Friday, March 06, 2009

Screenwriter Recession

It's not good news anywhere you look, is it? The recession is hitting the broadcasters hard, with ITV, Channel 4 and Five all feeling the pinch. And while box office takings might be up, the recession doesn't paint a particular positive picture for the UK film industry either.

What does this mean for screenwriters? For most us, it means we're screwed. Screenwriting is a difficult profession at the best of times, so for everyone who's still trying to break in, nab a commission, option a script or get a film made, the current economic climate is certainly not going to do you any favours.

Let's not wallow in the misery, though. Let's look at this in a positive, practical way. What are the best opportunities out there at the moment for a budding screenwriter? Who are the people/production companies that are constantly busy, and may need writers? Where are the writing gigs?

First, television
. Although there are significant cutbacks in drama reported in the press, TV is still the best way for a writer to get their break or continue earning their living. For the new writer, however, this means focusing on the new entry schemes and opportunities that are available.

The BBC Writers' Academy will be open for applications next month. Full details about the scheme are available at the BBC writersroom. If the Academy is beyond your reach but the individual BBC shows have some appeal, then you may want to consider approaching the shows directly to see if you can do a trial script.

Who do you ask? Well, try emailing a script editor. Keep an eye on the closing credits, scribble down key names like the script editor, story producer or producer. It's not difficult to figure out their email addresses. Be polite, introduce yourself, ask them to check out your writing sample(s) and to consider you for their show. You might get lucky. Holby and Casualty generally won't consider anyone until they have some experience but I think EastEnders run two shadow schemes a year (I did one last February/March). Your agent should be hustling them to get you in the door, and if you don't have an agent, then try the direct email approach and see how you get on.

It's also not difficult to figure out who the key production companies are in television, for comedy and drama. Talkback Thames, Shed, Hat Trick, Company Pictures, Objective Productions, to name but a few. Start networking. Email. Phone. Get your script(s) read. Get ahead.

Film. Well, the UK Film Council always has its development doors open, so that's a plus. Check out their website for the full submission guidelines. Don't send in a script that has good potential but needs work. Send in the best you've got. That's the only way you'll make an impression if you have no filmography whatsoever or they don't know who you are. Getting a spec script optioned, developed and produced is always tricky but it's not impossible.

You may have seen me mention my 'Get Your Movie Made' booklet where I've listed 22 leading film companies in the UK (that actually make and distribute films). This was available for £10 as part of my short film fund initiative (where you also receive a 'thanks' credit on my film, and a copy of my short script). However, I'm giving away the booklet for £5 (no 'thanks' credit or script) so if you want some of that action, then drop me an email or use the donate button on the right (underneath the 'About Me' section) to get your copy. The BBC writersroom reads unsolicited material on behalf of BBC Films, so that's another way of getting your work read.

There are opportunities for online drama/series, too, but it's difficult to pin down the exact movers and shakers in this area, unless you're talking about the big boys like Bebo, Hammer, RTE etc. Still, keep your ear to the ground, check out the blogs/websites, see what's happening and make your move. Better still, do it yourself.

DIY. Make a short film. Or a sketch. Or the pilot for your online idea. If the prospects for this year are anything to go by, the only thing certain is that you have to take charge as much as possible. Get busy doing things, be proactive and stay focused. It's the only way to get noticed and to get ahead. And keep writing.

There. 2009's not looking so bad now, is it?


laurence timms said...

Thanks Danny. I'm coming into screenwriting from a career in the web industry and I realised from the get-go that the all the rules are changing.

Sure, I'm going to chase prodcos with my scripts. But I'm also going to collaborate with other up-and-coming directors, cameramen, editors etc and get stuff made myself.

Attack on all fronts! It's the only way.

missread said...

Thanks Danny - another very heplful post, and a motivating one too.

Neil said...

Thank you very much, Danny, that was a great post. Really helped me think about what I should be doing with my time.

Cheers, happy writing :)

Sofluid said...

Thanks Danny, that's an incredibly helpful post! And thank you also for the heads up on the COMING UP competition. There may be a recession on but us writers have lots of exciting work ahead of us - we just need to keep motivated and, well, DO IT! :)

What do you do when you are on a shadow scheme? Literally shadow a writer and see how they work? Try a bit yourself?

Danny Stack said...

Hi Michelle - a shadow scheme is where you do a trial episode, but you go through the process of writing a real episode, without it being broadcast. said...

Great pointers. As always Danny, you're a star!!

Sofluid said...

Thanks for the explanation :)

Anonymous said...

Talking of opportunities... red planet?