This week I’m indebted to the wonderful BEN WEATHERILL. Ben is a brilliant writer (of stage and screen) who was on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in 2016. A little while ago, he had a slight twitter-vent about the script development process and his recent experience of it. I thought it was a great read and really instructive / constructive and helpful for all of you dramatic writers who may find yourself in the same situation as Ben. Ben has very generously allowed me to share what he said with you here –
(PS Ben’s new play JELLYFISH is on at the Bush theatre June 27 – July 21 and will be excellent – don’t miss it. https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/event/jellyfish/ )
Over to Ben –
‘I want to share some thoughts because I wish someone had said all this to me a couple of years ago, so I may as well say it now.
This isn’t intended to patronise or tell grandma how to suck eggs. But I think it’s important to be more honest and open with each other about how we, our work and our ideas are treated so we can be better prepared.
When you first start having telly meetings, you will meet a lot of people at great companies who are making exciting stuff.
This is especially true if you are privileged enough to have completed a scheme such as 4screenwriting, or won a prize, or gathered attention from a really great play etc. It is true across the board, though. If you’ve got a good script acting as your calling card, you’ll be invited in to see what other ideas you’re working on.
I was lucky enough to be on a scheme that people respected and that helped me get through lots of doors. I am so grateful that I had this experience. This isn’t about those schemes it is about what happens after.
I pitched lots of ideas, some good, some terrible. Lots that were probably average.
I got a few things optioned. I was excited that people had shown interest in me. Wanted to work with me. Wanted to PAY me for my work. The holy grail.
But development can be hard. Really fucking hard. Your work should be interrogated and asked difficult questions of and it can take forever for a project to get from one stage to another. Some never make it off the ground at all.
Which is why you should find the right people to work with. Precisely because it can be so difficult and so long.
I believe I made some mistakes on those early projects. And I say I made them and not anyone else because I was new to all this and didn’t actually know any better. But there are things that I wish I had known.
I wish I had known it was okay to ask more questions. How exactly will this process work? Why is it they want to do this project with you? What show are we all making? What exactly do these documents you want me to produce look like?
It is okay to speak up when you feel yourself drowning or you don’t understand. It just is. Your idea and opinions have worth.
It is okay to ask people to explain notes, politely. Don’t confuse this with not listening to notes. You should. Many are excellent. But if you don’t understand, then you have to make sure you do. Clarify. Don’t get wires crossed.
Hold on to why you wanted to make the thing in the first place. That should always be at the heart of it. If it isn’t, you’re beating a dead horse. What is at the core of the idea that everyone loves and should be kept hold of?
Find people who you trust to confide in. Other writers. Someone who isn’t in the industry as they’ll often put things into perspective. Your agent. TALK TO YOUR AGENT. At this point it’s probably worth stating don’t say anything to an Exec down the pub that you wouldn’t want repeating to a room full of people.
People can’t take you for granted just because you fought hard to get into the room. And for minorities this fight is more than twice as hard. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. You are allowed to take up space and oxygen.
You will get asked to do far too much work for free. You just will. But you should be strict with yourself about how much you are prepared to do. The working for free problem is a whole separate issue, but I wish someone had drilled in to me how much my time is actually worth. If you feel like too much is being asked of you, it is okay to have a conversation about money. It’s not a dirty word. If you’ve grafted and they’re still not willing to cough up, it’s probably better to walk away. Again: TALK TO YOUR AGENT.
Get work off your desk and on to someone else’s. Don’t let the grass grow too green. If you’ve done your part of the heavy lifting, it means someone else has to step up.
Speak up sooner rather than later. This is probably the most difficult thing to hear and to put in to practice in the real world. But I can’t stress this enough.
It is okay to have things fail and make mistakes. It’s more than okay. That happens sometimes because some ideas just don’t work.
But it should happen because the idea is bad or the project isn’t suitable; not because of any of the things I’ve just listed. Just because new writers don’t always have the confidence or experience doesn’t mean they can be treated badly and then blamed for a failure.
We need support. Nurturing. Otherwise we are just going to burn out before we’ve even got started.
Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of people out there in telly who are AMAZING. And to be honest, shady people don’t deserve your best ideas.
Find the people you’d go for a drink with. Who get excited by your jokes. Who make good telly. Who respond to your emails. Who you like. Who you trust.
Over and out xxx’
Ben was part of the Royal Court Young Writer’s Programme and Invitation Only Group. After this, he went on to work as the Literary Manager at the Old Red Lion Theatre. During this time, he established the Old Red Lion Writers’ Group and supported two full productions of work that came directly through the department to critical acclaim.
During 2015, he was Playwright-in-Residence with Curve Theatre, Leicester. Chicken Dust won the Curve Theatre Leicester Playwriting Competition and received its premiere at the Finborough Theatre in March 2015 as well as returning home to the Curve in May 2015. Whilst at the Curve, he developed new work, ran the National Theatre’s New Views Programme and acted as dramaturg on new work commissions.
His new play Jellyfish will be at The Bush in spring 2018 and he is on attachment with the National Theatre Studio.
Ben was on the Channel 4 Screenwriters course and has projects in development with Scott Free, Company Pictures, Channel 4 and Objective Fiction.
Thank you so much Ben for sharing this with us.
The next newsletter will be on Friday May 18th
All the best
May 4th 2018