Thursday, 20 March 2014

A Writer's Career - Scott Taylor

I haven't blogged in a while because I've been busy; busy writing things that I wish I could spend more time on and busy with things I wish I didn't have to do that are taking up far too much time. 

A new friend recently told me I should write down some of the experiences I've had in my career. So here we go.

Above is a clip from the inspiring Colin Hay who sums up in a song how I have been feeling for almost twenty years.

The over-riding fear for every creative person is that you don't have what it takes - so all the work, effort and hope towards a breakthrough is in vain. The, 'What if you never break through,' thought haunts every moment and hinders every endeavor to start a new project. 

But if you're not prepared to fail at life, you're not prepared to live. 

I was introduced to performing at high school, like a lot of people I was instantly hooked. I imagined being a great actor.

I studied Theatre Theory and Drama Performance at Latrobe University way back in 1987.

Four years later, having auditioned and failed multiple times to gain entry into the VCA (Victorian College of Arts), NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) and WAPA (Western Australian Performing Academy), I was getting very clear signs I wasn't talented enough for the career I wanted. I did make the final cut of the VCA two years in a row and twice waited for a call that never came.

 My old head shot - 1988.

I was getting work as an actor and that was enough to make me cling to hope. It wasn’t anything outstanding; one line in the TV show Flying Doctors, as 'Searcher # 1', an ad where I was the guy in a hard hat on the wall of the city's biggest dam urging everyone to use water wisely. I was also cast in a number of plays alongside extraordinarily good Australian actors, so I was able to keep kidding myself I could be one of them.

Here I am in the late 80's on stage with Margaret Mills and Jacek Koman. 
Jacek went on to sing Roxanne in Moulin Rouge and both are regulars with Australia's best known theatre companies..

I was in a piece of self devised community Theatre, 'Dead Set Straight', and cast alongside a very well respected actor, Ian Scott. We became friends and I told him I'd written a play. He read it and a year later directed it. The play, Closing Time, received a lot of attention. 

Melbourne Herald - 1989

When Ian cast me in a role literally written for a cardboard cutout, it confirmed my fear that acting wasn't my calling.

Paul McCarthy and Humphry Bower in Closing Time,
La Mama, 1989.

A year later I applied for the writing course at the Victorian College of the Arts and was accepted. I graduated in 1994, the same year I wrote Clipped Wings. We staged the play at La Mama, directed by Brett Adam.

Clipped Wings 1995 AWGIE Theatre winner
Published by Playscripts.

On the strength of that play I signed with my first agent, Anthony A Williams. Among the writer's and directors he represented were David Williamson, PJ Hogan and Bruce Beresford, so it's fair to say I felt completely out of place, but Tony made me feel welcome and we became very close friends. 

A year later I won the Australian Writer's Guild award for Clipped Wings and the same year I gained my first decent paying job - a job in TV, on Neighbours, a show that is internationally renowned and hugely derided and disrespected in Australia.

Then began a series of promotions through the ranks of Neighbours and in 1996 I was made story editor of the show.

Three months later the executive producer/script producer was arrested in a very public scandal. He was immediately and unceremoniously removed from the show – walked out the door by police.

I was told years later that the company looked far and wide for a replacement but found no takers. At the time, Neighbours was seen as a lame duck on its last legs. It had been on air for 12 seasons and was limping along in the ratings. As a result I inherited the role of Script Producer and in the absence of any other takers I kept the dual Story Editor/Script Producer roles from mid 1996 until the first half of the 1998 season on air.

Closing credits - Neighbours 1997 season finale.

I was insanely inexperienced and would never have survived without the support of Ray Kolle who picked up the slack and helped me with the day to day running of the show.

Ray Kolle is one of those extraordinary people who will never get the credit he deserves in Australian television history, but he is one of the story generators for many shows, including The Sullivans, Prisoner, Sons and Daughters and of course the first years of Neighbours.

I was also supported by the team I worked with, who have all gone on to do great things, so I can't pretend I managed to get through this period on my own. They were: Karyn Noble, Elizabeth Packet, Ben Michael, Xenia Michael, Mariek Hardy, Christopher Gist, Louise LeNay and E.W. Johnson. (I should also mention that the end of '96 through to '98 Brooke Satchwell and Jesse Spencer emerged as genuine A grade stars - so all these things lined up to make me look good.)

