The World Is Not Enough
Everyone loves a story. That truism has been reported so often that it’s easy to miss the inherent opportunity within its four words for writers and other creatives.
Everyone loves a story.
So why are you concentrating your scriptwriting efforts solely on the UK or the US? There is literally a world of opportunity out there that most writers are ignoring.
America – and Hollywood – are obviously familiar targets for UK writers looking to place film projects. And the American TV system is increasingly opening up to UK talent. There is plenty written about both markets, easily available on the Internet and in books and articles.
But what if you looked further afield?
Recently I have had periods of enjoyable professional work in both China and Croatia.
For Croatia, I adapted the work of Maria Zagorka into a twelve part television series – The Witch of Grič. Maria Zagorka was a brilliant writer adept at writing long narratives as part works in weekly publications – akin to Charles Dickens. She is one of Croatia’s most popular writers and her female-fronted novels show a prescient awareness of the need for female characters at the front and centre of fiction.
As an indicator of her importance and popularity, a popular boy’s name in Croatia is Siniša – a name Zagorka invented when writing her first witch novel.
In adapting Zagorka, I had to be mindful of her importance and impact. As she is so highly regarded in Croatia, I had to be careful to ensure I wrote a respectful adaptation of her work for screen. And while most of the novel is surprisingly modern in its outlook, some key scenes were hard to sell to a modern, TV audience.
One such instance is when Siniša, writes a letter in his own blood and becomes captivated by the heroine, Nera. And yet, those iconic scenes needed to be included – as even children would know about them from reading the books in school. So I had to be resourceful and astute in setting out such scenes to a modern audience.
For China, I adapted the Channel 4 / AMC series Humans into the first ever sci-fi series for Chinese television. By the end of the process, I was very proud of the finished scripts that myself and the other writers came up with – and with the brilliant collaborations of all the Chinese talent both in front and behind the camera. It shares a lot with the UK production but is also its own thing – in that we had the opportunity to expand the world, invent new characters and further flesh out some areas. Most importantly we told the story in a way that would work for a Chinese audience.
Of course, China and Croatia are just two markets out there. Any country that has a television network and shows films is a valid opportunity for a forward-thinking writer.
Here are my four tips for working in a different market:
What Project is Right? Of course, you have to have a project that is suitable for the target market – and these may be different to projects than those that might appeal to UK or US broadcasters. So the first step is to research the television or films of the country you are targeting. See what is popular; see what style of movie or TV show is enjoyed there. Telenovellas are popular in many countries; other markets prefer TV movies to serialised dramas.
Your Own Background. To find work overseas, to start with, look at your own back ground. Are there any family links to foreign markets that you could use? Perhaps you know about Portuguese television, Nigerian television or German television etc from time spent in those countries? Perhaps you or a relative may have an interesting story that could shed light on an historical moment in another country – a story that you could use as an angle for pitching a drama to that country? The possibilities are pretty much endless…
Be Respectful. As a foreigner going into a new market, you must ensure that you are mindful of how working practices may be different from what you are used to. You should always be respectful in terms of people and the culture from which they come (but that’s pretty much a standard behaviour for life, right?)
Be Adaptable. Lastly, you need an adaptable outlook to your work, a sympathy for the desires and needs of the market, and an openness to collaboration as you learn what you can do in that market.
But there’s a world of opportunity if you’re willing to look away from the UK and the US!