Tuesday, 12 May 2020

A Screenwriter's Questions in the Time of Covid - What can you do?

The UK film and TV industries are on one giant hold, and understandably, you as a budding, or even moderately advancing, screenwriter are concerned. Can you talk to anyone? Will anyone read scripts? Can you staff on shows, or ask to staff on them if/when things resume? Will things resume?

I can't offer all the answers, but I can, at least, give some heads up about how you can deal with this present situation.

1. Is anyone still out there?
 Yes, yes there are. Production has stopped (nobody's filming and, ergo, no one is commissioning new material), but development people are still reachable and likely working from home, since you don't need an office to read a script or do other paperwork. Usual decorum rules apply, as discussed in past blogs, but you can still give a roll of the dice and ask a fitting producing or development person if they'd be interested in reading your script.

Indeed, now may be the best time, while people wait and plan. No troublesome commutes or sudden meetings or festivals/conventions - just zoom from home. Space to read is up - it will still take a while, but hey, he who dares...

2. Can I get on a show?
Staffing on a TV show as a writer is, well, out for the time being - that phase counts as part of production, and since nothing is getting made, shows are not getting green-lit/recommissioned and thus, not hiring. I should know, as I was in the middle of talking to a few about this before the penny dropped. How soon they will restart is anyone's guess (many hope some time in the summer, but the more elaborate, international shows may well be out till next year. All depends on if it explodes again or not).

However, all is not lost: keep an eye on the trade presses, as they will keep you up to date on if and when something is coming back. Have a short but sweet email on hand for when it's so, giving some quick praise and why you think x show is great, and why you'd like to write for it (indeed, here is where some part of your background could come very in useful. Do you have an experience or viewpoint that others may not?)

3. Can I still look for an agent?
While I've seen some on groups and threads say not to, I've chatted with some pro-writers who say it's not an issue or inappropriate. Plus, I've been doing it and had no problems with getting read requests. Just make sure you A) Have a damn good script and B) Read the guidelines on the agency website. Chances are, if they get back to you, they will make clear it will take a little longer than normal to reply to you. Like in normal times, patience is a virtue here.

Indeed, this and the first point tie together - getting a referral from someone in the industry will improve your odds of being read, so I'd advise doing it that way first, instead of just sending your script to an agency with nothing. Remember, you still need to stand out on the reading pile from all the slush.

4. What should I write? Is a bigger-scale script going to screw me?
With so much unknown yet about finances and travel, it can be really daunting to think about what shows will get made. All that matters, however, is the writing - a badly written cheap show or film won't impress anyone. Passion and emotion will out. Plus, as I've discussed in the past, be mindful of what your goals are at this stage - create and run your own show, or get on producers' radars and get staffed on similar shows and projects? Period pieces, fantasy and anything bigger budget will be much harder in the former category (usually, companies will just buy books and IPs for these), but can be useful on the latter.

Having a nice, tight, contemporary drama serial or feature is never not a bad thing to have on hand, and can work in both scenarios. However, don't trend-chase: if you want to stand out, write a script that is informed by a subject you care about or perspective only you can bring, thanks to your life experiences and history.

5. How can I write? I have no drive for it!
This is a malady which, I'm sure, many will have seen all over Twitter and the like - writers feeling helpless and lost, just ravaging the biscuit tin, or ploughing away on Animal Crossing or Doom Eternal. No matter how much they yearn, they can't summon up the drive to write. You can't set a routine or page count or just get up!

Well, let's turn to some pros for guidance on what you can do to try and get yourself back in some level of gear. First, let's start with a nice all-rounder from a selection of great writing talent, including aces like Sarah Phelps (The Pale Horse) and Chris Lang (Unforgettable). How are they managing?

Also, screenwriting superstar John August (Aladdin, Big Fish) shares with us his 'writesprint', a planning system, and how it gets him going for the word toil:

And lastly, instead of a read, how about a listen with the excellent Write Along Podcast, hosted by Doctor Strange screenwriter and friend to the struggling artiste, C. Robert Cargill. It's exactly what it says on the packet - primers to help you get out of jams and sticky situations in your writing, as well as figuring out what method works for you:

Hope those five are of use to you, and as said last time, if just can't, don't. Focus on you first and foremost. Take care all you.

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