Although I’ve primarily written novels and short stories, I always wanted to write for the screen. My earliest efforts at writing were (bad) screenplays — mostly rip offs of my favourite movies or spec scripts for Star Trek series. I entered competitions, got nowhere, finally found it much easier to move into prose.
But my love for film and TV never really went away. Then in 2018, I took part in WRITE4FILM, for what was then called the Scottish Film Talent Network (which has since been replace by Short Circuit), a course that took artists from other disciplines and gave em a crash course in screenwriting. From that course, my peers had some great successes. Rachelle Atalla and Leyla Josephine, for example, went on to produce, write and even direct short films (and Rachelle’s feature pitch became her awesome novel, THE PHARMACIST), while Liam Bell adapted his feature treatment for THE SLEEPLESS into a full length novel that was recently released.
And me? I wound up looking towards TV and developing a pitch (with encouragement from producers I was introduced to by the course) for SHADOWLANDS, which last year took me down to London to pitch at ContentLondon, an international conference of TV execs and production companies (I was part of the final six shortlisted for their Studio21 pilot competition, but didn’t win — I was up against some fierce competition and the two winning scripts from Laurence Turnbull and Jess Edwards were truly deserving winners — they really did blow me away!), and has now been revealed as the semi finalist in the TV Pilot 2023 Screenwriting Contest — WINNER & RUNNERS UP | by Filmarket Hub | Filmarket Hub | Oct, 2023 | Medium.
So what does this mean? Right now its just a little more bragging rights — but hopefully its another step towards convincing producers to take a little at my script with a view to perhaps talking about how we might develop it towards a series. The show really is something I’m excited about — it has all the elements of a crime drama with the added bonus of a supernatural flavour that’s very much rooted in Scottish history and myth. Imagine if Mulder and Scully turned up in the middle of an episode of Shetland and I think you’ll get the gist! (No aliens, though: I always preferred my flavour of X Files on the supernatural not the SF side…)
I’m also hoping it might help me perhaps make a few other inroads towards some TV work; something I’ve always wanted to do but always felt on the outside of until recently when some of these opportunities came up. And there are so many more than there used to be.
But there’s still that sense I have that screenwriting is much more difficult to crack than publishing. The submissions process in publishing is frustrating but generally a good manuscript will get you in. As I began to look at screen agents and producers, so many of them asked for things like letters or recommendation from within the industry, or even the seeming catch-22 of needing previous credits…
Screenwriting is a foreign country… they do things differently there…
If you’re interested in TV/film opportunities, there are a number out there, but you do need to be careful in who/what you apply to as a number do charge entry fees etc. While some of these can be worthwhile (I personally — and your mileage may vary, because of course I placed in 2022! — think Studio21, for example, was worth the relatively inexpensive entry) it is very different from publishing where I would say never pay entry fees at all (The difference comes if you’re taking a course or paying for proper editorial services — for example, from Jericho Writers).
In screenwriting, I would say only pay for entry if you think an opportunity offers something tangible or offers a genuine benefit to the winner. For example, I calculated the Studio21 competition was worthwhile based on the previous winners and connections within the industry (and it was a fee that seemed more in line with being an admin fee than anything else). The filmarkethub seemed a reasonable thing to attempt based on having talked to people I had met in the industry who had used the hub in terms of professional production etc.
But in both those circumstances I really made sure I felt my script had a decent chance of getting somewhere — there was no point entering without feeling like I was simply not going to place. And, although I didn’t place, the BAFTA Rocliffe fellowship seemed a good opportunity as well (and there is a bursary you can apply for to assist with entry), and you have to accept the possibility that even if you think you have something pretty good, you still might not place!
There are also plenty of excellent free opportunities for scriptwriters, too. The BBC writer’s room is a good place to start, and also links to other opportunities on a regular basis. The lovely folks at ScriptAngel tend to link to opportunities on a regular basis, too, and also have some lovely articles full of advice for would-be screenwriters. There are also all kinds of newer programs arising such as this excellent opportunity for working class writers (Unsure if you’re working class? So am I, but they have a link to a pretty good definition of what they mean that seems reasonable upon reading) from Stephen Graham’s production company Home | Birdiepictures, and this recent competition/opportunity Rules – Thousand Films | Scriptwriting contest 2023. Then there’s the brilliant-looking 4Screenwriting course from script editor Phillip Shelley and Channel 4 (massively difficult to place in, but one I would love to take part in someday!). In Scotland, there are still opportunities to find from the likes of Short Circuit who run the Convergence program, which is similar to the write4film series that inspired me to retry breaking into the world of scriptwriting.
I am, of course, focussing on UK links here — the US industry seems even weirder to me, and sorting the pay to play from the useful ops is even more tricky — but I imagine there are opportunities there, too.
But while the rewards of TV and film are greater than in publishing, the road to success is much trickier, I think. The recent writers’ strikes really brough a lot of inequality and poor faith practices to light, and while things should be better moving forward, you can bet there will still be a number of issues that still need to be dealt with in terms of the money people treating the writer’s craft seriously.
I am still learning as I break into a new industry. But so far my experiences have been interesting, varied, and I have my fingers crossed that they’ll pay off properly soon enough.
And if you’re worried that I’ve strayed away from prose? Yes, I’ve had a wee break, but I do have a new book out there with my book agents as we speak… and hopefully some more news soon…