Tuesday, 14 September 2010

YOU CAN WRITE? SO, YOU CAN SCREEN-WRITE

Recently, Adrian Mead did a guest post for me, talking about making a business of your writing, including the important aspect of diversifying. And he promised he'd come back and talk about one particular way in which a fiction writer can diversify: write for the screen. Here he is. I'm very grateful to him for giving up his time.

ADRIAN MEAD ON HOW TO GET INTO SCREEN-WRITING
Screenwriting is a huge subject, so I'm going to narrow it down and focus on some practical strategies and resources that can help you to decide if it is an area you wish to pursue.

Basically, it's adapt or die time.  If you hope to have a career as a professional writer you are going to have to diversify.  Top of your list should be getting work as a screenwriter. Why?  Well, for starters it pays considerably better than all other forms of writing.  Don't believe me? Take a look at the rates listed here -

http://www.writersguild.org.uk/public/005_WritersGuil/index.htmlhttp://www.writersguild.org.uk/public/005_WritersGuil/index.html

Oh, by the way, those are the basic rates before negotiations - you would expect to get a lot more once you have some level of experience.

Later I'll give you some links where you can download free screenplays and look at the formatting.  The first thing you will notice is masses of white space on the page and a maximum length of 120 pages.  You get paid a lot more per word than you do for writing a novel and in far less time! You would also expect to be writing a number of scripts at the same time. Do the sums.

With the huge growth of internet channels, the need for multi platform content and the likes of Sky and Channel 4 expanding their homegrown drama and comedy output the opportunities for screenwriters are multiplying - if you know where to look.  However, when you get your break you must be able to hit the ground running and work like a professional from day one.

I regularly get asked to mentor novelists and playwrights who wish to break into screenwriting. Many have now gained work in the TV and film industry. In every case the ones that succeeded had talent, but more importantly they also recognized the need to think of themselves as a one person business.  They became pro active, set goals and worked on their self belief.  Perhaps most importantly they made sure they were passionate about their writing, this meant they became 100% committed to their goal of becoming a professional screenwriter. 

How committed are you?  If you wish to be able write as an enjoyable hobby and maybe earn a little from it, screenwriting is definitely not for you. It pays well because you have to work to tight deadlines and the only feasible excuse for delivering late is your sudden and unexpected death.

However, if you love films and TV and are passionate about your work, then come join me in this fascinating and all consuming area of the writing world.  It still thrills me to watch the opening credits in a darkened cinema or with a room full of friends and family as your name comes up on screen and people bring your words to life.  Of course it's egotistical!  But you've earned it and in some cases your work reaches millions of people on the same night.

But how do you get to indulge in your Premier moment?  Well, there are literally thousands of books, internet sites, videos on you tube and writers groups dedicated to the craft of screenwriting.  I will attempt to boil it all down for you to four sources.

BOOK - Teach Yourself Screenwriting  - Raymond G. Frensham
Yes, it is part of that "Teach Yourself..." series.  However, I've spent hundreds of pounds on screenwriting books and this skinny little volume is the best and still gets great reviews on Amazon.  I have no idea who Mister Frensham is but every professional screenwriter I know agrees with me.

Don't be put off by the "rules' or diagrams. My advice would be to have a go at writing a script, then consult this book.  It is like a manual for fixing your car.

CAREER GUIDE - e book  Making It As A Screenwriter - Adrian Mead
Oh yes!  Why do I think I know best?  I don't, but masses of industry professionals think this is exactly what you should read. (see testimonials on my website www.meadkerr.com) ; It is on the reading list of numerous Screenwriting MA and Creative Writing courses and best of all your money goes to Childline.   Download it and get everything you need to plan your career strategy.

Download from www.meadkerr.com

WEBSITES
Millions of these out there but there's an awful lot of variation in quality.  The following have lots of great material.

www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom
Should be a first call for you. You download scripts from here and there is masses of useful information.  They accept and read work from new writers.

www.shootingpeople.org
You need to pay to join this site but it gives you access to lots of info and thousands of other filmmakers looking to find scripts, collaborate and make films.

PODCASTS - Making It As A Screenwriter - Adrian Mead
Is there no end to this man's ego? Well, actually the reason I've included this one is three fold. Folk have found this free series of 6x3 min videos very useful and hopefully so will you.

They are on the Scottish Book Trust website, which is a veritable treasure chest of information.  Here you will also find information about their mentoring scheme and their Screen Lab project.  Both schemes offer opportunities for writers wishing to cross disciplines into screenwriting or other areas of writing. It's only open to Scottish base writers and the envy of lots of other organizations - if you are not based in Scotland see if your local organization could put together something similar.

http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/writers-and-publishers/resources-and-information/making-it-as-a-screenwriter

SUMMING UP
Of course the most important step you can take to build your career is to WRITE SOMETHING!  Perhaps you have a short story or a poem that would work well as a short film?  Write the script, you only need to come up with 1-30 pages, lots of white space, go on give it a go.  There are lots of great examples of short films to inspire you at www.bbc.co.uk/filmnetwork

So to sum up, you need  -

    * Sample scripts.

