Tuesday, 7 July 2015

ROCLIFFE STORIES: A SCREENWRITER'S PASSAGE - AMANDA DUKE *Closes eyes, clicks heels and repeats This Girl Can*

Last year we launched the first every WRITING FOR CHILDREN call for scripts. One of our three winners AMANDA DUKE’s entry, After Oil, was optioned by Blacklisted Films within weeks of the BAFTA Rocliffe showcase. Duke is now developing an original drama with ITV Studios, reached the latter stages of CBBC's New Voices initiative and, through her agent at Sheil Land Associates, is sending out a new television script. Here Amanda shares her journey.

I’ve always worked in this industry, having studied film and media at Uni. My background is in film and TV casting so I’ve been reading scripts for years, but deep down I’ve always wanted to write – it just took me a while to develop the confidence I needed to give it a proper shot. Then I left London for a couple of years, and by the time I returned, I was married with two young boys… Not an ideal time to kick-start a new career, but actually it was the best thing for me – I had such little time for myself, I made sure I didn’t waste a second. I’d squeeze the odd hour in here and there – with bags of time to mull over ideas in my mind and never enough quality time to sit at my laptop and write. But I’ve been 100% more productive as a result.

In 2011, I started writing my first feature script, The Man Who, based on a true-life story from the 1960s that I’d been obsessed about for years. I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in The Script Factory’s development scheme and worked with a great script developer, Paul Bryan, who helped me deliver three drafts of The Man Who within six months. I then jumped straight onto my second script, Other Mother, based on my friend who volunteered in a Romanian orphanage as a teenager. Again, thanks to The Script Factory, I was paired up with a fantastic script editor, Kumari Salgado, for a further six months, and delivered three drafts on time.

By this point, I was very clear about my strategy – I was convinced I needed to place in respected screenwriting competitions in order to raise my profile and get an agent. But I had to be careful about which competitions to enter, as it gets expensive! Since I’m UK-based, it seemed more sensible to focus on UK-centric schemes – The Man Who placed 2nd in the 2012 Shore Scripts competition. And Other Mother finished top 5 in the 2013 Screenwriting Goldmine Contest. Both of these competitions offer industry contacts and face-to-face meetings rather than large cash prizes - their main aim is to connect writers with key players in the UK, which I would argue is infinitely more beneficial to a new writer anyway – however welcome cold hard cash always is! Also, whenever possible, I would scrimp and save in order to pay for notes from respected script developers. I see this as a necessary expense – and well worth the investment, even though it can be really tough when you’re an unpaid writer…

After several further competition successes (and even more misses) my strategy paid off, and at the end of 2013, I signed with my lovely agent, Lucy Fawcett at Sheil Land, just after finishing my third spec script, Where There is Evil, based on the true-life disappearance of schoolgirl Moira Anderson in 1957, which I co-wrote with the formidable Sandra Brown, writer, campaigner and expert in child protection issues.

I’m fascinated with real-life stories - most of what I write is informed by real-life situations and people in some capacity - and with each of these stories, I always feel there is literally no option for me BUT to write them… I guess that’s when you know you’re a proper writer. Not because of any tangible success, but when you just can’t imagine doing anything else with your life. 

Over the last year I’ve been working on various TV spec projects and when I saw the BAFTA Rocliffe call for Children’s writing, I entered my children’s TV series, After Oil - a story I had wanted to write for years. My husband works in renewable energy & cleantech, and I wanted to write something that would challenge a young audience about the looming global energy crisis – A world that has run out of oil seemed like a good place to start… The BAFTA Rocliffe forum was brilliant. I loved every second and during the networking drinks afterwards, I met an incredible producer who went on to option After Oil within weeks…

I recently took part in a fantastic two-day workshop in Salford as part of the CBBC New Voices Initiative with 24 other writers. And ITV Studios has just optioned an adult drama series of mine (keeping everything crossed) so it’s been a very busy, very positive ten months since BAFTA Rocliffe… And I’m thrilled. Feels like I’ve been making steady progress year on year and I’m ready for whatever is just around the corner… 

*Closes eyes, clicks heels and repeats This Girl Can*

Friday, 3 July 2015

NOTES ON REJECTION - Fall down seven, stand up eight!

Rejection is shite - no two words for it. It hurts and it is painful. I've faced it this week, last week and will probably face it again next week. Whether it is in the personal or professional sense - it's crap but I always put it down to me not being ready or there's something else I need to learn. 

As Richard Eyre says in the Rocliffe Notes 'it's extremely painful', so take solice in the fact that you aren't the first and it is not just for newbies!

I tend to share with close friends what I feel but ultimately it is an acceptance of my work, my heart, my company is not what they (the rejector) is looking for. 
Only you can decide what course of action is for you, be more than one script or idea, and keep going and when you have more confidence let it go. There are countless stories of JK Rowling, DH Lawrence, The Beatles and countless others. Fall down seven, stand up 8.

