Monday, 26 October 2015

Selling Screen Rights, by Adrian Mead (Part I)

Triskele Books are thrilled to welcome Adrian Mead, screenwriter, for a four-part series aimed at writers on how to sell screen rights.

By JJ Marsh

Adrian, you’ve had quite a colourful career and I admire your determination to change paths. Have any moments from your previous life as bouncer/hairdresser informed your screenwriting?

If you keep your eyes and ears open there are always opportunities to gather inspiration. Both of my former jobs involved lots of interacting with the public, though in two very different environments. Studying how people react to a situation definitely informs the way I create characters and scenes. As a hairdresser I heard way too much about my client’s extra marital affairs; the deception, how they came to light and the sometimes extraordinary scenes that resulted.

New writers often forget to ensure their characters arrive with a mindset and an emotional state that can be factored in to the scene. For me it is always a case of asking or creating “The story behind the story” and trying to add depth to a scene. For example, attending their child’s first ever school play appears to be a delight for your character and their partner. However, if earlier you allowed your character to hear a rumour that their partner may be cheating on them, possibly with another parent, the scene suddenly takes on another dynamic. Now the smiles are forced, they scan faces for any hint of guilt and scrutinise their partner’s body language as they embrace others.

Making It As A Screen Writer is practical and accessible at the same time. For someone with the aim of becoming a screenwriter, this is gold and must be popular. Why choose to donate all the proceeds to Childline?

I have been a volunteer counsellor for Childline for the last 7 years. Every week I talk with children and young people who are struggling with terrible situations but feel unable to speak out. Often simply having an adult who will listen and not judge them can have a huge impact. Sadly, Childline always struggles for funding and as the number of calls, emails and online chats continues to rise we are unable to answer many of them.

When I first wrote the book it was to help new writers who were contacting me for advice. I could remember being utterly confused and unable to find a clear path through the maze of info that was out there. Once I had some feedback on the early drafts I realised by issuing it as an e book it could be a fundraising tool. I think the book has been very successful because it outlines very simply what you need to do in order to build and maintain a career, rather than just talking about writing technique. The response from industry professionals and newcomers all over the world has been fantastic, with many of the strategies I promote being integrated into the curriculum of screenwriting courses. I find this last bit remarkable as I never had any formal training!

The book is also valuable to authors who want to sell the screen rights to their work. So I’d like to come at this from a different angle – writers who have a book ripe for film adaptation, a series suited to TV drama, a concept fit for Hollywood. Where should they start? 

You need to break through the noise, as everyone and their dog thinks they have work that is ripe for adaptation. Use the following checklist -

Is it especially topical? Historical works can still resonate with current issues but it will help if you can point out how.
Is it controversial?
A brilliant new twist on a piece of history, biography or well known story - fairy tales and greek legends are always being recycled.

If you have an agent or publisher they should be punting it to the people who acquire film rights. However, whether you have representation or not you still need to help whip up interest in your project. The easiest way to catch the attention of producers and production companies is to have a best selling book or one that lots of people are talking about. To do this you should be entering every competition that’s suitable. Then continually plaster social media with the news of your progress.

Next, research production companies and producers who have made projects in the same sort of territory as yours. Many companies will only look at material sent by agents but there are others who will take material from unrepresented writers. Check their websites.

Now call them and get the name of who you should send it to. Do not send an email. If you are nervous about phoning write yourself a brief phone script and practice it (you are supposed to be a writer)

Follow up with a very brief email that lists your prize wins, short-listings, brief critical raves and a brilliantly honed synopsis of no more than a couple of hundred words. Ask when would be appropriate to get in touch again.

Be tenacious but very polite and make sure you follow up until you get a response.

I occasionally teach a two day course about adaptation. Part of the weekend focuses on creating a brilliant pitch for your work. Once you master this it also helps enormously with planning your work before you start writing. Knowing what you want to write and why increases the likelihood of actually completing your project.

If all this sounds like a lot of work or you are worried that self promotion will make you appear big headed you need to get over it fast. All creatives have to hustle, it has always been that way.

Look out for Part Two tomorrow!

Adrian formerly worked as a nightclub bouncer and a hairdresser before stumbling upon the world of film and television. His writing credits include ITV’s “The Last Detective” “Blue Dove” “Where The Heart Is”, BBC’s “Paradise Heights”, “The Eustace Brothers”, “Waking The Dead” and “River City”.
He’s also written for animation for the legendary “Dennis & Gnasher” for Nine Network Australia and CBBC in the UK and Iconicles for CBBC and ABC (Australia). He has directed episodes of MI High (Series 7) and Eve (series 1 and 2) for CBBC.
“Night People” was Adrian’s feature debut as writer director and went on to win the BAFTA Scotland and Cineworld Audience Award and was also nominated for Best Screenplay at the same awards.
His book
Making It As A Screenwriter launched in September 2008 and was hailed by leading industry professionals as the definitive career guide for aspiring screenwriters.
For more useful, comprehensive and targeted information on selling to screen, Making It As A Screenwriter is available at
All proceeds go to ChildLine – the UK's free, 24-hour helpline for children in distress or danger. Trained volunteer counsellors comfort, advise and protect children and young people who may feel they have nowhere else to turn.

Images courtesy of Benjamin Balázs (Creative Commons)

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