I think this was also one of those happy accidents in my career where the opportunity to define what I felt made a show good or bad: characters and stories - what fundamentally makes a thing entertaining, was something I was allowed to explore without someone imposing their bias on me. To this day I feel people who work to themselves for large parts of their development have an advantage over those who learn by someone else's direction alone, as this means you rely on the quality of their experience and learnt methods.

I'm not saying learning from those more experienced isn't vitally important - it is, but without time to explore and reflect alone you will never gain a truly original voice and you will never learn an equally vital lesson - there's more than one way to do a thing and still be successful. (There is a huge difference between an idea you dislike and an idea that is flawed.) 

By the end of 1997 Neighbours had risen by over 30% in the ratings and won the 1987 Australian Film Institute award for best serial drama, beating out both Home and Away and All Saints.

As a result, John Holmes and Bevan Lee, from Network Seven, both met with me and asked me to join Home and Away. I was totally burnt out through over work and really didn't want to go.

At the time I was raising a 13 year old with my partner, who had some serious dependency issues with drugs. I know what you're thinking, that's an ambiguous sentence and very clumsy for a writer - was it the boy with drug issues, or his partner? Yes is the answer to that. We had a totally organic household with the exception of the cocaine and ecstasy. Long story short, it was a difficult time for me. Short story long, the young man is now a dad, almost thirty and we took him from illiterate to finishing school and holding down a job and my relationship didn't survive - limping on and then ending in 2003.

So the Home and Away job wasn't one I was desperate for. My solution was to ask for a deal way above my pay grade and attach insane conditions.
I asked for:       1/ A bucket load of money
                          2/ A house in Sydney on the water that they would pay for.
                          3/ New furniture that I would pick and then keep when I left.
                          4/ A three month break before I began.

To my amazement they agreed so I was off to Sydney where I spent four weeks in a crappy hotel before finding a great house with its own boathouse right on the water.

My Sydney House on the Parramatta River, a short drive to the studio, 
and courtesy of Channel 7.

Looking back some years later, the cynic in me can't help wonder how much my being headhunted was because they wanted me and how much was to destabilise Neighbours that had just overtaken Home and Away in the ratings for the first time in many years.  

It was March 1998 and I was Story Editing Home and Away with two others in a rotation of 8 weeks storyediting, eight weeks doing final edits and eight weeks preparing new stories. At the end of that first year, with the show again above Neighbours in the ratings, I was promoted to head of the writing department - then it all went pear shaped.

It happened really quickly and began with the need to re-write 8 weeks worth of poorly conceived story that had been left to us by a Storyeditor who left at the end of 1998. 

Some of what happened as a result of that enormous workload was my fault, being an inexperienced manager of people, but a lot of it was office politics, highlighted by me telling a fellow writer I had plans to leave at the end of the 1999 season, only to be called to the producer's office a few days later and told my contract was being terminated. The reason being that EP John Holmes had been told I was planning on leaving and they didn't want me creating story that I wouldn't be around to see through to production, as had happened the year before.

So I was out the door and within days packing up my new furniture to move back to Melbourne.

Home and Away and I were never a great fit to be truthful, during my time there the ratings never dipped, but I have a different style of storytelling to their melodramatic model. 

To this day I don’t understand why someone from Summer Bay doesn’t lose it and scream to all
the other characters – 
                         “Why the hell are we staying in this place? It’s the most accident prone, crime riddled, natural disaster attracting stretch of beach in the entire world!"

But, no one ever seems to notice and after a Haitian style disaster, you can rest assured that tomorrow's vanilla slice shortage at the diner will again be the major issue.

2000 was the first time in six years I hadn't worked full-time in a staff position. I became a freelance script writer and wrote four Home and Away scripts, three Neighbours scripts and attended one interview for the ABC's Something in the Air, but didn't land the job and my many letters and calls didn’t gain me any more interviews.

No matter how hard I tried and how many letters I wrote, no one seemed interested in giving me the opportunity to write anything other than serial drama. My quest to write a one hour script seemed a hopeless one.

It was the first time I was faced with the stigma of being a serial drama writer - or more to the point - a 'Neighbours' writer. In Australia It's a little like being a second class citizen in the writing world - a ridiculous phenomenon given the world class actors, directors, crew and producers who have come from those ranks - but somehow the writers get marked down for the incredible pressure and experience they gain from creating approximately 5,000 scenes of drama each year .

In October I had an offer from Pearson TV to set up and culturalise Sons and Daughters, a successful Australian show from the mid 80's, for the Indonesian Market. 

