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Adrian Mead, "The Screenwriter’s Career Guide", July 04 09

So I went to Adrian Mead’s class yesterday – as usual it was a pleasure to see Adrian, who was on great form despite the fact the venue hadn’t delivered so much as a flip chart for him; plus the likes of the marvellous David Bishop, Michelle Goode, Laurence Timms and all the fabulous Athena Laydeez were there too – hi girls! For those of you who don’t know, Athena is a mentoring scheme run by Initialize Films specifically for women screenwriters. Funded by Skillset, the aim is to get women on the feature “ladder” so to speak and secure deals and agents for these women… It’s a fab idea I think. For you laydeez out there who are interested, bookmark Initialize and plan your application for this great scheme NOW.

For those of you who couldn’t make it yesterday, here are my notes. Enjoy!

FIRST SESSION: Ian Davies, Initialize Films

What opportunities are out there? We all know about schemes like Red Planet, etc – but you need to stand out from the deluge. Every other screenwriter in the UK is doing this too! That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply too, but sometimes it helps to “move sideways”. DID YOU KNOW: there are some REGIONAL film funds in places like Germany with bigger budgets than the WHOLE OF THE UK FILM COUNCIL???? International producers are crying out for English language material – there is a LACK of scripts in Europe. Go to international film festivals to find these Producers. Screenwriting is in part an odds game: put the odds in YOUR FAVOUR by going to places not everyone else is going (as well as the usual avenues).

Indirect marketing. Everyone is sending to the likes of Working Title, etc – and the “big” guys get squillions of scripts. What about those people on their way up?? Finding the DoP who wants to be a director or the script editor who wants to be a producer can pay dividends. Find these names on imdb, Brit Films, etc. Do your research, track their progress.

Project identity. Know the identity of your project: don’t be sending Rom Coms to Horror prodcos/producers/directors, etc. Sounds obvious, but it’s a common mistake writers make. However good your project is, people make the type of film ideas they are interested in, they have to work a long time on these projects, how can they not?

Festivals. Festivals Ian recommended included Berlin, Galway, Toronto. Apparently producers are “in and out” of Edinburgh, whereas at these other ones, they’ll stick around longer and will have less (even no!) meetings scheduled. Make contact with them, but don’t appear like a nutter. Americans network really well – they go over to producers, swap cards *just like that* by saying something like: “Hi, I was hoping to talk, could I have your card? Here’s mine – thanks so much, I’ll be in touch” — and whoosh, they’re outta there. A good tactic for those who find networking difficult/embarrassing — plus you seem really busy!

Initialize Films website

SECOND SESSION: Adrian Mead on being positive

Am I going to make it? It’s not about talent. Adrian can tell who ISN’T going to make it – those who aren’t generous with their information; those who are too critical of others’ work; those who moan too much. Those who don’t do the basics which is making short films; entering contests; entering initiatives, mentorships; write specs every year; those who do their research on people and the industry. Again sounds obvious, but loads of us don’t do these – and it’s the VERY LEAST you should be doing!

You need a career strategy. You make your career happen, it doesn’t happen TO you. If you believe the latter, writing is your hobby, not your career. How does “hope” play a part in your career strategy? Are you allowing it to take over, “hoping” for the best outcome in your writing? CRUSH IT. We are in charge. Are you actively pursuing your goal of becoming a professional writer – or are you sabotaging/avoiding it somehow? Work it out.

Time is finite. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t “spend” time – INVEST IT. What is the return on the things you do? You have to up your game, you have to think this consciously to get ahead. Again, seems obvious but lots of writers just meander from one spec to the next. Network!!! You’re a “Writer on tour”; maximise your time properly, don’t just prop up the bar. Get in quick! DON’T PITCH. Team up with someone if you’re really uncomfortable. IF YOU DON’T ASK, YOU WON’T GET!

Agents. How to get one? It’s about SELLING YOURSELF and having a PRODUCT THEY CAN SELL. Agents are not a “logical next step” once you’ve got a portfolio. Who are you? What have you done? No good sending out work and imagining some agent will pick you up and get you lots of work; they don’t. How to pick the right agent – do your research. They want to know if you’re “ready”: can you handle yourself in meetings? Can you take notes well?

THIRD SESSION: Philip Shelley on Script Editing

What does a script editor do? Philip worked on Waking The Dead (amongst others). When working on a long running series, part of the script editor’s job is keeping the format fresh; finding writers, calling agents, reading scripts; being aware of previous storylines, updating the bible. (Philip worked with Adrian on his episode of Waking The Dead “Duty And Honour”, repeated this Tuesday, July 7th on BBC1).

