‘The spirit of times’ – Zeitgeist.
I have spent a fair amount of my career ‘in Development Hell,’ or what the Industry terms the position a Script Editor or Development Producer finds themselves in, whilst working on ‘a work in progress’ project.
Hell is a place of insecurity. Uncertainty. Too many variables. Not enough time. Too much time. Waiting. Yes. That is the worst one.
Hell is Waiting. And it’s hot in here.
A Script Editor/Development Producer – working with a writer from the (relatively) secure position of their office in Company A or Broadcaster B, finds development hellish because they will be trying to get their project above the parapet of other emerging projects on the development slate of their company.
This slate has to be competitive; lean and mean. No money here for wastage. No money to be spent on projects that do not:
* Pack a brilliant story punch
* Deliver a resonant, relevant message
* Showcase our best actor names
* Showcase our best emerging acting talent. The ‘new faces’. (But when I say ‘new’ I mean the faces that are not too new; just new enough to hit the Zeitgeist)
* Support the writing talent of our best loved writers
* Support the writing talent of our new, emerging writers (and when I say ‘new’ I don’t mean so new know one will care; I mean writers with enough of a following within the industry to hit the ‘Zeitgeist’)
*Deliver to a specific demographic
* Makeable on existing budgets
From the point of view of a Development Producer, taking on a project whether it is in treatment form or already a fully written script, is a risky business. There’s so much to get right. With very little room for error.
So the odds have to be shortened by the Script Editor/Development Producer.
How do they do this?
Getting money for Development out of anyone these days is hard. Harder than ever before. To extract Development money enough to pay for a treatment from those with the purse strings, takes a fair amount of creative thinking, diplomacy, artistry and (it has been known) whinging.
The Treatment is the beginning of the process. At a given point, (and this point varies) the treatment will need to be optioned – to ensure the idea is the property of the company in question for the duration of its development.
Once the Treatment is done and the script stage reached, the Development Producer must find more in their skills stash to extract the big(ger) money – the money for a script.
This is another outlay with no guarantee that the company will get a return on its investment.
So, it’s little wonder then that the projects allowed to sit on the Development Slate must be understood at least, to be commercially and creatively viable for commission and ultimately production.
The projects most comfortable on this slippery slope of development, are those that hit the Zeitgeist.
It is an often heard complaint (if you hang around with television types; producers, writers, directors, agents) that there is too little risk taken in television commissioning and too much playing safe.
Risks are exciting, risks separate you from the crowd; so much sexier to be a maverick; with your creative camp swirling about you, forging new ways to tell stories; a role model for emerging creatives. But this can be a lonely position.
And one that gets rather cold and rather brittle after a time.
So what’s the answer?
That word again. If you can, it serves to hit the Zeitgeist.
I imagine a fair amount of you reading this, if you work in or around the creative industries, has had an idea replicated, aped, copied, snatched, nicked before your eyes, by another creative who has gone the whole way with it.
Your idea. The one you had about (fill in the blanks) is now there, on the telly, or the radio. You had that idea. You should’ve moved quicker, got it writ and got it seen. Got it owned. By you. By means of your paper trail. It Should’ve Been Me. As the song goes.
Well. I say, worry not. Cut the whine. Pat yourself on the back. You have hit the Zeitgeist.
That’s why so often, you will see a show/tv/play that you honestly believed was your idea alone. Because if you are at all commercially aware; if you resonate with the common experience, if you are teller of stories for like-minded people to hear/see/talk about, you will at some stage in your developing career, hit the Zeitgeist.
And that is when I say you are ready. To get serious. Keep at it. Television needs writers like you.
You help shorten the odds.