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Making longform journalism pay: Jeff Maysh in conversation with Alex Perry

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it has pacing issues.”

Only writing three in-depth stories a year might not be enough alone to keep a writer financially liquid. Reporter-turned-author Alex Perry and Jeff Maysh have adapted to today’s media to make the most of their work. Both Jeff Maysh and Alex Perry discussed how they made their writing irresistible to film and TV producers in Hollywood and elsewhere.

The main point the writers covered was that journalists need to adapt themselves to the demands of today. “Your writing first and foremost must work as a longform piece,” says Maysh. Both advise against writing for Hollywood. “I can’t take a story unless I know it’s a longform piece,” Alex admits. “Otherwise my children don’t eat.”

However, Jeff also explores how longform lends itself to other outlets such as audio, TV and film. “I feel like narrative journalists and Hollywood are looking for the same thing. We want transformative characters, a strong narrative and a twist. But what’s that saying? Truth is stranger than fiction but it has pacing issues – so definitely keep that in mind.” 

Being aware of how your work can translate across platforms is important Maysh explains. “For anyone writing something who believes there may be TV interest, fight to retain your rights.” Through retaining his rights for his McDonalds story, the $1m deal was signed to him.

Alex and Jeff recommend getting an agent, should this opportunity arise. Maysh credits his agent as “a key thing” for making his work for a producer. Perry says, “For me, I’ve got two agents, a literary one and a guy that specialises in taking something from print to film, without them it would be impossible.”

However, when it comes to the scriptwriting, don’t expect to be involved. Neither of the journalists has been approached to write a screenplay. Perry says, “I have to bite my lip because you sell an option to a production company and they say ‘we’ve just got to wait for this really great writer’ and I’m like hello, I’m in the room! But I’ve tried to write screenplays and they are really hard. You can’t just turn up and try to do something others have been doing for years. It’s a different muscle.” 

Words by Corrie David 

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