Monday, November 24, 2008

Professional Screenwriter, Step 4: Industry Insider

As a lot of ‘getting ahead in the biz’ is about who you know, then getting work within the industry makes a lot of sense, especially if you want to broaden your basic experience (if you’re a recent graduate, say, or a young newcomer to the scene). So, get a job. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it focused on the screenwriting-related areas. Save the application form for Mickey Ds as a last resort…

Script Reader
Often referred to as an ‘entry level’ job, this position is preferable if you want to consume yourself with scripts, and learn a whole lot in the process (see step 1). However, script reader jobs are rarely, if never, advertised, so it’s a case of sending query letters, emails and polite phone calls to see if you can get your foot in the door. Beware, it pays a low part-time wage, even when you’re working flat out, so it might not suit everyone. It’s got a shelf-life of one-two years but can go on for much longer, and forever, if you want it to. Check out this post for further details if you think it really might be your bag.

More of a TV job but still useful for all sorts of reasons; it’s fun, you get to meet some cool and interesting people (most of the time), and you can make great contacts. Researchers usually exist on a freelance basis but the contacts they make normally keep them regularly employed. Previous TV experience is necessary, as a runner for example, but a bit of guile and intelligence can bypass this lowly rung of the ladder. The TV evolution chart goes: runner, researcher, assistant producer, producer, commissioning editor. Film food chain: runner (reader), assistant, junior development exec/development co-ordinator, development executive, producer, head of department/studio.

Despite being a ‘media secretary’, this one’s a really good job to get. You’ll deal with the day-to-day issues of your boss, who will probably be a reputable producer/development exec, and so you get the inside track on how things are done, and why. Also great for making contacts. The job’s got a shelf-life of about two years before you should advance to the next stage of your career, whether that be a researcher/script reader or whatever it is that really excites you.

Production Crew

Become a locations assistant. Or a best boy. Or an assistant cameraman. Or offer to work on short film shoots. To get a break in this field, you’re going to have to work for free, and you should be more than willing to do so. If you can’t get lucky, don’t feel too snooty to be a runner. Despite the menial tasks, a runner meets and mingles with EVERYONE, and it’s really a cool position if you use it wisely enough.

These are just a few examples of the kind of work that is out there, and isn’t impossible to get, despite what you might think. I started out in Channel 4’s Duty Office (complains/enquiries), and that was thanks to a media temp agency. I worked my way into C4’s comedy department when stuff like Spaced and Ali G were being made. And then, I was a researcher (Ali G) and a production assistant (Black Books) before becoming a full-time script reader (to pay the bills as I focused on my quest to be a full-time freelance writer).

Don’t be on the outside looking in, thinking ‘the industry is against me’. Get a job in the biz, and amass some proper knowledge, experience and contacts.


Spec Odyssey said...

Hey Danny, a really helpful series of posts!

This is probably more of a networking question, but... My writing partner and I have a few contacts in the good ol' BBC, so when we finally finished out TV pilot we gave it to one of these contacts for notes, a script editor and reader, to look at. He really liked it and said that the writing was superb, but it turns out the BBC has a policy where readers cannot oficially read a script that hasn't gone through the correct channels because of fears that there may be possible lawsuits if they then make something similar in the future. What is your experience of this phenomenon, and is the Writersroom the only way to go?

BTW. We've already submitted it to RPP, fingers have been crossed for two months now....think they've begun to fuse together.

Also, check out the Blog which is charting our trajectory of failure/success if you've got the time!

Lucy V said...

I have it on VERY good authority that all script readers are mental. And possibly serial murderers. So there!

Danny Stack said...

Hello Spec! That sounds like a very defensive safety net for the Beeb to bounce off. Writersroom is the first point of contact but it's not the only route. If you can get your work seen & promoted by someone on the inside, then all the better. That's how a lot of recommendations work, so don't be deterred. Hustle as much as you can.

Lucy: well, serial murderers are definitely mental, no possibly about it. Readers on the other hand, are gods. Oh yes. And possibly deluded.

Lucy V said...

Actually I meant script readers could possibly be serial murderers. Is that an ambiguous Englishey-thing I wonder or is Sir Daniel trying to hide a deadly secret?!?! Methinks he doth protest too much...

Anonymous said...

Hey Danny, This again is an awesome lesson in the series. This time I am ahead though, for tomorrow I start a little course in Researching for TV, and the organisers of the course pride themselves on helping its 'graduates' obtain a researching job. But on top of this I think I may try my luck with some cold-calling for script reading.

Any advice as to how a script readers report should look so I can get stuck into some free work and start generating a portfolio of reports?

Thanks JQ

Danny Stack said...

Hi JQ. A basic report will have the basic details first: Script Title, Writer, Number of Pages, Genre. Then, the logline (a one or two sentence summary of the film), followed by your 'brief' (a one or two sentence summary of what you thought of the film). Next, the synopsis, a page should do it, two pages max (for a sample report anyway). After that, the comments section, a page or two of your critique. That's pretty much it!

Anonymous said...

I recommend the Script Factory's course on Script Reading for a really good overview on how to format your report and its content.