Friday 30 June 2023

Our thriving development network!

2023 has seen some lively, well attended events at BFI Riverfront and online, celebrating the recent work of network members, including screenwriters Joy Wilkinson and Helen Kingston, Script Factory Co-Director Justine Hart and upcoming this month, film producer Christine Hartland.  

Joy recently wrote three episodes of supernatural adventure, LOCKWOOD & CO. for Netflix, working with showrunner Joe Cornish.

While Helen worked in a writers’ room with showrunner Joe Barton and wrote episode 6 of THE BASTARD SON & THE DEVIL HIMSELF (also Netflix). 


Helen joined us for an inspiring Q&A online to discuss her career trajectory so far, experience in the room and writing her episode, and projects she has in the pipe. Joy came along for drinks in person and got chatting to a wide array of fellow members, an event that was buzzing with plenty of productive networking. 

This month we celebrated the relaunch of The Script Factory with member Justine Hart and chatted with her about the much-loved organisation’s past and future, helping launch the careers of many developers and writers, as well as her screenwriting work on feature SUMO GIRLS for Footprint Films. It was a buzzy evening with new network members and familiar friends, deep in discussion about the ever-changing development landscape, especially amid the writers’ strike. Members were both leaving and starting new development roles, and making useful connections with writers and other developers. 

There are so many interesting members to chat to, it will certainly take many events to explore and find out all the productive connections between us. So, I look forward to seeing many of you again for drinks in July. Producer Christine Hartland will be talking to us about MYSMASH.MEDIA, an online portal which aims to connect content creators with those seeking talent and material. The project recently won a gold award at Cannes NEXT, the tech innovation section of the Cannes Film Festival, so offers another great way to keep up the development networking!  See you soon.

Wednesday 28 September 2022

The Art of Procrastination and How to Avoid It

Among our In Development members are many writers, as well as several development people, directors and more who write on the side, or as part of their work. I have no doubt that many of you have tamed procrastination and have fantastic writing routines and schedules filled with networking opportunities. All power to you. You’ve cracked the code. You’ve made it to the other side and the golden plains of writing productivity. I can watch you glistening in the distance with tears of joyous empathy and envy beading in my eyes.

This article is not for you.

Dead Poets' Society (1989)

I suspect there’s also many of us who are strongly driven to write, perhaps are brimming with ideas, or things to say, and even have had some success with writing before, yet somehow our writing goals keep slipping to the bottom of a long list of things to do. You’re not finishing that rewrite that needs doing or starting that project you’ve been thinking about for years. Or perhaps you have a drawer filled with scripts that you barely send out to anyone. And if that doesn’t gnaw away at you, so be it. But if there remains an insistent voice within that won’t lie down and be smothered, maybe it’s time to work on removing the pillow.

There are often good reasons we don’t write. There are only so many hours in a week and if you’re juggling full time work, care responsibilities or other complex relationships or commitments, time can get squeezed. Writing is hard, and you may feel that if you can’t give the time to do the job properly, why do it at all. But then you see other people, maybe even with similar challenges, getting things done! Lean in to them I say, and take note. Get chatting with writers who’ve cracked the code and ask them how they do it. What are their routines and secrets? With insight and inspiration from others we can find our own answer.

One of the keys to getting things done as a writer is accountability. If someone is waiting to read a script or treatment of mine, whether they’re an employer, or an exciting potential collaborator, I’ll prioritise this work and deliver. It’s a collaborative medium and deadlines, and potential for momentum, are excellent motivators. I previously managed to get a new feature screenplay written, and a director and producer interested to board, within less than a year. Driven by the fact I was pitching, from concept, to a director I wanted to attract, (as well as by something I was passionate to express). You may have an agent waiting for your latest piece, or a script editor you’re working with, but if you’re flying solo how do you create momentum?

There are many ways to seek out accountability and at the beginning of 2020, network member Katy Segrove launched a new option with her company Pick Up Your Pen. Her express purpose is to coach writers to overcome their blocks, develop a writing habit, and start promoting themselves and their work. Ironically, (considering what arrived by March 2020), I began that year determined to get out there, get meetings, raise my profile, and restore momentum. Aware of the benefits of accountability I got in contact with Katy to try out her new offer. What a blessing to have someone to bounce your thoughts and plans off, someone with whom to discuss strategy and agree tasks and deadlines. 

Katy Segrove, Pick Up Your Pen
At the time I was diverted by too many different ideas and directions and not sure what to focus on. Katy assigned me a task to help score and rank my options, as well as to work on overall goals and plans. I prioritised the April deadline for the Red Planet Prize and turned a book idea I had into a pitch for a 4-part thriller for ITV. With the previous feature as a sample, this pitch made the final 4% of entries. It was great encouragement to place well in such a competitive contest. Much needed in a year that turned out instead to be one of lockdown and unprecedented retreat. I sent the pitch to a development executive I knew, for his thoughts. He was interested and I got to work expanding the proposal, which he then sent up the line. Exciting momentum again, and though the project didn’t make it past the boss,  I now have a strong series proposal to start me on the road to writing the pilot and approaching other companies.

