Category Archives: Career

Screenwriter Interview – Daisy Coulam

Daisy Coulam is a British screenwriter who has written for ‘EastEnders’ and ‘Casualty’ (BBC) and last year wrote the new hit ITV show ‘Grantchester’. Here she shares with Script Angel’s Hayley McKenzie her screenwriting journey.

Hayley: Huge congratulations on the success of your drama Grantchester (ITV) which has been recommissioned for a second series. Can you tell me a bit about the project and its journey from idea to production?

daisy coulam - screenwriter interviewDaisy: Thank you! Diederick Santer and Dom Treadwell-Collins who were working at Lovely Day approached me with the book. I knew Diederick from EastEnders days and he thought I’d like the sad gentleness of James Runcie’s writing and characters. He was totally right. I read the book in 2 hours on a train journey and fell in love with Sidney, Geordie, Amanda, Leonard, Mrs M and Dickens.

We expanded a couple of ideas in the book to make serial strands – like Sidney’s wartime past and his love triangle with Amanda and Hildegard. But basically the blue print of the series was all there in the novel.

It took 2 years from acquiring the book to getting the commission. I was on honeymoon when I heard that we’d got the green light. My husband and I celebrated with beers in the middle of the Costa Rican rainforest which was pretty surreal…

HM: Have you always written stories? When did you realise that you wanted to be a screenwriter and that it could be a career?

DC: I used to write stories when I was little – they were always pretty ropey and I never finished a single one of them. I was a procrastinator even then… I’ve always loved films and TV and reading though so maybe that set me in good stead.

I never considered writing as a career until I became a script editor in my twenties. I loved working with writers and it seemed such an appealing way of life. Being freelance, having control over your own working day etc.

I applied for the BBC Writers Academy using a script I’d re-written at The Bill (ITV). I never considered that I’d get on the course – there was so much competition and I didn’t feel like a ‘real writer’ – but when I did, it was like everything clicked into place.

HM: What was the first script you finished and what made you write it?

DC: I have a confession to make – I’ve never written my own spec script. The first script I wrote properly was my EastEnders commission via the Writers Academy. What made me write it? Fear of being sacked! To be honest, that fuels every script I ever write – I’m not sure the anxiety of being hoisted off a project ever goes away.

HM: How did you get people in the industry to notice your writing?

DC: I worked my way up from the inside – first as a runner then a script editor and storyliner. There are a multitude of ways in to writing but this route worked for me. You learn so much working on a production and you meet a lot of lovely people (people like you Hayley!). These people then go on to work on other shows and before you know it, you’ve got yourself a network. Without having to do one of those scary networking events where you get nervously drunk and can’t remember what you’ve said.

I was lucky. I had friends who trusted that, even when my first drafts were dodgy, it would all work out. I think writers need that space to make mistakes. Because – let’s face it – no one writes a perfect first draft.

If you do, I salute you – you’re my hero!

HM: How did you get an agent?

DC: My way of getting an agent was a little topsy-turvy. I didn’t find one until I’d finished the  BBC Writers Academy. Bianca Lawson who worked at Casualty at the time put me in touch with Hugo Young at Independent. He’s a dude and has been my agent ever since.

My advice about agents would be – don’t worry about it too much at first. I know that’s easy to say but there seems to be this horrible Catch 22 – you can’t get a job without an agent – you can’t get an agent without a professional piece of work.

Try and be relaxed about it – focus on writing something you’re proud of. The agent will follow…

HM: Emerging writers often feel that if they could just get their first screenwriting credit then the work will start flooding in and they’ll be able to sit back and pick the opportunities. Is it really like that?

DC: Yes and no. There’s no doubt about it, once you get a credit on IMDB  people sit up and take notice.

But that’s not to say you can take your foot off the pedal. ‘You’re only as good as your last script’ is horribly accurate. In my experience, you have to keep proving yourself script after script.

There will be bumps along the road – I’ve been sacked – most writers I know have at some point. It’s an ego-bruising experience. But you have to learn from it, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back to work.

On a positive note, you inevitably improve as you write more. My latest scripts are miles better than my first ones. And you get tougher – the knocks hurt but not quite so much.

