Writers don’t mean shit

writers2I’ve noticed a growing militancy in screenwriters since the WGA strike. Not least in myself. It seems we are absolutely fucked off to the back teeth with our status in this industry as little more than work experience fluffers (excuse my vulgarity, but this industry makes me feel like a whore sometimes).   

A couple of incidents this week have added to the humiliation.

The nominations for the Emmys were announced and much media furore ensued. I read all about it on Digital Spy and am pleased about the recognition for Mad Men and 30 Rock (both great shows).

They provide a list of ‘nominations in the major catagories’. And yes, you’ve guessed it: not ONE writing award.

They list everything from Drama Series to Made for TV Movie and the Lead and Supporting Actors and Actresses in all of them. Not one writer.

This means that Laura Dern getting her people to fax in her supporting role in a TV movie is more of a major category than the individuals who wrote Mad Men, Battlestar Galactica, The Wire, Damages, The Office, Pushing Daisies and Flight of the Conchords.

Why? Because writers don’t mean shit.

Then I attend my regional film agency’s great big pre-launch for a new interactive media fund. Loads of people there, and we all walk away with an info pack. When I get home I discover the pack contains a DVD showcasing regional talent… and my short film is on it.

I’d heard about this DVD a while back. It was released free with a magazine. A mate told me about it: ‘I’ve just seen your film on this free DVD with this magazine.’ Oh really? No one told me. Finally, I have a copy of my own.

I look over the packaging. All the names of the creators are there, including my director. Mine isn’t. I may have written it but I am not the author.

Why not? Because writers don’t mean shit.

In 2003, the International Affiliation of Directors issued their infamous Dublin Declaration stating that ‘the director is the primary author of the audio visual work.’ They might as well have just gone round and kicked every single screenwriter in the crotch and pissed on them afterwards.

Writers guilds responded with our very own Toronto Declaration – pointing out that, if anything, the writer should be regarded as the ‘primary’ author of a film, and that their declaration flies in the face of the whole notion of filmmaking being a collaborative medium.

Whenever we writers start fighting our corner, we are always reminded just what a collaborative medium it is. A fact they conveniently forget when they release it as ‘A Name of Director Film’.

And they  do this because  writers don’t mean shit.

Filmmaking is a collaborative medium. A small army of people join forces in order to create one, each person chucking into the mix their own unique ingredient. But every film begins with a blank page. Every film begins with someone willing to mine their soul to fill that page with a story. Every film begins with a writer.

I wrote most of this last night and posted it as my editorial to the daily Shooting Screenwriters bulletin. It’s caused a bit of a stir. Some people have already pointed out that writers don’t mean shit because they don’t stick up for themselves.

This is true. Hopefully, a rant like this will make more writers realise that fact and lead to more of us doing something about it.


A version of this rant originally appeared in Shooting Screenwriters, and the now defunct 12Point liked it so much they ran it with a response from agent Julian Friedmann. 

Hello, do you have a tax shelter?

How wannabe film producers get their training with EAVE

Dentists, lawyers and electricians can all  go to college to be trained in their job. In the film world you can even go to  directing school or a writing academy. But no one teaches you how to be a film  producer. It’s just something you learn to do when you balls it up as a  director, isn’t it?

Okay, that’s a joke, but the point remains  that you can do film school if you want to direct, or take any one of the  Writing MAs that have sprung up around the country if you want to be a  scriptwriter; but what do you do if you want to be a producer?

Well, the answer is, you go to EAVE, and,  to my surprise, that’s been the tried and tested route for over a decade now.  EAVE (pronounced ‘Ee-ah-vay’), in fact, seems to be the European film  industry’s best kept secret, having not only developed a great many European  films over the years, but also trained most of Europe’s film producers.  Suddenly, having attended one of their workshops for a week, I find that most  of the producers I meet are EAVE graduates. It’s like discovering some secret  brotherhood like the Masons or the Rosicrucians. They’re everywhere.

Committing to EAVE means taking three  week-long workshops over the space of a year, each one in a different European  city. The first workshop will be concerned with Development and most producers  go with a scriptwriter to kick a project into shape. The second workshop will  train participants in Packaging and Finance. Finally, the third workshop is a  monster pitching session where you get to try and sell your project to scores  of top producers.

