Posted on 30th SEPTEMBER 2019 by eric team
‘New Creatives on the Block’ was a series curated for the ERIC Fest: Storytelling. Young writer, Reda Elazouar, asked senior writer, Laura Kirwan Ashman, his burning questions. With a little help from his friend Emily Casey. Here are the answers…
1) How do you find a balance between inspiration and copying someone’s work?
With each passing day, the overwhelming number of sources for potential inspiration increase. As someone who spends the majority of their time voraciously consuming film and television, it's impossible to not be inspired and influenced by the things I see and absorb, and it can often feel like it's impossible to come up with something original. The most important thing is to be authentic to yourself. More often than not, this is what is meant when people talk about having a unique 'voice'. There is only one you; no one else has had the exact upbringing, family, friends, life experiences etc that you have had. All of this shapes the way you look out into the world and interpret it, how you express yourself, how you feel, your sense of humour, tastes, references, and your sources of inspiration. You have to figure out what kind of stories you want to tell, the stories that light you up with fiery passion, that come from a place that is authentic to you and the unique person you are, stories that only you could tell in this particular way. If you keep coming back to that, stay true to it, and cultivate a relationship with that, then chances are, the stories you create will feel fresh and unique. As someone with a marginalised identity, I also like to think in terms of 'What kind of film/tv show/characters/stories do I want to see that doesn't exist yet? What do I wish my younger self could have seen? What frustrates me about existing content and how would I do it instead?'
2) How do you know when a story is done?
I'm still figuring that out and I'm sure people who have been doing this for decades still struggle with that question! The vast majority of any kind of writing is rewriting, this is just a fact, and screenwriting is no different. The process of rewriting can feel endless but if you're doing it right, you should be able to FEEL it getting better with every draft. Screenplays are a different beast from other kinds of stories because they are not only a piece of writing, they are also a manual for how to bring this story to life on the screen. So a screenplay has to not only do the job of being a great read and tell the story clearly and effectively, allowing the reader to visualise the onscreen action, take them on a journey, and elicit emotion, it also has to work as a film or TV show as well which is a visual medium. Your screenplay will be in a good place if it has:
Interesting, complex, flawed, fully fleshed-out characters with distinctive voices that leap off the page and make the reader/audience want to take this journey with them.
A structure and plot that tells your story efficiently with good pacing, where every scene serves a purpose - either revealing information about the character and/or the world of the story, moving the plot forward, or both.
A powerful emotional journey that is woven into every layer. Humans are emotional creatures and the vast majority of us are capable of great empathy. The best films and TV shows are the ones that tap into our innate humanity and make us feel deeply, that allow us to relate to what we're watching, even if the circumstances couldn't be further from our own reality, and that ultimately make us feel less alone.
Speaking of being alone, screenwriting can be a very lonely pursuit where you spend countless hours crawling the walls of your own mind, and you can all too easily become blinded to the story right in front of you. It's important, not only for your work but for your own mental health, to get some distance and perspective. Find friends who are creative/storytellers as well and share your work, give each other feedback, join a writers group, start looking for producers who want to tell similar stories to you, surround yourself with people who are better and more experienced than you so you can learn from them. Also, put your story away for a few weeks or months even and forget about it, work on something else or just take a break from writing completely, then go back to it with fresh eyes and you'll be able to see it so much more clearly.
3) What do you think are the first vital steps to making your writing into TV/Film?
In terms of getting into the industry to a point where you will be able to pitch to people, it’s very difficult to do that without an agent. The vast majority of production companies and commissioners don’t accept unsolicited scripts and will only read something that comes via an agent or a producer. Lots of agencies look for new writing talent in the theatre world but I knew I didn’t want to write plays (despite having studied theatre at uni), I knew I wanted to write for the screen. So I started entering screenwriting competitions/schemes and was very lucky to get onto a few. These competitions and schemes basically provide a shortlist of talented writers that are more likely to get onto an agent’s radar because a lot of the work of finding the talent has already been done for them. The first one I did (Betty Box and Peter Rogers Comedy Writing Programme) helped me to write a half-hour comedy pilot which meant I then had a sample script for people to read as evidence of my ability/voice. I actually got my agent because a friend I’d made at a production company I had interned at sent them my writing sample, but they’re more likely to take a look at you if you have a competition/scheme under your belt - it acts as a stamp of approval. Whilst you are honing your craft and trying to get an agent, I would also recommend not waiting for permission before making something. I made a very DIY, zero-budget web series with two friends which we filmed on a DSLR camera in my flat on weekends. Those were the first scripts I ever wrote and it was really hard work but we learnt an insane amount (mostly through making mistakes) and at the end of it we all had something tangible to show people as evidence of our talent. That can be helpful in making you stand out of the crowd and shows your passion and motivation. So make stuff! We walk around with mini movie studios in our pockets nowadays! It doesn’t have to be perfect and it may never even see the light of day but at the very least you’ll learn from the experience and you might make something great that catches the attention of an agent or producer who can help you take your next steps into the industry.
A bit about Laura…
Laura is a writer-director whose work focuses on Blackness, queerness, and the female experience. She was chosen for the Betty Box and Peter Rogers Comedy Writing programme, BBC Comedy Writersroom, Channel 4 Commissioning Mentorship, and BFI NETWORK @ LFF. Her latest film, PXSSY PALACE, was funded by Converse’s Spark Progress campaign. Her debut feature film is in development with the BFI.
A bit about Reda…
Reda Elazouar is an actor/singer based in South London. His recent projects include Eastenders and Neil Burgers’ latest film: Voyagers. He’s currently acting full time whilst training and teaching on the side. He’s been writing for a while now and plan to develop my work for television, theatre film in the future.
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