As the UK reaches the end of our nationwide lockdown, I thought it might be time for me as a script writer for hire and UK script consultant to add my thoughts about what all this means for UK scriptwriters.
As we went into lockdown I’d just finished a huge swathe of script writing projects for producers and directors, and clients who came to me with original commissions, 2018/2019 had been the busiest period ever for me as a script writer for hire. I expected the lockdown would mean work would slow down or dry up completely. Instead, something very different happened.
Demand for my script reading and script report services sky rocketed. My UK script coverage service and script development service also seemed to have much higher demand than ever before. Lots of wannabe scriptwriters suddenly had time to finish their script, and they did the intelligent thing and turned to a professional for a bit of feedback and advice.
Beyond advice on the actual script I was reading and reporting on, I also always offer some advice on industry prospects for the script, and for the screenwriter who maybe looking for a career. This got a little harder to do under the cloud of Covid19. Obviously, we all hope this will blow over, and that a vaccine or other pharmaceutical miracle will sort all this out and we can return to whatever was ‘normal’ before. But, I’m aware that this may not happen for some time (or at all). So what does that mean for scriptwriters or those seeking to have a career as a script writer?
There are, at any one time, around 300 or so professional working script writers in the UK. A huge amount of these pros are working in TV, on soaps like Eastenders, Emmerdale or Coronation Street. These shows are well paid, regular work, but they too are struggling with how to shoot around Covid restrictions (they also have a lot of older actors in the cast who need to shield). Soaps are going to have a tough time, and if they don’t return to the regularity of pre-Covid times the shows will become a lot less lucrative, and will require far fewer writers. Youth soap, Hollyoaks hasn’t even returned to filming yet…
Other writers working on regular drama shows like Holby, Casualty and the other serial drama are in a similar position to soap writers in that there will be a huge amount of uncertainty around commissions and the feasibility of shooting new material. What all these script writers will have is firm guidance from producers and production crew – which hopefully will assist them in writing scenes that are shootable and help them get the show back on the road.
But, what if you’re writing original material? Should Covid be taken into account on scripts written now? Personally, I have over the years purposely started to write for lower budget, and lower cast/location count. My original writing is partly designed around what I write being easily realised. I write all kinds of genres from drama to horror to all out comedy or action, but I now always write with budget in mind. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I think new writers starting out might struggle with this. At the end of the day, I’d advise to write for the story, and not to worry about Covid19 or another other production issues. The main thing is to write a great script (hard enough on its own).
However, I’m currently just locking my first feature film as a director – Markham– which will be released in the coming months. The production of ‘Markham’ has driven home to me even more the value of writing with production in mind, and I have further screenplays that I’m hoping to direct and I’ve got to be honest that I’m working on these projects with Covid19 and budget firmly in mind. I’m at the point that if I write something original I want to be sure that it can be made (by myself, and my production company or by another company or director). Scripts are story and drama documents first, but they’re also blue prints for production too, and while I wouldn’t recommend it to script writers starting out – I want to make sure my blueprints are a workable fit with the tools available.
Ultimately, Covid19 has made a script writer’s job harder, and we may come to a point where scriptwriters find regular work drying up because of the pandemic. Certainly, some films and TV shows may not go ahead because of the pandemic, and some regular shows paused for now, may actually never come back. This will leave a lot of experienced writers without work, and without the chance of a new opportunity in the future for such regular commissions.
Production companies may topple over in the short term, and we may find regular TV is filled with even more repeats. None of this is good news for anyone, but all businesses are suffering, and we’re still not sure where this will go (and winter may mean another spike).
So, if you’re hoping for a career as a script writer things are going to be even harder until we get the virus under control. Things, may never actual return to how they were. We will need a rethink, low budget, low cast count, restricted location scripts may actually be the only scripts with any feasibility in the short term. But look at Free Fire? Clerks? Moon? Reservoir Dogs? Glengarry Glen Ross? I’d say these are all realisable in Covid19 times. It’s not the end of the world just yet.
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire, UK Script editor and UK script consultant 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. His UK script coverage service and script development service are highly sought after.
You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller Markham will be released in 2020. You can find out more about Matthew’s work as a director here.
You can get in touch with Matthew on firstname.lastname@example.org.