The Film Industry Today

The Godfather

Recently the cast and crew of the classic film series The Godfather had the 45th anniversary of the first movie. As a huge fan I read an article in The Guardian newspaper about it and was shocked to see this quote from Frances Ford Coppola: "Today it wouldn’t get a go-ahead,” he said. “The first Godfather cost $6.5m and the second cost about $11m or $12m. If you convert that, it would take a major studio [to make it], but it would never get through the process of getting an OK." Mr Coppola went on to add, "Nothing can get a green light unless it’s a movie that they can have a whole series of, or a Marvel comic.” He was asked why that is and he said, "Risk. Nobody wants risk."

I wrote in a previous blog post about how the publishing industry has changed and that it is now totally averse to risk. I added that a creative industry that is averse to risk has rendered itself redundant.

That the film industry is also now becoming increasing averse to risk is hugely disappointing to creators such as myself who love the challenge of stretching ourselves beyond what we'd previously thought possible. Stretching ourselves creatively demands that we, as creators, take huge

Francis Ford Coppola

risks. I feel increasing forced to write to some format and genre that is currently popular. That has to be wrong and society will suffer as a consequence - in my opinion, art is all about offering an audience new and fresh perspectives. Those perspectives begin life in the creator's imagination and it takes a huge investment in time and emotion to communicate those perspectives in whatever medium.

On a positive note, Ted Sarandos, the president of Netflix, stated at a press conference in Cannes: "Unlike us [Netflix], the studios have no appetite for risk."

Ted Sarandos

I applaud the statement and I applaud Netflix. Amazon Studios too are trying to embrace risk by giving new scriptwriters a real opportunity. Their submission system is easily accessible and open to everyone. Of course their open approach means they are deluged with submissions, but the fact they have an open door to new writers means they get a massive tick from me. And they do seem to filter the wheat from the chaff very quickly and submitting to Amazon Studios is a learning curve in itself. To cut a long story short, you need to be very professional in your approach.

And professionalism is the name of the game in the film industry. Yes, there are a lot more indie films being made nowadays, largely due to easily accessible and affordable film making equipment - I know people who have made shorts on a iPhone - but indie films, like indie (self-published) novels, stand out as amateur. The reason for this is quality across the board, from cover image to acting to cinematography to editing to titles, you will immediately tell an indie film from a "professional" film. I place quotes around the word professional because it often isn't the indie producer, director or actors fault. Mostly it is purely down to the production budget.

But there is the big question of talent. The director and actors a producer employs to make a film will be very talented individuals. The amount of money invested demands that. I mentioned shorts made with an iPhone earlier; what do you think would be the result were you to give Francis Ford Coppola an iPhone and a group of amateur actors? ... Well, I'm confident we would get a seriously professional and genuinely entertaining result.

Pretty Girl

Which brings me to the indie novelist. Here too there is a divide between the amateur and professional and in part it has a lot to do with money. A big five publishing house has in-house "professionals" for cover design, content editorial and format and, arguably most importantly, marketing. And the marketing department has the advantage of reaching millions of readers on day one of a launch via the national printed press reviewers and high street books shops for promotional campaigns - and that's not to mention the pre-launch campaigns that will see pre-orders of a few thousand copies.

Delphian by Tim Rees

These are indeed massive advantages. However, the author will only be paid a mere ten percent of sales, whilst the indie author can make seventy percent. Also, the advantage of the marketing department in traditional publishing is questionable. In my experience the marketing effort was very short-lived. They only really made an effort around the launch. A month after In Sights was published the press executive assigned to the book disappeared. Marketing a book for an indie novelist is a full time job and unless you are prepared to compromise your integrity it is an uphill struggle, and by uphill I mean a vertical cliff. And you're not just trying to climb that cliff, you're pushing a dead weight up as well.

