Mission to Mars (OK, London)

Last Friday was the first meeting for the runners-up of the Red Planet Prize in the fair city of London.  It was a chance for everyone to bask in the greatness of Tony Jordan, meet the people behind Red Planet and Kudos and, most importantly, have a few jolly beers with fellow writers – about 40 in total – who’d travelled from all over the UK.  I thought I might have had the longest commute up from Brighton but there were writers from Wales, Scotland, Manchester, Bristol, even one guy who’s relocated to Portugal, so it was a hugely varied bunch.

Tony Jordan kicked things off with a passionate talk about keeping your writing pure and personal, and not becoming shallow and following the trends of the entertainment machine.  It was hugely motivational as Mr. Jordan (or can I call him Tony now?  Or Tone?  Or the T-Man?) is as you’d expect; energetic, funny, sweary and bursting with wisdom.  He doesn’t want to see another tired vampire script but find the next big thing.  He doesn’t want anyone starting a pitch with ‘OK, 6-parts, 9pm slot on Channel 4’ but hear the story that you’ve poured your blood, sweat, tears and spunk (his words) into.  If you had 3 months left to live, what would be the script you simply had to write?  That’s the one he wants to read.

He also distilled a few of the truths about the craft of screenwriting.  McKee, Field, Truby and everyone else trying to sell you the magic secret is just trying to fleece you.  The Tony Jordan approach is get a good character, determine where he/she needs to get to and then place obstacles in their way to achieving that goal. That’s it.  Your skill as a writer will be in how good those goals and obstacles are.  And if you want to work on building a great character one of his tips was to fill out job applications as that character, because the questions they ask will get you thinking about who they are and what their background is.  Tony was very proud of getting Gene Hunt an interview with Tesco.

There was also insight into the industry as it stands now and why it’s so damn hard to break into.  Nowadays there are only a handful of big-name writers who get to do the huge primetime shows, why?  Because if an Exec gets Tony Jordan to write something and the show goes tits-up, the Exec can blame the well-known writer who should’ve been a safe pair of hands.  But if the Exec hires a new writer and the show doesn’t deliver, then the Exec has to bite the bullet for taking the risk.  And don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring.  Keep writing!

Then it was on to the dreaded networking, what every writer, especially me, fears.  But this wasn’t really ‘networking’, more of a mingling.  I haven’t been to any writing festivals but I imagine networking there is more fraught, with desperate writers trying to get their script into the hands of an elusive producer.  This was much more chilled-out affair, the bonus being that everyone had the perfect icebreaker – ‘So, what was the script you entered?’

Everyone had a brilliant, yet simple, pitch.  What was interesting was that there seemed to be a lot of very dark, bleak stories out there, sometimes with a horror bent, but not generic.  No zombies or vampires or anything but new, fresh ideas.  Hopefully, some of those ideas get to make it to our screens.

So it’s onwards and upwards from here.  I wish everyone the best of luck as the mentoring process continues and I hope we all get to meet-up again in the future.

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