It’s not just three weeks’ work, though. In  between workshops you’ll be developing your project whilst liaising with your  group leader and specialist experts. EAVE also means accepting that you will  spend a whole year on the film festival circuit. So you’re pretty much  committed to spending twelve months of your life schmoozing with the  cigar-chomping top brass of Eurofilm Incorporated.

It’s a hefty commitment to make, but the  effect is clear for anyone to see. This year EAVE came to Birmingham for the  first time, with the third workshop of the 2003 course, so I got an insight  into just how valuable an experience it can be.

First off, I’m a screenwriter, so it’s  interesting for me to see the producer’s angle on things. Secondly, my God –  look how many of them there are! For a whole week I’m surrounded by up to sixty  movie producers. It’s more producers than I’ve seen in my life so far. Do I  have enough business cards with me?

It’s not just that I’m hob-nobbing with the  next generation of continental movie producers; it’s also that a few of the  current generation of quite famous movie producers are here as well. I do a bit  of a double take when I find myself standing on the terrace of Ipanema and  realise that the lanky, slightly frayed at the edges guy I’m chatting to is  actually Nik Powell. You know, the guy who set up Virgin with Branson, then  went on to exec produce films like Company  of Wolves, Letter to Brezhnev, Mona Lisa, Scandal, Waterland, The Crying Game,  Backbeat, Fever Pitch and Little  Voice. Yeah, that Nik Powell.

But that kind of schmooze coup is par for  the course. A year on EAVE and you’ll have met nearly everyone who’s anyone on  the European film scene.

Mark Pressdee is finding that out. He’s  spent the past few years working on nearly every low/no-budget short film  production in the West Midlands and, consequently, has one of the most sought  after filofaxes in the local film industry. He already spends a large part of  his day fielding calls from frantic local line-producers who desperately need  runners, DOPs or lighting crews for the short they’re shooting, especially when  it’s First Cut or Digital Shorts time. But now he’s decided to become a bona  fide producer and has gone through the EAVE mill, emerging with an exhausted  look and a graduation certificate for his production office wall.

“It’s totally changed me,” says Mark. “This  year I’ve been to every film festival in Europe except, ironically, Edinburgh,  I’ve pitched my project idea in Cannes, I’ve just spent a week here in  Birmingham pitching to some of the biggest producers in Europe and some of them  are interested in the feature I’ve got. It’s the kind of experience that  changes you totally as a person. I actually feel like a film producer now. For  a giggle I even made the odd appearance in a suit and with a cigar! Seriously,  though, it filled me with self-believe. I now know I can push my projects. I  now believe in my talent as a producer to develop and nurture the talent of the  region, because that’s what it’s all about.”

It’s funny, but, because I know Mark, it’s  easier to see the real effect EAVE can have on a person. He walks taller, he  has more stature, because yes, he’s a producer now.

“I think I’ve probably just  taken a leap forward by six years. If I hadn’t done EAVE, I know it would have  taken me another six years to learn what I’ve just learned. When I went to the  first workshop back in January, I talked to a local producer who’d done it the  year before (Natasha Carlish, who recently produced the short film, Bouncer) and she said I’d come back to  Birmingham and immediately set up an office. I was like, you must be joking, I  can’t afford that, but she just smiled and said I would. So I do the first  workshop in Ludwigsburg and come straight back and take a unit in the Custard  Factory. I had to. You can’t be a producer without a production office.”

Doing the course has set him back a bit:  something like two grand from his pocket and maybe another three grand of work  that he had to turn down in order to do the festivals, but he got help to fund  some of it and he knows it’s an investment in his career. A year ago his  contacts book was full of regional talent and he was working on no-budget  shorts; now his contacts book is full of European producers and he’s talking to  the big money people about his feature idea. The next stage is to use those  European contacts to get movies off the ground in the West Midlands: a marriage  of continental and regional talent.

Mark is now doing business as Macoy Media.

Workshop 3, which took place largely at  Birmingham Rep, was hosted by Screen West Midlands and featured a number of  plenaries that were open to local producers. Of particular interest was the  talk given by Alison Small, Head of Film Council International, who pointed out  that inward-investment features in the UK are about to break all records.  There’s never been a better time to be a British producer looking for European  co-production partners to shoot a movie: “Global filmmaking is here to stay and  it’s not a threat to the UK that there are all these other fantastic filmmaking  centres across Europe: we should be working with each other in partnership.”

EAVE, then, seems like the perfect place to  start making those partnerships.


A version of this first appeared on Channel 4’s Ideasfactory site.