Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Guest Post: Mead Kerr

Adrian Mead is running a 1 day course in London specifically aimed at teaching you how to get your break as a TV drama writer. Please note: this is not a "How To Write" class. It’s called ‘The Insider’s Guide to Writing TV’. It will take place in Bloomsbury, London on Saturday 17th March 2007 (St Patrick’s Day begorrah). It costs £85 including VAT and refreshments. Book before the 10th Feb for the 10% Early Bird Discount. For more information please contact info@meadkerr.com or visit the website .

Adrian gets this free plug because he’s offered another guest post, this time on the subject of ‘Why Haven’t I Made it Yet’? He’s also got a good post at Robin Kelly’s blog at the moment. Adrian’s advice seems honest and genuine, and extremely useful. I have heard good things about his course, too. It would seem that we sing from the same hymn sheet about approach and attitude, so here’s the post in full:

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WHY HAVEN'T I MADE IT YET?

There it is. That question.

Of course everyone will have their own particular response and I don't profess to have all the answers...but I do have a few theories and a personal mantra.

"If you keep on doing what you're doing, you'll keep on getting what you're getting."

This is best illustrated by an encounter I had recently. An aspiring screenwriter, let's call him WRITER X approached me seeking advice for the year ahead. He was fed up and complained how no one is willing to give new talent a chance. "It's a closed shop...they should give more support to new writers...I've been sending stuff out for years and getting nowhere..." etc, etc. When I mentioned a couple of new opportunities for TV drama writers he stated he was only interested in writing for film. My reply? “In that case the brutal truth is you’ve almost no chance of becoming a full time professional screenwriter.”

This was just one example of how so many aspiring writers make it impossible to achieve the success they dream of. The British film Industry is tiny, poorly funded and with very few PAID opportunities for writers. Ask a cross section of professional drama writers and producers and they will confirm that the numbers of people making a good, full time living from working ONLY in film is minute. By ignoring TV our doleful friend WRITER X was massively reducing the opportunities available to him. TV is where the money is in the UK.

Of course you have every right to ignore TV and specialise in film…..as long as you are happy to dress like a student for the rest of your life and only ever dine out at the local “£5 eat all you can Chinese buffet.” Or you can also learn how get a job in TV drama.

Most UK screenwriters including myself write for both but earn the vast majority of their income from TV drama. You can make a very good living by following this strategy. Go and check out the credits of most established British or American screenwriters and you’ll find they either started out in TV or still do a mix of both.

But of course many of you will know all this stuff already and you will have been attacking both markets with a highly organised strategy. I hope you have, because there's plenty of competition out there.

Last year roughly 20,000 people graduated from Media and Screenwriting courses. That’s another 20,000 aspiring screenwriters chasing the same opportunities as you. Add the English literature graduates, journalists, copywriters, starving novelists and weekend writers all trying their hand at screenwriting and you start to see just what you are up against. Oh, I forgot to mention the army of highly experienced and established professional screenwriters who already have agents and lots of connections.

Statisticians would tell you the odds against you getting your break and becoming a professional screenwriter are massively stacked against you. So, is it nigh on impossible? Should you give up?

Well the truth is that the numbers only tell you part of the story.

The following isn't bragging...I'm just trying to illustrate a point. When I decided to become a professional screenwriter I had no training, no connections with the industry and I was living in Scotland with no desire to move to London. Two years later I had an agent at ICM, was a paid, full time professional writer of film and TV scripts and my first TV episode was watched by 7 million viewers.

To be honest the next couple of years was weird. I couldn't understand why people kept telling me that I was incredibly lucky and how tough it was to get a break. I'd simply done it by planning a CAREER STRATEGY for myself and making sure I took advantage of every opportunity available. Once I started meeting other professional writers I discovered that almost all of them had done the same thing.

Okay, of course you need talent but the following are also just a few of the other things that everyone agrees you also need -

a) FOCUS. Focus your efforts where they will be most effective and likely to reap the greatest reward - most writers are chasing the same few widely advertised opportunities in the UK. They are unaware of how to access Europe, Canada and the USA.

b) INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE. Establish contacts and links with full time
professionals in the industry, in order to understand how the film and TV industry REALLY works and what type of projects producers and broadcasters are seeking.

c) PITCH DOCS. Understanding what documents you need to sell your ideas and how to write them well is essential. - Overworked execs want to read a brilliant one page doc before they will even consider your treatment or script.

d) A GOOD AGENT. This is HUGELY important now. A free handout How To Get An Agent is available on request CONTACT info@meadkerr.com

e) A CAREER STRATEGY. In order to get your break you need to have planned EVERY aspect of how you are going to get there. By failing to make a financial plan for how are you going to make the transition from your present job to a full time writing career you are sabotaging any chance of success.

I absolutely believe and know you can achieve your goal of becoming a professional screenwriter, it's what I've done and lots of others I know have done the same. However, it will only happen IF you are willing to do what it takes.

Remember: "If you keep on doing what you're doing, you'll keep on getting what you're getting."

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6 comments:

English Dave said...

Good post. Good advice. But always remember that breaking in is the initial skirmish. Staying in is the real battle.

Professional screenwriting and especially TV can be brutally hard. It's not just the quality of your writing that counts, it is also your mindset. Your ability to take notes. Write quickly, and to deadline.

I would suggest that the writer mentioned in Adrian's post did not have that mindset.

I was the same when I started out. I was an artist fer Christ's sake. Why would I want to write someone elses show?

Fortunately I wised up.

Anonymous said...

so incantations, burning effigies of commissioning editors and sticking pins in voodoo dolls won't work then?

Olaf Legend said...

So true is your words about writing for tv. It is of my opinion that tv is the future of screenwriting. Life on Mars, Shameless, all the best tv shows in UK are just as worthy than any of the movies comeing out of movieland. I feels there should be less snobbery about the tv.

Phillip Barron said...

Nice post. Reminds me I really need to get my arse in gear - a friend's sister is head of production for a well known TV company. I've got some stuff to send her, but I never seem to find the time.

Fran said...

Thanks for this - I've been sluggish this January and not just gastrically.

Nice pep talk.

Neal Romanek said...

Great info there. Thanks.

The idea of a Career Strategy is indicates a commitment to being in it for the long haul, rather than writing your screenplay and hoping that someone will buy it so you won't have to work for a few years. I think a long term commitment to the work and to sustained effort already puts you ahead of 90% of the competition.