how long or if this will continue. It is very difficult for me to believe in success as a possibility, after so much rejection and failure. At the moment it just feels like a rather lovely game, that I should enjoy for as long as it lasts.
I guess we’ll have to see how it unfolds.
Keep writing and viva la revolution
Originally posted on Clive’s Filmutopia blog with permission from Clive
Davies-Frayne. Thanks, Clive!
Clive Davies-Frayne is an award winning writer/director, ex stand-up comedian, former award winning radio copywriter, and founder of Filmutopia, a European company specialising in story development. He has spent the last twenty years working in the media industry, sometimes making a living as a writer, but mainly spent as a full time media-hobo and professional irritant. He has written and directed half a dozen shorts, radio drama for the BBC and two features (one of which actually got completed). He’s best known for his iconoclastic rants about movie making and the movie business. He has an unhealthy allergy to the word “film” and likes his cat.