I was off to another country and another culture. It would be the first great adventure of my life. 

Four weeks before I was due to leave a bomb went off outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta as a protest against Australia's armed assistance of the East Timor uprising against Indonesia. Two days before I left the Australian Ambassador was physically assaulted when he landed in Jakarta. The second Australian writer they had hired pulled out on grounds of safety.

I was nervous. My first few weeks in Jakarta didn't help. I was staying on the 22nd floor of a hotel and on the second day I noticed all the cupboard doors were swinging open and closed. I remember sitting there staring and thinking - "How odd" - then I heard people screaming and running down the corridor outside my door. It was an earthquake.

Fortunately it was what is called a rolling quake, where the earthquake is a distance away and what you feel is similar to ripples on water, a gentle sway and not a destructive shudder.

A few weeks later came my night of terror when I thought I heard gunfire in the hotel lobby. I searched my room and decided if whoever was attacking broke in I could cower in the bathroom in a small cupboard. 

It turned out to be the start of Ramadan and I discovered how much Indonesian's love fireworks. There was only ever one safety precaution I could spot, as crowds let off tons of explosives - that precaution - get the youngest kid you can find to light the fuse.

I lived in Jakarta for 18 months and once I calmed down and made friends, it became the most amazing, eye opening experience to another people and another culture.  

The street market near the back of my apartment in Senayan, Jakarta.

I lost almost 10kg on the Giardia diet - something that almost killed me, met amazing people and learnt their culture. I saw young boys and girls, street urchins straight out of Dickens, siphoning petrol from tankers on busy streets as the tankers stopped in traffic. This was one of countless ingenious money earning activities that substitute for a welfare program in that country. 

I had to answer to the religious police for showing an adulterous couple on screen and I hired a writer who was 82 years old, who I then fired when I discovered he was sub-employing inexperienced writers to do the work for him.

I had to contend with boom mikes made of bamboo that bounced up and down in and out of shot, a lighting department who struggled on for weeks because they were too scared to tell me they had no ladder and an editor who was always first to arrive and last to leave - who was then discovered sleeping in the roof because the studio was better equipped than his apartment.

From the Balcony of my Jakarta Apartment.
Plaza Seneyan Apartamen.

It was an incredible production to be part of, in the most populous Muslim country in the world with a cast and crew who needed to break 5 times a day to pray, we created a daily drama that crossed classes both onscreen and off as we hired the best we could find, regardless of education or contacts - something I'm still very proud of.

Playing with a spider monkey outside the Sunta studio in Jakarta.

Alongside a very talented British writer, Gareth Brooks, we hired and trained all the staff and in the process I found one of the great friends of my life, a man who became my head writer and has since become one of Indonesia's most influential young writer/directors - Joko Anwar

Joko tells a story of how he came to apply for the job - at a time when he was the film critic for the Jakarta post and struggling to make ends meet he prayed, not on a prayer mat, but on newspaper. One morning as he bent down to say his prayers he saw my ad in the paper. Whether this is true or a romantic creation from a very creative mind - only Joko really knows, but it makes a great tale.

On September 11th 2001 Joko and I sat in my apartment watching the towers come down and for weeks and even months after their was a tension in Jakarta that had to be lived to be known.  On more than one occassion we were called to stand-by to evacuate, but were never taken out as the expected mass riots/protests failed to eventuate. 

Much of the ongoing tension amongst the population came from anger over sensationalized reporting. I saw a respected world news report about Muslim students in Jakarta protesting against America and supposedly supporting the terror attacks, then I would drive past those very students outside the Senayan government buildings the next morning on my way to our studio and would see them holding signs that read, among other things: Muslim ≠ Terrorism.

It was the very first time my scepticism of mass news media had absolute, first hand proof that stories were being manipulated to attract and increase viewers.   

The show, in Bahasa Indonesian, Belehan Hati only lasted a short time, on air every night during 2001. It came to an abrupt end due to high level alleged corruption that was uncovered with some of the Indonesian executives who were allegedly supplementing their income out of the show’s budget at the network’s expense.

It was eighteen months were I went from being a nervous traveler to one who learnt to embrace foreign cultures and people and ignore sensational reports on well populated functioning cities, in favour of being sensible, asking locals and making my own mind up about what was really going on. 

From Jakarta I was sent to Warsaw. It was 2002 and with a wardrobe bought to live in 30 degree plus Jakarta heat – I suddenly headed into a minus 30 degree Warsaw winter.

On the Common
Full title.: For the Common
Year built: 2003
Genre: Custom, Serial
Country of origin: Poland
episode duration: 35 min
"The Joint" is a drama series, aired in 2003 on TVN, licensed international company FremantleMedia format. The German original is' Unter Uns ", aired from 1994 RTL television. Similar series are issued also include in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. in"The common" occurs many famous Polish actors. These include: Bozena Dykiel, Mieczyslaw Hryniewicz, Marta Jankowska, Mariusz Słupiński Anna Guzik, Grazyna Wolszczak, Thomas Schimscheiner, Anna Korcz or Renata Dancewicz. More than twenty years ago in a orphanage intertwined fates of seven children.Victor, Michael, Andrew, Basia, Leszek, Veronica and Gabriel promised myself that the rest of my life will be to support and none of them will never be the same. Their angel - guardian was Maria Zieba, who worked at that time in an orphanage and loved these children as their own.
Na Wspólnej is a rich and evocative Polish term, loosely translated to mean - the people's street, or common area.

In Poland I set up Na Wspólnej, a show that is still on air today.

The original cast members still with the show celebrate 10 years on air.

In the Polish translations of the history of the show I am listed as the original scenariusz - Original writer. 

ProdukcjaFremantle Media Polska,Sue Green
ReżyseriaWojciech Adamczyk
Ryszard Bugajski
Jacek Filipiak
Jacek Gąsiorowski
Robert Klenner
Marcin Krzyształowicz
Cezary Nowicki
Wojciech Smarzowski
Jarosław Sypniewski
Urszula Urbaniak
Filip Zylber
Robert Wichrowski
Stanisław Kuźnik
ScenariuszScott Taylor
Piotr Jasek
Anna Fryczkowska
Przemysław Nowakowski
Marcin Cząba

But in every English mention of the show, Sue Green, the regional head for Fremantlemedia has miraculously been credited with creating the show. That's quite a talent given she was there for maybe five days over the first year. She certainly negotiated the contract, but then it was up to myself and Producer Wayne Henry to do the work on the ground. This sort of thing is rife in corporate circles; as the old saying goes: Success has many parents, failure is an orphan.

Part of my writing team from Poland being suitably stupid - as trained by me.
Some are still with the show and the two on the left, Agnieszka Kruk Inez and Wojtek Nerkowski are now award winning leading lights in the Polish film and TV industry,

The credit for creating the show goes to Ray Kolle and Jason Daniel, Ray who created it for the German Market - Unter Untz, and Jason who improved it for the Hungarian market - "Baratok Kozt". In Poland I set up the scripted side of the show and Wayne Henry oversaw strudio production with Darren and Dorotta from TVN Network overseeing us both - relentlessly!

My house in Warsaw - inside the old Warsaw Ghetto, just behind Plac Bankovy.

And the view from my window.

From Poland it was off to Moscow to set up yet another show. I stayed in Moscow off and on from September 2003 until January 2007. This was the most fun I've ever had; I drank, found a new boyfriend who spoke no English, and I spoke no Russian - greatest relationship of my life! Until I learned Russian - D'oh! We were together until I left and we're still friends and these days manage to stay in touch through social media.

My Russian Boyfriend. (I know, right?)

Moscow's a very dangerous city if you're stupid, but an amazing city to live in if you have some money and connections, and I had connections. 

Tverskaya - my home Ulica/Street in Moscow.

I worked for Alexander Akapov, who had made his fortune with the change to capitalism. A very astute businessman and a lover of film and TV. He wined and dined us at the best restaurants in Moscow, we had plush apartments in the main street, mine only 500 meters from the Kremlin and Alexander was building 12 sound stages in the heart of Moscow and establishing one of the most successful Russian TV production companies in the process. (A company he would sell within the decade and make a new fortune) Until the new studios were completed we worked at the famous Moss Studios in the heart of Moscow.

The studio had production photos from famous films lining the miles and miles of corridors, housing thousands of offices, situated above the many studios. I walked those corridors for hours and stood in awe when I came to production photos of famous films that are still studied and revered by every film student in every university course around the world.

A backlot at Mosfilm.

I was also attacked by two men in a subway late one night in 2006 and while showing a colleague from Germany around town one night I bluffed my way out of a confrontation with a gang of young teenagers.

The Kremlin gate onto Red Square.

