Friday, 18 March 2022

The things we do for love - by Lu Hersey

My son once asked me if I could knit him a sheep costume for the following morning because he'd forgotten to mention he was in a nativity play. I can't knit. Even if I could, knitting a sheep costume over night, when I didn't have any wool or knitting needles, would be the equivalent of asking me to spin gold without the help of Rumpelstiltskin. I had a sheepskin though, and offered him that. 

He was disgusted. 'But it's purple! You don't get purple sheep!'. I told him it wouldn't look purple from a distance and maybe he could just baa a lot - no one would mind. He wasn't impressed. In the end he went as an extra shepherd because he had a dressing gown and I had tea towels. I still don't see what's wrong with a purple sheep, but kids can be fussy. 

This kind of thing happens a lot when children are young. They simply don't remember to tell you things in a reasonable time frame. If they need a star fruit to make a fruit salad in Home Economics next morning, they'll tell you at 11 o'clock the night before. So what can you do when the co-op is shut and you're not sure what a star fruit looks like anyway? (Answer - improvise. Send them with a dodgy looking banana, an elderly orange and a box of raisins. They won't like it, but it's not your fault)

(this didn't happen)

If you have young children, you might be under the illusion that all this needing you to do things last minute stuff stops when they leave home. Think again. 

This week I'm writing a screenplay. Want to know why?

One of my daughters, now 32, lives in Vancouver, has wanted to be a film producer since she was about eight. I admire for sticking to this ambition. She might be working as a mere set decorator for Hallmark wedding films right now, but she's playing the long game, and I know all about that. 

Anyway, on 4 March, she tells me she wants to apply for a course in film production. Great idea, I say. Why not? 'Thing is, Mum, I need to put forward an original, hour long pilot screen play for a series that hasn't been produced before. And there'll be loads of competition and I probably won't get on the course anyway.' 


'Did you ever write a screenplay for Children of the Scorch?' she asks, knowing full well I didn't. I've never written a screenplay, let alone for a book I wrote that's not even published. But to be fair to her, at least she'd read it. She's one of about 3 people in the world who actually reads my unpublished stuff. 

Ok, so my ego was flattered. 

'When's the deadline for entries?' I ask.

'End of the month.'

She can't be serious. 'Oh that's a shame.'

'And I need a synopsis and ideas for future episodes, but you did that already for the book, right? 

More silence. 

'I'll see what I can do.'

I tried to duck out of it by contacting a writer friend, who I knew had actually written a pilot for his book. Turned out it was already under contract and had been put forward for consideration with Amazon films. Obviously I was delighted for him, but it didn't bode well for me. So I tried another friend, a prolific writer who I was sure must have a screenplay knocking about. He did, and he kindly sent it - but it was only 20 minutes long. And it wasn't for a series.

By now it was 7 March. The daughter called me again. She was less than subtle in her enthusiasm about both my book and my capabilities. 

I must be really stupid. 'Ok, I'll give it a try,' I said.

She sent me a link to a free online screen writing programme,  Writerduet.  Working as a set decorator, she has a good idea what screenplays look like and how they work, so she was going to help with detail and formatting. A joint project. That seemed more doable.

And so that's what I've mostly been doing this month. Writing a screenplay pilot episode for my daughter to enter a film production course. I hope she gets on it, obviously. 

But it won't mean I suddenly have a contract with Netflix. In fact it won't even get made into a pilot episode. That's not what the course is about. It seems film production is all about contacts and raising finance, and learning how to sell an idea, before you go into production. That's what she hopes to learn.

However, just because you do something for love, it doesn't mean there aren't any unexpected benefits. Writing a screenplay is teaching me a lot about my own book. Characters who were minor in the story have suddenly found a voice and a bigger role. Landscapes I'd sketched over have to be described in detail. Extra characters walk in. In fact the whole world of the book has suddenly become very real - and I realise I probably need to write another draft before it goes out on wider sub.

Also, it's been fun. A film script amounts to a page a minute, so an  hour long pilot is only 60 pages. I think I'm in the wrong job. You probably are too.

One writer friend, who had their book optioned for a film by Working Title, got paid £30K for the option. Which was nice. But the screenplay writer got paid £250K - even though the film never went into production. Seems there's a lot of money floating around in the film world. Of course it's a real skill to write someone else's idea into a screenplay, but seriously - it makes you wonder. 

So if you're now thinking, blimey, with that kind of money, I'll give it a go -  I suggest reading the most encouraging book on the subject, Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. It will probably make you think about changing your career.

And seriously - maybe you can? 

Lu Hersey



Penny Dolan said...

Love this post so much, Lu!

LuWrites said...

Thanks Penny! x

Susan Mann said...

Love this. We would totally do this xxx

Lynne Benton said...

Great post, Lu! And good luck with the screenplay - good luck to your daughter too, of course, but mainly to you for doing it!

LuWrites said...

Thanks Susan and Lynne too! x

Unknown said...

Love this post. My son pulled a last minute stunt late last night. I am also writing a screenplay. Adapting The Hurting. A film producer loved the book and said he saw it as a film. Fingers crossed. So much fun. Such a difference skill to writing a novel. Good luck with yours, Lu. definitely Top Mum. Lucy vs

Anne Booth said...

What a great post!

LuWrites said...

Thanks Lucy and Anne - and good luck with your screenplay, Lucy! x