    * Practical, bang up to date advice from people working in the industry right now.

    * An understanding of the key people you will work with and their roles. 

    * Knowledge of how to build and maintain those relationships, so they recommend you or hire you again.

    * Insider information about forthcoming opportunities for new writers.

    * A clear, simple and dynamic career building strategy.

Of course the best way to learn is to talk with people who are already working in the business and benefit from their experience. But where do you get to meet them?

Luckily for you we have put together a course to provide you with all this and much more.

If you would like to learn from successful Writers, Script Editors and Producers about how they got their break and what happens when you get hired to work in film and TV you need to grab your place now. This will be a fun, friendly and info packed day and will benefit writers of all levels who are interested in exploring a career as a screenwriter or script editor.

COURSE DETAILS
VENUE: St Columba's-by-the-castle
14 Johnston Terrace, Edinburgh EH1 2PW

FEE: £85.00 (includes lunch and refreshments)

DATE: Saturday Oct 2nd 2010, 10am - 5.30pm

Book your place now at http://rewrite.eventbrite.com and get the insider knowledge you need to build your career.
_____________________________________

Thanks, Adrian - crystal clear and very, very interesting.

Any questions, anyone? (I'm away, but Catherine Hughes is keeping an eye on things for me.)

18 comments:

Anna Bowles said...

I have to be shamelessly admiring of the amount of top-grade content you can pack into this blog. I had no idea you were a screenwriter too!

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna

Checked out your site and see I am gradually straying into the same sphere of writing - I'm currently writing for a new, international kids show, starts shooting in November. Fascinating how it's even more complex/political than writing for adults!

Adrian

Anonymous said...

Meant to say, if you write, or aspire to write for children and young people it is an area of screenwriting that is rapidly expanding and hungry for ideas.

If you would like to know how to break into writing kids TV the man who can tell you everything you need to know is Peter Hynes - writer of over 180 shows worldwide and a speaker at our event on Sat 2nd Oct.

You can see the full list of speakers at www.meadkerr.com

It's been a fascinating experience for me - the new Dennis The Menace and Gnasher show introduced me to the world of health and safety and editorial policy! No more catapults or "Softy Walter".

Adrian

Mary Hoffman's Newsletter said...

Also of interest might be 'The 21st Century Screenplay', just published, by my friend Linda Aronson. Linda lives in Australia, where she rights comic teen novels like Kelp and Rude Health, but she is also a Hollywood script doctor.

Haven't read it yet but I have her earlier one and she's good.

OnyxLiar said...

Wow, what a great blog. Very informative and it really never occurred to me to look into screen-writing until now. I don't know if I could keep up with the pace, but I sure as hell would try. :D

Whirlochre said...

And here was me thinking supplying lines for Matt Smith was a pipe dream...

Anna Bowles said...

Hi Adrian. Your course does look useful but I don't see myself making it to Edinburgh for a day! I'm definitely interested in building on my TV tie-ins to take on some actual TV writing though.

You're so right about health and safety, and the host of other considerations that it is the, er, joy and privilege of the children's writer to know about.

DanielB said...

I know Adrian knows what he is talking about, but it always seems like such an uphill struggle. The theory of how to get into screenwriting always sounds so attractive, but from people I speak to who are there or almost there, the reality is so much harder.

I always tell my novel students that being a novelist is a good thing because a good few (I wish I had numbers, actually) first-time novelists with no previous publishing track-record are snapped up by major publishing houses each year. They're people who have written a good book and have it sold well by a good agent. You don't need experience, calling-cards or contacts. I had none. It's of minimal importance how many short stories, blogs, magazine articles etc. you have done before.

But as an unknown, you have zero chance of "breaking in" to TV at an equivalent level (say, your own 90-minute pscyhological drama on ITV on a Sunday night, starring Robson Green and Beth Goddard as a couple who discover a deep, dark secret...). It's endless years of sending off scripts that will never be made to people who aren't interested, endless going on courses, networking with script editors, liaising with regional production companies about their wants and needs and so on. Ten years down the line, you may get an episode of "Doctors", which when it comes to be shown may resemble the thing you wrote, a bit.

My agent once asked a production company about a script from one of her clients which they'd had for a while. They didn't even remember it. They said "you need to be sending about 50 a year even to get on our radar..."

I know it's not for me. I'm happier doing my books. Perhaps if I'd started trying when I was 20, then yes...

