LONDON, JANUARY 1995. It’s the beginning of the year and I’m in misery. My best client, Entertainment Productions, has gone bust. I’ve got no work for the whole of ’95. I’ll starve. We’ll have to sell the house and live in a caravan.
But wait, I meet a friend: “Stefan, I know of a £25,000 [$50K] job that’s going begging.”
“Yes, it’s a travel agency in Dorking.” [A quaint market town about 25 miles south of London.] “Her name is Susan Beamish. Give her a call.”
DORKING #1. No freeway. An hour and fifteen to get to Dorking. I wait. Ms. Beamish isn’t in — called away on urgent biz. Two young assistants see me. They want a corporate video about their travel agency. It’s a specialist agency that works with large businesses. I tell them that I make videos for a chemical company, ICI. They have a travel agency in their HQ building in London.
“That’s us!” says Girl Assistant A.
“Great, I know your people there. I’ve done several overseas shoots for ICI. Do you know Janet?”
Boy Assistant B: “You’ve worked with Janet! Terrific. Well, you know all about us. You seem to be the perfect person to make the film. There’s a budget of £25,000.”
Me: “I know. Where did it come from?”
A: “Susan read that in Televisual magazine; it says £2,000 a minute is average.”
Me: “I was interviewed for that article. A month before, that journalist was writing for a meat trade magazine. He knows nothing. You can’t quote by the minute. Let me come up with a proposal and a proper budget. It could be far less £25,000.”
B: “You’re the only person who’s said that.”
Me: “Only person?”
B: “It’s a competitive pitch. Susan has nine other companies presenting.”
Me: “Ten production companies all after the same job! I really don’t think I want to do this.”
A: “Please try. I shouldn’t say this. But you’re the best. You really are far more experienced than any other of the candidates.”
I’m a candidate? Pitching against nine others… even if I get the job, do I want it?
Me: “OK, I’ll write a treatment and do a budget. Here’s my showreel and a couple of one-hour documentaries I’ve made.”
I drive back. That’s the best part of my day gone.
DORKING #2. See Susan. Practice active listening. Another day blown away.
ICI HQ’s BUILDING, LONDON. I visit Janet at the travel agency. Get good background stuff. I bet none of the other candidates know as much. I write a one-page treatment. That’s three days gone. Twins A and B have it. They want me back.
DORKING #3. “We shouldn’t do this, but we want you to get the job.”
They dump onto the table a collection of scripts and storyboards. The storyboard is amazing. Pages of detailed, beautifully painted frames. It’s a remake of Around the World in 80 Days. These guys must be nuts to waste so much effort on a lousy pitch.
B: “Would you like to see some scripts?”
Girl Assistant A hands me one. It’s a finished shooting script. The first line is EXT. OUTER SPACE. The mind boggles.
Me: “Please, no. I can’t read other people’s pitches. Look, I really appreciate your faith in me, but Susan’s got my reel, I’ve written a treatment.”
Next week: “Good news. You’re in the top three! Susan wants the finalists to meet our management.”
Oh no, last heat of DORKING IDOL.
DORKING #4. A disaster. I’m out. Susan says I don’t understand the concept. My big “Huh?” moment. I’m finished. My career is over. Dead in Dorking.
REVERSAL OF FORTUNE. Two days later, I get a call from an old client, Rob Jones. He’s landed the ICI World Conference. Needs 10 “best practice” videos. Locations are Spain, India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Melbourne, West Coast and East Coast U.S. Am I available? Woo hoo! I’m back! I’m back!
Rob: “ICI has a travel agency in their HQ building. Go there. See Janet, she’ll book the flights.”
Janet tells me the news. Dorking is in ruins. The travel agency film is off. So is Susan.
Me? I have a round-the-world ticket, business class — and 50% advance payment in the bank. 1995, what a great year!
I love this business.