Lots of really interesting responses to my newsletter of last week about university screenwriting courses and what they can do for you as a screenwriter, some of which are below…
John Martin Johnson – ‘After a dozen years in the telly writing business I’ve just started the 1 Year Full Time MA Script Writing at Goldsmiths UoL. If good intentions are anything to go by I’ll be blogging the experience at www.johnnywrites4tv.co.uk.‘
I followed up by asking John – a writer of some experience and with a lot of good TV drama credits to his name why he was going back to study…
‘I guess I’m very ambitious to improve for one thing, and I want to indulge myself with some time. Plus after a decade of solitude it will be great to be part of a group of people who are as mad about screen writing as I am – writing in parallel with them, sharing the experience and ideas, and getting feedback purposed to make me a better writer, not just to get the script ready to shoot!‘
I failed to mention the Goldsmiths course last week – we’ve had a writer from it on both years of the C4 screenwriting course so far, so I can personally vouch for the quality of writers coming out of this course.
Michael Davies: ‘As a graduate of the De Montfort MA in TV Scriptwriting, I’m so pleased you gave it a positive plug in your newsletter. I would highly recommend it, not least for the prime reason you mention – that it introduces students to significant players from all quarters of the industry (your good self included!).
From my own experience, I have made contacts that I’m still in touch with and who have proved extremely beneficial, both for their own worth and for the connections they also offer, and number some of the country’s top writers among my network (and not just on paper – they’re genuinely interested in encouraging my career and are actively supportive).
All this, and a sound training in the craft of scriptwriting too!’
On top of which, while it’s not specifically screenwriting, Michael has just won the National Playwriting Competition. Congratulations Michael!
Steve Lawrence: ‘I’ve just finished the MA Screenwriting at the Screen Academy Scotland and I thought I’d share my perspective on the whole experience.
I’d largely agree with your newsletter. There’s so many great online resources now that it’s pretty much pointless thinking a Masters course is going to teach you how to write. The deadlines and tutor support do help you complete projects but once again motivation and discipline are elements you have to bring yourself.
The one way I think courses such as these truly benefit people is in building connections. I can’t speak for other courses but the Screen Academy ran Directing, Producing, Sound and DoP based courses parallel to the screenwriting courses. Through this I was able to meet a number of Producers and Directors with the same kind of interests and now we have a selection of short films ranging from 2 minutes to 10 minutes that we’re looking to send to festivals.
Coming from a place with almost no television/film industry (Jersey) the course motivated me to move somewhere with a more vibrant industry and helped me build a network of contacts on the same level / experience that would have been near impossible before.
I wouldn’t recommend such a course to everyone but if you’re feeling a little detached from the industry it might be the (expensive) kick up the arse you need.‘
Alec MacAulay: ‘Thank you for another thought-provoking piece. I was already planning to respond before you called for responses! Now, full disclosure, I am a graduate of the Bournemouth MA Screenwriting and am currently doing a PhD there. But I do not want to argue the merits of BU’s offerings. The one aspect of your piece that I do want to comment on is the apparent relative ‘success’ of the NFTS course. I would hazard a guess that the fact that their West End readings are packed with industry professionals says less about the quality of their course and more about the sheer inertia of the Soho media crowd to look anywhere beyond their own small pond for new talent. If BU, or Napier, or Glasgow Caledonian (whose impressive Shed-sponsored MA Writing for TV you did not mention) held their readings in the West End, they, too, would be packed.
BU hold their Graduate Show in London because no industry people will come down to Bournemouth. I find that disturbing. I once heard Stephen Frears talk about how difficult it was to get London people to come down to Dorset when making Tamara Drewe. Dear God, it’s only 90 minutes down the road! As someone writing scripts set in Japan aimed at UK-Japan co-production, it is a bit of a pet peeve. I might be overstating it here, but this lack of hunger, this complacency, from the Soho gatekeepers is breeding insularity.’