And I like to see that climb as a learning curve and the higher up I get, the more professional I become, because the only way I and my fellow indie authors and indie scriptwriters will succeed is to get as professional in our approach to every creative project as we possibly can. And being professional today means observing the fact that both the publishing and film industries are more concerned with the business than the art. So, as a writer, my next project will be risk free - meaning not controversial, which has become a habit for me - and will conform with the limitations of strict genre and formula. The next novel will be under one hundred thousand words, which means it will hit the retail price point of £7.99 for paperback without the need for long "financially risky" print runs and the story content will include a balance of sex and violence that will make it attractive to the film makers.

So to work... I wonder if it will be as easy as that... 😉

Author’s Pride?

I noticed a question on the Good Reads website asking indie authors whether they felt a sense of pride at being an indie author. For those who don't know what an indie author is: it is a writer who has self-published fiction and non-fiction.

I'm in the fortunate position of being both types of author - I had a memoir published traditionally and I self-published three novels due to the changing landscape in traditional publishing, i.e., they no longer take risks on large prints runs unless your name is Lee Child or John Grisham,

Lee Child
Lee Child

so, to meet the price point of £7.99 for a paperback, they only "take a risk" on new novelists who've written novels not exceeding 250 pages or around 100,000 words. Anyway, my point is I'm experienced on both sides of the fence.

Delphian, the thriller set in Wales.

So back to pride; actually pride is the wrong word. Frustration is a better term. Being creative is frustrating because we seek perfection. I don't know about other authors, but I'm always plagued by doubt and worry about every project/book I work on and even though I may be confident in a novel once I press the publish button, niggling doubts will continue to nag at me and I will pick at the text and change sentences, even paragraphs after having published. I don't think that will ever stop however successful a novel became. Of course, I quickly move on to the next story, but I can't help myself worrying about the novels I've released. I suppose it's a bit like being a parent even after the offspring are fully fledged and flown the nest.

Being a writer is like swimming against a tide; you have to become a better swimmer before you make any headway. Writing is a learning curve with challenges in every project that will or should stretch you beyond what you think yourself capable. Writing is a life path and there are no short cuts and there is definitely no time to sit back and feel proud.

After completing my first novel, Raw Nerve, I did feel a huge sense of

Raw Nerve

achievement, but not pride. I think I was far too worried about what my father would think of it and whether they thought it good enough to be published. Actually, my father was the first to read it and when he turned over the final page of the very thick ream of A4 pages I had placed in front of him he said, "I think you need to find yourself an agent."

I found an agent upon my first attempt. An agent in New York signed me and almost immediately HarperCollins were, apparently putting a team together to publish the book. Long story short, everything fell through, because the novel was perceived as too controversial by the top brass at HarperCollins. Penguin were interested as well, but the same excuse filtered down to me - Raw Nerve was too controversial. The novel was a thriller about a black woman becoming president of the USA - a fictitious scenario of why Colin Powell failed to run for the White House.

As fiction writers, the biggest obstacle we all face today is a decreasing market. Whether you're traditionally published or an indie novelist, the audience for the novel is growing smaller. The bottom line is we are entertainers and we are in competition with movies, TV and now gaming. Unfortunately I am meeting more and more young people today who have never read a book. Sure, they read parts of books in school, but they never finished a book because they had other things to do for entertainment.

However, this is where we as creators have a strong hand. Every creative project, be it book, film, TV programme or story based game, begin life on a blank page and we are blank page fillers.

The challenge for all of us is we are in a saturated marketplace and to make money we have to get to a level of professionalism where we are providing good to excellent entertainment that can cross over to a variety of entertainment mediums.

I think I have said before that I write the novel first so the story I want to tell is set firmly on the page, but my aspiration is to see the story made into a TV drama series or film. That remains my goal and I continue to take steps towards that end. Once the goal is achieved, do I or will I sit back and wallow in a sense of pride? Of course not. I'm too busy working on the next project and feeling far too insecure about that to concern myself with pride...

Publishing: A Risky Business?

73861_4327506018611_799307102_nHi. I'm the  author and novelist, Tim Rees.

At dinner parties, the one question I'm often asked is when did I first discover I could write?

