A Writer Goes On… (pt2)

SO, as I was saying…

I submitted a fairly early draft of Queensferry Rules to as many places as I could find in January 2017 in the hope of getting some valuable, actionable feedback, but more honestly to trigger a bidding war and finally buy my big gold house and a rocket car. The reception my work received was a touch less spectacular and significantly more staggered.

Amazon Studios were, before they thought better of it, running an open call system at the time that was very exciting! They allowed you to upload as many scripts as you wanted for consideration by them, which could also be downloaded and reviewed by other users. I was ecstatic to see my script downloaded 5 times in the first week!!!!! Although no users bothered giving any feedback… Amazon fairly quickly came back to say it didn’t fit their slate which was disappointing, but at least my work was out in the world.

My first positive response came from Red Productions, mostly known for popular British TV shows spanning the gamut of hardship, humour and homocentric. I was thrilled to find out that they accept spec. scripts, as so many don’t and delighted to receive a ‘thank you, but no thank you’ response. My script was well received and was discussed in a development meeting but needed more character development.

Then came the news about being in the Screencraft Fellowship Quarter Finals, fantastic news from a US competition, considering I write in a very British voice, and in this case, an attempt at lilting welsh rhythms.

It wasn’t until July that I received my next response, almost by mistake. An email I sent out was forwarded to one of the companies that ended up with the person who’d read my script and had apparently forgotten to reply.

– Before I divulge the following, please don’t mistake my telling of this tale as bitterness, anyone taking the time to read my work is incredibly generous, and for them to send an actual response is epic! –

“The gay boxer story is one that seems to be popular for writers and so with every script, I read about the topic it does suffer from a sense of a well-trodden path and similar themes and even scenes”. He followed this saying that he enjoyed reading it but the bit that bothers me is whether there is a whiff of tacit industry homophobia.

To the best of my knowledge, there have been no British films produced on the theme of a gay boxer on general release. One film I came across in my research “Like it is” (1998) is about a bare-knuckle fighter from Blackpool who falls in love with a guy from London, working in the music industry and follows him home. The peculiar coincidence about this particular film is that the actor playing the fighter, Steve Bell, is my sister-in-law’s boxing coach! And my wife is from Blackpool, but now I’m getting way off topic.

The point about the “topic” being “popular for writers” suggests that there are a lot of these scripts in the world, I imagine across a broad spectrum from terrible to the truly inspiring. And this long list sharing “a well-trodden path and similar themes and even scenes” and yet not a single one has so far been made…

Until we are in a cultural environment where ‘out and proud’ sporting professionals are able to live their lives openly, the likelihood that any sports film, with a less than straight protagonist, is going to have the discovery of their true nature revealed as a dramatic point in the story. I’m not surprised that many writers trying to create a celluloid icon (I wish) representing the LGBTQ+ experience will have that element of their character as a story beat. Until it’s on the screen we’re going to keep writing it!

Admittedly as a heterosexual couch potato I completely hold my hands up that this is not my story to tell, but until someone takes the chance and puts their name, and money to it, the story is not going to be told.

There is, of course, a genuine chance the individual who read my script was just trying to find something more constructive to reference, rather than just calling it a big bag of bollocks. I shall continue to live in hope, and, evidently, with a reasonable amount of faux righteous indignation.

The final piece in this drawn-out puzzle, for which I congratulate you for your patience and stamina, I hope is close to the final act.

The last company that I submitted to in JANUARY 2017 advised me they were reading it when I made contact in April 2017. I dropped them a cheeky festive note at the beginning of the December, but again, nowt… I was starting to take it personally.

2018 brought with it a sense of purpose, I was going to make better moves, write more, be visible, make contacts. Unfortunately, the baby that we had in the September of ’17 stopped me doing anything of any value. But I did take the bold step of dialling the number of the company and waited for someone to answer…

Which they did.

I went into full Four Weddings Hugh Grant mode fumbling and stumbling my words; had the envelope been too ineligibly scrawled for the Royal Mail? Was it so awful they’d immediately had to burn the pages to restore balance to the world?? Had they even got that far down their pile???

“What was the title?” She said.

“Queensferry Rules,” I said.

“Is that Jamie Sadler?”

“… Yes…” I said, somewhat in shock that my name appeared to be so readily available in a stranger’s conscious mind, let alone that there was no stifled guffawing in the pronunciation.

I was told they’d call me back in a few days to explain the delay in their response.

They did not, perhaps it hadn’t been read yet but had just made it to the top of the pile.

A week later I called again.

Much the same reply, another few days, it was all a bit cagey, I queried whether they were still waiting for someone to read it,

“Oh no, a few people have read it we’re just waiting for *the boss* to read it”.

OH! MY! LIFE!

This was sounding promising if remarkably lacking in any sort of momentum, but I am fully aware I am a minuscule atom of plankton in a monstrous foreign body of water, so patience is a virtue, and something I needed to try and learn how to fake.*

The extra few days was a week, then a fortnight, then a month. At six weeks a friend invited me for a drink with some filmmaker friends that I didn’t know. While we were out one of our party bumped into *the boss*, by the toilets, and said he was with a writer awaiting his attention.

*the boss* came over to our table to see who this troublesome pretender was ths=us allowing me to introduce myself.

“You’re on top of my pile of scripts to read”.

“Can I send you a new version? I’ve changed the end.”

“Good, I’d heard the end was disappointing.”

“Give me a week and it’ll be 5% better.”

“It was nice to meet you”, and he was gone.

This was a perfect piece of serendipity. Now he knew I existed and could put a face to the word, and I’d managed to, however unadvisedly, raised his expectation. I was elated, I’d managed to write something that was “disappointing” but still worth reading!!!

In only the few weeks preceding this, I’d realised that my ending needed more work, plus I’d taken the common thread of my feedback and tried to tweak the characters a bit. I finally realised that stating your goal, and then achieving that goal isn’t really drama.

Another two weeks went by and I got an email:

“We enjoyed Queensferry Rules…I feel the new ending is a real improvement”.

GET IN!!!!!

That was in March and I’m FINALLY sitting down with them this week (in July!) if all goes well, but who knows how this will pan out. They’ve told me numerous times, in numerous emails delaying that meeting that it “needs work” but I’m more than happy to do the graft!

COME ON THE FUTURE, LET’S BE HAVING YOU!

*In amongst all of this I learned that my submission of Queensferry Rules (original ending) had made the long-list (top 3.5%) of the BBC Drama Writersroom 2018. IF ONLY I’D CHANGED THE ENDING SOONER!!!

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