The pandemic took its toll. Parents like Katy and I were suddenly living alongside our children 24/7, including home schooling. We were forced to put a pin in the coaching for a while and only recently have I revisited Katy to talk to her for this review. She has steadily been building the business and working with clients, alongside her own screenwriting. Her success stories include a client who was planning to write a book for 10 years and with Katy she finally got down to work and got it done. Another client who had a huge block in sending out work, finally overcame this to secure an agent and was accepted onto a prestigious development scheme. The talent is there to be unlocked and Katy says she finds it rewarding to help writers who are struggling, as she once was. Writing can be a ‘deep need that won’t go away and can cause you so much angst if you want to write but can’t do it’. Its hugely satisfying to help clients give themselves permission to write, build their self-belief and develop positive habits. Ambitious clients most often need accountability to help get work done and self-market, as well as in tackling their inner critic.

Katy’s way into writing was in children’s animation, where she has developed series with teams, pitched across international markets, and written many episodes for other shows over the last few years. However, for a long time she lacked the confidence to begin. She learned about positive psychology and productivity and helped herself over her blocks. She also utilised this knowledge to encourage positive mental habits for children in her series, as well as for clients through Pick Up Your Pen.

The issue of what stands in the way of creativity is a complex one. This summer I visited a church at Dartmouth castle where they had a shelf of second-hand books available for a donation. Top of the pile was the well known book The Artists Way, recommended to me years ago. It seemed evident that the time had come for me to take a look. The opening chapters are a revealing insight into this subject and there was a mention of something recognisable, that the author called, ‘shadow artists’. This is people who work alongside creatives in jobs such as publisher, editor, agent, script developer and more, supporting the work of other artists while sometimes side-lining their own creativity. There can be a lot of overlap between the work of developers and writers, and if you know how to wear the right hat at the right time, that can be a highly productive and positive thing. But if you’re neglecting your own voice, that’s a problem. If that applies to you, maybe it’s time to unpick those restraints, stand up, out of the shadows and be heard.

You can read more about the work of Katy Segrove and Pick up Your Pen on her website. And if you'd like to kick start your writing this autumn, Katy is offering a 10% discount to network members for October 2022, just quote the code: 'In Development'.

Tuesday 19 April 2022

A return to drinks in person!

2022 has seen a welcome, gradual return to development drinks in person, at our current venue of BFI Riverfront. A small group of us got together in January, feeling weird to be talking to others indoors without masks on the whole time. 

Things then picked up steam in February with featured guest, writer Jon Gilbert. Network member Jon was in to chat about his work on TV thriller, THE TEACHER, which was screening on Channel 5 that month. It was interesting to hear about his role in the development process and writing episode 3 of the well-received four-part series, starring Sheridan Smith. There was a good turn out and a sense of normality almost back, as the masks were gone.

Covid remains a risk, but I personally took the gamble in February, and co-incidentally or not, weathered a bout of Covid in March. Even so, we were back in full force at the end of March and delighted to be joined by featured guest Nicky Bentham, producer of hit British feature film THE DUKE, starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren. THE DUKE was out last month and took the number one spot at the box office on its opening weekend.

It was great to hear from Nicky about her producing experience and her ongoing projects in development, and lovely to see a vibrant, strong turn-out of members. There was a buzzy mix of new and familiar faces as we shared a fun night of catching up and networking.

We’ve had some excellent development drinks online during late 2020 and 2021 and may still return to the occasional event online in order to welcome members and guests from further afield. It’s also been great to have more of a formal Q&A with the featured guest. 

But nothing can beat being able to get together with friends and colleagues again in person, so long may that continue. 

With the right venue, we can hope to combine formal Q&As and drinks in real life too. This is something we’ve done on occasion to good effect. So, I look forward to seeing the network evolve further in 2022, and if you have ideas for an appropriate, free venue, to house us for Q&As and networking drinks, please do get in touch:  

Wednesday 9 December 2020

In Development in Lockdown - 2020 Review

2020 has been a brutal year, with every industry and every individual dealing with the pandemic in their own way. Many hard-won work leads, or well thought out plans were swiftly overturned in the face of new fear for our collective lives. The entertainment industry took a huge hit with all traditional film and TV productions postponed or cancelled. Meanwhile screenwriting and development could, at least in theory, continue unabated. Yet falling ill, additional caring responsibilities, or anxiety about the danger/isolation, are just a few of the things that could get in the way of that. It’s certainly been a year of ups and downs for the In Development members, but perhaps we can agree to hope for better days to come in 2021! As we prepare for a Covid Christmas here’s a few hellos from the lockdown lives of the In Development crowd.