Does any writer discover they can write or is writing something we all start doing? For me, the moment I discovered books I wanted to tell my own stories. It really is as simple as that. I can't have been much good at it in those early years because I can only remember, when I would thrust my scrawly hand-written efforts under my parents noses, their hands tapping me lightly on the head as they murmered something like, "That's lovely, darling." Well, they were busy. We didn't have much money and they had three hungry mouths to feed.

So the first time I remember thinking to myself, "Wow! I must be good at this!" was when I received my first and only A plus for an girl-1101936_960_720English homework assignment. One morning whilst on the school bus a pretty, freckle-faced girl sat next to me casually said she'd found the English essay hard to write. My mind froze in terror! I'd forgotten all about writing an essay on my view of heaven. We weren't a religious family and now I'm an atheist and resent the indoctrination that had been imposed upon my brain at such a young age, but on the bus that morning I quickly scratched out a four line poem that read: "Bells are ringing in the world above, Angels singing songs of love, Jesus sits at God's right hand, Watching over the mortal land." It's hardly the essay requested, but, as I said, the teacher gave me an A plus and I felt very pleased with myself.

After that I wrote poetry at every opportunity and, as I'm Welsh, I dreamt of being the next Dylan Thomas.

I never did become the next Dylan Thomas. I joined the army instead. My life in the army became the memoir, In Sights: The Story Of A Welsh Guardsman, a book that was published by The History Press in 2013.

61dfsojcctl-_sx332_bo1204203200_In Sights came about due to a girlfriend's persistent demands I write the anecdotes I kept recounting down. The only memories I felt were marketable are my recollections of the Falklands war, so I sent a draft of my experiences to my agent, who promptly told me he wanted the story behind the story. In short, he wanted to know how I'd found myself in the theatre of war. So, my girlfriend got her way and I ended up writing all those anecdotes down. The book begins with day one of signing up to the end of the Falklands war and in between I tell about the time I stepped on Princess Diana's toe and the time I found myself in the Queen's bedroom. I tell of my days in Berlin guarding Rudolf Hess and my memories of marching down the Mall to the music of the military bands and I tell the story about showing off to girls as I strode into Buckingham Palace after a night on the town. And I also tell about the greatest day of my life when I walked along a dry river bed seeking out the wildlife in Kenya. I was unarmed and alone. I realise now it was very dangerous, but after a regular diet of Tarzan books in my teenage years, it was intensely thrilling.

After the army I joined the BBC Wales Film Unit as an assistant cameraman. Almost as soon as I stepped through the reception doors of Broadcasting House, the BBC's head of drama in Wales, John Hefin, asked me if I'd consider making a film with him about my185294_10150262757979214_747888_n experiences in the Falklands war. The result was broadcast as The Play For Today, Mimosa Boys. It was whilst working on Mimosa Boys I really learned to write. Ewart Alexander wrote the screenplay and I worked closely with him on details and dialogue. It was a wonderful period when I found myself surrounded by creative individuals, many of whom were among the very best in their chosen field and, to my naive amazement, I fitted in perfectly. I went on to make many more dramas and films for the BBC. Top producers were phoning me almost daily requesting my services on this play or that film. I was usually a military adviser and reworked dialogue and scenes to be more realistic. Of course the film unit wanted me back as an assistant cameraman, the role for which I was receiving a monthly salary, although I'd hardly spent any time behind the camera as a cameraman's assistant. I finished my BBC career working with BAFTA and Emmy award winning director Norman Stone on the film New World, starring James Fox and Bernard Hill. I'd met Norman whilst he was editing the BAFTA award winning Shadowlands. We struck up a friendship and I worked on New World as a member of the film crew.

I left the BBC to focus on my own writing. Friends and family were aghast I could walk out on such a great career, but, now my creative juices had matured and were in full flow. I needed to write my own material.

But alas, I spent years in the literary wilderness. I did manage to write bits and pieces, but earning money and a string of girlfriends meant I was in a permanent state of distraction. I did have some literary success. I won a short story competition and I wrote another short story that was commissioned by the BBC as part of an arts series. But I really wanted to write the big screenplay.

