Industrial Scripts is a series of blogposts I’m writing about the actual business of being a script writer in the UK film and TV industry.
Of course, I can only write about my own experiences as a script writer for hire– which have included stints writing for Eastenders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks, Family Affairs and working on original material which has taken in short films and feature films – and of course, lots and lots of projects that have been unrealised… that’s just part of the game.
So, how did I get into it? How did my career start?
I guess, I won a couple of prestigious script writing awards in my late teens and early twenties. The Lloyds Bank Channel Four film challenge first ran in 1993. I won it, and had a short film made and broadcast on Channel Four (it starred Ewan McGregor, in a very early role).
More important for my career was winning the Oscar Moore Screenplay prize in 1999. The script ‘Sober’ – landed me an agent, and was optioned by various companies over the years.
Once I landed an agent – I was given the chance to write for the soaps. I wrote trial episodes of Emmerdale and Eastenders, and received offers to write for both shows around the same time. Initially I opted for Emmerdale (it’s produced in Leeds) I did 10 episodes of Emmerdale over 12 months, and then swiftly moved on Eastenders – all this while still in my mid to late 20s.
Soap writing is well paid, and it was on these shows, I really learned about the industry and how it works. You can read more about this in my blogpost Industrial Scripts – the career of a script writer.
So, how does a script writer get on a soap? Someone starting out will need to gather the interest of an agent – you don’t really need to win a competition like I did. You just need a really good ‘spec’ script.
When an agent looks at a ‘Spec’ script. He or she isn’t looking for a script will that will be the next blockbuster film – they’re looking for a script that they can send out to their contacts – a script that sells the writers ability, original ideas, and talent. They’re also looking for a script that producers in TV might read and think –could this writer work on Emmerdale or Eastenders?
Then the whole merry-go-round starts.
Getting onto a soap will require writers to have a go at writing a shadow episode. That is, the writer will be given an actual storyline of a real episode and sent away – with the real deadlines in place, to have a go at their version of the episode. I think looking back, that I actually did three trial episodes of Emmerdale over a six month period before I actually got commissioned with a real episode.
During this period, I had to attend Emmerdale story conferences with the other writers every three weeks – and I had to contribute ideas, and pitch stories. This can be nerve wracking, especially for a young writer (I was 27 at the time).
Getting on a show like Emmerdale is one thing, staying on it, is another. The money is great, but it can sap your soul. Check back next week for more career advice. In the meantime you can contact me for Industrial Script Reports – real advice on your spec script.
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on firstname.lastname@example.org or hire him on Peopleperhour