CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2014
It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, in which I’ve been in the thick of this year’s C4 course. We had the 2nd weekend on June 14 & 15 and a drinks evening at Channel 4 on Wednesday evening.
By the 2nd weekend (the first weekend was back in January) the 12 writers have delivered their one hour pilot episode scripts which they’ve been working on for the past 5 months. On the Saturday we get a team of 11 actors to do 15 page readings from each of the scripts; and on the Sunday we get 4 eminent industry guests to come in and give feedback to three writers each, followed by a concluding meeting between writer and script editor where we look back over the course and discuss the way forward for all of the writers.
The quality and variety of the scripts this year was outstanding – all 12 scripts were really strong, and the range of stories was mind-boggling – from a dystopian, futuristic take on many of society’s current ills; to a bleak but gothically comic story about a 70 year old landlady turned serial killer; a brilliantly constructed thriller, telling the same story but from 3 different perspectives; an ‘in your face’ \ E4 comedy drama about a group of ‘freaks’ sharing a house and what happens when they accidentally kill their landlord; a comedy drama about a trans-gender Asian woman who has to revert to her former male identity when she returns to her Bradford roots to deal with a family crisis; a ghost story about an urban female reporter, who travels to a remote – and haunted – Wiltshire village to search for her missing boyfriend; a dark comedy about a troubled female psychiatrist who starts hallucinating Sigmund Freud…the list goes on.
It’s very exciting when you get this many really high-quality, original scripts by talented new writers. Many of the scripts are like nothing I’ve ever seen on TV – and that’s often their real virtue.
It’s these sort of scripts that demonstrate a writer’s unique voice, that open doors even if (being cynical for a moment!) sometimes this leads to these writers then getting work on less original, often ‘genre’ series.
But the fact that these scripts are original and not influenced by second-guessing the industry is what makes them stand out.
With every passing year that I run the course I also realise more and more, how important the other side of the job is – dealing with the ups and downs psychologically, learning to enjoy the process, the collaboration, as well as the writing. And finding industry supporters, champions for your work.
For example, it was great for me meeting for the first time at the drinks evening an eminent industry executive producer who shared my passion for the script I’d been working on with one of my writers. When you’re working closely with a writer on a project and you love it, you sometimes wonder if you aren’t kidding yourself, overstating the script’s virtues in order to boost your own (and the writer’s) self-esteem. So when that script is then greeted with the same if not more enthusiasm by someone in the industry with a great track record, it’s very exciting. And this ‘supporter’ can, and I hope will, be enormously helpful to the burgeoning career of this screenwriter.
At the same time it’s interesting to see that no two people’s response to the 12 scripts is the same. All the script editors who work with the writers and are the first to read the scripts, have their own particular favourites and we never agree about all the scripts.
As a writer you just need to be philosophical about this – after all, with each script you write, it doesn’t matter how many potential employers don’t get it, as long as one person does get it, and champions it, that’s really all you need.
One of the more recent additions to the C4 writers course has been the drinks evening at C4 which this year happened on the Wednesday evening after the course. The more I’ve worked with new writers, the more I’ve come to realise that being professional, industry-savvy, collaborative and having an ability to get on and work with producers, script editors, directors etc is hugely important. There are a few writers who have enormous talent – but find the collaborative nature of the TV drama difficult – who struggle, or decide TV drama isn’t for them.
As TV dramatists you need to find a way to enjoy the process of working with your fellow professionals, and remember that they want the same thing as you – to make your show the best it can possibly be. As new writers you need to be looking for people that you’re going to enjoy working with – the people who ‘get’ you as a writer, and are keen to read your every script and champion your work. Making connections with these people can feed your writing career for years and years and is invaluable.
With each year we’ve had a bigger and bigger turnout of potential employers at this drinks evening – producers, script editors, development executives from indies and broadcasters, and literary agents. This evening can be so important for writers’ whole careers. Talking to writers from previous year’s courses, I know that many meetings have come out of this evening for them – meetings that in many cases lead to the genesis of new ideas, leading to script commissions and then working with these people for years to come.
This really is a key part of the business. As new writers (or indeed highly experienced writers), most of us often anticipate these events with a certain amount of trepidation, slightly dreading the level of enthusiasm and social effort they require. But for most of us, once we make the effort, attending events like this with a large group of like-minded people – people who share your passion for drama, for story-telling, it’s actually more often than not a lot of fun. And although it can be daunting for the C4 writers, when else in life can you go to a party when you’re one of the *11 people there who EVERYONE wants to meet? This year the course writers really seemed to make the most of this opportunity, and when their writing careers begin to take off (and it can take time) it’s enormously exciting to observe (and take some of the credit for!) their much-deserved successes.
(*Yes – 11 rather than 12. One of our writers was actually in the process of giving birth while we were all enjoying ourselves – the best excuse I’ve ever had for a writer’s no-show – huge congratulations to Katie!)
It’s important for all of us to get out of our comfort zones and put our faces in front of the people who might employ us. The bottom line is that you’re hugely more likely to be employed by someone you’ve met and who likes you, than by someone you’ve never met – however brilliant your script is. There’s nothing unfair about this – it’s simple human nature. The same applies to everyone in every industry – which is why after the C4 drinks evening I booked my ticket for the BBC drama writers festival on July 2nd (not to mention that they have a lot of great speakers and it will be a really interesting day). I hope to see some of you there!
Until next week,
All the best
June 20th 2014