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's a writer who has self-published fiction and/or non-fiction.

I'm in the fortunate position of being both types of author - I had a memoir published traditionally and I self-published one novel, Raw Nerve, 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.

So back to pride; actually pride is the wrong word. Frustration is a

Raw Nerve

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 thought 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 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...

I’ve now written four novels against an ever-changing and evolving publishing industry. I have found a great publisher in Wales Press and I’m currently exploring the new medium - new to me anyway - of audiobooks. I am reading, or should I say performing the novels myself and it is great fun and a very different experience to writing the original story.

The Drama Merchant is my first attempt.