Last week I went to the post-graduation drinks for Screen Academy Scotland's Class of 2005-2006. The first batch of full-time MA screenwriting students have now gone back out into the world, in search of jobs, commissions and agents. For most of them, life hasn't changed that much since they were accepted for the post-graduate course in the summer of 2005. Several now have debt problems to overcome, having sacrificed work and income to do their MA. A few have made scripts they wrote on the course made into short films. To the best of my knowledge, none have secured commissions for screenwriting work as a consequence of the MA course.
But that's no surprise as it's still early days. The full-timers only handed in their final assignments in September. A week may be long time in politics, but eight weeks is not time at all in the world of film and TV. For example, I submitted my writing samples to BBC Scotland's soap opera River City back in April. But it was another five months before I got a response beyond acknowledgement of receipt. That's the nature of broadcast drama, it takes a long time for most things to come to fruition. The show has to come first and efforts to nurture potential new writing talent are a secondary priority - which is as it should be.
In September the production team of River City began choosing would-be writers from among the many unsolicited submissions it gets, and asking them to script sample scenes from supplied scene-by-scene breakdowns. Mine were for an episode that got broadcast on September 5th. Two and a half months later and there's a chance I might get some feedback on my efforts this week. If I don't get selected for the next stage of the new writer development process I'll be disappointed, but every professional in the industry can expect to be rejected more times than they're commissioned.
If I do get selected for the next stage [fingers crossed!], that's an invitation to participate in a two-day writers' workshop with the River City production team: writers, script editors, storyliners and producers. I think the next such workshop is planned for early in the new year. All the would-be scribes on that are given material for an upcoming episode and a week to write their first draft script - the same amount of time give to working professionals. From that, a few people might be talented and professional enough to get a first commission on the show.
It's a long process and there's no guarantees of success at any stage. I could be culled this week or I might get an invite to the workshop. I might get invited to the workshop but fall flat on my face there, or mess up the post-workshop script. The chances of making it all the way to a live commission for a broadcast episode are slender, at best. But there's still a chance, however slight it might be.
After six years of freelancing, I know you don't pin all your hopes on a single opportunity. That's why I'm still studying part-time for my screenwriting MA. That's why I spent six days of the last three weeks on a radio drama lab. That's why I'm working on a pilot script for a new returning drama series of my own devising, a project on which I'm being mentored by Adrian Mead. That's why I'm going down to London next weekend to take part in the TAPS script editing course. All of these are opportunties and all of them offer me a way forward, be it writing for River City, radio drama, television drama or becoming a TV script editor. It's a lot of plates to keep spinning, but I'm trying to maximise my chances of progress.
In a year's time I'll be going to my own graduation ceremoney at Screen Academy Scotland, hopefully to collect an MA in screenwriting. [It's my first time as a university student, so I'll definitely be doing the whole gown thing, no matter how daft it may look.] I'd like to think that by the time I get my piece of paper, I'll have gotten closer to one of my goals. Alas, I haven't got a crystal ball so I don't know what that will be yet. But I'm determined to make it happen. Onwards!