Skip to content

6 Things Olivia Hetreed Can Teach New Writers

A fantastic post from KT Parker again, this time about top screenwriter Olivia Hetreed. B2W was privileged to do a script report on Olivia’s screenplay for WUTHERING HEIGHTS many moons ago (find out what other produced films I have done coverage for or consulted on, HERE). Olivia is a writer who really knows what she’s talking about craft-wise, but she also has some particularly good advice on go-getting for female writers too. Enjoy …


For most of us, Olivia Hetreed will have first come onto our radar when she was BAFTA-nominated for her screenplay of Tracy Chevalier’s best-selling “Girl With A Pearl Earring”. She’s adapted authors as diverse as Geoffrey Chaucer, Emily Brontë and Caroline Lawrence. Her latest script, ALTAMIRA, produced by Morena films, is about to begin shooting in Spain, helmed by veteran director Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire). For the past year Olivia has also served as the President of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB). When she speaks, I listen. And you know what? You should too. Here are her top tips for newbie writers:

1. Be Bold

First off, Olivia emphasises the importance of having a plan: “Think about what it is you want to achieve. Write what you want, but don’t do it blindly.”

Once you’ve worked out your plan, be proactive. “We writers tend to think we need to wait for permission to do something,” Olivia says.

We don’t. Be bold and get on with it: go and make that film! “Getting something made can be extremely painful, but it’s a great learning experience.” MORE: 5 Things I Learned In A 10 Minute Q & A With Luc Besson by KT Parker

2. Keep Studying

Learn from the best. Read hundreds of scripts. Deconstruct them. Put them back together again. Then spend some time in an editing suite. The most important thing editing teaches a writer is what you don’t need. Typically, this boils down to dialogue. Much of it ends up on the cutting room floor.

“There is so much an actor can do with just a look,” she says. “Of course, that’s hard to write. You have to learn to write for the page, knowing that a lot of what you write will not make it into the final cut, but is useful for conveying intention.”

You will be amazed by what issues have to be solved in the cutting room. “We can’t use that scene because… the actor didn’t nail it/ the location was ugly/ rain ruined the sound/ *delete as applicable.” MORE: 6 Reasons Dialogue Is Your Enemy

3. Practice Your Art

Write all the time, but don’t waste energy worrying about not writing. Even if you only have a small window of time in which to write, use it. Don’t get too precious about what you write too soon – just get it down on the page. Never let negative inhibitions get in the way. It’s far better to write ten bad pages, that you can rewrite later, than one good paragraph.

“More than any other form of writing, screenwriting is re-writing,” Olivia reminds us. “If you find re-writing tedious, then screenwriting is not for you.” MORE: All About Rewriting & Dealing With Feedback

4. Ask For Help

Ladies, this one is especially for you. Recently Olivia mentored a class of six students of equal potential, three male and three female, and came across typical gender specific behaviours that make all the difference to success or failure in the film industry. At the completion of the course, the females all emailed Olivia to thank her. The males all emailed Olivia to thank her AND ask her to introduce them to this or that person. Olivia then emailed the female students to explain what the males had done and how this had helped them get ahead.

There’s no such thing as “luck”. We all engineer our own luck by taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves. This can be particularly difficult for those of us who have been socialised to keep our heads down, work hard and wait for good things to happen. Here’s the shocker: if you wait for things to happen, life will pass you by. You’ve got to actively make things happen.

So ladies, don’t be shy about asking for help or for a favour. People want to help you! But be specific about what it is you’re requesting, and don’t waste their time. MORE: Making It As A Writer – 25 Reasons You Haven’t Yet

5. Be Professional

Good behaviour is really important if you want to forge and sustain a career in this business. Find out what the producer wants of you.

“Even if you are friends, have a contract,” Olivia warns. “Make sure you both understand what you are undertaking. Deliver. If you can’t deliver – for whatever reason – own up to it. Don’t run away.

“Always be clear where the creative rights lie, what you have sold and for how long. There is almost never any money in filmmaking in the UK, but when there is, insanity erupts. Even the fondest friends can fall out over money.” MORE: What Is A Screenplay Option & How Does It Work?, plus What Is The Difference Between An NDA & A Release Form?

6. Leave Your Bedroom

Get out and meet people. “Form alliances with directors and producers,” Olivia urges. The ability to network with people and verbally articulate the central story in your script is as important as the technical ability to write it in the first place.

The WGGB is a good place to start. For new writers without representation it offers social events, seminars, minimum rates, pro-forma contracts and even legal advice, while for successful writers it provides a community in what can sometimes be a solitary profession and a chance to show solidarity with those writers less fortunate. The WGGB is tireless in its struggle to protect the rights of writers. Together, writers have a stronger voice. Join here.

Then there’s an annual gathering of screenwriters and other film industry professionals you may have heard about – the London Screenwriters’ Festival – this year, bigger and better than ever and now, 83% SOLD OUT! Buy your ticket here. MORE: 6 Ways You’re Stopping Your OWN Writing Success

What are you waiting for?

BIO: KT Parker is an emerging screenwriter and producer. You can meet her at this year’s London Screenwriters’ Festival, but if you can’t wait that long, you can connect with her via social media right now, via her website HERE, on Twitter as @lunaperla or connect with her via About.Me.

Share this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *