Saturday, 23 August 2008

The Confidence of the Long Distance Writer

If you want to tell people your successes then it is only fair to tell them your failures too. I've had a few recently.

I entered the BBC Sharps scheme a while ago and didn't make the shortlist. It's been over 2months and there has been no feedback so I assume I didn't make the long list. I then entered the TAPS Continuing Drama Scheme. Got the letter a couple of days ago. I didn’t get in on that one either. And as an earlier post said, I didn't get anywhere with the Page Competition.

However my response to these rejections has changed. In the past I'd have been in the dumps. Am I deluding myself? Is my work complete garbage?

This time, though I can't pretend I was happy about it, I didn't melt into a puddle of slurry. This time I was happy with what I'd written. So it wasn't what they were looking for on a particular competition or there were others who ticked more boxes. Bottom line I have something I am happy to add to my portfolio rather than being full of doubt and ready to give up.

But is that a realistic confidence and or am I manically delusional? After all I could be a complete nutter who thinks the back of the cornflakes packet is a literary masterpiece? (Well it's not too bad when you're stuck in a hotel restaurant eating breakfast on your own.) The crunch came when I got the Page feedback. How badly did it do?

Well not too bad really. I needed to score 60% to get through and I made 50%. It could have been worse. The feedback was constructive and helpful and honest. If you're going to enter this competition then I would recommend paying the extra for the feedback.

I got 100% for format but I'd have given myself a good kicking for anything less. How hard is it to check spelling or get your layout sorted?

I did very well on theme, imagery and premise. The reader felt it was a poetic piece rather than narrative, which is fine with a short film. This was what I was going for so I was happy with that.

The tricky part was the amount of information implied and whether it was made clear enough. This was the area that had given the biggest range of feedback from others who'd read the piece. Some got what was going on and others didn't. In this case the reader identified with the confused camp. Lots of questions unanswered that the reader felt many would find confusing or irritating.

There was also the issue of conflict. I was representing an internal conflict without a narrative. Not exactly easy. I felt I'd pulled it off. The reader felt differently. Maybe I will if I read it again in a year's time but currently I'm happy.

The bottom line was that it wasn't the type of thing their production company would look for and a more narrative element would be required.

Now I knew this piece was a high risk. Films with a surreal element (and mine's a big element) or are non-narrative (my one again) will appeal to a smaller audience. Some people love them. Some hate them. The reader recognised that a large part of the audience would not get it. And fewer bums on seats means less money.

So what do I do with this piece? I like films that are surreal and leave things hanging. Always have. Don't know what's in the boot with Repoman or the suitcase in Pulp Fiction but that's fine by me. Sat through 2001 as a kid, front row of the cinema and just went along with the ride. Solaris drove the rest of the family out the room while I sat riveted. Twin Peaks was an unmissible and Sunshine was a nice recent trip.

So I personally have no problem with that nature of my short. If I change it then I may increase the chances of it being made but I won't like the piece as much and will feel I've lost something special.

Should I concentrate on writing only stuff that wins competitions or has more chance of being made because it is low risk? Or should I spend all my time writing experimental, surreal stuff that will make people love or hate it but never ignore it.

I think I'll stick with what I'm doing. Let the story decide what it wants to be. Some of my pieces are standard narrative and very commercial. Some…well…aren't.

I don't mind what they grow up to be as long as they make me proud. But maybe I should pay closer attention to what a competition says it is looking for before packing their little suitcases and sending them on their way.

Oh and I will enter Page again.


Michelle Goode said...

I think a reviewer's opinions are also driven a lot by their personal interests in certain genres. If the reader isn't the type of person who usually goes in for the movies you mentioned, they are automatically less likely to "get it". I've had work reviewed on Celtx before and people's reactions and reviews differ dependent on whether they like the genre in general. Having said that, a lot of them give fair reviews regardless. But I guess one will always wonder when it comes to competitions, whether one drew the short straw in the writer/reviewer match-up process.

Far Away said...

Yes Rach you have to write what feels right for you. And keep going..

Colin McBride said...

It is all very subjective and I think the best way to go is to write what you want to and just assume that others will 'get it' too. Second guessing reviewers/commissioners isn't going to work in the long run, I think.
Although I must admit that reading some of the blogs on the guardian media website and elsewhere that points to the inner political workings of the beeb this week, I've been going through something of a crisis of faith myself. If things are so political and closed that there's really very little chance of anyone breaking into the current cliques then what's the bloody point? But I've been telling myself that you've just got to keep plugging away with the best that you believe you've got - is that naivety or determination?

Rach said...

Hi Michelle. You're right that it is a lottery. If you are up against experienced readers you should be OK but it is hard to spot when a comp is using them.

I find the most frustrating feedback is from little comps. You get inexperienced readers or people who can only judge it by "is it what I like" rather than "is it any good".

In this case the reader was just being honest about what their production company looks for.

It's toughest when they don't give feedback at all. You are left wondering why you didn't get through.

Far Away: Following orders and keeping going ma'am. Delayed comment was cos I was head's down on the next Red Planet bit.

Colin: With the fast turnover at the BBC, any clique can't last that long can it? (Desperate tone)I suppose being bloody minded is a real advantage for a writer.

I was told by a teacher to give up Physics because I'd never get anywhere with it. I carried on regardless and made a career. The more they try to keep me down the more I kick back.

Keep kicking the stuff at them.

David Bishop said...

Rumour has it SHARPS long-listed scripts may get their feedback this month, so don't assume anything yet about your efforts.

Rach said...

Thanks for letting me know David. I shall hold my breath a little longer. I'd cross fingers too but I need them for typing out my Red Planet stuff.