An Unlikely Chain Reaction
It’ll be three years since I last wrote a medium post on April 3rd, I’ve just discovered. The reason for this hiatus? I can’t remember ever making a definitive decision to suddenly stop posting but what I do know is that for the last few years I have been increasingly conscious of and continuously reevaluating my time expenditure. In the context of my writing, this has meant endeavouring to only commit my time, energy, efforts and words towards activities that serve my overall ambitions. This is something in recent years that I’ve noticed other writers talk about; I recall American screenwriter Jasmine Waters in this very fantastic interview talking about making the decision to significantly pull back with her thoughts on social media and ‘save it all for the page’, whilst I also remember an Instagram story from British author Jude Yawson provoking thought by pointing out how many words we tweeet a day which could, instead, be words used to write a book, script, etc. Most notably, I think back to Zadie Smith’s guest appearance on The Touré Show Podcast where she speaks of not using social media, having a brick phone from 1997 and writing on a laptop that has no internet all as part of her writing regiment.
This podcast episode is very triggering and a fantastic drag but I would highly recommend it to anybody to listen to. Regardless of whether you’re a writer or not, her dedication and discipline to her craft is inspiring and will make you consider how you can apply such discipline to your own craft. I don’t think we could or even all should aspire to replicate the Zadie approach (I, for example, love social media and won’t be quitting) but I think the ingredients are there, in considering the choices we make to work towards our own goals and what is/is not serving that.
Anyway, I digress.
This is perhaps one of those anecdotes that I should save for my eventual memoirs but if the last two weeks have reaffirmed anything for me, it is that eventually is not promised. For as much as we like to treat life as if it is as long as a piece of string, by virtue of that very metaphorical definition a piece of string is nonetheless finite. Though its length may be indeterminable and varying, much like life, its end is inevitable.
Tomorrow I will begin my first writers room. To my understanding, a writers’ room is where a number of writers work on a TV show together, led by a show runner who is usually the creator of the show. They talk ideas for episodes, storylines, characters and those kind of things. The goal of the writers room varies dependent on the stage the TV show is at. The goal of the writers room I’m about to participate in is — by the end of it — to have come up with a thorough outline of the first series and each episode, which will also allow the lead writer to rewrite the pilot script, based on what we’ve decided on.
I’m really fucking excited to be participating in this writers room. I don’t actually know what I’m allowed to share about it so I’m sharing nothing lol. But really looking forward to this experience, one that I’ve wanted for such a long time.
I’d like to share some excerpts of that journey.
I was invited to have a meeting with a development exec at a production company who had read a spec script of mine that she loved. The main advice she gave to me was that she felt that my next step should be to get in and around writers rooms, whether as an assistant, writer, whatever. She felt I was definitely ready to be in there and this would be a great step towards my goal. The problem with this, by her own admission, was firstly that writers rooms are very much an American thing. Other than soaps/continuous dramas, in the UK we love a single authorship when it comes to series. Where writers’ rooms did exist, it wasn’t something that was really publicised. Very much a ‘who you know’ situation. And then to make this all the more difficult, I also did not have an agent at the time. How was I going to get a look in?!
The advice was great and on the money but, as I would realise in the years to come, incredibly difficult to action.
Courtesy of playwright/director Lynette Linton, an industry colleague and friend, I was invited to the press night of Sweat at the Donmar Warehouse, which she directed. The play was terrific.
I believe it was after the after-party. As I left the venue and I rushed to make the last train, I walked past one of the actresses in the play and overheard some of her conversation. She spoke of how she’d contemplated quitting acting prior to this role coming up which was bonkers to me because I thought she was fantastic in the role. Me being me, I’d wanted to say something to her but I was unusually shy and didn’t. It did, however, stick with me so much so that I would go on to find her on Instagram and message her a couple weeks later:
My debut full length play All the Shit I Can’t Say to my Dad is about to open a three week run at The Bunker. It’s a one-man play.
For anyone who isn’t aware, on the day we were due to open, something would go horribly wrong which would result in the cancelling of opening night and it being announced that the remainder of the run would be performed as rehearsed readings. I was absolutely devastated.
In the wake of the announcement, the above actress would jump in my DMs to send me the following beautiful message:
Told you it was beautiful, right?!
In the messages that would follow, the actress also mentioned that she wanted to introduce me to her sister… A TV development producer, who we’ll call Alice. This was someone who had never read any of my work but had formed an impression of me from following me on Instagram.
All the Shit I Can’t Say to my Dad is over. It has been received terrifically by all who have watched it. I’ve also finished shooting my directorial debut, No More Wings and in post-production.
But. I am broke as fuck. I’ve spent the summer entirely committed to the two prior projects, more or less without pay. The theatre production has debts, due to the impact of it no longer being a full production. The film has gone over budget. Additionally funding we’d hoped on has not occurred.
In the midst of all of this, miserable, wondering how I’m going to manage to pay my rent at the end of the month, feeling all the pressure and just ultimately underwhelmed that my play hadn’t resulted in greater opportunities for me like I’d hoped. And how much I didn’t want to return to work, covering in secondary schools because of the impact it had been having on me emotionally and mentally.
With all of this, I went for a meeting with Alice, the actor’s sister. This meeting would turn into a four hour conversation and one of the most refreshing meetings I’ve ever had. She had read my play. She loved it and actually said she was happy she’d not seen it, because she doesn’t think she’d have been able to handle experiencing it as some of the subject matter were so close to home.
She also said that her sister had vehemently insisted that she needed to take an interest in me. She’d not seen any of my work but was just convinced that there was something there… Wow.
What would follow was an open, honest and vulnerable conversation about my journey as a writer and where I was with things now, how it was all becoming a bit unbearable. I wasn’t considering quitting because I felt really sure that I was on the cusp, but also how difficult it is to feel like you’re on a never ending cusp. I tend to think that I am a very good judge of character and can very quickly suss someone out and I don’t know if it was this or just the weight of the emotions I was carrying but that day… I remember saying that I was just at a point where I needed to be able to be honest with people, anyone that I might be working with, about my struggles trying to make it in this industry. Equally, Alice would do the same, be open, honest and vulnerable and in those four hours I felt like we’d both learnt each other’s life stories and had been friends for an eternity.
Alice was officially part of my journey. She had made it her mission to play a part in my story. Not long after, she would invite me in for a meeting to meet the head of scripted drama at the production company and the entire drama department. All of whom had read All the Shit I Can’t Say to my Dad, had watched No More Wings and loved both (I actually feel like a broken record whenever I talk about people loving my work, especially those two, lol. But I am also very proud of them).
The conclusion of that meeting was keeping me in mind for projects that might come up, keen to hear of original ideas that I had to share with them for consideration and also wanting to introduce me to some other production companies and broadcasters they felt needed to know I existed. They also gave me some great advice about what I should consider my next steps.
As I’m walking out of a secondary school that I’ve just spend a day working in, I receive an excitable call from Alice. They are putting together a writers’ room. They’ve had me on a longlist for a while. They have now got a shortlist of writers and I am one of them, and they’d like me to consider the project. They initially sent a series treatment and 27 pages of research (it’s a historical drama) and if I like it (which I do) they’ll arrange a meeting between me and the lead writer. I like it so they also send me the 60-page pilot script to read in time for my meeting with the writer the following week. Whilst in theory a week is more than enough time to read, I’m weary of actually having the time;
I’ve got meetings. I’m spending the weekend at Channel 4 as part of their 4Screenwriting course as I develop an original drama for them. I’m meant to be spending a day in the edit suite adding French subtitles to No More Wings, so that we can submit it to Cannes Film Festival.
Also, tip: you can’t read a script just once. Well, you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it when preparing for something like this.
Anyway, we move. Time may not be on my side but I always find a way to make things work. Always.
Friday 7th February 2020
It’s Friday. I’ve been home all day, working on my series outline for Channel 4. At 4PM I start getting ready to leave the house; I’m going to see Kano later that evening (cannot believe that this is the first time I’ve seen him live, as an avid concert-goer and he an artist I’ve loved since I was a teenager, for shame).
I receive a call. It’s Alice. They were meant to get back to us at the start of the week but I am no stranger to delays in this industry. She’s calling to explain to me why it’s taken so long for them to tell me. I was the last writer they met with. They’d only planned to hire two writers and when they met with me, it provided them a dilemma. The writer and producers had loved me. They felt they had to have me in the room. Apparently I’d said something which the writer had said and realised earlier at a lunch about the idea to the point where it was almost scary that I would say the exact same thing and be in sync. So a week was spent convincing the up-aboves to hire three writers, rather than two, to include me in it.
Alice kept her word in being determined to play a part in my journey.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the unlikely chain reaction of how your boy is here writing as he prepares to start his first writers room, tomorrow.
Remember the actress said “if I’ve learnt anything on this crazy journey, it’s that what I thought were rock bottoms gifted me more than my mountain tops did”?
Well, one of the best things that may have ever happened to me was All the Shit I Can’t Say to my Dad being staged as a rehearsed reading rather than a full production. It allowed people to focus on the words. There was nowhere for the play to hide. I’ve never publicly/on record gone into detail as to the ins and outs of why there was no full production. But one thing I have always been keen for people to know is that — if I may (un)humbly say so — that it was not the play. That was a bloody fantastic piece of writing there.
And the rehearsed readings proved that. Beyond that, so many production companies have read the play. In fact I applied to 4Screenwriting, a scheme I have applied for every year since it’s inception in 2011 without any success, with the play and for the first time was invited in for an interview.
If you’d told me when everything went to shit that the play would change my life, I would not have believed you. And, yet, here we are.
We can only make sense of life if lived from back to front. Unfortunately, as that is not possible, we must live without hindsight. It doesn’t always make sense.
But if there is one thing life continues to remind me, it is to trust the process.
Bring on the writers’ room tomorrow. I couldn’t be more excited and thankful to God, who continues to show me that everything in my life happens exactly how it’s meant to happen, when it’s meant to happen.