How does a writer get noticed? By writing a script that shows off your voice to the best of your ability. DON’T try and second guess the market; don’t worry about budgets; be passionate. Believe in the story you’re telling. Don’t think about “ticking boxes”. Accept that scriptwriting (and thus script reading) is highly subjective: some people will love your script, some will be indifferent, others will hate it. It’s the way it goes. There are more writers than there are jobs.

What are commissioners looking for? There are no secrets – BBC, ITV and C4 all outline what types of show and stories they are looking for on their websites, so read this information! There are budget cuts, there isn’t as much drama being made, but hopefully this will change again. Commissioners are always looking for “cops n’ docs” – even when they say they aren’t! Comissioners want something they RECOGNISE, but also something ORIGINAL.

Career damaging mistakes. Not being polite or on time for meetings – sounds basic but word soon gets around if you’re difficult: takes ages to build up a good reputation, about five seconds for a bad one. Being too adaptable – hold on to the original vision of your script. Follow up on notes you agree in meetings; don’t hope the script editor *somehow* won’t notice yoy have ignored them!

Philip Shelley’s website

FOURTH SESSION: Adrian on motivation and focus

Knowing isn’t doing. Set goals – ones you can personally influence. Be specific. Set a goal of something you can achieve this week; a mid term goal – something within three months [set a date]; set yourself a long term goal which is big, bold and clearly defined for the next year. To make things happen, you need to concentrate everything into it. Set deadlines for yourself, don’t rely on fate or other people; check your own progress. Things might not work out, but moving forwards is never failing; only doing nothing is failure.

The best of times, the worst of times. Lots of people begging for work right now: now is the time to make a short film!!! Talented people are out there, waiting and wanting something to do: collaborate with them! Get favours, help EACH OTHER out: there will be people wanting to take a “step up” in their careers, so if you can’t pay them, help them to do this.. The script editor who wants to be a producer could produce your short, etc. Take chances.

Dealing with fear. Ask yourself: “What is the worst that can REALISTICALLY happen?” and “What is the best thing that can REALISTICALLY happen?” Deal with facts, don’t let your imagination run away with you. Also, ask yourself “How will things be if I DON’T do anything at all?” Weigh it all up logically. DON’T PANIC. Tell yourself, “I can handle this” – even if you think you can’t at the time. Just don’t go into meltdown. You CAN handle it.

Unique Selling Points. You are a one person business; it’s all about selling yourself. Know what you are up against: Hollywood made roughly 300 films last year, less than TEN were from specs. The indies made 2800 movies; over half were written by the director or producer; 800 were released. How can you differentiate yourself? Build your USP, make yourself a product, build on your unique experiences… Examples: Adrian Mead plays on his unusual bouncer/hairdresser background; JK Rowling was a pverty-stricken single mother, etc. How wills your USP help you move forward in your goals? How won’t they?

How to get a USP. Get insight into *something* – Adrian has no kids and is getting older, how does he enter the world of kids? He volunteers for Childline: he knows the secrets, worries and issues of children. Perhaps you could volunteer for another charity or organisation; some jobs have a wealth of experience that come with them – telephpne operators; teachers; etc. Medical, law, social – just build on that USP *somehow*.

What types of scripts should I write?

– You should enter all the *usual* schemes like Red Planet, Coming Up, Writersroom initiatives, etc AS STANDARD [but don’t leave ’til last minute like everyone else, PLAN IN ADVANCE throughout the year!]
– A low budget script [short OR feature] for collaboration – DIY filmmaking
– A factual-based script with a unique perspective, the kind BBC4 or C4 would like: example – Longford
– Adaptations. 80% of movies and a lot of TV are adaptations. Most of us can’t afford rights to books etc, but there’s lots in the public domain that are FREE. Fairy tales, Greek Myths, Shakespeare, etc. Contemporise a classic and you’re onto a winner.
– Children/Family scripts. Always in demand.
– The big, ambitious calling card feature spec – explosions, car wrecks, aliens, whatever. Show them what you can do!
– Diversify: look into theatre, online, games and radio. Don’t stand still. Understand how other media works and how it is all changing.

Ownership. OWN your script through your USP: you are the *only* writer who can tell this story THE BEST. Know the answers to questions the Execs will ask if you get that all-important meeting: Why do we need this script NOW? What does this script say about the world? How can we make it say something about the world?
A plethora of useful and inspiring info there. Thanks Adrian, Ian and Phillip! And while we’re here, check out Danny’s blog for notes on Script Reader/Writer William Akers’ talk last week.

UPDATE: Check out Darren’s report from the recent Showcomotion Conference for Children’s Media – very interesting stuff there on the comissioning process and diversifying in particular.

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9 thoughts on “Adrian Mead, "The Screenwriter’s Career Guide", July 04 09”

  1. You must have some freaky memory shit going on, as most of your notebook pages were getting filled by doodles!

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