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna

Of course we'd love to see you in Edinburgh! The trip by train is 4.5hours of lovely, undisturbed work time in the quiet coach B. Stunning views up the East coast and we can help find you accommodation from £40 per night in Britain's most beautiful city! Of the 40 people booked so far over half are from the north West or South of England. Still cheap train tickets available. Plus I promise to wear my kilt!

Daniel - you are absolutely right to say getting your break in film and TV is an uphill struggle.

"...as an unknown, you have zero chance of "breaking in" to TV at an equivalent level (say, your own 90-minute pscyhological drama on ITV...)"

The costs of making any TV drama are huge. People are risk averse until you have a track record. You need to earn your place in the market. It's why they pay so well when you do.

It took me two years from having zero experience to being commissioned to write an episode of an ITV drama series. Not my show but a lot of fun and very well paid.

I succeeded because I had a career strategy that I followed and constantly updated. All the writers I know that have succeeded did the same.

However, most writers don't have anything like a career strategy. It is no surprise that they fail or struggle to make the money they would like.

The world of literature was once seen as being more genteel and less cut throat in comparison to screenwriting. The truth is it was only that way for those who did not have to live off their book sales! Now even that small income is disappearing. Nicola has been saying it for ages, talent isn't enough. Get serious, diversify, or wither away and die.

Yes, screenwriting is highly competitive, but ALL creatives are having to rapidly become far more competitive and businesslike.

Like I said in both my posts,I've seen lots of talented people I have worked with make the transition to screenwriting because they had the focus and ambition. For anyone hoping to MAKE A LIVING as novelist in the near future you are going to have to think like screenwriters!

Adrian

Dan Holloway said...

I've often thought I'd love to do screenwriting, but have been deterred largely by the kind of thing Dan B mentions - what I've always heard is that - as Dan says - whilst first time novels ARE snapped up from time to tim, screenwriting is just a closed shop - thatit really is about who you know. Like Dan says, that's OK if you're fresh from college, but when you're a little older and have financial commitments that make internships and the like a non-starter, there's just no chance. Maybe we're both wrong, of course - are tehre figures anywhere on the numbers of scripts commissioned by various sources from people with absolutely no connection to the industry?

DanielB said...

Adrian - not criticising or contradicting you at all, as all writing is an uphill struggle! But I do know that, even with the kind of application you describe, it can still be frustrating. I have writing friends with track records who have been plugging away, in a dedicated manner, trying to get into TV for over a decade, and have to show for it a couple of episodes of "Doctors". Of course that isn't to be sneezed at and is an on-screen credit, which is great, but I gather the leap from there to something bigger is enormous. There's a huge difference between the 20-minute and the 50-minute drama.

I diversify, myself, by writing different kinds of books: fiction for adults, non-fiction, TV-related series and now children's fiction. I don't have room for any more diversification at the moment!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan

I'm sure getting your first novel published is for many people their ultimate goal. However, it's another matter getting anyone to read it, or proper remuneration - based on the hours you put in. I'm sure there are folk out there who can answer that one.

You are absolutely right.. film and TV industry is all about who you know. And every other creative art form is going the same way. The difference is PAID opportunities in the screen industries are rapidly expanding.

Adrian

Anonymous said...

DanielB -
Sounds like you are well ahead of the game with diversifying! The TV credit is only one form of screen income and your friends may be missing out on numerous other screen based opportunities.

It's always a lot of hard graft and there are always more folk who want the work than there are jobs. However, I don't think it is anywhere near the insane numbers of folk who are trying to make it as an author!

And of course the vast majority of those who do art, Media, Creative writing, screenwriting degrees etc drop away and do something else after a few years.

Yes it is tough, but it isn't complicated. In fact I'd argue it's quite simple really....

TALENT + EFFORT + STRATEGY = Success

Adrian

Dan Holloway said...

I guess what I'm saying, Adrian, is that I can see your advice is 100% bang on the money for an 18 year-old living at home, or a student fresh out of college who's renting a bedsit.

But for, say, a single mother who works 40+ hours a week to keep her and her kid in food and warmth; or a 30-something person whose day job wage just covers rent/mortgage, what I want to know is, is setting a strategy to get into screenwriting feasible?

Clearly if it relies on hours and hours of free internships, then it's just not doable in the latter cases whereas it is in the former. If, on the other hand, really focused work (that doesn't cost) for 2 hours an evening and a further hour online networking in the morning for 3 years (plus the talent etc) is feasible, then it is viable for both.

It is, I'm sure you'll agree, SO important for no one to be sold a pup as it were. Of course all forms of writing are increasingly hard to get into, but if some are impossible to people in certain circumstances, or are the one in a millions we're always being told should not be our role models (strategy, right?), then we should let people know before they set out on a course that can't succeed.

