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31 August 11
If there is a hell, it mostly involves conference calling. There’d probably be other kinds of torture as well, it being Hell and all. I’m just saying that the conference calling would make it all worse. You wouldn’t know who was screaming, for one. You’d have to ask. It’d be awkward.
BAFTA gave us the fantastic opportunity to speak to people from America, a country superior to our own. Americans all work in the television industry, in one of the nation’s two cities, New York (“Eastside”) or Los Angeles (“Westside”). As with all fantastic opportunities, this brought with it the potential for embarrassing failure.
I called Tom, in Hammersmith, for help. Tom is unable to write this blog, as he is busy opening a children’s hospital in Hammersmith, where he lives, shaking hands with the elderly and sick of Hammersmith, where he lives, all of whom he knows by name.
“We should practise conference calling”, says Tom. We both ring up the number for the conference call, and talk for a while. It goes fine, but there are only two of us. We have discovered the “ordinary phonecall”, and learned nothing useful.
For the first call, I “arrive” two hours early. I see conference calls, like all meetings and dates, in the same way as the Romans saw war. They liked to be on top of the hill and throw spears on everyone else as they arrived; they understood the importance of getting there first. Always be there first. That way when the others arrive, instead of timidly introducing yourself, you can act like they’re arrogantly intruding on your solitude and demand an explanation. It’s called an “ice-breaker”.
Against my fellow writers this works perfectly, and I win every conversation. But the American himself doesn’t turn up, and I leave for a bath. When I get out there’s ten missed calls from Hammersmith telling me the call got rescheduled to “now”, ten minutes ago. New York has got there first. I ring in and stay silent for the whole call, knowing I’ve been beaten by the best.
Round two: some VPs of Comedy Central. We “go around and introduce ourselves”, but as there’s nothing to “go around”, everyone introduces themselves at once, and then there’s an awkward silence, and then everyone introduces themselves again, and then there’s an awkward silence, and this happens about eight times until someone breaks through. Then it happens again with everyone else in the group minus that one person. After this it gets better, though we’re still trapped in a meeting where non-verbal cues are pointless and jokes are a waste of time, which as a comedy writer who talks mostly through sarcastic blinks (one for “yeah”, two for “yeahh”) seems unfair.
Their top piece of advice was to get an agent, and move to LA.
At this point it would help for the story if the VPs had been terrible people, as this would create a sense of drama; they weren’t. They were nice people. They explained the importance of matching a pitch to a network with the network’s own “brand”. Then we asked questions. We writers had devised an elaborate rota, between ourselves, to decide the order in which we’d ask these questions. All of us were asking the same question, namely “can we have some money now?”, so the rota sort of fell down at that point. Half an hour later we were done, and had been wished the best of luck. Their top piece of advice was to get an agent, and move to LA.
Tom had to flee soon after, as he was performing a bris in Hammersmith, where he lives, for a young Jewish couple who recognised him in the street as the “BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum Sitcom Guy” and gazed up at him with child-like awe. So I started planning my move to LA. I can get a work visa if I hold skills in short supply in the US. How many comedy writers does America have right now? Five? Six? This should turn out to be a cinch.