HM: How many projects are you actively working on at any one time?

grantchester - daisy coulam - screenwriter interviewDC: I must admit, I struggle with this. At the moment, I’m working on Grantchester Series 2. But I have three other projects on the go which have had to take a back seat for the moment. In my experience there’s a very fine line – take on too much and you burn out, take on too little and there’s a risk that in a year’s time, you’ll still have nothing off the ground.

I think you just have to work on instinct. If you’re weeping at your laptop at 10 at night whilst consuming a family pack of Jelly Babies, then you’ve probably got too much on your plate…

Learning to say no is bloody hard. But it’s absolutely necessary.

HM: Are you focused on television drama or writing for other platforms, like feature films?

DC: There’s so much going on in Television at the moment – and so many wonderful shows being produced – that I’m very happy where I am. I’d love to write a film one day but the right idea hasn’t shown itself to me yet. I’m ever hopeful that it’ll pop into my head one day fully formed…

Do you always have to write a spec script to pitch a project to a producer or are you pitching with a two-line idea or a treatment?

DC: If you can boil your idea down to two lines, then I think you’re onto a winner. If you’re itching to write the script, that’s fine. But be aware that people in those (generally terrifying!) meetings want you to be able to sell your idea succinctly.

HM: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone starting out?

DC: Don’t be discouraged. You will experience knockbacks and rejections. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. Keep the faith – you are great!

Conversely, have the humility to realise that you’re not ALWAYS great. If someone gives you notes on a script, listen to what they say. If the notes make you angry, it’s probably because deep down you know they’re right. Or it could be that they’re wrong and haven’t read your script properly. But mostly it’s the former. Damn them…

I’ve found that sometimes it takes just one person to believe in you before everyone else follows suit. If you can find that one person – be that a producer or script editor – stay in contact with them. Not in a stalkery way. But if you have a genuine connection with someone, you never know where they’ll end up and where that will lead you.

Hayley: Thanks Daisy!

Daisy: No worries!

Screenwriter Interview – Nicholas Gibbs

Script Angel’s very first Mentoring client in 2013, Nicholas Gibbs, was signed by an agent in January this year. Here Nicholas kindly shares his experience to-date of that journey towards a long-term screenwriting career.

Hayley: Huge congratulations on signing with an agent last month. Can you tell me a bit about how that came about?

Nicholas Gibbs signs with agent - 5 March 2015Nicholas: I approached Elizabeth Dench at the Dench Arnold Agency in mid-September with an introductory email and my writing CV. About an hour later, she responded and invited me to send a writing sample. She asked to read a second script that led to a meeting with Elizabeth and Fiona Grant. The meeting was scheduled for late October but did not take place until the following month. From that, they asked for documents relating to the scripts they had read plus another script I had. We were then scheduled to speak on the phone about representation in early December but for various reasons – not least, the festive holiday break – we didn’t have the conversation. I thought at that stage that the interest was gone. Then on Sunday January 4th, I got an email from Elizabeth rearranging the call. In that call, she made a verbal offer of representation. I had a think about it and accepted and then we officially signed. It sounds all straightforward and easy but as all the writers out there know it is not. At the time of approaching Elizabeth, I had also approached other agents – some of whom said no. What was in my favour was at that time I had three different scripts being read by three different production companies all of whom responded positively about the scripts and kept the door open to read again.

HM: Can I take you back and ask, what was the first script you finished and what did you do next with it (agents, producers, etc)?

NG: Once I have finished a script I show it to three trusted writer friends who do give honest feedback, which then leads to rewrites. At that stage, I would then pass it on to a script consultant like, for example, that rather good Script Angel. Then I work the script to its best possible incarnation before sending it out to producers. On occasion, those producers will provide valuable feedback. In this business, everyone has notes and everything is subjective.

I would like to say I wrote all three scripts in a week and it was really easy. It wasn’t. There were many drafts of all those scripts. And before that, there were other scripts that were what I regard now as learning scripts. Some were dreadful but there is a progression of quality not just in terms of the latest polished draft but also with the first draft. I have always leaned towards approaching Indies and producers first rather than agents and have had a good response and as I said before prior to getting an agent I had opened doors with some of those sample scripts. Those little breakthroughs end up on the writing CV, which impresses the indie, or agent you approach next. It also helped that I had done the BBC Script Editing course and written a book on Writing Television Drama.

HM: Have you always written stories? When did you realise you wanted to be a writer/screenwriter and that it could be a career?

