Cheltenham SWF 2009 Part 2


Notes from the Cheltenham Screenwriters’ Festival 2009.

In this post:
Janice Day – Making a Living as a Writer
Janice Day and Caroline Ferguson – Networking
Rob Kraitt and Kate Leys – How To Be Better



Janice Day

Janice Day

with Janice Day

What stops you from becoming a successful writer? You don’t have an Agent? Your lack self-discipline? Talent? Writer’s block? Fear of failure? Janice Day says it could be fear of success. For example, you might be afraid of stalkers or people recognising you in the street… Whatever it is, you need to get over your negative thinking.

Irrational fears need to be defined and dealt with. Also, a lack of focus might be a problem. You need to set clear concrete goals – not just “I want to earn a living as a writer” but “I want to write that script about that topic and for that director!” – when it’s clear and concrete, you can make plans and take steps to achieve it.

Janice mentioned Jerrold Mundis who helps people get over what they think is a writer’s block for them; shifting attention or short attention span is also a form of writer’s block.

JDDiscipline – planning time and making short term goals (i.e. writing a number of words or scenes per day) can help you focus. And what’s most important: if you want to increase the rate of success you have to increase the rate of failure.

Spend 50% of your time on the project that pays the rent, 35% on the project that’s going to pay the rent next, and 15% on your dream project.

Know what you want to do – whether it’s film or TV or radio and make plans. Work a little every day – the tortoise wins the race.

If you’re not making a living as a writer or you’re not making enough to support yourself you can find other sources of income: write a novel (which can become the basis of your next script), write short stories and send them to magazines or short story competitions, try copywriting, or sell adverts on your website, send scripts to competitions, publish an e-book.

Recommended resources:
Jerrold Mundis Break Writer’s Block Forever and Earn What You Deserve

Julia Cameron The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write



with Janice Day and Caroline Ferguson

Networking is an important part of finding work and furthering your career. Whether you’re a shy wall flower or an extroverted party animal, you can’t get around it. What you can do: make new contacts at events, find an opportunity to talk about your project, find common interests, network, build relationships in order to plant seeds for new opportunities in the future. A random question can lead to something good. Don’t try to sell yourself, you can leave that for later. Networking is communicating, you find common interests.

Common problems with networking: people think they can’t do it because they’re modest, they don’t want to impose themselves, push themselves – you should think about what you can give, how you can help others. People are afraid to look stupid, afraid of how people will react. They don’t want to be a salesman who’s after money – it’s not creative, it’s not sincere.You can overcome shyness by focussing on the other person, not on yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others or compete – it’s paralizing. Don’t think about yourself, think about the other person – be interested in them, what they’re doing. Make it about them, not you. Networking is not selling, it’s building social capital.

Make yourself visible (blogs, forums, Twitter), create personal relationships – you need to know each other in order to work together. Don’t forget your goals. Too much networking leaves too little time for writing. You need to keep a balance.

Who do you network with – with your peers, not just the big shots. You can learn something from everyone. “Hunting and farming”. Building something that will become useful later. Be generous and helpful. When you haven’t got the type of project the producer is looking for, recommend someone else – it’ll leave a good impression. Helping others can boost your confidence. Introduce people to each other.

Lower the stakes. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Imagine your in the audience. If you do nothing, nothing will change. You can either change a situation or your attitude. So, for example, when you’re nervous walking into a crowded room – you can’t change the situation – the crowd – but you can change your attitude. Be friendly. Listen.

Follow Janice Day and Caroline Ferguson on Twitter.



with Rob Kraitt and Kate Leys

Rob Kraitt is a freelance script editor and consultant and an Agent with AP Watt, and Kate Leys a Script Editor with The Script Factory. Kate did most of the talking accompanied by lots of nodding by Rob – not from sleepiness, from eager agreement.

kate leys

Kate Leys

No one knows anything – just after Doug Chamberlain had busted this myth, saying that it doesn’t mean that everyone’s an idiot, Kate and Rob back it up – no one knows how many people go to the cinema every month, what is the share of local (UK) films at the box office (more than you’d think – a third in the UK!, and 15% globally); what are the three largest film industries – US, Japan, and UK. People tend to the British films are a failure and play an insignificant part in the global film industry but it’s not true – there’s more money in it than people think.

You should not think about what people want to see while you’re writing a script. You can’t predict what’s going to happen on the market in the future, so you should write what you think is good.

The market and creativity don’t want to fit together. The producers want control over what’s being done with their large sums of money, they don’t want to waste it. The bigger the budget, the bigger the responsibility. If we want the financiers to listen to us, we must also understand them. We need to try to integrate creativity and the market.

People want to hire writers who are already working. The economic climate makes this worse – no one wants to take risks. You need a good reputation and get on with people. People come to those who they know do a good job.

Beginners have to find opportunities themselves, form relationships, take part in competitions, etc. You need to get something made, produced, then agents will come to you, or it’s time to look for one.

No one knows anything. The unknown creates fear – fear of losing their jobs, fear of failing – it makes people behave badly and can ruin the first meeting. There are people who talk a lot and pose – it doesn’t mean they’re ‘somebody’ – if someone is ‘big’ they don’t have to say much at a meeting (they haven’t got anything to prove). Fear makes people do weird things. You should assume that everyone’s afraid because the film industry is very unstable. Be confident, calming, composed – it’ll have a good effect on the other party as well.

The term ‘development hell’ has a different meaning in Europe and the US. In America it means that the script has been paid for but nothing’s happening with it. In Europe it refers to the development process.

Don’t miss deadlines. You get paid for the script but the whole crew is waiting after you. Don’t disappoint and ruin the relationship.

Don’t ignore notes. When you think that the producer’s notes don’t work, you need to discuss it. Otherwise they’ll be disappointed if they see that story doesn’t work and you’ve ignored their comments.

Good writing and good editing is invisible.


Rob Kraitt

You can get good advice from film editors.

When someone can’t specify or put a problem into words, you need to interpret their reaction (a problem with the ending doesn’t necessarily mean the ending should be changed).

When they say “I don’t like this character”, it means that they can’t recognise the character, they can’t identify him/her. David Brent in The Office is not a nice guy but we engage with him because we recognise him, we know what type of person he is.

Before the meeting starts, especially when everyone’s tense and nervous, set a goal for the meeting – what you need to accomplish at that meeting. Some people end up admiring each others’ handbags for half an hour.

It’s better to discuss things with one person, instead of six. It’ll be harder to please everyone when there are six producers sending you conflicting notes. Ask them to discuss things beforehand and send you the notes in one document. Let them discover and fix conflicting notes themselves.

Don’t stop writing, don’t give up. When you have a meeting and they don’t like what you’ve pitched, have something else ready in case they want to know. Be prepared. Keep writing. Tony Grisoni said: “The road to the top is paved with dead bodies, and they’re all suicides.”

Do a background check on the producer – see what they’ve done before, talk to people they’ve worked with before.

Keep it simple, keep the concept clear (not simplistic). So that, for example, the composer could go: “I know what to do with that story!”


Have a look at other notes from the Screenwriters Festival:
Part 1: Chris Jones and Doug Chamberlain
Part 3: Armando Iannucci and Kevin Loader on In the Loop
Part 4: Screenwriter as Diplomat with Simon Beaufoy

Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival website

More notes from the Screenwriters Festival 2009 here on Vera Mark’s inkblog.



One Response to “Cheltenham SWF 2009 Part 2”

  1. […] with any and all notes. For a good write-up on this session – and two others – go to Margit Keerdo’s blog […]

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