All competitions and gatekeepers they are being paid to say no and when they do say yes let’s consider this... they are taking a punt on something there is no guarantee how it will turn out.  Keep in mind rejection isn't just for the less experienced..

Rocliffe Notes from Experienced Writers on Rebuffal

CHRIS SPARLING: I started as an actor in this business, so rejection was part and parcel of that entire experience. As a result, I developed a bit of a thick skin. Nevertheless, it still sort of frustrates me when I don't land a particular writing assignment or if a spec I write doesn't get the traction I hoped it might. But you take the hits and you just keep coming out for the next round. You'll win one eventually.

DANNY BROCKLEHURST: I deal with rejection badly – usually very badly. I get cross, pissed off at all the work put in. There are different types of rejection. If we have been working on it for a long time it feels like a waste of energy and thought, especially if the reason seems stupid. It’s exactly like being dumped. You put your heart out there and you know the chances of selling it elsewhere are slim. It also depends on where you are in life. At the moment I have a show filming and another green-lit so I would be fine with it. That said, I spent two and a half years being rejected and each time it felt like another kick in the teeth and worse than the last. I felt like I was physically moving further and further away from the screen. A writer’s life is spent avoiding those periods and, of course, you then become resentful of other people’s success during those times, which isn’t a nice emotion.”

JACK THORNE: It gets slightly easier. It never stops. It’s always quite bizarre. No one ever tells you that you’ve been sacked – they just stop talking to you. And then you find out someone new is going on the project.

JIM UHLS: It’s important to believe that there are people out there who will connect with your script, although it might take a while to find them.”

TONY JORDAN: It’s tough. Anyone who says they take it in their stride is lying.

TONY GRISONI: I got knocked back only the beginning of this week. You offer up, you try to get the gig, give it your best shot and then someone decides whether they want it or not. It’s as simple as that. How do I react? Usually my immediate reaction is a kind of fury, but I’m very good at channelling that and saying. ‘OK, fuck them. We’re going to make this work some other way.’ You go back to the drawing board. 


Yes it hurts. It stings but it won’t last. It will get better and there are other opportunities. You will get over this. You are a survivor and your imaginary characters will live on, perhaps just in another script. 

One of the best ways to deal with rejection is by keeping busy creatively. I head down to the Proud Archivist on Regents canal and write. Working on one idea, a proposal or screenplay. Sometimes I split my day across different projects - makes me feel more prolific! I am more than one idea... I am committed to a career not a single project. 

When you are rejected - you must allow yourself the time to wallow but don’t dwell or destruct - this is a constructive development. You’ll be a better writer for allowing yourself for feeling the pain but then again when someone does like your work – enjoy that moment. Sometimes we deny ourselves joy in the moment too.

This could be the indication that you need to work better, that there are weaknesses in your work and you can make it better. Usually we know ourselves where the weaker areas are – what can you do to make it better? Work out why you were rejected but you can look at the reasons why it didn’t work, make it better and improve the quality of it.

Don’t send an abusive letter or email to the organization or person who said no to you. It just makes you seem really foolish and unprofessional. Getting a rejection saying 'no it’s not for us' doesn’t meant they don’t like you or never want to read anything by you ever again, it’s just that that script is not for them for whatever reason. It's not personal! 

Don’t respond in a desperate attempt to try to persuade them to reconsider because you feel you deserve it. It comes across as desperation. Accept that there were better projects out there.

If you want to engage with the rejecter, maintain your dignity at all times. Send a polite but short email with the words ‘thank you, may I ask is there any further feedback on why it was rejected on this occasion?’ but be prepared for an organization to say to you that they don’t have the resources to engage in individual feedback.

Develop thicker skin… own your own rejection! First time is the worst, second gets easer by the eighth time you will be used to it. Frustrated yes, but accepting that this is the way of the TV and Film world. These rejections are all proof of the work and toil to date.

You have to be realistic rejection happens because not every script is going to get made. Frankly not every script should get made. When you can’t face realism be philosophical - that’s life. Not every day is going to be fantastic, but the bad days that get us there. This is a really slow process. It won’t happen in a day but someone at some point may say yes and that’s all you need.

I love director Ron Scalpello's take on confidence: “you’ve come into a kind of conveyer belt of anxiety. First anxiety: are you good enough? You have to say to yourself constantly that you are. Second anxiety: which project are you going to get and who’s going to endorse you? Third anxiety: somebody does endorse you and says, ‘Right, deliver me your script, deliver me your film.’ Then you actually have to make the thing. Fourth anxiety: you get to the set, it’s all there and you’ve got 30 days to film. You shoot the thing and then you go into the edit space to see what you’ve actually got. By the time you finish the film, at the end of the day you might have made a film you’re really proud of, but as soon as it’s finished you’re back to anxiety once again. Where’s the next project going to come from? Am I going to be good enough?”

Check out the trailer for the film we made together Pressure (out Aug 2015)!
Big hug, stay at it and keep writing.

Quotes From: Farah Abushwesha. “Rocliffe Notes: A Professional Approach for Screenwriters and Writer-Directors.”