I’ve been blown away by the responses I got to my last newsletter about the year of lockdown we’ve just gone through. So many brilliant, thought-provoking, powerful pieces of writing. SO this week and April 16th’s newsletters are 2 bumper editions with some of these responses!
A massive thank you to all of you who took the time to respond and to those of you whose pieces I haven’t been able include – apologies.
‘I wanted to say thanks on two accounts –
Firstly for your ever-insightful newsletter. I always really enjoy reading them!
Secondly, for the pitching sessions you delivered to the BBC Comedy Writersroom group a couple of weeks back. I know I speak for the whole group when I say that your expertise on the topic was incredibly useful and very much appreciated.
I thought I’d take your PS seriously and get back to you with how the pandemic has affected my life. It almost seems perverse to talk about any positive impact of such a crisis year, especially since so many people have struggled so much, but I can’t deny that for me, the global shutdown has had significant upsides.
I’ve been freelance in the film industry for several years now, working as a floor runner / director’s assistant. Being on set is a great way to experience first-hand how stuff actually gets made…plus I get to live and breathe film and television, which I really enjoy! The downside is that you’re usually working such long hours as a runner that any hopes/thoughts of actually writing scripts tend to remain as pipe-dreams.
At the end of February 2020 I was looking for my next role on set, after taking a winter break. Cue COVID outbreak. Pandemic. Global lockdown. The world explodes. Like so many freelancers, I missed out on any government financial support (don’t get me started on this!!) and found myself stuck at home, jobless and unable to see my partner, who works on the other side of the country.
I realised I couldn’t do much at all with my time…apart from write.
I submitted a TV pilot to the BBC Comedy Room in April 2020, mainly because I’d run out of excuses not to. I wrote my first, full-length play whilst the theatre industry was in shutdown to avoid spending the whole day staring at the mould on my window frame. I actually felt a bizarre sense of urgency in those early months of the pandemic – as soon as the film industry restarted I knew (or at least hoped!) to be back out there working, so this period of focussing on my own on my work felt like a strangely precious time.
Four months later, I got an email saying I’d got an interview with the Writersroom development team…and then a place in the Comedy Room. As an ‘aspiring writer’, I’ve always felt a duty to apply to these schemes but never actually believed I could get on, so I can’t really articulate how it felt to get that email, apart from ‘!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’.. This was off the back of a script I would never have got round to writing, had 2020 been like any other year.
Now, in March 2021, the film industry has started to open up again (with all the necessary COVID measures in place). I’m back at work as an Exec/Writer’s Assistant on Ted Lasso 2, and developing another pilot with the Comedy Room at the same time. Seeing myself as a writer, rather than just someone who aspires to write, has made it much easier to juggle work commitments with my own projects and for this reason (and so many others!) I am incredibly grateful to the Writersroom team.
I know I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in 2020, and my heart goes out to everyone who has found the past twelve months to be wholly bleak and uninspiring, but I wanted to share my small ‘good-news’ pandemic story along with the most important lesson I learnt this year: BACK YOURSELF.
In a way, I cheated. The pandemic forced me to write…and keep writing, since there was literally nothing else going on. But my advice anyone in a similar position to me one year ago would be:
Step 1 – Believe that you can do it (or pretend to, for however long it takes to complete…)
Step 2 – Write that script.
I have to apologise for sending you such a lengthy ramble (it’s been a quiet day at the office). But thanks again for giving up your time and wisdom, it’s really appreciated.
All the best,
Philip: So refreshing to hear a pandemic success story!
‘Thanks for the open and honest newsletter – it has been a tough 12 months for sure! And we do still have ways to go. I think for me the shift away from London is going to be the most interesting change, personally and creatively. We already know that writers feel a pressure to live in London so they are nearer opportunities and can be part of a network etc, but this has also been true of those who work in script development. Before this happened, I was trying to imagine how I might keep my career but leave London. I knew there were opportunities in Manchester but this felt too far from friends and family and truth be told I wasn’t all that keen on moving to Cardiff. I had been talking to execs who live and work in Bristol hoping I myself might one day find a way to move back home to Bristol or Bath but there were really only a couple of production companies based there. Yet now I have proven that I can do my job completely remotely (read-throughs aside) and I wonder what this means for me. That said London property prices are dropping so this means I actually might be able to afford a lifestyle here that I never thought possible – either way there are more opportunities and I do feel like the whole industry has been given a shake-up. However, I also miss the buzz of central London desperately and I now realise how much I got from being with other creative people most of the time. In the last few weeks, I’ve realised how much I miss fringe and new theatre and how my knowledge of new writers is now lagging behind. I also miss the slightly more personal relationships I used to develop with my writers – the social element has completely disappeared and zoom meetings are kept short and efficient. I have started a new job during the pandemic and barely know my co-workers – will the close bonds I used to have with those I work with be something of the past?
I am interested to see how far our industry has changed, and where we will all be living, in a few years’ time.’
Philip: So many interesting questions there about whether the industry will embrace the positive changes of the last year, particularly the increased opportunities of doing everything online for those who live outside London.
