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3 Tips on Applying to Writer Development Schemes from SFTN Talent Development Executive Claudia Yusef

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Shore Scripts met in with SFTN Talent Development Executive Claudia Yusef who is responsible for seeking out and identifying film talent and projects for development. Reading thousands of applications every year to their ‘First Feature Development‘, ‘New Talent Shorts‘, ‘Emerging Talent Shorts’ & ‘Professional Development‘ schemes, which offer some excellent funding opportunities for emerging writers, we asked Claudia how to make an application really stand out from the crowd. Here are her thoughts. 

I’m not super keen on laying down in black and white what I think writers should or should not do. “Tips” tend to send me into a tailspin of despair about my life choices, a feeling I’d rather not inflict upon anyone else. Plus, what do I know that can’t be contradicted by a brilliant writer with a choice word or two. Which is, anyway, a big part of what we all really want isn’t it? To be surprised by a film we watch, or read, or commission.

What I can do, perhaps, is think about some of the things I respond to when I’m reading a new script. Not rules, or tips. And you can certainly be a writer if none of the below applies. Just a few tentative observations on what I get excited might be in the next pile of scripts that lands on my desk:

Personality

The journey from script to screen is full of opportunity for your story to be misinterpreted. First you have to pitch it to us, then we have to pitch it our partners, then we have to pitch it to cast and crew, and then at some stage, if things work out, you’ll be pitching it to festivals and audiences around the world. Not to mention all the drafts you’ll go through. It’s important that there’s a really strong story that we can communicate, an identity that you can keep a hold of, which I think you can only really do if it’s personal. I don’t mean it has to be about that time your goldfish died, or your Grandfather’s experience as a Nazi hunter (although I’d watch the latter). But there has to be something about your script that engages or excites or inspires you. That’s the easiest thing for us to communicate, and the only way to keep you going through the long nights of the soul when we’ve just asked you to bash out another draft. You need to write a film that you like, not just one that you think other people will.

Collaborators

Film is generally a pretty collaborative endeavour. If your career goes to plan you won’t just be working with us execs, but directors and producers whom you have to trust to go and collaborate with a whole bunch of other people to bring your script to life. You want to be able to trust those directors and producers to pass on the spirit of your words intact. So it’s worth putting some time into finding ones who you feel are on the same page as you. Besides, while we don’t require writers to have a director, or producer on board, some funders do. Even with us, your application will be stronger for demonstrating that you’ve managed to persuade someone else to like it enough to put their name to it.

Originality

Easier said than done, I know. But I read over a thousand scripts a year, and I love it when I’m stopped in my tracks by something I haven’t seen before. Of course, that can mean a new take on a classic story (classics are classics for a reason). And if you’re making it personal in some way, that might well do the trick. Trying to watch as many short films as possible is helpful here, as it can give you an idea of what ground’s already been trod and also how beautifully the best filmmakers manage to tread old ground and make it look fresh. The BFI Net.Work website (http://network.bfi.org.uk) is great for checking out the short films Net.Work execs are watching and liking from around the UK. The Postroom on the site is also a good place to send in your work and get noticed by the execs yourself.

But, as I say, what do I know? I’m already looking forward to reading the deeply impersonal, absurdly unoriginal script by a megalomaniacal hermit that proves me wrong.

Claudia Yusef
SFTN Talent Development Executive

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