This week’s newsletter is written by 4screenwriting 2020 alumnus ABRAHAM ADEYEMI –
When Philip asked me to write this, I was delighted. Not to blow smoke up his arse, but I’ve long been a fan of Philip’s newsletter – way before I ever participated in 4Screenwriting and I still read them today. Whenever there’d be a guest writer on the newsletter, I’d be excited and – since becoming acquainted with Philip – I hoped one day he’d ask me!
You would think, therefore, that when that day finally came I would know exactly what I would be writing, right? Wrong.
I of course welcome Philip’s invitation with warmth. His email includes prompts which I skim over but pretty much ignore because I’m sure I’ll figure out something totally unique to write about.
Well, hopefully after this point I’m hoping I’m going to figure that out but, up until this point, I’ve simply been writing for writing’s sake. Flexing the muscles. Reminding myself that this thing isn’t as overwhelming as I’m making it out to be and that sometimes you just have to get the juices flowing. But I’ve been thinking whilst writing. Thinking about how – today particularly – I find myself in a moment that is unrecognisable to myself and would be unrecognisable to anybody who knows me or has worked with me. I find myself demotivated. We’re in a global pandemic and I’d – of course – be forgiven for letting it take its toll on me. But even throughout this, I have been – true to form – resilient.
I’m going to digress now, not because of toxic masculinity traits that has me not wanting to talk about my feelings but because I think I’ve figured out what I want to write about. That’s actually how my brain tends to work, actually. A sudden spark just comes. In conversation. In writing. In living. And I have to follow it and catch it in that very moment, and use it because I have the brain of a goldfish.
I’m going to talk about a couple of things I am asked very often. The answers I have do not tend to be the magical formula people hope for, but I do always hope they are helpful.
Walking to the beat of your own drum: A Brief History of Abe.
1991 – 2011. Black Brit/Nigerian. Born and raised in S. London. Working class and single parent home on the most part. Wanted to be a lawyer.
2011 – dropped out of an International Politics Degree to start a part time, 4-year creative writing degree whilst spending the majority of my time outside of that drowning myself in my craft.
2012 – 2x summer jobs; a theatre usher, summer school pastoral mentor (seasonal role until 2019). 24 hours a week at a phone shop.
2014 – Quit phone shop, to focus on writing because after my degree I am, of course, going to make it.
2015 – Finish degree. Made homeless less than a month later. Sofa-surfing, get a full time job, not kept beyond probation, unemployed by Christmas.
2016 – Job Seekers Allowance. Still sofa surfing. Eventually get a job in telephone customer service, night shifts. Become unsustainable to balance with writing. Quit. Do my summer schools. Start working in secondary schools as a cover supervisor.
2017 – Finally have some stability, rent a room. Get a second job, admin assistant to a social worker. Get a third job, theatre bar staff.
2020 – Global pandemic happens and all my jobs disappear. By some great fortune, once the mini panic is over, it seems like this has perfectly happened around the same time that I am able to write for a living, full time.
Present day – still writing full time.
I don’t think people are transparent enough about how they manage to pay their bills/rent/survive whilst chasing their dreams. I think it’s important to find what works for you. I had zero interest in working in/around film/TV whilst trying to get in. I did not think that would serve me. The most important thing to me was having flexibility (so a full-time job was out of the question) so that I could always give time to writing when I needed to. The chaos I’ve outlined above definitely will not work for everyone. But it worked for me.
No More Wings
In 2019, I made a short film called No More Wings. It was my directorial debut and through some unpredictable magical fortune, it has been a tremendous success, most notably it winning best narrative short at Tribeca Film Festival, subsequently qualifying for both BAFTA and Oscar consideration, and opened up a million doors for me. I need to stress that this was totally unpredictable. I did not go to film school. I have never wanted to direct. I do not know anything about film festivals nor what makes a successful festival film (as proven by the fact that we’ve been rejected by 30-40 festivals). No More Wings was a story I’d had in my mind to write since around 2017. I didn’t write it, but I was thinking about it a lot and kept telling anybody who would listen about it. Nobody could understand my excitement about this pretty simple idea: two childhood friends sitting at a chicken shop, catching up, whilst one reveals that he’s moving away from the neighbourhood they grew up in.