 Central Moscow

Saint Basil's Cathedral.          
                   Moscow Subway
I learnt to speak Russian because of my boyfriend, but it was also required to get home after drunken nights out. Moscow in 2003-2006 had very few taxis and most nights you would simply stand by the road and thumb a ride from locals who were more than happy to supplement their income by giving someone a lift.

You had to flag down a car, let them know where you wanted to go and then haggle over price, so if you couldn't speak enough Russian to do that you wouldn't get home. My boyfriend showed me the club scene and I gained a love for Russian vodka - Russian Premium being my choice - the Vodka Russian's drink - Russian Standard they export to the uneducated around the world.

In a chilling reminder to just how dangerous the city can be, one of the friends I made, Vitali, it's fair to say an overtly effeminate man, was beaten by a gang of young men in the summer of 2004/5 he died from his injuries after a week in hospital.

After Moscow I went to London where I joined the drama development team for Fremantlemedia and stayed for over a year until I became frustrated by a lack of opportunities and turned down a very lucrative ongoing contract.                                                                                                                                                    My Local Supermarket, Tverskaya                           

Some of my Polish friends who came to stay with me in London.

Convinced I could create shows of my own, I headed back to Australia.

I contacted every producer and production company I could find and was stunned to receive only three responses from almost 100 letters and emails over a 3 year period. My Agent Anthony A Williams had died from cancer while I was overseas, so I began contacting new agents but none of them return my calls. 

I did manage to gain a writing job, through Rick Pellizerri, a producer for Fremantlemedia who had met me through Neighbours and he very graciously took a gamble on me and gave me a script on a new one hour crime drama called interrogation that Sandra Levy had commissioned for GTV Nine. Finally I had my big break out of serial drama and into one hour prime time drama. 

The episode I wrote was well received by producers and I was clicking my heels. Eight episodes had been written, the writers paid and the network was thrilled with the scripts - production was set and I was one happy writer.

Then Sandra Levy, the head of network drama lost her job. The new head de-commissioned the series, so even though I was paid, I never got the credit I was longing for.


Luckily Rick was kind enough to give me some scripts and casual work on the writing team at Neighbours, but it was now over 14 years since I first went to work on the show and when I was faced with writing variations of stories I had already done twice before, just with different characters, I became very disheartened.

I was nominated for an Australian Writer's Guild award for a Neighbours script in 2008 but shortly after was dropped from the writer's list because the show had taken a more serious direction and I found it difficult to go with them and not slip back into writing style I had set for the show way back in '96, that of a slightly tongue in cheek suburban drama .

Over the years I had created and sent out a number of concepts, some of them with a pilot episode, one - a mini series came with four complete 90 minute episodes. 

I joined forces with Wayne Henry who came to join me In Australia. We set up a company named Cableview and began to pitch my concepts seriously to anyone who would grant us a meeting. Wayne had a very strong resume having worked on Heartland with Cate Blanchett, before going on to produce Police Rescue, Coronation Street and the Bill in the UK.

Together we pitched to every network in Australia, we had some positive feedback from three of the four main networks and the ABC came back to us with one show they liked. Wayne flew to London to discuss a co-production with a UK channel. We had Channel 4 interested, but needed to bring the two networks together. Back in Australia we suddenly couldn't contact Scott Meek, the head of ABC. For six weeks we tried and then discovered he had resigned. That meant we'd have to wait for a new head to be appointed and that slammed the door on our co-production opportunity. 

We traveled to Moscow to pitch a sitcom I had developed for the Russian market to Alexander Akapov's company, Amedia. It was a simple idea, based on Sgt Bilko, but substituting the army for communism and the new wave of capitalism as the lure to create scams to make money.

We managed to sell the sitcom, but Wayne turned the offer down because he felt the price being offered was undervaluing what we were being asked to supply - being as many as 100 storylined episodes. Wayne put in a counter offer and we waited. They decided not to make a second offer and moved on to re-create Everyone Loves Raymond and Sex in the City for the Russian market. A documentary was made about the translation of 'Raymond' and Wayne and I got to see those we'd been working with onscreen, outlining exactly the process we'd been doing in various countries for the past six years.

It became harder and harder to create something new and begin the whole process again when months of hard work resulted in many leads, huge excitement and hope and then a thumping let down. That seemed worse to us than a brief meeting and a quick no, or seemingly endless discussions without any real offer before some new variable shot our new idea down.