Very interesting point this – but I’m afraid the reality of the industry (insular though it may be!) is that most of the industry decision-makers are in London and most of them aren’t prepared \ haven’t got the time to travel any distance out of London to attend student readings \ screenings. In my view, any university course with anything about it, will be realistic enough about this to be putting on an annual showcase for its students in London.
Sue Du Feu: ‘Interesting to read your thoughts on screenwriting MAs- having done one in 1995/7 I agree that what it did was allow me to understand genre, structure, how the business worked, pitching – things that you don’t necessarily pick up from sitting in the garret scribbling. What you didn’t mention was the confidence it gave one, (however misplaced!). I didn’t sell any screen scripts afterwards but I did go into museums and workplaces and get commissions for plays and monologues, which I wouldn’t have dared to do without the ‘badge’ of the MA behind me, so it wasn’t wasted in my case.
Still trying with screen, and have just made my first short to take to festivals.
I did my MA at John Moores uni in Liverpool and it was the first year it ran, met wonderful writers, McGovern, Abbott, Russell – little nuggets of wisdom were mined from each. Sadly it only ran for 4 or 5 years, couldn’t get enough students to make it pay I understand.‘
Really good points from Sue – that doing this much writing and having an MA to your name, can give you real confidence as a writer. And confidence in your own ability is such an important factor.
Also interesting – and sad – that the once very well-reputed John Moores University course in Liverpool no longer exists. As I said last week, there are a lot of courses competing for not many students – which I hope will lead to an increasingly high standard.
Alison Hume: ‘Hey Philip, where’s the Northern Film School on your list?! Not sure it does a bespoke Screenwriting Masters anymore but the Filmmakers’ MA looks great for writers who want to really learn about the nuts and bolts of the industry. Mark Herman went to the NFS, and so did many, many others writing slogging away, I mean, gainfully employed, in TV today. My year included Julie Gearey. I bet it costs a lot less than the southern version too!’
Alison is a very experienced, successful and talented screenwriter who came out of the Northern Film School. The reason I didn’t mention it is that, like the John Moores course, the NFS screenwriting course sadly no longer exists.
But Alison makes a very good point – when applying to a screenwriting course, find out who has gone on to do well from the course in the past.
Finally an exchange from this week on our ‘screenwriters studio’ Facebook page (only open to people who have been on my and Phil Gladwin’s courses) –
‘OK, I’ve been accepted onto the University of Wales’s MA Scriptwriting course, starts on Wednesday – I’m still not entirely convinced I’m up to the challenge or that it’s worth it! HELP!‘
Carol Cooper: ‘Just do it! I really enjoyed my MA, hard work but worth it. Phil and Phil’s courses really good too but sadly they don’t last for two years… and you need the intensity and longevity of an MA to get you in the swing I think…
Speaking of which – we have now inked in two more ‘Authoritative Guide To Writing & Selling A Great Screenplay‘ courses in London in January and March next year.
For our January course, we’re delighted to have TANYA TILLETT returning as special guest. Tanya is a literary agent at the top Knight Hall agency.
Knight Hall have a great list of writers – people like Simon Beaufoy, Simon Nye and many other luminaries.
Tanya also represents several really excellent newer screenwriters – one of whom was on the 2011 Channel 4 screenwriting course (Evan Placey) – and new-ish writer Dominic Mitchell who, on the basis of very little screenwriting experience – but a fantastic script – has been commissioned to write his own BBC3 series based on his script IN THE FLESH, an original and brilliant take on the zombie genre.
So she is an agent who has first-hand experience of new screenwriters making a real mark and, as she proved the first time she spoke on one of our courses, is a real inspiration and fount of wisdom for writers trying to break into the industry, as well as for more experienced writers.
LONDON SCREENWRITERS FESTIVAL – SCRIPT LAB
This is my last chance to remind you about my script lab at this year’s LSF Oct 26th – 28th – the closing date for entries is next Friday October 12th.
The script lab is entitled ‘Creating Drama Series’ – more details here –
Thank you so much for all your great responses to last week’s newsletter and please keep the feedback coming – on anything and everything related to screenwriting!
Until next week
All the best
Oct 5th 2012