I’ve since realised a couple things as a result of this. Firstly, I had to be the person to direct No More Wings (I’ve continued directing btw); when nobody else can see what you can see, it’s probably a good idea to find a way to do it yourself (easier said than done, I know).
Secondly, and hopefully more usefully, is that I think it’s really important to write what you want to write even if it makes sense to nobody else. If it really excites you, sets your soul on fire, you should write it. I’m currently developing a TV project and it’s the most difficult thing to articulate. Yet I don’t think I’ve ever been so sure that something I’m working on would be great, in a similar way to how I thought of No More Wings. On paper, No More Wings is mundane. This series, on paper, is totally chaotic and like nothing that I’ve seen before. All the more reason to write it.
I want to remind us of clichés that are true.
Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. When I considered the theme ‘time’ I thought that short film about a chicken shop I’ve wanted to write for ages would be a good idea. When I got onto 4Screenwriting, I wrote the script that I’ve wanted to write since 2012.
Luck is when opportunity meets preparation. When your “time/moment” comes, you’ll either be prepared for it or you won’t. Most assume that if you’re not prepared for it, automatically failure is to be expected. This is incorrect. You fail if you do not rise to the challenge.
There’s no such thing as an overnight success. There is, actually, but overnight successes seldom ever sustain long careers. Those who have worked patiently in the shadows, preparing, sharpening their tools usually do, though.
Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness. I vividly remember calculating when I decided to embark on my writing journey what 10,000 hours would look like. I’ve just done a calculation and – whilst I don’t think I’ve reached greatness yet – 10,000 hours across ten years is about 3.82 hours a day if you take out weekends. I didn’t expect it to take me ten years to get to where I am now. I was very incorrect. You must do your ten thousand hours. And then some.
Lastly, I’m going to address some of Philip’s prompts. And I’m going to address them with 1-2 sentence answers. As someone who consistently struggles to utilise brevity, the following is an achievement.
The way you work and tricks to help writers be productive. I have a short attention span and, as such, on days when I sometimes achieve 18 pages worth of script, it is likely that I’ve written in several bursts of 10-15 minute periods of focus throughout the day, with plenty of procrastination (read: social media) in between. Find what works for you.
The value of writing groups. If nothing else, they’ll teach you how to take and utilise critique – hopefully for the betterment of your writing. Critique isn’t always right, but it is criminal to disregard it without first considering it.
Your experiences of the industry eg agents, meetings, script notes, writers rooms, rejection and how to cope with it. I spent years trying to get an agent, get into certain rooms etc. with no avail and then – when I wasn’t trying at all – it all came. That’s not me saying don’t try (definitely do); what I’m saying here is keep writing so that you’re always prepared when it’s your moment.
Things you have watched that have made an impression on you. I watched Malcolm & Marie over the weekend and – as someone who loves riveting dialogue – I almost orgasmed.
Thoughts on script editing. Any and all of my successful works are 100x better than they would have been, if not for the script editors involved. Embrace them.
The importance of diverse voices. I watched a fantastic series recently, which I almost stopped watching minutes in because they massacred my mother tongue (Yoruba) in the opening minutes. Without diverse voices, we cannot reflect and represent the world in which we exist with true authenticity and if that is a disservice to one of us, it is a disservice to all of us.
What you’ve missed this year in the global pandemic. Talking about things that have nothing to do with what we’re actually supposed to be talking about or doing, as every single conversation I have right now feels so intentional. Seeing and speaking to someone unexpectedly. And airports (yes, I know that was three sentences. Fuck off.).
What you’re looking forward to doing when we can all be in a room together again. Interrupting people, being interrupted and talking over each other. Not this polite bollocks we’re all doing on Zoom, that just isn’t how real conversations work (and – as mentioned above – sudden sparks, immediacy, goldfish memory).
Now that I think about it, I wish I had just written a paragraph response to each prompt. That would have been fun. Maybe Philip will be so kind as to ask me to guest again. Until then…
Thank you so much Abe for this inspiring piece (and if you haven’t yet seen NO MORE WINGS, seek it out!)
The next newsletter will be on Friday July 23rd.
July 9th 2021