In 2007 Wayne and I gained development money from Screen NSW for a screenplay I'd written and our project manager was both supportive and enthusiastic towards the film entering production development. We spent three months redrafting along the notes we'd been given and were really proud of what we achieved. When we re-submitted our second draft we discovered our project manager had left on maternity leave and her replacement didn't like the project and suggested changes that were present in the original draft. As a result of her report the project was dropped from any further support from Screen NSW

Wayne and I went our separate ways in 2009. He returned to Europe to take up the post of Vice President of Television for HBO, Europe.

I contacted Daniel Schulthies from Open Channel, a film and TV learning centre, about teaching some courses. Over the next few years I taught introductory and advanced screenwriting and with Daniel's help, was allowed to create my own course based on my work experience - TV concept creation and development.

The course was very forward thinking with students asked to think tank ideas, select a concept, develop it, script a pilot episode and ongoing episodes, then pitch the idea to the local community channel, in Melbourne this is Channel 31, and try and gain a commission.

I was incredibly proud of everyone involved as we created and then pitched our concept and pilot episode to Channel 31. It was a political satire about a PR firm hired by a local government department to deal with political fallout and everyday spin of the news.

People People
Episode One
Written by
Jane Harries
Harry Paternoster
Louis Phillips
Andrew Preston
Scott Taylor
Mia Timpano

Edited by Scott Taylor
Original Concept Idea by Andrew Preston
Created and Developed by
Scott Taylor
Jane Harries
Harry Paternoster
Andrew Preston
Louis Philips
Mia Timpano
For Open Channel.

The really exciting part of this course was that if we managed to get it commissioned, the production of the show would become a course in itself at Open Channel and give students an opportunity to learn production by actually producing an original show that would be broadcast to a city wide population of 4 million, through the local channel. Although few really watched this local channel, I felt it was still a major coup when we pitched our show and won a commission to go to air once a week for a series of eight episodes.

The new Producer of Open Channel, Marc Gracie, was appointed about two weeks before we pitched to Open Channel and when news broke that we had gained the commission and Daniel explained his plans of a secondary production course to actually produce the show, Marc shut the idea down and declined to take up the commission with Channel 31.

I never really discovered why this was done, but in defense of Marc, gaining the new post to oversee all of Open Channel's operations and then be faced with running an innovative course that actually produced a show to be broadcast, may have come to soon.  

The decision was a huge disappointment to me and all the students involved who felt a little cheated to have held up their end of the bargain and then be denied their promised payoff to see their idea realised. As a result I stepped away from teaching.

My career seemed to be dead in the water. I decided I needed a new direction. I'd always wanted to write comedy, but no one in comedy circles had ever heard of me, so there was only one thing to do, I began doing standup. 

I was totally terrified and worked up to just being slightly terrified - but I instantly knew, from the feedback from an audience, I can write funny.

That led to me co-writing and directed a show, Still Evolving, for comedian and now good friend, David Tulk, for the 2010 Melbourne International Comedy Festival and I have since shared the stage with many of Australia's best known comedians. I’ve only made around 30 appearances over a four year period and have died horribly twice - but according to those who know - that's a pretty good death rate to have. 

In 2010 I got the job of script producer on a show called the Bounce with Peter Hellier - my dream job, combining comedy and football. The decision to add comedy to my resume paid off - but sadly, after only 5 shows to air, the show was axed due to poor ratings.

A segment from The Bounce, Channel 7, 2010.
In July 2010 I was hired as Story Editor for Home and Away, but when the man who hired me fell out with the producer at the end of that year and was sacked, everyone he hired was swept out with him.  

For the first time since 1994 I found myself out of work for more than a few months. Three months became six and six months became a year and I had no leads, no freelance script work, no nothing. I decided if no one was going to give me a chance to show them what I could do, I'd have to make my own opportunities. I tried again to get an agent, but again of 6 contacted only one took my follow up call and that was just to ask if I could send in my resume again. That was the last I heard.

It's fair to say by this stage, I was starting to question myself. I took heart that every writer I spoke to said they felt the same way from time to time and I wasn't near ready to lie down, but it felt like I was the only person who believed in me.

I decided I'd finish the novel I’d started and publish it online under my middle name and tell no one. No friends or family - I'd publish and let complete strangers answer once and for all whether I was a writer or a deluded doodler.

The novel was Inner City - still listed in some places as written by Scott Norton. I put it on Smashwords and was thrilled when it was downloaded almost a thousand times in the first few months. I entered it in a Global E-book competition and it was selected as a 'Young Adult' finalist.

