As a female script consultant, my career in film and TV followed a route map which is pretty standard for scriptwriters in the UK.
I get asked a lot about how to break into film and TV as screenwriter, and the simple answer to the question is that a lot of writers I know, followed the same career path, and that this path (detailed below) is tried and tested – so, I decided today to blog about it.
Scriptwriting career path
A scriptwriter is a bit like a professional sportsman or athlete – say a boxer.
When you start out, as screenwriter, and get confident, you figure you’re ready to go straight in as a professional and show people how it’s done. Like an amateur boxer, who expects to win the title in his first fight. It doesn’t work like that in sports or in film and TV.
Before you get your feature film made, or your smash Netflix TV series, you need to fight your way up through the ranks first. Just like a boxer, you don’t get to go in with the big boys until you’ve paid you’re dues.
So, what’s paying the dues as a screenwriter in the UK look like?
First, you need to get a professionally funded short film made – nearly all the screenwriters I know have had at least one professionally funded short film made.
Often these short films have been made with the help of UK creative agencies like Creative England, the BFI or a local screen network. In the old days, a lot of broadcasters had short film schemes to help people get started (Short and Curlies was famous in the UK in the 90s, and a really great scheme that gave a lot of new talent a start). There are occasionally competitions to get short films made (my colleague and fellow script consultant won the Lloyds Bank Film Challenge – which kick started his career).
Short film made
Getting a short film made is an important first professional credit, it also shows that you can work with other people – especially if the film has been funded by an external organisation. Short films can sometimes feature professional actors too, which help add some lustre to your early work.
In my career I made three short films as a scriptwriter – one film, ‘Me Head’s A Shed’ went onto win a few awards at film festivals. All this is good experience.
After your short film, you need a great sample script in order to bag an agent – I worked for years on two or three screenplays, and when I was ready, the best script attracted the interest of agents at Curtis Brown in London who took me on as a client – but by then TV had already come calling.
My writing sample and short film (as well as a Granada TV scriptwriting competition) attracted the interest of the producers of Hollyoaks and Emmerdale.
I joined the story lining team of Emmerdale and a short time later I was part of the Emmerdale writing team proper – where I stayed for around three years and wrote over 25 episodes of the show.
That process, from writing the short film, to being a core writing on major UK soap took around seven years. And that’s the normal time frame. It gives the writer time to learn, develop, build experience and confidence and make useful industry contacts.
After I finished writing Emmerdale, I ended up in Hollywood briefly – like a boxer getting a title shot… But that’s a story for another blogpost…
Alison Pennells is a scriptwriter, playwright, novelist, female script consultant and producer from Leeds. Alison was a core scriptwriter on Emmerdale and The Royal Today. Her short film ‘Me Head’s a Shed’ was winner of The Yorkshire Short film award. Her play ‘Dirty Laundry’ has been a huge success and raised much needed funds for cancer charities across the UK. In recent years Alison has worked as a female script consultant and producer on three feature films. Alison is married, has a daughter, three doggies and no cats (at the moment).