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July 2021 | Amy Young

Where do you start if you want to be a screenwriter? Amy Young assess the options and courses available in the UK.

Without sufficient work experience, those of us aspiring to develop a career in the film or television industry will find it that much harder to gain a stable footing on that first elusive rung of the employment ladder. As a young screenwriter, I personally didn’t feel as if there were as many opportunities available to gain experience in this particular field of the film industry -- I saw plenty of production runner schemes, for example, but not as many for my professional interests. As it turns out, I just wasn’t looking in the right places. So if you aren’t sure how to begin your screenwriting career, hopefully these following courses and tips I have found over the years will be a good starting point:

The National Youth Film Academy (NYFA)

Aimed at 16-25 year olds, the NYFA Breakthrough Course takes place bi-annually, bringing together young filmmakers and actors from across the UK to create several short films within two weeks. Not only providing workshops and mentoring sessions from industry professionals, this course does offer some practical skills; a Screenwriter will also act as the Script Supervisor on set during production, allowing for an individual to gain additional work experience in another script-based film role. At the end of two weeks, every screenwriter will have their own short film, which can be used for show reels in order to gain additional industry work. I was accepted onto their Summer Breakthrough Course this year, and although my experience was certainly mixed (details of which will be discussed in a future blog post), many have benefitted from the experience that this course provides. However, the course itself costs around £490, excluding other additional charges including accommodation, and a branded item of clothing which members are told to purchase and wear throughout the course. This is certainly one of the financially steeper opportunities on this list, but can potentially be rewarding. 

Applications are currently open for the next Breakthrough Course, scheduled to begin April 3rd 2017. 

Script Reader Talent Pools

Though not technically a screenwriting opportunity, Script Reader Talent Pools are the perfect way to work regularly with industry standard scripts that are currently in some stage of development. This can be either experience or a part-time paid job, depending on the company and potential workload. Usually, a Script Reader will be required to work every week on one or more scripts, thoroughly reading the material to ascertain the talent of the writer and the commercial potential of the script. By doing this, aspiring Screenwriters will be able improve their own understanding of what constitutes a professional script, including correct formatting procedure, which will hopefully benefit their own writing. 

Script Reader Talent Pool schemes are regularly posted in My First Job In Film’s ‘Job Search’ forum. 

British Film Institute (BFI) Film Academy

A programme for 16-19 year olds, the BFI offers four courses in different film disciplines -- animation, animation and VFX, documentary production and screenwriting. For the screenwriting residential, successful applicants receive guidance and feedback on current script projects, and have the opportunity to network with some of the British film industry’s most prominent professionals. The course runs for five days in mid-February, with an introductory residential weekend in early January. Knowing individuals who have taken part in this course, let’s just say I was incredibly disappointed to learn of its existence at the age of twenty. 

Applications open for next year’s Film Academy in autumn 2016.

Channel 4: 4Screenwriting

Arguably the most competitive of the courses on this list, 4Screenwriting is run by “script-guru” Philip Shelley, and offers twelve writers who have never had a professional credit learn the processes behind script commissions. This one is open to anyone over the age of eighteen, and over the course of six months the successful applicants will work alongside script editors, mentors and other industry professionals on their own original scripts for C4/E4, with the potential for further development opportunities working with Surian Fletcher-Jones, Channel 4’s Head of Development. Not only this, every writer is paid a fee for participating in the course and for completing two drafts of a one hour script. 

This course has already had a stream of success stories, helping to launch the careers of Melissa Bubnic (Shameless), Anna Symons (Indian Summers), Cat Jones (Youngers) and Charlie Covell (Banana). Highly competitive, but incredibly beneficial for any aspiring writer. 

Applications for next year’s 4Screenwriting course opens in August 2016. 

Create your own opportunities

In this technological age, anyone can write and create a short film which they can upload and market online at the push of a few buttons -- although the above opportunities are excellent ways to gain more industry experience, you don’t need to wait for course application submission deadlines. 

If you want to work on your formatting, I would recommend using screenplay software, as it will automatically format your script as you write. I personally use Celtx, as it is free and easy to use; Final Draft (although averaging £190) is a great alternative, and certainly worth the money if you are able to make the investment, as it is used by top studios and production companies across the world, including the BBC, MGM, Paramount and Warner Bros. You can, of course, used Microsoft Word if you want to stick with software you know, but I would highly encourage reading professional scripts as a formatting reference -- just Google a script of your choice, and you’ll be able to find it. 

When it comes to producing your script, you can either choose to gather a group of friends and film it yourself, or appeal through online film community forums to collaborate with other artists. Whether keeping things low-tech on your mobile, or using top quality equipment, there are so many ways you can make and market your short film or series. Like everything on this list, you just have to give it a go. 

A Little Advice For The Reticent Networker.
Film internships in the UK

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