Right, quick ‘topic’ posts. First, when should you actually commit to starting work on a project? Case study. At the moment I’m ‘in conversations’ with a producer I rate on a project I love. It all looks great but there is no deal on the table just yet. I have had some time this week to give to it, so I have started the research journey – reading books, reading scripts, watching movies, making character notes, scene beats etc. It will give me a head start when the deal is done.
But is this smart? Or is it naïve, presumptuous, and potentially a massive waste of time? What if the deal doesn’t get agreed? Or if the producer ‘goes quiet’ or ‘gets swamped on another project’, as some producers (not this one, to my knowledge) are known to do. Then have I just wasted a week on a job that is never going to materialise?
A question for any writer reading this blog – please post in comments. Do you always wait until you have signed a contract before you start working – not writing, working – on a project? Or do you maybe wait until you / your agent have agreed terms? Or are you happy to get going on a handshake and a verbal agreement, even with no figures on the table? I usually find myself in the latter camp. Perhaps I’m a mug, or still at the ‘pleeeeease give me work’ end of the spectrum, but it seems to be the way it goes.
Chalet Girl went into pre-production before it was fully financed. It was shooting before finance actually closed. They had to jump the gun if anything was going to happen. The same situation appears to be looming for Kajaki. Raise the money to shoot it, shoot it, then raise the money for post and distribution off the back of the rushes. It’s not text-book, it might even be called dangerous. But if it’s the only way of keeping on the front foot, then it may be the only play you have left.
It all ties in with this maddening aspect of a writer’s / producer’s / self-employed person’s life: managing your month. Right now, I’m available. I have May free to jump into this new project, I could have it done by the end of the month. But if I wait two weeks while ‘conversations’ are had, then something else might have come up in the meantime. An old project resurfacing, maybe one on which I still have contracted passes left to do, so I can’t fob off. Or a corporate gig that will give me breathing space for another few months. What then?
And what have I done in the meantime? I have my overheads, my burn rate, my monthly nut. Suddenly I’m having to revise my cash-flow projections, dig into my rainy day pot. That can’t go on forever.
And what am I working on in the meantime? I make sure I always have a couple of long-term ideas / research projects that I can pick up and put down if a week suddenly opens up in front of me. And I’m careful not to show my palm to too many short-term revenue generating gigs, like corporate work or teaching or journalism. The money is always welcome, and you can usually find a way of squeezing them in, but if you say no too many times they will stop asking.
So it’s a tricky one. When do you begin a project? And what do you do while you’re waiting to begin?