Breaking into C4: Fast Track Into TV Drama

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C4’s 4Screenwriting program 4Screenwriting was initiated and has been run by Phillip Shelley since 2011 helping to facilitate and fast-track writer’s careers in the television industry. He joined us today to talk about the initiative along with co-ordinator Lisa Walters and two of the programs alumni, screenwriters Anna Symon and Jane Eden.

In it’s sixth year the program is one of four run by Channel 4 all detailed on the 4Talent website. 4Screenwriting is only open to writers without broadcast credits or a feature film release (short films under 20mins do not preclude entry). The entry period window is kept fairly short to avoid the program being overwhelmed. Many of the entries are polished screenplays and these shine through so although this year’s entry window was 30th Oct work not yet ready could be polished from now until the next time the submission windowopens. CV’s and writing samples are submitted, the CV just an idea of what the writer has been doing so they can get to know the person as well as the writing.

When accepted for the course writers come along with new ideas and are paired up with a script editor (three writers per editor) where on the first weekend they will talk through their ideas in a group and the writer with their editor decide which idea to work on. Work is developed and the writers write alone but with as much access to the script editor as the writer needs. A reading with actors helps to hone the work before a second script editor puts fresh eyes on it. As well as the writing development there is social mixing organised between the writers and prominent people in the industry. The course opens doors for new writers, allowing their work to be known.

The writers telling us about their experiences tell us it’s a little scary to go along with a bunch of other writers and it’s common to lack confidence. Anna says that it’s well worth having some very well thought out story ideas before turning up so that you can articulate your ideas well and make the best use of your time. Being able to talk about your work is a key part of your work as a professional screenwriter. Learning how to talk about her work, getting access to people to get to know and talk to and ending up with a developed screenplay that has a C4 tick of approval that you can be proud to send out is, the writer’s tell us, a great way to gain entry to the industry.

Jane told us the calibre of people is fantastic and she remembered being terrified at first, but then you have the opportunity to write an amazing script. You build your work, become a collaborator and get your work to production companies. Taking opportunities to meet people is also about them seeing if they can work with you now or in the future, it’s a social collaborative industry. Jane has established a career through the course and her hard work, she’s currently working on series 2 of Fortitude and has a script commission.

Channel 4 don’t make any shows themselves, they commission production companies to make them. Your idea is championed to the broadcaster by the production company or the broadcaster may bring ideas to them. Everyone wants you to be a better writer.

Finding work is a matter of ongoing persistence. Work gets optioned and sometimes sits around undeveloped until a broadcaster can be brought on board. So few things get made in the UK projects don’t always happen but there are US and other markets too and having a good script gets you work. Anna worked on the first season of Indian Summers and has been asked back to do more work on season two. Being asked back is a good stamp of approval she tells us and that can also get you other work.

Earning a living as a writer depends on what you do and how much work you get, what gets made etc. There are fee scales on the Writers Guild of Great Britain website. Option fees, Jane laughs, are never as much as you’d like to think. The writers agree though, that the discipline and ways of working plus the contacts they made on the 4Screenwriting course were invaluable to their career progress.

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