There’s a discussion ‘thread’ on the UK SCREENWRITERS group on the ‘linked-in’ social network, which you may have seen.
If you’re not signed up to LINKED-IN, I’d advise you to do so. It’ a very useful way of connecting with other screenwriters and fellow professionals, and of finding out about what people are talking about and what is going on in the film and TV industries both in the UK and beyond.
To access this particular thread, once you have signed up to linked-in you will also need to join the UK SCREENWRITERS group.
The ‘thread’ in question has been one of the most active, engaged and busiest threads in the group for the last few weeks.
This is really important but ONLY IN A NEGATIVE WAY.
Here are a few quotes from this thread –
‘What idiot shows their work before it is copyrighted?’
(In the UK you can’t copyright an idea and you don’t need to copyright a script. If you submit to a professional company, your script is AUTOMATICALLY COPYRIGHTED.)
‘Most production companies, producers, directors and agents will not seriously consider a screenplay where the copyright is not registered with a recognised body, in the interest of protecting themselves not the writer.’
(In the UK this isn’t true.)
But I’m glad to say there’s also an awful lot of good sense in response to these remarks –
‘It’s astonishingly easy to prove when you sent an idea to someone – that’s why professionals tend not to steal. If you start banging on about how your ideas are protected to a prospective producer they will think you’re the kind of amateur best avoided. Just be good at what you do – that’s all the protection you need.‘ (Larry Barker)
‘People should be pleased that their idea was nicked, it means it was a good idea. Now go back into your shed and write another one.’ (Fraser May)
‘...whether we are seasoned writers with a host of credits or newcomers or somewhere in between please let us be helpful, polite and friendly to each other…‘ (Francis Connor)
‘The thing is that if you are so afraid to put your work out there in the first place for fear of someone stealing it, then you will never be published or produced. Take a chance.. get it out there and see what happens.. the rewards will far outweigh any chance of plagiarism. Go for it 🙂‘ (Jilly Gardiner)
..and finally this from Helen Brady, which should be the last word!
‘As to trusting… I send my scripts out all the time to ‘strangers’ in the UK. The fact that I’ve written them automatically gives me copyright and a producer would have to be pretty stupid or desperate to use my script word-for-word and not make a deal beforehand – neither of which I believe holds true of any producer I’ve come across. They’ve got too much to lose to risk a law-suit, especially when scriptwriters are banging at their doors trying to get them to read stuff… they can pick and choose – why steal?‘
Of course, the whole business of screenwriting and showing your work to other people – who may have a vested interest in getting away without paying you, paying you less than you should, or just plain stealing your work – is undoubtedly a tricky and sensitive one.
But I’ve had a lot of experience of dealing with writers, producers, script editors, literary agents, broadcasters and film companies down the years, and in my experience the issue of companies stealing your script SIMPLY ISN’T AN ISSUE.
But I think this whole debate comes down to something much more fundamental than this specific issue – which is – while being professional and protecting your interests as best you can, we should all go into go into any professional relationship EXPECTING THE BEST OF PEOPLE, NOT THE WORST.
The fact is, a creative industry like ours works on a basis of trust. And in my experience 99.99% of people will respect this.
I have obviously come across quite a few examples where writers could have been treated better and haven’t come out of a development or production process as well as they might have – but there is no CONSPIRACY.
The most important thing I learn \ am reminded of, every time I run my weekend screenwriting course with Phil Gladwin, from his detailed ‘Networking’ session, is this – give generously to people, share, and when you do favours to people, DON’T KEEP SCORE.
This may seem like a sappy, soppy sentiment but it isn’t. It’s simple common sense. If you enter any professional relationship in an attitude of generosity, optimism and positivity, something is far more likely to come from it than if you enter with an attitude of suspicion and expecting the worst.
The flipside of this is that for the budding screenwriter, you need to be focused on the fact that, whether we like it or not, we’re in a buyer’s market.
So we need to do everything we can to increase our chances of working. One thing everyone will tell you is that, unlike writing, say, poetry, screenwriting is a COLLABORATIVE business. It necessitates you being able to communicate and get on with people.
I love working with writers – coming in on the start of a project or writing career and working with that writer to develop their script into something that will get them noticed.
I’m proud to be able to say that I’ve been in on the start of quite a few novice screenwriters’ careers, which have then gone from strength to strength.
And without exception, these successful screenwriters are passionate, positive, engaging people, who have a fierce love of their craft and of the process involved – however many knocks they may take along the way.
I run the courses I run (whether it’s my independent courses with Phil Gladwin, sessions at various universities, literary agencies and other organisations, or the Channel 4 screenwriting course) because this is work I love doing.
And there are now so few schemes in existence to help new screenwriters find a way into the industry – so I’m proud to play my part in swimming against this particular tide.
BUT I sometimes despair when (a tiny minority of) talented writers who I want to help, scupper their own chances before they’ve even started, by entering the process in an attitude of mistrust, suspicion and negativity – this is madness.
But, as I say, this is a very small minority – mainly I derive huge satisfaction from working with so many, talented, creative, interesting, friendly people who make up the vast majority of the screenwriting community.
Any creative writing is HARD, not only is it hard, but when you submit work to people, it’s an act of bravery – you’re laying yourself on the line to potential ridicule and criticism.
But if you start off with an attitude of hostility and lack of generosity towards your fellow professionals in the creative industries, you’re making things very diffiult for yourself.
Coincidentally, as I was writing this, I received an email from writer \ director JO JOHNSON, who signs off her emails thus –
“And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.” Barack Obama
(As you’ll have read) I couldn’t have put it better myself!
BLACK MIRROR : Be Right Back by Charlie Brooker
Last week it was a Mcdonalds ad, this week it’s the first film in the 2nd series of BLACK MIRROR (C4).
This was, quite simply, outstanding.
Phil G and I often agonise over the fact that most of the TV drama we put on a pedestal on our weekend course is American (or German!).
Well, here was a British TV drama that rivalled the very best of US TV drama. Innovative, thought-provoking, funny, touching and very creepy. Above all Charlie Brooker has so much to say! You can feel the opinions bursting out of his drama – but in a good way, written into the fabric of his story, not clumsily spelt out by ‘mouthpiece’ characters.
And, vitally, he has a wonderful instinct for story. This was lean, economical – dramatic story-telling at its best – every ‘set-up’ had a ‘pay-off’. This story pulled you in and never let you go. If you didn’t see it, catch it on 4OD.
And if you’re on the look-out for more excellent UK TV Drama, I strongly recommend Channel 4’s COMPLICIT, written by GUY HIBBERT, on Channel 4 this Sunday Feb 17th at 9pm.
Until next week
All the best
Feb 15th 2013