NG: I have always loved stories from a kid playing Batman – the Adam West version not the moody cinematic versions – in the playground. I vividly remember at primary school writing a story about Neil Armstrong landing on the moon and meeting dragons. I did drama at university and in my last year I wrote a book on the England football team which was endorsed by the FA and the then England manager Bobby Robson did the foreword, that was picked up and published that led into journalism. I went freelance and got involved with BBC RaW and a whole range of theatre and radio projects. I can’t say I have a screenwriting career yet. Now, I just have access to a wider group of people who can say no.

HM: Did you have a plan of where you wanted to be in five years’ time?

NG: I didn’t have a five-year plan but I would like to think I could have a returnable series up and running by then. That may sound optimistic but you have to believe it is possible or else what is the point? That is in contrast to two or three years ago when I seriously thought of abandoning the notion. It combined with a difficult period in my life where loved ones were lost. Out of that period was an all or nothing approach. I contacted you, we did a six-month stint working on a number of scripts that were enhanced, and the response has been positive.

HM: What was your experience of trying to get the industry to read your scripts?

NG: I must say that I have had more success getting scripts read than those who say no from the outset. I am always appreciative of any industry figure who takes their time to read my scripts given that it is often an unsolicited approach. And I am always delighted when people take time to give feedback. To have people of that experience and with such demands on their time to be willing to do such a thing is a boost every time. The truth is no one is obliged to read anything and there are perfectly good reasons for people to say no.

It is hard for all writers to get read so when you do make sure that script is the best you can make it. However, to get the script read there is a need to sell you along with a commitment to screenwriting. Enrol in courses, enter good competitions, and attend industry events as your time and budget will allow.

HM: How many projects are you actively working on at any one time?

NG: At the moment, I have two half-written scripts one of which will be completed when I am away with a couple of writer friends in a remote part of West Yorkshire next week. I am story lining an ambitious epic series, which is a mighty, complicated task to make it work and understandable. I also have a file of story ideas, which range from a sentence, a paragraph or a two page documents. I have also taken writing down scenes, scenario or sequence ideas which may end up in a script. I also have on-going book projects as well.

HM: Are you focused on television drama or writing for other platforms, like feature films? What attracts you to those media, as opposed to writing novels or radio?

NG: I prefer television drama because I love multi-episodic storytelling. There is nothing better than watching an emotionally engaging and inventive TV series. That is not to say I don’t like single self-contained stories. I do. Indeed, I have some story ideas that best suit the one-off show. I have a little experience in radio and I have written non-fiction books. I am writing, on the sly, a novel based on one of my scripts.

HM: Do you always have to write a spec script to pitch a project to a producer or are you pitching with a two-line idea or a treatment? Do you think that will change in the future?

NG: I am at the stage where it comes down to the script because the truth is I do not have an on screen credit. Unlike most of the books I’ve written, which have been pitches first, and then you are commissioned and given a modest advance. In the future, I hope the commission comes first from an idea and they pay me to write the script.

HM: How do you think getting an agent will change things for you? Will you still have to network / get yourself and your work out there?

NG: Based on a couple of sample scripts an indie has put me forward for one of their shows. The producers of that show will decide whether, based on the sample script, whether they think I maybe suited for the show. That probably would not have happened if I didn’t have an agent.

I am still going to continue doing what I have been doing because it has proved to be successful. What having an agent does is open you up to a wider set of industry figures that you previously didn’t have access to. It also means you can target your scripts to the right individual producer, production company or broadcaster. It gives the writer an endorsement and says to any producer that what they are going to read has had quality control. Networking remains important because you still have to show you are not an arse! That no matter how good your writing is, you are someone people will want to spend time and work with.

HM: What do you want to be doing in five years’ time? Do you have a plan of how to get there? Does your agent help in this?

NG: Ideally, I want to do this job for the rest of my working life and the only way to achieve that is to continue to have good ideas and write.

HM: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone starting out?

NG: It is a long a commitment. Learn the craft and you can only learn that by doing it. Read the books, attend the courses but more than anything Write, Finish, Rewrite. Do not be afraid to put your work out there. It is unlikely to happen overnight and when you get the inevitable rejection (it happens to every writer) be miserable for no longer than eleven minutes (the length of the average TV act).

HM: Thanks Nicholas!

Nicholas Gibbs is represented by The Dench Arnold Agency and his book  “Writing Television Drama” is available to buy now. 

