This week, I’m absolutely delighted to share with you the first of several screenwriter guest blogs. I am so grateful to the brilliant, generous people who have written these guest blogs – and I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. SO for the next few weeks, the screenwriting newsletter will be going out weekly instead of fortnightly every Friday.
The first is by screenwriter LAURENCE TRATALOS. Laurence has been sending me his excellent scripts for quite a few years and it’s been great seeing his screenwriting career deservedly taking off.
Laurence Tratalos became interested in script writing during his time studying Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Whilst living in Australia in 2015 he entered a script into the BBC Writersroom’s ‘Scriptroom 9’ competition. Out of 2200 scripts, he was selected as one of the ten writers to take part in a six-month development scheme with BBC Comedy. He still doesn’t know how that happened, but he enjoyed his time there.
Later, a drama script of his was chosen for Philip Shelley’s Script Showcase, an industry event where his script was performed by a cast of actors. As a result of these two experiences, he currently has a number of scripts in development with UK production companies and is represented by Independent Talent Group.
HI comedy pilot ‘EVE’ was filmed last summer https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9245214/?ref_=nm_knf_t and a short film he wrote ‘In A While, Crocodile’ can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/409883652
When not writing, he works as a carer for a friend with autism, and at a local cinema. He looks forward to being able to go back to both when all this craziness is over.
How to (not) write during a crisis
‘Philip asked me to write something, anything, vaguely related to screenwriting. And I confess I didn’t really know where to start. My life hasn’t changed that dramatically during this crisis and I felt ill positioned to comment. I wasn’t feeling particularly productive or enthusiastic about my writing either.
There’s probably a million pieces on how you should be creating your masterpiece during these times. How you should be working like normal, using this time to be inspired… Inspired? Have you seen what’s going on in the world?
You do not need to be productive.
You can give yourself time off.
You can allow yourself to be lazy.
To watch shit TV.
To miss the football.
To enjoy the weather (god really gets irony).
There is no right way to do the apocalypse (Shaun of The Dead was pretty fun though).
For the first week I got nothing done. Literally nothing. I tried to write but kept on letting the endless news stories feed my anxiety, constantly refreshing Twitter and BBC news. It didn’t help that I’d subscribed to Disney Plus and was bingeing old Simpsons episodes. Our reality had changed, overnight. My attention span was near zero. I’d start writing and then I’d be on Youtube, or listening to a song, or reading Twitter. I felt emotional all of the time: I watched Ten Things I Hate About You the other week and was bawling my eyes out. We’re living in an unprecedented time.
In catastrophic times we question the meaning and purpose of drama. Why create something that might never get made/seen/be relevant once this is over? When major historical events take place, many artists feel that contemporary modes of expression are insufficient to express their feelings, and that new modes have to be found to address the era. Why finish my script when no one might read it/make it/give a crap about it? What role does comedy play during a crisis? What role do the arts play? Do they help us cope with our fears or do they amplify them? I certainly didn’t want to write anything even vaguely related to the coronavirus, as producers kept telling me, ‘we’ll need an escape once all this is over’.
An ‘escape’. My girlfriend is a student nurse. She does her job for no money and, until recently, very little recognition. She and her colleagues put their lives on the line: I stare at the wall and dream up stories that will help us ‘escape’. Coming up with storylines that are funny, interesting or engaging feels hollow. It’s what I do best, but it’s just not the same as before.
And how will television change once (if) we’re past this? The nation and indeed the world will have been through a shared trauma. Not since the epidemic of 1918 has an event on this global scale occurred. How do TV and media go back to normal? Does every contemporary drama need to address the coronavirus, or do they gloss over it? Do we just write 2020 off?
I’m procrastinating again, I’m meant to be writing about writing but instead I’m focusing on the coronavirus. As Kurt Vonnegut said: ‘Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.’
So I decided I was going to do what I’ve done countless times before in the past, and try and write my way out of trouble. I’m lucky in that I actually enjoy writing. During times when I’ve been down in the dumps, I’ve turned to writing to get myself out of a funk. And because my other two part-time jobs aren’t possible at the minute, I can now pretend I’m a full-time writer. But if you have a demanding family/writer’s block/are struggling with profound existential angst in the face of a global pandemic, then don’t worry if you don’t feel like turning on Final Draft and staring at the blinking cursor.
I arranged Zoom and Skype meetings with producers (saving myself on train fares), set myself deadlines for competitions to enter, and edited a few projects that people wanted to read. I managed to write a new script (I’m not bragging, it’s probably crap) but it helped that I was writing something I really cared about. When you hit flow with writing and create something out of nothing there’s no other feeling like it, you leave the world – if only briefly. A quote from season one of True Detective comes to mind, it’s not about writing but it does the job: ‘…Most of the time I was convinced that I’d lost it. But there were other times, I thought I was main-lining the secret truth of the universe.’
Write/don’t write, do what helps you, do what you need to do to cope. Write for fun. For sheer escapism. Write that thing you know will never get made but makes your soul soar. Or don’t. Just lie in front of the telly, re-watching Simpson episodes and dream about hugging random people…
Thank you so much Laurence.
I would really recommend IN A WHILE CROCODILE – it’s a cracking short film.
The next newsletter will be next Friday, May 15th.
Until then – look after yourselves,
All the best
May 8th 2020