‘Like you, I haven’t been to London since last February/March and I wonder when I’ll be able to start going back again. Whether or not I even want to start going back again (it was bloody expensive). I wonder if the industry will ever go back to ‘normal’ (why pay for office space when we’ve seen how effective zoom meetings can be?) I wonder how long it’ll be until we can film things without all the crazy, but necessary, COVID protocols… I’m pleased that they are now starting to talk about the importance of filming shows outside of London but I wonder if all this talk of championing Northern writers is just talk… Or maybe they’re going to finally realise that diversity applies to writers from all around England.
Like you I’ve retreated into a lot of imaginary worlds over the last year, reading a lot more, and revisiting books from my childhood. As well as working on my screenwriting, I’ve written two children’s/YA novels during lockdown, something I’ve not done since I was a kid. It’s been immensely therapeutic, and it’s helped me while I’ve gone through a few medical issues. Writing has always been something I’ve turned to when I’ve been unwell or feeling low and this time more than ever I feel it’s got me through the uncertainty of the pandemic. I wouldn’t have believed last year that I would have written a novel (let alone two) but now I’m in the process of trying to find an agent for my novel.
I’m also working with a filmmaker in Manchester who I met online during the pandemic, have become good friends with him, and we’re shooting our first short film next month (we haven’t even met in person yet). I’m grateful that during all this I’ve had my girlfriend (who’s a nurse and has had a million times harder year than me) and my new cat, Nuala, who’s become a welcome companion while writing. As much as I want things to return to some level of normal, I have really enjoyed being able to write full time whilst being on furlough. It feels strange to say, but I think I might miss lockdown… Just a bit.’
‘My personal reflections on this year is that it started on a weird note. I didn’t know how to respond to the pandemic as, like everyone else, I feared it but couldn’t believe that me (or my family) would be affected by COVID 19 in anyway despite how quickly it was spreading.
I feel a bit bad about admitting this but when I was told we had to work from home for those first few months, I was excited by the prospect of writing and reading whilst exploring more creative outlets. I also enjoyed spending more time with my wife and discovering picturesque areas of Staines, which despite being tainted by Ali G, is actually prettier and indeed, MASSIVE! So overall, I tried to look at it in a positive light, probably still blinded by the fact that Covid 19 couldn’t and wouldn’t affect me.
As I saw the infection and death rates go up in our area, I naturally was scared for my wife and my family catching it. My parents are approaching mid 70s and my wife is asthmatic. But I still continued writing scripts, plays and even started a children’s book to keep my mind occupied whilst still remaining positive and enjoying my time at home.
My wife was then made redundant from her early-years teaching role. That was the first hit of reality. The second was a few months later when my wife and I caught Covid. All I’ll say is, we’re lucky it was mild but even in its mildest form it was truly unpleasant and distressing. Thirdly, my job is now at risk of redundancy (I have yet to hear the outcome). I was anxious before but probably feel worse now due to the certainty of my future. My wife and I were hoping to buy our first house and start a family but that may have to be put on hold. So, the reality of Covid has definitely dawned on me and I kick myself for being selfish and foolish to think it would never affect my life in anyway, or the people around me.
Still keeping positive, I found that whenever my head felt like it was swelling with negativity and I couldn’t stop talking to myself about upsetting things, writing really did save the day for me. It relieved the anxiety and took away all those negative thoughts – by the way, writing a children’s story really puts you in a safe-haven! But even writing something like a horror or thriller kept me happy and distracted. Thanks to that I was in the semi-finals for a few competitions and have had positive feedback from other professionals as I still continue my journey into becoming a full-time writer.
I guess what I’m saying is I’m still keeping positive but compared to the beginning I’m less naive to the bigger picture and definitely wearier. It may be a cliche amongst our writing circles but writing is still a greatest form of escapism, catharism and general well-being. It certainly kept going throughout this year.
From what I read in your newsletter, it sounds like writing has done the same for many others who have been inspired by the pandemic. It’s exciting and reassuring to know writing is a great motivator even at the bleakest of times.
Thanks as always for your newsletters.’
‘A lovely thoughtful and evocative newsletter, thank you.
For me lockdown has had a very significant impact on my career. I’d longed believed that my age was an issue – and this is something I’ve been making a lot of noise about recently because it’s wrong on so many levels – but I do think that not living in London is also a disadvantage for creatives. This year – largely because of lockdown and the networking opportunities zoom has given me – I now have a London producer for my latest play, I’ve been approached by an award-winning theatre company about the possibility of adapting one of the most important novels of our time to the London stage and I’ve been collaborating with Arts and Homelessness International on a project which – with AHI’s support – will employ people who are currently or who have recently been homeless. To that end, I’ve been able to take part in forums and meetings with homeless people from all over the world. This has been a privilege and pleasure and will inform and inspire the project which I’m sure will be a life changing experience. I’ve also been approached by a film producer who wants to work with me on a short film. I’m actually beginning to wonder if I might need an agent after all! But I’m in no rush for that as I’m doing just fine without one. Oh, and I still have a couple of radio ideas being considered for radio 4.’
Thank you so much to all – and there are more excellent responses in 2 weeks time.
All the best
April 2nd 2021