 

 

Want A Screenwriting Career? Here’s What You Need To Be Doing

If you have a passion for screenwriting and you want to make it your career, you’re already way ahead of the game because most people haven’t even figured out what they want yet, let alone how to get it.  And if you’ve finished your first draft screenplay, you’re ahead of the thousands of others who are still only thinking about writing theirs.

want a screenwriting careerSo you should give yourself a huge pat on the back for getting this far. But it’s a long road from your first draft of your first script to a screenwriting career so here’s my top tips for what to do to get there.

The good news is, there is a lot of help out there once you start looking for it. If you’re prepared to invest your time and a bit of money in your screenwriting career there is plenty of information, support and opportunities to help you develop your craft and your understanding of the business.

The Craft

Mastering the basics of screenwriting is tough. Writing a good story and telling it visually for the screen is no easy task. But there are lots of screenwriting books and articles out there to help you master the basics of formatting, story structure and characterisation.

But a good script isn’t enough anymore because the spec piles are awash with well crafted scripts written by people who have read all the books, studied the scripts of their favourite films, done a Screenwriting M.A and learnt the basics of screenwriting.

To stand out in that pile you need your script to be amazing. The first step is to get feedback, which might be from fellow writers (ideally ones more skilled than you are right now) or from a professional script analyst or script editor. But don’t just put it away in the drawer, USE IT! Rewrite your script. Put it away for a few days or weeks. Then read it again, alongside the notes you got on the last draft. Have you really addressed all of those notes? If not, rewrite again. Keep rewriting until your script is not just good but brilliant.  I’ll be doing a session for members of the London Writers Café later this year on ways to elevate your script so that it really wows.

The Business

However brilliant your spec script (or even a pile of brilliant spec scripts) it won’t get you a screenwriting career if no one in the industry has read it. So how do you get your writing noticed? It probably feels like a closed shop, an impenetrable fortress, but I promise you it isn’t. New writers are breaking in, getting signed by agents and getting their first commission all the time.

In the age of the internet there is no shortage of information about the industry and a myriad of opportunities to get yourself noticed. Read interviews with screenwriters who broke through in the last five years. Read the trade publications to keep abreast of spec sales and tv commissions – you can get a discounted membership to The Tracking Board by signing up for the Script Angel Newsletter.  Research screenwriting contests and producers looking for new material. Pick the brains of those working in the industry or come on my Screenwriting Craft and Career Workshop  (28 February 2015) to find out where producers and development executives look for new writing talent.

The help and advice is out there.  And if you put the work in to develop your craft and your understanding of the screenwriting industry, you can turn your hobby into a career.

 

New Year Writing Resolutions

The world doesn’t owe you a screenwriting career. Harsh, but true. So, like everyone before you, you’re going to have to go out there and make it for yourself. And you can. Here are my top tips for new year writing resolutions to help you on your way.

Surround yourself with your biggest cheerleaders. Dementors are great in Harry Potter but not in your life. Avoid people who don’t believe in your dreams and instead spend time with people who do.

Find support groups online and in real life. Join a local Writers Group like Stratford-upon-Avon Screenwriters or Them There Northerners. Facebook and LinkedIn have numerous screenwriting communities and on Twitter search and use #scriptchat #screenwriting #amwriting to find other people talking about writing and screenwriting.

Make time for your writing every day. I know it’s tough with so many demands on our time, but you’ve got to put the hours in. And don’t kid yourself that you need a big expanse of writing time; if you wait for that to materialise you’ll be waiting forever! Carve out small chunks of time in your normal day, whether it’s your lunch-break, in the evening or early morning, even if it’s only for half an hour. But make it part of your daily routine.

Study the craft. Whether you take classes or self-study, there is a way to develop your screenwriting skills that suits you. There are numerous M.A Screenwriting courses; Creative Skillset list their accredited courses and any internet search will throw up hundreds more. There are short courses to suit everyone, anything from several months to one-day. If you don’t want spend money on a course, you can learn a huge amount simply by watching films and tv and reading their scripts. But don’t just be a passive consumer, be an analyst; break it down, work out how the writer has crafted their characters and story structure to manipulate you emotionally. Whether you’re watching comedy or horror, thriller or drama, the job of the writer is to make the audience feel (and hopefully to think as well), so how did the script make you scared, amused, excited, frightened?

Develop your screenwriting skills. The old adage ‘writing is rewriting’ really is true. So to make sure your rewriting is improving the script and you’re not just going round in circles, find people whose feedback you trust. That might be through peer review or via a paid-for script feedback like those on offer at Script Angel. If you go for peer review, make sure the person giving you feedback is at least as good a screenwriter as you, and preferably much better! If you opt for a script consultant, make sure they’ve got industry experience reading for well respected production companies and contests or have script edited professionally. Good feedback should offer practical solutions to the problems and weaknesses it identifies and should resonate with you as the right direction in which to take your project. Great feedback will inspire you to write the next draft.

Get your writing out there. No-one will know about your great script unless you make it visible to them, so do whatever you can to get your script as widely read as possible. Research the best screenwriting contests and target those offering what you most need, be that cash prizes or getting finalists’ scripts read by producers. The industry is looking for new writing talent and they’re looking to agents and the well respected contests as their filters. Target producers making the kind of films that your screenplay could become. I know the vast majority of production companies won’t take unsolicited material, but there are a handful that do and if they don’t, then get your script solicited by querying them. Don’t be a stalker but do be smart and tenacious in making yourself and your script visible to the industry.

Be true to yourself. Yes you should understand the market, but honestly, there’s an audience for just about every kind of film and therefore a place for every kind of screenplay. Of course there are more opportunities in some genres than in others but you don’t need to write a low-budget gangster thriller just because lots of them get made if that isn’t your cup of tea. Don’t write what you think others want to read. Write for yourself. Every successful screenwriter I’ve worked with has caught the attention of the industry with the script they were most passionate about. It might not be the thing that actually gets made but if it’s utterly compelling it will get you noticed.

Don’t give up. Anything is possible and as Lucy Hay wrote recently, ‘why not me?’. Someone is going to be the next big screenwriting talent to make a splash, so why shouldn’t it be you? The professional screenwriters I’ve worked with and interviewed for the Script Angel blog (Chris Lunt, Tripper Clancy, Robin Mukherjee, Jamie Crichton) all wrote on spec for years before their dreams of a screenwriting career became a reality. They didn’t give up, and neither should you.

Screenwriter Interview – Tripper Clancy

Script Pipeline Winner Tripper Clancy found management through the contest and this year has gone on to sell projects to 20th Century Fox & QED International.  Tripper has kindly agreed to share his experiences with Script Angel.

HM: The script that won the Script Pipeline contest was Henry the Second. I’m guessing that wasn’t the first spec script you’d completed. How many scripts had you written by then and how long had you been writing for?

TC: I can’t tell you an exact number, but I had probably written around a dozen feature-length specs before I wrote Henry. I had been in LA for five years at that point, writing for another two on top of that if you count film school. Most of the work I had done until then was with my writing partner, so Henry was an opportunity for me to stretch my legs in a solo effort and find my voice. I’m glad I wrote it.

HM: Winning the Script Pipeline Screenwriting Contest in 2010 seemed to open lots of doors for you. Was that the first big contest you’d submitted to?

TC: Script Pipeline was the first (and only) big contest I entered. Since I was already a represented writer, I thought, “What good would a screenwriting contest do me?” But my manager at the time didn’t believe in Henry enough to show it to producers, something about it not being commercial enough—which was heart-breaking—so I decided to test the waters myself and submit it. When I won the contest, it validated my work and directly led to my new manager and agents. I’m still with them today.

HM: Have you always written stories? When did you realise you wanted to be a writer/screenwriter and that it could be a career?

TC: I grew up playing classical piano and guitar, so my first love was song writing. I probably wrote 100 songs by the time I was 18, but it was just a hobby, a fun creative outlet. My junior year in college at Wake Forest University, I took an intro screenwriting course. I’ve always loved movies, so I thought it’d be a fun class, but it was more than just fun. It tapped into that same creative outlet in a cathartic way. After that semester, I knew I wanted this to be my career… I just didn’t know how much work was ahead of me. Ignorance is bliss.

HM: What was first full script you wrote? What made you write it?

TC: It was called Tin Stars, about four buddies who decide to write a screenplay together. Holy shit, what a logline that is! It wasn’t Oscar-winning material, but I played around with voice over, dream sequences, and all those other supposed ‘crutches’ you’re never supposed to use. I think I got an A in that intro screenwriting class, but I’m pretty sure anyone who actually finished their script that semester got an A. Like winning a good participant ribbon.

