This week, my most recent blog for the BBC WRITERS ROOM website – about NETWORKING.
To be a successful writer of TV drama, the most important thing is your ability to write (obviously!) BUT it is worth remembering that there is a whole other side to your work as a TV dramatist that shouldn’t be under-estimated.
That is – the aspect of marketing yourself and your work (I can hear your groans already), getting your work in front of the people that matter, getting yourself in front of the people that matter, and making sure you are the sort of person that other people want to work with.
Broadly speaking, all the aspects of being professional and focused about your career that are the same the world over in any business.
But writing is a very particular craft; and very often the sort of people who become writers aren’t always the sort of people to whom ‘networking’ and other related business activities, come naturally.
On the one hand you need to have the introspection and ability to live inside your own head and spend much of your life by yourself in front of your computer that enables you to get the work done – ie living a necessarily pretty isolated existence. But on the other hand you need to be comfortable going to meetings, pitching your stories and talking yourself up as a writer.
These two sides of a screenwriter’s life aren’t quite mutually exclusive – but they call on two very different sides of your personality and require different skills.
This blog is going to concentrate on the business/ networking side of your work as a screenwriter.
The principle / idea underlying this blog is – however good your script is, you’re always far more likely to be hired to write something by someone you’ve already met than by someone you’ve never met. The working relationship between writer and producer / script editor is often intense, and you get to know each almost unnaturally quickly – so if the producer in question has already met you and feels there was a rapport, that you’re going to get on and that communication between you is good – they’re far more likely to hire you.
So – you need to try and MEET as many potential employers as you can. Although I hope this goes without saying, while pursuing this idea professionally, there is a fine line between professional ambition and courtesy on the one hand; and desperate pushiness on the other hand. Don’t be that (admittedly very rare) writer who people will do anything to avoid, the writer who pins you in a corner, invades your personal space and won’t let you get out until they have spent half an hour on a rehearsed pitch monologue.
This networking aspect of your life as professional writer has to be constantly ongoing, in the same way as your writing. You can’t spend 6 months concentrating furiously on the networking side and then think you’re done. You have to be able to enjoy this side of the business, and make sure you’re constantly putting yourself and your ideas out there.
An example that is fresh in my mind – recently I went to see the very excellent PARLIAMENT SQUARE by 4screenwriting alumnus James Fritz at the Bush Theatre in London. In the bar before or after the play, I (by chance) met and talked to 10 people I knew there – mainly writers, also two script editors.
Thinking back, without exception, all the people I met there are successful writers and editors. They’re all talented, smart people. But they’re also successful because they are sociable and outward-looking. They are excited to see new writing work, and to meet people.
It’s a cliché – but often the most important connections you can make are not at the formal events (the play) but in the bar afterwards. This is something I’ve learnt from years of running the Channel 4 course and other screenwriting courses.
However good you are at writing, if having a drink with your fellow writers and industry professionals is your idea of Hell, it will without doubt negatively impact on your career potential. (And I’m not saying here that you have to be a big drinker. Alcohol is not an essential part of the equation!)
Here is a checklist of other networking-connected aspects you should be thinking about to enhance your screenwriting career –
Your aim, once you have two or three ‘spec’ scripts which you feel really do your talents justice, should be to get these scripts read by as many influential industry people as possible.
Having someone (or as many people as possible!) in the industry who will champion your work is a very powerful thing.
The world of TV drama is quite small and script editors, producers, agents etc are constantly talking to each other and swapping notes. It’s also important to remind yourself that, although this may not appear to be the case, we script editors and producers are all looking for good writers, for the NEXT BIG THING.
The world of TV drama is expanding and changing at an unprecedented rate. And it’s up to you to be aware of all the potential opportunities out there. So you need to be looking at where you fit into the industry and what opportunities you should be trying to take eg writing competitions. There are more and more of these. You need to decide which are worth entering, which aren’t, which in particular are a good fit for you as a writer.
Probably the two most visible ways-in as a TV dramatist are the BBC Writers Room and the Channel 4 screenwriting course. BUT because so many people know about these schemes, a lot of people will enter and – however brilliant your script is – the odds of breaking through via these schemes are not good. (We received 2040 scripts for the 2018 C4 screenwriting course and from that chose 12 writers). So – think laterally. Don’t necessarily go for these more high-profile entry points but find other competitions and initiatives where your odds are better and where you could stand out (eg regional schemes).
And use the internet to research the industry – and your craft (although if you’re reading this on the BBC writers room website I’m preaching to the converted!)
Off the top of my head – here are some organisations – BBC writersroom (of course), London Screenwriters Festival, BFI, BAFTA, RTS, BAFTA Rocliffe, Indie Training Fund, Creative Skillset, Shooting People, In Development, LFF, Writers Guild, Creative England – that hold screenwriting events. And there are many, many others. This list (because of where I’m based) is London-centric – but there are events all over the UK – and brilliant organisations that bring writers together – like NI Screen, Scottish Screenwriters, Scriptwriting North, New Writing South, Writers Centre Norwich – in most regions of the UK.
Not only will these events stimulate your creative imagination, they are also a really useful way to meet like-minded creatives and potential employers.
And then there is the vast and growing plethora of film & literary festivals around the UK and the world; Guardian talks, Writers & Artists events, events at universities, theatres, bookshops, etc etc. All great ways to get away from your computer and out into the world and meet other writers.
5 YOUR PEERS / WRITERS GROUPS
Writing is by its very nature a lonely business. There is great value in solidarity between writers – for sharing experiences about craft and the industry, swapping notes on people you’re working with / want to work with. And, importantly, for finding out about opportunities. If you have a network of writer friends, it can be invaluable. But above all, it’s great to have a trusted network of fellow writers with whom you can meet regularly and swap work and give each other feedback. Having your own writers group who are committed to meeting regularly and sharing work is invaluable.
Here’s a link to a guest blog from my website that illustrates what I’m talking about. http://script-consultant.co.uk/2015/11/20/writing-groups/
6 SOCIAL MEDIA
Twitter in particular (also facebook and linked-in) can be very powerful in helping to cultivate your network and find out about events and opportunities you’d otherwise not know about. Twitter is a great way to identify like-minded people in the industry. It’s a weird and rather wonderful thing that if you follow and enjoy someone on twitter, when you actually meet them face to face, it’s a whole lot easier, and you already have loads to talk about with them. (@PhilipShelley1)
7 FRIEND OF A FRIEND OF A FRIEND
You may well find that – without realising it – you know people who work in TV or film – or you will know people who know people. Use them shamelessly. If they don’t want to help they will say no and you can move on. But in my experience people actually like to be asked for your help – it flatters them. Contacts are all important. Scour your brain and your address book for potentially useful contacts.
In CONCLUSION – this is all about the less mysterious – and frankly less difficult – part of being a writer – where the same rules apply as in any other line of business. It’s about the obvious things – like being polite, communicative and considerate. But it’s also about being ambitious – and not seeing that as a dirty word. Potential employers will want and expect you to be focused and serious about your work as a writer.
If you can’t puff your chest out and tell the world you’re a writer, and believe that your work is good enough to be taken seriously by people in the industry, then you make it very hard for them to take you seriously.
Don’t apologise for yourself or your work. Demonstrate your self-belief, communicate your strengths as a writer – if you can’t do this, no-one is going to do it for you. It’s about being ambitious, hard-working, organised, polite and positive. But above all, it’s about finding a way to enjoy this social side of the business. This is an industry full of people with similar interests to you, all of whom want to make the best, most exciting work they can. What’s not to like about that?
The next newsletter will be on Friday April 20th,
All the best
April 6th 2018