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*

Rocliffe in partnership with The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and supported by The London Book Fair, is calling for scripts from emerging writers of children’s media, for a chance to present their work to influential members of the film and television industries.Applications are now open.  One winner of the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum showcase will attend MIP Junior, supported by The London Book Fair! CLOSING DATE 27 JULY 


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