When I did find the space and peace to write the big screenplay it ended up being the novel Raw Nerve. At this time I'm a single guy living in rural Wales and had pretty much opted out of the rat race. The idea for Raw Nerve came to me when I asked myself thebook_cover question: Why didn't Colin Powel run for the White House? And upon that question I began to write and the story unfolded. The first scene was originally written in script form, but I quickly realised this was a story I wanted cemented onto a page before I let producers, directors and actors loose on it. During my time in the BBC I'd been one of the people who set about rewriting a script the moment it was received. The rewrites could be for many reasons, with budget consideration being top of the list. I knew immediately this was a film that would demand a big budget, so it seemed sensible to write the novel first. A successful novel could attract a big budget and I was thinking Hollywood. Yes, I've always been ambitious. If you're going to reach for something, it may as well be a star.

During writing Raw Nerve I learned that writing a novel isn't that different to writing a script. As I've already mentioned, once a producer has commissioned a script it gets reworked by the director and producer and possibly a script editor. Very quickly into writing the novel I learned I had to work with characters who had their own ideas about the story "they" wanted to tell. I remember on one particularly memorable occasion Gideon, the main protagonist, did something that changed my plot. "Hey!" I shouted out loud. "You can't do that!" Gideon turned to me and snarled angrily, "Shut up and just keep up." That is the moment I learned I had to take a back seat and allow the characters to explore the stage I'd set. So now, even though I generally write thrillers, all my novels are character driven.

Upon completing Raw Nerve, I sat my father down in front of the ream of paper that was the manuscript and asked for his opinion. He took almost a week to read it and refused to make any comment until he'd finished. I was a nervous wreck during that week. When he did finally turn the last page, he simply said, "That's excellent. Now get it published."

I sent the manuscript to one agent in New York and two in London. All the agents wanted to represent the novel and they all got back to me within a week. I went with the agent in New York because the story is set in the USA and within a couple of weeks I found myself flying to New York to sign a deal with HarperCollins....

Okay, I could go on forever about how enthusiastically Raw Nerve was received by the traditional publishing industry in New York. It really is a long story... Suffice to say Raw Nerve wasn't published. One vice-president of one of the major publishing houses accused me of stretching credulity to breaking point and beyond, and a president of another publisher pulled the plug on Raw Nerve because she couldn't have her company associated with riots in the streets. I believe they were referring to my suggestion America would ever have a black president. And it really wasn't that long after this debacle that Barack Obama arrived on the scene.

But Raw Nerve wasn't published. I did self-publish in 2012, but that was for a very short period. I wasn't happy with the format of the paperback copy my sister bought and so I unpublished pretty damn quickly. Recently I have republished Raw Nerve, but this was only after I'd self-published Delphian and learned that indie publishing had grown up... Considerably.

Raw Nerve not being published knocked me sideways. It was and is a great story and I knew that, so the outcome was I lost confidence in the publishing industry as a whole. Raw Nerve was perceived to be controversial, I get that, but, in my opinion, an industry in the creative arts has to embrace controversy. It is my opinion that a business pursuing an original creative product that is afraid to take risks declares itself redundant. That remains my position.

After the storm around Raw Nerve had subsided, I met a woman and again disappeared from the literary scene. She had children, so it was for a prolonged period. I re-emerged with In Sights, but you've already heard that story.

Writing In Sights was always intended as a stepping-stone into the publishing industry. On one hand I'm amazed at the success of In Sights, which really is just a very short and small period of my life, and on the other hand I'm appreciative at the stunning opportunities that experience has offered me. That whole period was pretty awesome, but then again, so was the time I spent with the BBC.

But it taught me that, like a book, life is a series of chapters and at the end of each chapter you begin with a clean page. And the next chapter for me was a determination to write another novel. It was the novel I titled Delphian.

