Posted on 14th October 2019 by eric team
The ERIC Team interviewed Camilla Blackett as part of ERIC Fest: Storytelling. Ever heard of Skins, New Girl, Fresh Off the Boat? Yup, well this gal is the one of the writers behind the comedy genius and, sometimes, dark storylines…
Part 1: What life looks like for Camilla
‘Write what you know’ - do you think screenwriters should stick to writing about what they’re familiar with when it comes to genres and setting? What’s the benefits/disadvantages of sticking to what you know?
I think it’s less a question of writing what you know and more writing what you’re passionate about. If writers only wrote what we knew, we wouldn’t have fantasy, science-fiction and the rich mythical worlds that teach us about our own world.
Why did you make the transition from London to LA and what did that look like? Do you think the move is necessary or inevitable for a screenwriter?
I made the transition to LA because at the time, the space for me as a young black writer in England was scarce. We have a much smaller industry in the UK and at the time (and still now though marginally, microscopically improved) the people hiring were white and so the people being hired were also white. Not to mention that the writing fees in England are shockingly low in comparison to what is being made by broadcasters. British writers leave because the money is better in the US and commissioning is much faster, it’s as simple as that.
What are your biggest weaknesses/insecurities as a writer that people would be surprised to know?
My weakness is saying yes to too many things and I think that is borne of scarcity. The fear that one day the offers will stop coming in, that diminishes more and more each day.
Part 2: Impact on screen
What is your technique for writing about sensitive topics that could impact an impressionable audience? Especially when you’re writing scenes that have the potential to negatively influence the audience eg. scenes depicting binge drinking, suicide etc.
I don’t necessarily have a technique but I think you have to ask the question at the beginning of each scene “what is the point of this?” If you’re just writing about someone getting drunk or high just to have something happen then you can probably just cut it. If the scene of them getting drunk or getting high is - a) telling you something about the character b) evolving story or c) funny - then keep it. Suicide is trickier. I think a lot about the decision to edit 13 Reasons Why because it was impacting viewers in a way that was harmful. In many ways I feel strongly that you shouldn’t touch people’s work - good or bad if this is what they’ve chosen to put into the world it is your choice to not consume it or to tell people why you don’t think they should consume it. But when something causes harm and not only does it cause harm but it is made for young people - especially suicide which can often be a tremendously sudden and impulsive action - I think you have to ask yourself if your work is valuable enough that it is worth causing that harm. Most of the time it isn’t.
How important is it to try and engage with other cultures through screenwriting? Are there universal themes in plots/characters that you draw upon?
I think that the word engage is a little vague. I think that if you look at your work and only see people that look and sound like you, ask yourself if you meant to do that. If you didn’t, maybe ask yourself why that might have happened. The most universal theme all writers draw upon is love - whether it’s romantic, friendship or familial. Everyone, aside from horrific and rare exceptions, regardless of where they come from, has been loved by someone or has loved someone.
Is there a balance between how much the script is based in reality and how much it’s based in a fictional world? How do you strike that balance?
It truly depends on what you’re writing. Even if you’re writing about an event that truly occurred, often the way it happened is a lot less direct than you’d like to see on the page or screen. However, you can be faithful to the truth and still make things exciting.
Part 3: Gift of a story
How involved are you with the production and casting of shows you’ve written/co-written? What level of protectiveness is necessary over a script- if any at all?
On television it’s much more involved from casting non-series regulars (guest actors), being on set, working with the actors and being in post-production. In feature films, it’s more of the directors medium so they usually decide how present they want the writer to be. Some directors are very collaborative and welcome the process and others like to take the script and control every aspect of it.
What is the key to crafting and telling a good story through screenwriting?
Knowing what each scene is trying to achieve or tell you about your characters.
Enjoying the thing you’re writing.
What determines which directors/producers you work with? And how can that be applied to young screenwriters with minimal contacts in the industry?
I have 3 criteria - 1) Does the project inspire me greatly? 2) Will I love working with these people? 3) Does it pay very well? The job has to meet at least 2 of the criteria - it doesn’t matter which two, but it must at least meet two of them.
1.Which software do you use to screenwrite?
Final Draft and post-its.
2. Favourite way of improving your network?
Friends of friends.
3. What time of day are you most productive?
4. Do you plan space in a plot for a next series/season or write multiple series in one go?
It depends on the project.
5. Favourite self-care activity?
Sleeping and exercising.
6. Biggest misconception about screenwriters?
That we aren’t the absolute foundation of this entire industry.
7. Which social media platform is best for business?
Twitter. But that’s also the fastest way to destroy your business to be careful out there.
8. Top tip for screenwriting with co-writers in terms of solving potential disagreements and compromising?
Be as kind and as generous to other writers as you would want them to be to you and remember there’s enough room for all of us.
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