So my question is really, imagine the demographic spread of people reading this blog. Is this a feasible route for them all, and if not, then for which? Because clearly there ARE careers some people dream of that they simply can't pursue for financial or other reasons no matter what the talent - is this one of them?

Anonymous said...

Dan

You ask -

"But for, say, a single mother who works 40+ hours a week to keep her and her kid in food and warmth; or a 30-something person whose day job wage just covers rent/mortgage, what I want to know is, is setting a strategy to get into screenwriting feasible?"

The answer is yes. I know LOTS of folk in far tougher circumstances who have changed careers, some recently, to become screenwriters and are doing well. They are people with jobs, families, commitments etc. In fact Louise Ironside, one of the writers on the course we are running IS that woman you describe. I purposely choose speakers on our courses who have a range of backgrounds and writing experience. NONE of them were 18 year olds who could afford to work for free. Almost everyone of them had children whilst trying to transition from a previous, completely unconnected career.

You ask me to tell you which of the readers of this blog can become a screenwriter and who cannot? I have already answered this at the start of the post. Please go back and read it.

It is IMPOSSIBLE to change ANY career (especially into a high paying one) without being prepared to make some changes and sacrifices.

Go download my e book MAKING IT AS A SCREENWRITER from www.meadkerr.com it explains step by step EXACTLY how to put together a strategy for breaking into screenwriting. All the money goes to Childline.

I am not in the business of misleading people into thinking a screenwriting career is easy. Neither is it is easy to make a living from writing novels, as Nicola has been saying constantly! You need a business strategy or you will not survive as an artist in the next few years.

I do not earn my living as a teacher, I work full time as a writer and director and only run a course once or twice a year. I am not in the business of "selling anyone a pup" as Dan puts it. However, I do enjoy teaching and meeting other writers and creative people, especially those who are motivated, passionate and positive thinkers - the key to success in any field.

Go take a look at the dozens of testimonials on our website. I have a reputation for telling people the facts - The good, the bad and the ugly.

Do I believe anyone can make it as a screenwriter? I would say the answer applies to all the creative arts - If you have talent the rest is up to you.

It's not complicated, but I need to say it again.

TALENT + EFFORT + STRATEGY= Success

Adrian

Nicola Morgan said...

Dear All
MAny thanks for your comments. Sorry wasn't involved but, as you know, I wad away. It also appears that some of the comments haven't arrived on the blog - very mysterious. I saw them in my email in-box (sometimes twice!) and so did catherine, but they haven't arrived on the blog. There's no comment mopderation, so i have no idea what happened. Maybe they are floating around in the ether and will appear soon...

Meanwhile:

Anna - I'm not a screen-writer!

Adrian / Dan / DanielB - ridiculously consensually, I agree with all of you. I rather suspect that Adrian's message - along the lines of "if you apply sufficient talent correctly and with enough determination you will succeed" - is not unlike my "Simple Theory of Publication: write the right book in the right way and send it to the right publishers in the right way at the right time": all very well as a theory, but not always easy to put into practice. Because many people do everything they are told and yet still fail. I think we sometimes make it sound too easy. In the end it boils down much more to having the right idea first, and THEN applying the talent, and it is not easy to cross the line between wrong idea and right idea. It's not easy to apply.

None of this is easy unless one happens to have had the right idea. There's a more complex mixture of luck and talent and application than we sometimes acknowledge.

Nicola Morgan said...

This is a comment from Adrian, which didn't seem to want to stick to the blog:

Adrian says:
Most of the writers I know had families, jobs, small children mortgages etc and wanted to become a screenwriter. They planned, focused, grafted and are now successful. There are others doing the same, right now.

The above describes most of the speakers on our course on Sat 2nd Oct. See their bios at www.meadkerr.com

None of them were 18 year olds who could work for free.

Dan, asks if everyone who reads this blog could become a screenwriter?

If you have talent the rest is up to you. If you want to know how I did it with no training and no industry connections go download MAKING IT AS A SCREENWRITER from www.meadkerr.com ; It lays out all the steps and all money goes to Childline. The strategy has worked for many others.

Whilst you are there check out the testimonials on our site. You will see that I teach the good, the bad and the ugly of working as a screenwriter.

Those of you with passion, a plan and a positive outlook will succeed. I see people doing it all the time. And no, I'm not selling you some happy-clappy philosophy, you are going to have to work VERY hard. But who doesn't these days, so make sure it's about working to achieve something you are passionate about!

I love my job. Do you love yours?

Adrian

Dan Holloway said...

Thanks, Adrain. Sorry if that came across as a bit prickly, it's just people hear so many things where it turns out the first thing you need to do is go and volunteer to do something for nothing 2 days a week or enrol on a training course that costs several weeks and several thousand pounds, which just isn't an option for many people. If talent, determination and strategy are all it takes then perhaps this is one of the last bastions of egalitarianism after all. Thank you for your posts :)