Sunday, March 25, 2007

Story Vault: Ten Year Plan

A post from this time last year, about what it takes to get a career off the ground, and why it can take so long...


Of course, no-one likes their work being rejected. Once a script hits fade out, the hope and expectation is always that someone, somewhere will recognise the obvious talent behind the words. In this case, a good script can do one of three things: act as a reliable writing sample; create the opportunity of an option/development fee, or at the very least grant a meeting with the suitably impressed producer/script editor/tea boy.

However, while this ideal sounds fairly basic and straightforward, it takes time and momentum to get to the stage where your work can be favourably received and considered. In theory, anyone from a child to an old age pensioner can write a script over the weekend and get their career off the ground but in reality, it takes a lot more toil and energy to write something that will be remotely of interest to a tired and cynical script reader.

MA courses in screenwriting are all the rage now and for the most part, they offer great value and experience in producing a variety of work and in studying the craft of screenwriting. However, in my experience with the MA course in Leeds Metropolitan University, many of the students assumed automatic success or a jump start to their careers once they graduated.

Every time this assumption raised its misguided head, I tried to lay down the practicalities and realities involved in getting a writing career off the ground but you could see them dismissing the thought in their eyes as if it didn’t apply to them. One student said: “This course is so hard. We have all these projects to write. Six, seven on the go. It won’t be like this in the real world; I’ll be working on one project at a time and building my career”. I tried to tell him that the reality is you’ll be desperate to have six, seven projects on the go, and would be living on tenterhooks if you only had one project to rely on (unless it’s a guaranteed amount of eps on a soap or a handsome development fee).

The commonly referenced amount of time to ‘make it’ as a screenwriter is that it’ll take ten years to get your career up and running. Ten years seems like an awfully long time for little or no return on a screenwriting vision. But after six years of living the dream, I can understand and relate to the ten-year plan with a more experienced and appreciative eye.

For the first four years, I spent a lot of time focusing on study: reading thousands of scripts, devouring everything in my screenwriting path, immersing myself in screenplay culture. This study was combined with the hard graft of getting scripts written and forging relevant contacts to advance my career. I managed to option a couple of my scripts and this felt good but hardly reassuring for my bank balance. My break came when I was accepted on to Doctors (two years ago) and then later that year, I won the BBC Tony Doyle award.

Even with this limited success, it feels like that the experience thus far has been my apprenticeship and only now does my career start in earnest. Basically, the work and development I’m busy with now is what I wanted/expected to be doing five/six years ago.

Choosing a screenwriting career is not an easy life. Overnight success takes years to accumulate. Rejection awaits your work on every submission. Confidence takes a regular battering. An energetic social life, and the income to support it, quickly goes out the window. An interest in writing becomes an obsession, and that obsession will hopefully guide you to the successful career. Or at least, that’s the plan…


1 comment:

Dan Fitch said...

As a former LMU student (the year before the one you worked with, I think) I'd love to know which naive young pup you're talking about. Damn this proffessionalism that confines our gossip.

It always surprised me how people on the course moaned about it being hard work. Yes you have to graft, but you're grafting at the thing you love to do. At the end of the day, we're only making up stories, not working down mines.