That was all I needed to write almost every day for the next year. I wrote a screenplay, One Good Day, that was a finalist in the Final Draft Screenplay competition in 2012. I wrote another based on my novel, Inner City, that made the Semi Finals of the Page Award the same year.

I wrote a second novel, The Law of Happiness and Divorce.

When I put this second novel online I happened to discover a review of my first novel on Goodreads. At this stage Inner City was nearing 2000 downloads. I found more reviews on Amazon and Nook Books; some harsh but overall very positive with an average rating on every site of around 4 out of 5. This fueled my drive and I again contacted publishers and agents.

I figured with so many positive reviews and so many downloads for a book that had never had any publicity someone would want to at least read what I had written. Most people I contacted only read a synopsis and passed. Two out of eight publishers I contacted read the first twenty pages - both said, “Not for us."

About this time I found Talentville - an online community of writers who are also working hard and helping each other improve as writers in order to produce work that may break through. I made friends online with like minded writers, was incredibly well supported by the site founder Ben Cahan, and traded reviews. Somehow, with the spirit of shared experiences I got my mojo back.

I wrote another concept - this one for a sitcom.

It was considered by a couple of small independent producers in the US, but it never got any real interest and I had given up sending things to Australian Producers and getting no response back at all. At least the American's treat writers with enough respect to write back - even if it is 'No thanks'. 

I then wrote a spec script for 30Rock, and made it past the first cut of a couple of competitions and used both that and the pilot ep to an original sitcom as introduction material to American agents and managers, I signed a dozen or so release forms, but no offers came.

Someone in mid 2012 I realised I was going to run out of money and there was still no writing work coming my way. I contacted some advertising executives and Scott Bundy very kindly met with me to discuss how a writer with my experience could gain work in his industry. I put together some ideas for ads, quite a few scripted, but some visual as well.

Scott explained there really wasn't any openings for creative visual content, what they were looking for was webpage text content that could be provided on a feelance basis at around $25 an hour.

Chasing work for that fee and then having to write fairly uninspiring text along the very specific outlines of what was needed wasn't what I was looking for, but I was still incredibly thankful to Scott for his time and a happy diversion for a few weeks creating ad content that would only ever be for my own amusement. Here are a few that I came up with.  

I applied to Film Victoria to be a reader in February 2012 and was asked to submit two reviews along their guidelines. I did, then waited. In April I e-mailed to follow up and was told by Beatrix Coles they were busy, but would get to me in time. I tried again in September and was told the same thing. 

In November I attended a networking and development conference as a member of a team from MOMO films who had met with me to discuss producing one of my screenplays on a Micro-budget and who were hoping Film Victoria would support the project. Film Victoria turned the project down, but I decided to use the invitation to check up on my application to be a reader. I was asked to review two more film scripts and re-submit.

I did, then waited. I e-mailed Beatrix.Coles again in March 2013 and was told they were very busy but would get back to me. I tried again in June and was told they were very close to making an official response to me.... I am still waiting to hear.  

I was still sending out resumes and applying to any job ad I thought I might be considered for, although with my dwindling savings, or more accurately, my growing credit card debts, even the site membership fees to all the 'entertainment industry' job sites was becoming difficult to manage.

I joined the blacklist and posted some of my best scripts and received 7's and 8's on their ratings system with the following review from one of their paid professional readers for a script: 
"Definitely the potential for a strong, smaller film here. As aforementioned, the roles are great and a stellar ensemble could heighten the material (not that it necessarily needs it). It's similar to THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT and could be made on a smaller budget. With the right cast and director, it could do well on the festival circuit."

I schooled my self on query letters and through Inktip and Pitchfest submitted screenplays to a dozen or so American producers, managers and agents - again, no takers. 

Playmaker Media answered one of my resume mail-outs and e-mailed back to arrange an interview. It was September 2012 and they produced an Australian show called House Husbands that I would love to write for. In October they got back in touch and pushed my interview back to October. Then November - December - January and then February. Finally at the end of February 2013 they contacted me, again by e-mail to say they couldn't fit me in for an interview after-all.   

I'd also been applying for other industry jobs, in development, with the ABC, with any company that advertised for any job that was even close to my skills. Many never made contact, but the government companies always sent a 'thank but no thanks' letter, and included information on how I could contest their decision not to give me the job. Political correctness gone mad - who would want a job they first didn't get and then gained after taking the company to an arbitration hearing?  

I always assumed I could go back to working as a barman if I ever needed to supplement my writing income, the same work that had seen me through 7 years of University. I went and got my responsible service of Alcohol certificate and began applying for work around July 2012 because my financial situation was getting desperate. From my 20 to 30 applications for bar/bottle shop work I had zero responses.

I was ignored by every bar I contacted. I struck out after a second interview for shelf stacking in a supermarket, a delivery driver, a part time hardware store retail assistant, a fruit picker for god's sake! The one job in Australia everyone knows anyone can do if they are willing to go live in the heat and stay in a dorm, and I applied and was turned down! I started to panic, rented out a room in my house to gain some income in an effort to stave off the bank and protect my mortgage and kept looking for jobs. Apparently working in TV for 18 years doesn't qualify you for even minimum wage manual labour – who knew?

Finally, in November 2012, while still waiting on the Playmaker Media interview I got a part time job in a bottle shop for 12 hours a week. Beggars can't be chooses. It turned out I had cast myself as Lester Burnham from American Beauty. The second day I worked a guy I went to college with came in and my nerves at being spotted working in a dead end job meant I completely forgot how to work the till. I couldn’t have scripted a better scene.

Amongst the jobs I had applied for was as a bus driver’s job and long after I had forgotten about applying they contacted me. By this stage I was already working in the bottle shop earning barely $200 a week. The bus company offered to train me and pay for me to get a licence provided I agreed to stay with them for a set period or suffer a hefty financial penalty.

I tried to stall the training, desperate for Playmaker to come through and give me some writing work. It didn't come and the week after Christmas I gained my heavy driving licence and went to work driving buses for the public transport system on January 6, 2013. 

When the Playmaker interview finally did fall through late in February 2013 I was thankful I had swallowed my pride and taken the bus driving job. It saved my house.

Scott Taylor - Bus driver.

In the fifteen months since started working as a bus driver I have somehow managed to write a new screenplay, one that made the final six short list of the Australian Writer's Guild screenplay competition in 2013. I have also written two TV concepts and decided quite early that if I was going to spend 40 to 50 hours a week driving a bus, like the lessons from Groundhog day, I wouldn’t waste the time, instead I’d put it to good use by listening to audio books. 

All the classics that I never had time to get to or had avoided because they didn't grab me, and some I had read before but not since I was in highschool - they all kept me company as I drove for at least 8 hours a day.

Here are some of the audio books, but by no means not all, that have kept me sane so far: 

At last count the audio book count was just over 150 titles and two to three more every week are added.

In my spare time I am still working on new material, a new screenplay is underway, also a play - my first in a decade and the thing that keeps me going is my own self belief. My biggest stumbling block seems to be that I am the only one left who believes.

When I was in High school I was made captain of the football team. At the time, I couldn't work out why and asked the coach for his reasons because I certainly wasn't the best player in the team. "Personality," was his response. 

Now, with no one left in my corner but me, and still a long way from giving up, I'm finally seeing what he must have seen almost 30 years ago.

I am a stubborn, stubborn man and while I can lose many times over, it seems I can never be beaten.

So the fight to break through goes on...

There's a couple of things I have learnt along the way - First, never allow yourself to grow bitter. it's so easy to blame other people, luck, outside forces or any other arbitrary factor for a lack of success. Nothing good will come from growing bitter.

I am responsible for everything I have done, everything I have experienced and every situation I have found myself in. No one else but me is responsible for my life.

The second big lesson I learnt is rejection isn't personal. 

When you get rejected you have two choices, dig in and proclaim the person has no idea what they're doing and simply can't understand your brilliance, or look hard at any criticism, analyse where you can improve and work hard to become better.

It's as simple as that - two choices, tread water and grow bitter or get better. The first choice leads to a very dark place, the second leads to you becoming the hero in your own story.

In February 2014 I signed with Profile Creative, so this story is not over yet...

June 2014 update - One of Australia's terrestrial Networks has commissioned a series I have written. I am not really allowed to say too much, but it is the culmination of a year's work, knowing the right people to go to and the right way to go to them, some extraordinary luck and quite a bit of guile.

Stay tuned - because as soon as the announcement hits the press I will blog about the whole process of how I managed to create and sell a TV series to a major free-to-air network from the driver's seat of a bus. 

1 comment:

  1. You are an impressive man, Scott! An inspiration for how we need to stick to our dreams and vision to live a fulfilled life. Wish you best in your upcoming writing project.