I loved writing Delphian. It's a novel I set in Wales at a location I know well. The main protagonist, Vincent, is certainly my alta-ego. In delphian_coverDelphian I wanted to expose the hypocrisy that is vivisection, yet I accept the argument that if I had a child dying of cancer I would be desperate for a cure. Thus the story begins with someone's child being used as a vivisection subject. The idiosyncratic characters that people the story add layers of colour and  sub-plot threads that emerged so naturally. The characters really did write Delphian, not me. I finished the book on one hundred and seventy thousand words.

But when I sent the manuscript to my agent he, without reading a page, told me I had to get the novel down to one hundred thousand words maximum. He explained the publishing industry had changed dramatically since I'd written Raw Nerve and publishers no longer risked big print runs to get the price point right until the author had a name that would sell books in vast quantities. It was another shock. In Sights was supposed to get my hoof in the door and Delphian was supposed to cement my position as a successful author. I suddenly had a huge problem. Either I listen to my agent and tore out the heart of the novel or I stood my ground? I decided to compromise. Compromise has never been a good fit for me, but it didn't take much research to discover he was right and that traditional publishing truly is an industry afraid of taking risks...

So what did I do to compromise? Well, I set about writing a novel that fitted in with the new traditional norm of debut novels being no longer than two hundred and fifty pages. Again I hit roadblocks. The new novel is peopled by characters who feel a strong need to express their

A Wonderful Addiction!

girl-204326_1280Writing a novel is a form of insanity. The novelist sits alone for hours on end playing with imaginary friends. When a person goes to a medical professional complaining of voices in their head, they are diagnosed and medicated. But for the writer there is no cure from the addiction that is writing fiction.

Yes, I'm a novelist and I spend the vast majority of my time ingirl-564148_1280 imaginary places with imaginary people, some of whom I consider friends and others not so much. No, it is not reality, but during the period of writing the story, the more real it is to me, the more believable I can make it for the readers. When I'm in what I call 'the zone', I am completely unaware of the reality that is the material world of flesh, blood and other matter. In 'the zone' I'm completely immersed in my imagination. And, strangely, in 'the zone' is when I feel most alive. And this is why writing novels, for me anyway, is addictive.

elitismstyle_chimpanzee-2Some authors carefully plot each movement the characters make before fleshing out the scene with the narrative and dialogue. That is what I would refer to as a plot driven story. Many thriller writers employ this method. Although I like writing a thriller, my stories are character driven, which means the characters are making the decisions as to how the story unfolds. I simply write what I see happening. Yes, I have a say in what happens. I'm the one that sets the stage, but it is the characters that people the stage who write the story, because it is their interactions that dictate what happens next. I watch it all as if I'm watching a movie in my head, a movie I can rewind as much as I like. For me, this process makes writing effortless.

When I explain this, people invariably say to me, "But you create thewomen-878869_1280 characters to play specific roles?" My answer is always that I create the main protagonists initially, but the characters I create very quickly evolve into their own selves. And they do change from the character I had initially intended them to be. Other characters walk into the story as and when they are needed. I meet these characters for the first time in very much the same way I meet strangers in real life. These characters walk into the story complete and speak for themselves and I get to know them through their interactions with others and their dialogue, just as the reader will get to know them.

But of course there's still a lot of work to do. Every author has to be disciplined. There are no short cuts to finishing a book. Real life permitting, I sit at my desk every morning and target getting so many thousand words down on paper, metaphorically speaking, as everything is done electronically these days. I'll usually have scribbled down notes during the night as I see the scenes written the day before from different perspectives that reveal new potentials I feel I need to add to the scenes. So I start at around seven in the morning by combing through the previous day's work and invariably I add material and delete material and sometimes I need to go back further to add a new thread much earlier on to offer motive to something that happened. By the time I've finished combing through I will be back in 'the zone' and with the characters up and running again, it's time to capture the next scenes and when something happens to pull me out of 'the zone', such as a tap on my shoulder by a lover urging me to finish because she wants some attention too, I'll be surprised by the time. Often it is ten at night...

Raw Nerve is available here:

Delphian is available here:

WTF is available here:

Thanks Read Freely for your promotional assistance. Appreciated.