Friday, May 19, 2006

And there endeth the lesson

For all intents and purposes, the first year of my MA Screenwriting course spluttered to an end yesterday. Full-time students on the programme at Edinburgh's Napier University still have projects to finish for this, the second trimester, and in their final trimester tackle a major piece of work as the culmination of all that's gone before. For the part-timers, trimester three is devoid of, well, anything. No modules to do, no classes to attend, nothing. Go away and come back at the end of September to begin year two. Frankly, it feels a bit like being sent to your room for 19 weeks while the big kids get to stay up late and watch TV. I'm sure that's not the intention, but this tends to reinforce the feeling part-timers are second class citizens on the course, an after-thought in the greater scheme of things. So, how did the academic come to an end for the part-timers? This week we had to deliver the final pieces of assessed work for both our second trimester modules. For Script Development, that meant handing in a revised draft script for a 10-minute film, along with a critique of its development process. I'm pretty happy with my efforts on the script, and the critique's a fair catalogue of the genesis and evolution. I gave myself an advantage over the other part-timers by writing the firt draft of my script back in March, when only the outline was due. I got a P5 for the outline [a high pass but not one of distinction], which was about right. I believe the script has moved on a lot from that loose, initial outline - time will tell if the tutors agree with me...

On the Writing for Interactive module, all the screenwriting students had to give a ten-minute audio-vidual presentation for their interactive entertainment project. There was a wide range of subjects, style and levels of sophistication in the presentation - everything from the crudest Powerpoint efforts to stunning DVD movies with music, voiceover and copious animation. Me, I opted for Keynote, a piece of software in the iWorks 06 suite that's a Mac-friendlier version of Powerpoint. I find it much easier to work with than the Microsoft programme and was fairly pleased with what I produced. My outline document back in March got a D3 [strong distinction], so that's promising, and I don't think I disgraced myself yesterday. Again, time will tell what the tutors think of my efforts.

If anybody out there is contemplating applying for the next intake on the MA Screenwriting course, I'd have to urge caution before advocating the part-time route. Yes, having only half the workload of the full-timers makes it possible to maintain a steady income the rest of the week. Your earnings will suffer [grud knows, mine have], but it's possible to keep your head above water. How some of the full-timers are getting by, I just don't know. So you have to balance the economic benefits of being part-time against the problems mentioned above. The simple fact is the 2005-2006 MA Screenwriting intake suffered from being guinea pigs for Napier's first attempt at running such a course. At least the part-timers can come back for 2006-2007 and see if lessons have been learned.

Best of all, we should be installed in the shining new Screen Academy Scotland facilities, instead of the dismal dump that hosted our first trimester classes. The current terms has seen us bouncing around the building like refugees, always searching for a room in which to meet. You can sense the frustration of the tutors at having to battle through the situation, but that doesn't solve the problem.

Despite all these gripes and moans, I don't regret applying for the course. I've learned a lot, my attitude to writing and collaboration has undergone a sea change, and I've started to establish a network of contacts - both within and beyond Napier. It's been frustrating a lot of time, but it's also been worth persisting. My first broadcast credit is 19 days away and a significant part of that is due to what I've been learning and experiencing at Napier.

Now I've got the next four and a half months to fill until the new academic year begins. First of all, I need to earn some money. I've just done a countback on my finances. In the eight months since I started the MA Screenwriting course, my gross earnings have plunged by 45% in comparison to the previous eight months. Bloody hell! No wonder I've been permanently skint since Christmas - that's when the cashflow started grinding to a halt, but I hadn't adjusted my spending to take that into account. Guess my target for the next 19 weeks is simple: earn more money. Time to get down and dirty, embrace my inner hack for a while. Such is life...

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