This week I’m enormously grateful to screenwriter JAMES CAPEL for writing this guest newsletter. James is the founder of the screenwriting community SCRIBE LOUNGE – and I think there are lessons for all of us in his story of how he came to set up SCRIBE LOUNGE and what it has meant for him and his writing. We all need a creative community to support us!
James Capel is a professional screenwriter represented by Independent Talent Group. James has worked with various production companies in the UK and US including Big Talk Productions, Tiger Aspect, Tall Story Pictures, Two Rivers Media, Warp Films, Expanded Media, Jason Bateman’s Aggregate Films (US), Chernin Entertainment (US) and many more. He most recently wrote an episode of ITV’s prime time drama, Cold Feet. In addition to screenwriting, James recently founded Scribe Lounge, a free online community platform for UK screenwriters.
Scribe Lounge: the happy accident that transformed my writing
Sometimes in life you get those happy accidents – like where you meet someone random who opens up a career opportunity or you get a double yolk in an egg or you accidentally create an online community for UK screenwriters that grows exponentially inside a year and changes your whole life and writing career. You know the ones…
Well speaking of the latter – it was October 2020, we were heading into lockdown 2.0 and people everywhere were starved of basic human connection. For screenwriters it was also a strange time where productions were shut down so development became the focus. I’d begun the year full of excitement and momentum with my first screenwriting credit airing (an episode of ITV’s Cold Feet) before everything came crashing to a halt in the March. I was fortunate to have a couple of projects already in development that would keep me ticking over, but like everyone else I was feeling disconnected and well… alone. In a brief window of interaction, I found myself having a drink with a friend, his name is Kieran. Now the thing you need to know about Kieran is that he’s not only a gifted entrepreneur with years of experience in various business ventures, he’s also a ‘doer’ – one of those bloody annoying pro-active ‘why not’ kind of souls – the kind of person who makes you feel lazy just by talking to them. Over a couple margaritas, he asked me a question:
“What kind of website or resource is missing for screenwriters?”
Having a deep think (while a little pissed from our third margarita) I realised there wasn’t a safe online space for UK screenwriters to hang out and talk about their work. Yes there’s Twitter, Reddit, Insta, etc but all of those social media channels come with a lot of NOISE. The US have their versions but there’s nothing for UK screenwriters specifically. And our industry is so different to how it is in the US.
Within a couple hours (and a few more margaritas) we had a homepage marked ‘Scribe Lounge – the home of UK screenwriters. Coming soon’.
Now – to be totally honest, this is where I thought it would end. It’s usually the part where I would veer off, do a million other things and let the idea fade along with my hangover. But not Kieran – remember, he’s a friggin’ doer. He left me with an ultimatum – either I jump on board and lead this thing, or he’s going to do it anyway without me.
So I created a new Twitter profile and began following as many UK based writers as I could find. And also doing something I’d never done before – I actually started TALKING to other writers. And there’s a LOT of them! I was hearing about their work, their processes, their ambitions and their worries and frustrations. Within months, HUNDREDS of writers had signed up to Scribe Lounge (it’s free) and began interacting with each other. A community was forming! But it was the next bit that took me really by surprise.
As part of the community we run a set of monthly writing groups focusing on pitches (ideas, treatments, etc) or 10 pages of a script. Suddenly I was reading HUNDREDS of scripts in a matter of months. I was blown away by what these writers were producing – most of them aspiring, unrepped, self-confessed ‘amateur’ screenwriters. The ideas were so bold, unflinching, ambitious – and personal. The writers weren’t thinking about broadcaster habits, development exec notes or what the industry ‘wants’. They were just writing freely about the stories they wanted to tell, that only THEY could tell.
It led to an immediate self-reflective crisis – a ‘holy crap my work is dog shit’ kind of moment. I’d been working on original projects in and out of development for a few years and suddenly my work felt so bland. How was I ever going to compete against this huge wave of courageous upstarts?! They reminded me of how things started – the urgency I used to write with, the excitement of getting my agent and being introduced to the industry. All the fizzing ideas I had to give, the freedom of my expression. Had I just become stale?
Eventually I had to stop and give myself a talking to. Of course I hadn’t. My work had just evolved over time. But maybe I had lost touch with all the things that made me feel like an exciting writer in the first place. Maybe I’d spent so many years thinking about new ideas that would fit a market I forgot how to channel everything that was unique about me and my writing. As someone who was born to a 15 year old mum and grew up in the council estates and homeless hostels of urban Somerset during an intense 90s rave scene, it’s hard for me not to be inspired by my upbringing – but maybe I had moved away from the themes I broke in with, maybe I had forgotten my roots in favour of the thing most likely to get a commission. Maybe all these amazing new writers were teaching me to reconnect with myself.
As each month on Scribe Lounge we discussed new topics with special AMA guests (like Philip himself!) or in script chat sessions or in the writing groups, I began interrogating my own work and finding ways to apply all the practical skills I’d learned in my career – creating ambitious concepts, familiar and solid structures, new and intriguing characters – and try to reconnect them with my core values, my unique experience and well…more me.
The effect was almost immediate. After doing some sessions on one pagers, reflecting largely on Philip’s own excellent blogs on the subject (https://script-consultant.co.uk/one-page-pitches-the-sequel/), I was putting together ideas that were suddenly jumping from the page. And producers were responding! They were getting optioned, leading to treatments, series documents and even a recent script commission. All because the talent of our growing community of Scribe Lounge writers had taught me to remember where I’ve come from and why it’s this ‘essence’ that gives me my voice and makes me the writer I am. And boy and am I grateful for the lesson.’
Thank you so much James – and to all you screenwriters – if you haven’t checked out SCRIBE LOUNGE yet, you now know where to look.
The next newsletter will on Friday April 15th.
April 1st 2022