Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What will you be doing in a year's time?

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!


potdoll said...

i'm sure something will pay off out of that lot. wow.

TonyB said...

Good luck with all your endeavours, from a fellow plate spinner!

Out of interest, have you come across any useful project management software that helps keep track of all the 'to do' lists and project time lines we inevitably have to manage?

I think overall I'm pretty well organised but there's always room for improvement. I’ve always been a multiple lists type of person but I feel these days there should be some sort of intuitive but powerful software to help lighten the organisational load.

I've explored a few low cost task manager programmes but found them too basic, but at the other end of the scale Microsoft Project is way too complicated and really needs a course for the user to get the best out of it.

Some people have recommended mind mapping, which entails creating flow charts to tie the elements of each task together. This is fine and gives you a visual representation of what you have to do but I find that it doesn't help in keeping on top of actually doing things or tracking the stage of the task in hand.

However, with regard to writing I find visual mind mapping great for planning the story before writing the script, and for creating character maps and family trees. Novamind is the cheapest and best I’ve found (and they throw in screenwriting software for an extra tenner over the cost of the basic version):

You can download a 30-day trial version.

Also, it would be great to be able to keep track of the marketing progress of each script project or job application - who you've sent it to and when, date to follow up, comments etc. Obviously this can be done using lists but I'm sure there are more visual and intuitive ways to tackle it these days.

One other tip I can pass on is for writers who want to keep tabs on all their research and tie the research down to each scene. Celtx is totally free screen writing software with easy to use sections where you throw in all your background info, even multimedia files, and then you can tag items so that you can recall them easily. It also helps in creating props lists etc.

Another good aspect of the software is that you can upload your script to their webspace (so you always have a backup) and if you're writing with someone else you can easily share your script with your writing partner over the web. And it's free!

Aleks Zglinska said...

Hope one or more of those things works out for you David. I enjoy reading your blog :)

Me in a years time... Teaching full time hopefully... just not 13/14 year olds!

Erm Freemind is free mindmaping.. quite simple.... if you are in studenty debt! Freemind

I am hoplessly disorganised with my work... my biggest problem is the things I agree to do for free... like websites, and charity things, and societies, and events, aparently these things make you well rounded!

potdoll said...

David, what about the students who graduated the year before last - how are they doing?

TonyB said...

Aleks, thanks for the tip about Freemind - excellent!

David's obviously not into all this stuff.

David Bishop said...

potdoll - the 05-06 academic was the first time Screen Academy Scotland offered its screenwriting MA course. The fulltimers for that year have now finished, while us part-timers are into the second half of our course, working with the new 06-07 fulltimers.

tonyb - I'll give novamind a go and have downloaded the free trial. My TV screenwriting mentor Andrian Mead is a big proponent of mindmapping for scribes, but I've yet to apply this technique with any great success. Will give it another go!