HM: What did you do with it and how did you know what to do with it?

TC: I used it to apply to graduate film schools. I ended up choosing the two-year M.A. program at University of Texas in Austin, which is probably the greatest place on earth to be broke and write screenplays. It’s also where I met my wife, so yeah, I love Austin.

HM: Did you have a plan of where you wanted to be in five years’ time?

TC: I knew I wanted to be in LA and writing for a living. I had no idea how I’d accomplish that. My plan was to take whatever soul-sucking day job I could find that could pay the bills, and then write mornings/nights/weekends until I broke into the industry. And that’s what I did.

HM: Writers often struggle with the catch-22 that producers won’t read scripts by unrepped writers and managers/agents only take on writers if they’ve got a producer interested. What was your experience of trying to get the industry to read your script?

TC: I actually disagree with this theory. You can definitely land representation without a producer attachment. From my experience, I think managers more so than agents are willing to take a shot at an unknown writer if they believe in his/her voice. Managers can develop that voice and help guide it to a commercial place. Then, once a script or two starts to gain traction with producers/studios, your manager can set meetings with potential agents for you. But at the end of the day, managers or agents are only as good as the material you give them, so ultimately it’s up to you to write a great script.

HM: How did you get your first manager/agent?

TC: I wrote query letters. Lots of them. And then finally had a film school friend working at a small agency who was nice enough to push my query letter in front of an agent there, which got me read and eventually signed. But landing an agent or manager doesn’t guarantee you anything. They’ll slip your spec places, but if you don’t get a good initial response from producers, you could be searching for a new rep before you know it. Rejection is simply part of the process. I hopped around several places until I found reps that didn’t just believe in the promise of one spec, but believed in me as a writer. That’s the key, but it often takes a little while years to find that.

HM: Emerging writers often feel that if they could just break in and get that first credit, then it’ll be a full-time paid job where the work just keeps coming in. Is it really like that, can you ever just sit back and watch the work come to you and pick and choose or do you still need to hustle?

TC: If you’re looking to sit back and let work come to you, then screenwriting is not for you. It’s a constant hustle. You’re always being asked to prove yourself over and over again, especially in feature writing. As you move up, studios will contact your agents and bring you source material or see if you’d pitch on an assignment, and maybe they’re only asking you and one or two other writers. That’s a good situation to be in, but even then, you have to pitch your ass off to land the job over the other writer(s) who are probably just as deserving. One thing aspiring writers don’t realize is how important it is to be good in the room. Your previous scripts will get you in the door, but you have to win people over in the room in order to sell the pitch or land the OWA. You have to prove that you’re the only person in the world who could write this script (or at least the best one in their price range). Secondly, that first big check you get won’t be all it’s cracked up to be. Go check out John August’s “Money 101 for Screenwriters” on his website.

HM: What projects are you writing at the moment?

TC: I’m currently writing Stranded, a family adventure comedy starring Kevin James for Sony and I’m about to start work on an action comedy remake for a division of Warner Brothers. I also have a new comedy spec out to talent.

HM: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone starting out?

TC: Write your fuck you script. Don’t think about the marketplace or what studios are buying—by the time you write your script, the landscape will have changed anyway. Sure, it needs structure, compelling characters, etc., but beyond that, just write the most interesting thing to you and don’t worry about its commercial value. With any luck, you’ll find your voice by doing this and if it’s a unique voice, doors will open for you.

Thanks Tripper!

Book Review – Writing for Television Series, Serials, Soaps by Yvonne Grace

There might be a ton of books on screenwriting but most of them focus on the glamorous world of writing film. Film talent is making the move to television – even Steven Soderbergh’s got in on the act (The Knick) –  and so too are the publishers of screenwriting books. In her no-nonsense book experienced television producer Yvonne Grace guides you through the world of writing for television series.

Book Review - Writing for Television Series, Serials, Soap by Yvonne GraceLike all good producers and script editors, Yvonne has a passion for writers and storytelling, married to a pragmatic approach to the industry and writers’ place in it. Her wealth of experience, her passion for the storytelling power of television and her admiration for the writers who deliver those stories is infused through every page. While she doesn’t shy away from the truth of how tough it is (the deadlines she mentions might make your eyes water!) you always feel she’s on the writer’s side.

