This week, I’m indebted to SAM FERGUSON for sharing his thoughts. In his own words – ‘Sam is the Development Coordinator at Motive Pictures. Before that he has held roles at Channel 4 and various other independent production companies working in TV and Film. He has also spent time as a Freelance Reader, was a Shadow Script Editor on 4Screenwriting 2019, and feels ambivalent towards long walks on the beach.’
‘I was incredibly touched that Philip asked me to write a guest entry for his newsletter, and it definitely didn’t immediately make me tailspin into an imposter syndrome vortex; “Why me? What do I know about anything? Who am I again? OH GOD-” Anyway after remembering my own name, I decided I should write about something I know a lot about, and the one quality that I believe is essential in this industry.
First up: FAILURE.
Failure is the default state of working in film and TV. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, a producer, a script editor – you will fail, and you will fail a lot. Anyone who pretends otherwise is either full of it or extraordinarily lucky. If you are a writer, the vast majority of things you write are unlikely to get made. If you a producer, most of the projects you work on will never hit the screen. There isn’t a hugely positive thing to say about this fact, other than every time you write something, you learn something. Every project that dies and ends up relegated to a sad folder somewhere in the cloud is a teachable moment. What didn’t work? What can I do differently next time? Should I have just stayed at the accountancy job that was making me miserable? (No, no you shouldn’t have).
Right now, I’m working at a company I love on one of my absolute dream projects – I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. But if I look back at the last 6 or 7 years of work, it is littered with failure.
There was the job I lasted 9 months in before my psychopathic boss finally drove me out. There was the job that I failed the probation on with no warning, walking out of the door after a month and never going back. There was even the job I took in a TV investment fund because I wasn’t prepared to leave the industry entirely yet, but couldn’t see a way forwards in drama. There were at least 5 separate occasions where I seriously considered my options outside of the industry, when I felt burned out, chewed up and spat out, and couldn’t imagine a future that involved success or happiness.
But I didn’t leave. I dusted myself down, picked myself up and ran after the next opportunity like a weird, very large dog chasing a car.
All of which brings me onto this quality: PERSEVERANCE.
With all of the above being true, it’s become more and more clear to me that the biggest division between those who succeed and those who don’t is staying power. Want to be a writer? Be prepared to be told over and over and over again that you’re not good enough and might never be. Want to work in development, or produce? Get ready to pour yourself into projects, to work with incredible writers and prepare the most exciting, brilliant shows and films only to get a polite, stock rejection email from a commissioner/financier. If you can stick at it, and not get disheartened, you will find a way to make things happen.
The job where I worked with the psychopath happened to be in an adjacent pocket of the industry to my current job, training me for my dream job 6 years before I knew it existed. It also gave me skin so thick that the building needs to literally be on fire before things start worrying me too much. The failed probation led me to freelance reading, and then writing scripts of my own, kick-starting a whole new side of my career before I ended up working for my current boss. The investment fund job gave me an incredible overview of the industry, and focused on building indies from the ground up, which was unexpectedly useful once I was hired as the second employee of my current company.
I didn’t run, I didn’t give up, and every terrible failure and late night wondering “Am I doing the right thing?” led me to where I am now. In many, many ways I’m extraordinarily lucky – very much a case of right place, right time. But I wouldn’t have been there when I needed to be if I’d given up.
I’ve seen the most talented writers get frustrated and move on to other careers because they can’t break through, and I’ve seen totally average writers succeed through sheer force of will and a total refusal to walk away. So much of this business is beyond your control, but the one thing that is only under your control is you. If you don’t mind failing, and you’re a glutton for punishment like the rest of us, keep going. Keep writing, keep developing and keep telling stories. Meet more people, make more friends, don’t be afraid to put yourself and your work out there and just keep going. Persevere.’
Thank you so much Sam for this really encouraging & excellent blog.
STUDIO 21 DRAMA SERIES SCRIPT COMPETITION
I am a supporter of this annual script comp and just wanted to make you aware of it. The competition is now open for entries and will be until Oct 1st https://www.studio21.com/script/
Past winners include such excellent writers as Jan Smith, Philip Lawrence and Grace Link.
This is very definitely one of the UK drama screenwriting competitions that is worth entering. The prize is substantial and winning / placing will be a big boost to your reputation as a writer.
The next newsletter will be on Friday August 20th,
All the best
Friday August 6th 2021