"You're all here because you can write."
After that opening gambit from Tony Jordan, his annual Red Planet Workshop threatened to become a rather emotional blur. Regular readers of this blog will know that I hold the man in the very highest regard. So if there was one thing I wanted from the Red Planet Prize competition, it was for Tony Jordan to know I can write. And now he did. That felt like the very tectonic plates beneath me were sliding and realigning. It felt like one of the very best moments of my life.
I can't tell you a great deal about the two-hour afternoon session which I attended, along with (in clockwise order around the table) Sally, Liz, Dave, Mike, Craig, Kevin, Sean, David (Bishop) and Tim (Atack). Red Planet Prize creator Danny Stack and RP's Head Of Development Simon Winstone were also present, flanking Tony like The Apprentice's Nick and Margaret (both just as sage, considerably younger and, er, blokes). So why I can't tell you too much? Because unlike, say, a more public appearance by Tony at an event like The Screenwriters' Festival, he was talking in a boardroom, often about Red Planet's plans and schedule, occasionally being wonderfully indiscreet about other people and generally saying stuff not intended to then be broadcast on the net. He also used the word "cunt" quite a lot, and I know you don't want to see that.
What I can tell you, are three Main Points he wanted to get across: his views on Writing Pitfalls To Avoid:
(1) Don't fall into the trap of thinking corporately. No point in scouring Broadcast magazine each week for supposed scoops on how ITV1, say, is looking for a 4 X 60' medieval prime-time drama. Such announcements only provoke the kind of feeding frenzies which you'd do well to stay away from, and work on something unique that you care passionately about.
(2) Don't get sucked in by the idea of craft, and the industry which poses as gatekeeper to some Great Big Secret Of Successful Writing. Tony's never pretended to be Robert McKee's greatest advocate. He illustrated just how simple storytelling is, by putting two tea cups a fair distance apart on the table, representing Your Character and Their Dramatic Goal. He then put a few random objects between them - including a cafetiere and a sugar bowl, fact fans - representing Obstacles. He picked up the first Obstacle and allowed, "You can call this the Inciting Incident, if it makes you feel happy and all warm inside!". Whatever works. But in a nutshell, that line-up of objects encapsulated Storytelling: The Tony Jordan Method. Wouldn't make much of a book, or even fill out a pamphlet, but it's all you need.
(3) Everyone's on their way somewhere. Be nice to the young script editor whose notes you hate and make you want to strangle them. A script editor you'll deal with in the next six months will one day rule the world and hold your future in their hands.
In closing, Tony told us that we were now part of the Red Planet family, which felt much like being 'made'. The next 12 months, though, is up to us: we're free to pitch ideas, develop them and generally enjoy the hell out of stuff. There's a big open road ahead, and we're being encouraged to come up with brand new projects to develop with Red Planet. It really doesn't get much better than that.
A few of us clambered aboard the train to London St Pancras, in a daze, then spent several hours in a Kings Cross pub, boozing it up, eating chips and unashamedly reminding each other at regular intervals that Tony Jordan said we could write. I woke at 3.30am with my head such a blizzard of thought that I didn't sleep again for three hours. Slept through the alarm and woke up when I was supposed to be working on heat magazine's TV desk. Finally got there a good hour late.
That Tony Jordan? He's got a lot to answer for. Still, he'll be saving me a lot of money on coffee for the next month or so. Can't see this buzz dying any time soon.