Writing For Television Series, Serials and Soaps walks you through the reality of writing on established series. It outlines the skills you’ll need to master in order to make a living (and it can be a good living) from writing on long-running dramas. She lets you peek inside the story document to which your commissioned script might have to adhere and gives you a fly-on-the-wall look at how the Story Conference on a drama series works.

The book also has some terrific interviews with the writers who have made the journey from aspiring to professional. Their stories of breaking in and writing on established series is both a practical ‘how-to’ and an inspiration.

After reading this book you’ll have a clear idea of what it’s like to write for a television drama series. You’ll also come away reminded of just how powerful a storytelling medium television series can be and hopefully be inspired to write for them.

Career Tips For Up-and-Coming Screenwriters by Drew Marke

Tips on what to do after you’ve made it onto the first rung of that elusive ladder…

If you’re like me, you’re a newbie writer. You’ve won a screenwriting competition or you’ve been selected by a new writers scheme such as BBC Writers Room or the Channel Four Screenwriting Course. So now you may be asking yourself WHAT NEXT? How do I convert this opportunity into a fully-fledged writing career?

labyrinth - screenwriting career tipsFirst of all, now is definitely not the time to rest on your laurels. In fact, quite the opposite. This early stage in your career is both tough and crucial; some days it will feel like you’re climbing a ladder, making some headway and other days you’ll feel more like Alice in Wonderland, trying to find your way through the labyrinth in the Queen’s Garden, feeling like you’re getting nowhere.

So based on my own experience so far and because I’m a blog junkie who can (and will) pull knowledge from other, more experienced writers who are a bit further up the ladder, here are some tips that may help you get to that next step in your career. Use at will:

GET AN AGENT?

This always seems to be a hot topic in screenwriting circles. After you’ve got that initial break, is it the right time to get an agent?

Some say yes. Some say no. Some cry Catch 22 and say that production companies won’t read your work without an agent, but then agents won’t look at the work of an amateur writer without a commission or similar.

Firstly, let’s dispel a couple of myths:

Myth: Agents won’t look at the work of an amateur writer without a commission.

Truth: Some agents are actually willing to read work from new writers, even those without a commission, especially if they’ve received recognition like winning a competition. An even smaller number of agents will look at your work even if you haven’t had any sort of breakthrough. Whether they’ll actually take you on at this point is another story. If your work is good enough, and I mean stand-out-can-hold-its-own-amongst-working-professionals stand out, then the agent may say to you: come back when you’ve won an award or got a commission – essentially something they can use as collateral to try and get you (more) work. So when you do get that breakthrough award, get in touch with the agent. Until then, there’s no harm in waiting. Having several achievements under your belt when you next approach them will only work to your benefit. You may even garner interest from more than one agent.

Myth: Production companies won’t read your work without an agent.

Truth: In large part, yes. But some production companies do look at work from newer writers without an agent, even companies that don’t accept unsolicited material. Caution: please don’t use this as an excuse to send an unsolicited email to 100 production companies with your script attached. Send a short personalised query to a few production companies, (preferably those who have produced programmes in the same genre as your script), asking if they would be willing to read your work, or alternatively phone and ask. If you choose this option, you have to be prepared to deal with a LOT of rejection. But if you are okay with that and can do this without annoying them with a deluge of calls and emails asking if they’ve read the script you sent to them – like two days ago – then you may reap awards, namely establishing a relationship with these companies, or having that producer or development exec recommend you to an agent. Two birds with one stone. Boom!

So with all that said and done, should you approach an agent after your first break? It’s completely up to you. But whatever you do, don’t rush the decision. Treat it like marriage. You don’t know how long the union will last, but make the decision to walk down aisle on the basis that it will last forever.

SET GOALS

Knowing what you want and putting a plan in place to realistically get there is a good thing. Of course the main goal for a lot of writers is to see their own original work onscreen or in the movie theatres. It can and does happen, for some writers right off the bat, such as In the Flesh‘s Dominic Mitchell and HBO Girls’ Lena Dunham. But these examples are rare. The road to getting your own series commissioned can be long and risky. Production companies and commissioners want proof that if they hire you to write your own series of say six episodes, you can deal with notes, redrafts and deadlines. And most of all that you can deliver the goods.

So after your initial break, you have to figure out ways to prove to them that you can deliver. Figure out your next step. Will you produce a short or maybe make the jump to your first feature? Is your aim to write an episode on a continuing drama (soap) in order to get your first commission? Do you want to produce a web series?

When contemplating options like those above, think about why you’re doing it before you decide if it’s the right way to do it. For instance, are you making a feature to make money or to showcase your work on the festival circuit? Are you producing a web series to gain an audience following for your writing or to show those in the industry what you can do, in the hopes that it will help you land your own TV show quicker? If you pursue the continuing drama route, do you want to become a writer for hire or eventually chase your own series?

No route is easy and often it takes time, money and energy, but knowing where you want to go and your plan to get there will give you focus and alleviate that feeling of meandering in your career.

KEEP WRITING

I went to a Q&A recently which featured a well-known writer in the UK. Something they said both shocked and inspired me. Even with a few TV show hits under their belt, at one point they wrote seven spec scripts/pilots in a row and NONE of them were picked up. Yes, seven! Their advice (and caveat) was to keep writing new material, even if one of your projects is green lit. You never know when that project will go into production and therefore when you will be paid. It could be months. It could be years.

So keep on developing new ideas and writing, preferably producing at least 2 new scripts a year no matter what happens after your breakthrough, because the most common question you will be asked not only as a new writer but at every point in your career is: what else have you got?

WEB SERIES

Making a web series or a webisode of some sort can be highly beneficial to your career. In some cases, it has actually made careers. Ask the writers of C4’s Run, Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan and Marlon Smith, who got a series commissioned off the back of a webisode; or Steve Stamp et al who got a pilot commissioned for a series called People Just Do Nothing after producing a YouTube series; or the creators of US show Broad City Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, who are now in their second season.

A webseries has several benefits: it can prove that your writing translates well from paper to screen; if you decide to get involved with the production, it can demonstrate your skills as a producer as well as a writer (note that the Broad City writers are executive producers on their show); you have more creative freedom to realise your vision because in truth you will have to make a lot more compromises when you work professionally in film or TV; and finally, you can build an audience for your work, which is great all round for your work and, let’s be honest, your ego!

FUNDING

If you have awards on your writing resume, this is probably a good time to apply for film funding. BFI, Film London, BBC Writers Room, and our very own blog right here on Script Angel are great resources to find out about funding schemes and competitions. Remember, the people behind these funds don’t just want to hand out money to anyone who claims they’ve got a great idea, they want to promote new, up-and-coming talent, especially talent that’s already proven they can deliver and can/will use the funds to advance their careers.

So use whatever awards or success you’ve received to “humble brag” (a great phrase I came across recently) on that funding application form and maybe you’ll bag the fund to make that great project you’ve got in your head (and hopefully on paper) a reality!

CREATING YOUR OWN OPPORTUNITIES

Just in case you missed it the first time, this is not the time to rest on your laurels. Don’t stop doing what you did before you got your initial break. Keep networking. Keep building your contacts. Keep LinkedIn-ing. Keep putting your work out there to competitions and schemes. Approach up-and-coming producers and directors who are in a similar position to you and also share your vision, and collaborate on a project.

Essentially, keep going as if you’re chasing your first break and never stop.

THANKS

Katy Perry (yes, I’m quoting Ms. Perry) says it takes a village to doll her up and prep her for her performances. Well, it also takes a village to make a successful writing career. By this I mean the people who are willing to read your work and give you notes for free, the industry professionals who give you advice, mentor you, champion you and/or recommend you for assignments.

I believe you should never forget those who helped you to get to where you are. Check in on them once in a while to say hi and maybe even thanks!

FINANCIAL PLANNING

A writer’s career is unstable, even when you’ve achieved success. Never assume the money you earn at any given point will last forever. Say, for example, you’ve just got a writing assignment and have been paid a decent if not handsome sum, if you think that money is enough to last you six months, do a financial plan that stretches the money so it lasts for a year. Because you can never, ever predict when your next assignment and pay cheque is coming in.

LASTLY, PACK A SANDWICH

It’s a long journey ahead of you… stay positive and good luck!

Drew previously worked as a project manager and freelance video producer before turning to screenwriting. Over the last few years Drew has produced several shorts (winning a Film London award in the process) and a food show web series (7xeps), which gained online audiences in the UK, Europe and US. Drew recently took part in the Chanel Four Screenwriting Course and is represented by Lindsey Bender at United Agents.