Additional care for parents and children has been a prime factor of 2020, whether arranging for loved ones far away, or moving right in. Development producer Janet Awe has stayed with her elderly mother over lockdown and beyond, which has made working from home, developing film & TV projects ‘interesting’ - the key word for the year. TV and theatre writer Sumerah Srivastava got back from abroad just before lockdown. She says, I ‘lost my mind home schooling my kid, walked more, shopped less, but still put on weight’. Film-maker Justin Edgar, (a previous featured member), has been running 104 Films from home and spending more time with his two small children, which inevitably has its up and downs. 

The company are gearing up to run BFI Academy training early next year (partly remote/partly outside), casting a feature and developing TV projects, with short VERISIMILITUDE (part of  BFIs Uncertain Kingdom), receiving four-star reviews and in 9 BAFTA qualifying festivals.

Many of us started new hobbies or diversified. After reorganising a short film shoot, for post-lockdown Janet says she ‘attended a lot of online masterclasses, workshops and training sessions – there’s been loads of great free stuff and I’ve been getting my fill! Additionally, I was asked to write a horror short (not my usual genre at all, but I’ve given it a good go….)’. Comedy Writer/Director Andy Wooding was not feeling the funny during lockdown so focused, at first, on a music project. 

Screenwriter of feature film THE FLOOD, and previous featured member, Helen Kingston says ‘Like a lot of people, I found a ridiculous new hobby this year. I bought the pink suede roller skates of my childhood dreams and have spent many happy hours trying very hard not to fall over.’ 

Writing has been a lifeline for many in lockdown. Sumerah Srivastava says, ‘For my sanity I kept writing - I have written in anger (#846Live a response piece to the killing of George Floyd) I have written for joy (one of #12tinyplays for children at Christmas), I have written for another language’, French crime series LUPIN, for Netflix, coming in January.

Helen Kingston says ‘I was in a zoom writers’ room for a YA show this summer and although it was a shame not to be in an actual room together, bonding over pret sandwiches and after work drinks, I enjoyed every minute and felt very grateful to be working with a group of great writers. I don't think I'd realised before this year how lonely this job can be, and from now on I will choose projects that involve co-writing or collaboration’.

I’ve also recently been busy developing a comedy drama series with a company in Amsterdam, with regular team writing online, (In Development host Sarah Olley). I’m used to the online writers’ room after working on a 13-part series with a company in Mumbai! But it would be nice one day to get to meet the Amsterdam team in person. (photo: EXPAT series, left)

Some members have been isolated in lockdown alone, others getting on top of each, working full time from a flat. Despite a little overcrowding, Head of Development at Corestar Media, Ross Murray, (another previous featured member), is grateful to have his health and to be busy. ‘I’m working with the brilliant Paul Andrew Williams and we’re in development on a number of fronts so whilst the days of lockdown all seem to seep into the other at least there’s plenty to fill them!’

Writer Lynn Robertson Hay had all work disappear, without furlough or grant but wanted to turn the enforced isolation into something positive by having some time to write. ‘I got a table for my tiny balcony and bought mysterious seeds to deck the window boxes’..‘I spent many hours cherishing my mental health by writing 'outdoors' - screenplay outlines and rewrites, plus nearly up to the halfway point of book 3 in my YOUNG TESTAMENT series’.

Getting outdoors was certainly a big theme. Actress and Writer Shobu Kapoor returned from a work trip to India and marvelled at the quiet skies with planes now grounded. With on-set assignments now shelved, I also thought, like many others, that lockdown would be the perfect time to get my house in order, do my tax, write a play, get my first collection of poetry sorted.’ But instead, it became a time of contemplation and conservation at her home near the Thames. ‘I only left my house to go for walks and to the supermarket. I walked a lot.’ ‘I can only hope that we pull out of this better, greener, more together in real ways. Meanwhile, I’ll try and keep my carbon footprint as small as my size 3 shoes, by walking whenever and wherever I can and not taking up smoking again (now 3 and a half month smoke free, yay!)’ And hopefully that’s many more months by now.

Director/Writer Annabel Vine saw several good leads on directing work close down due to the pandemic. ‘For a writer confinement could be a productive time, but I found writing hard. I was like a boat adrift at sea, I didn’t have the capacity to break new stories'. Then there was chance to engage with a familiar project, ‘The 3rd draft of my commissioned screenplay SKYWARD got the go ahead and that proved a great escape. An imaginary world that I knew so well, one that I had complete control over.’

Creativity has gradually found a way around the need for social distancing. Writer Mark Lindow had his play ESTIMATED WAITING TIME, which is set in a playground, staged in a park in Wandsworth. Local residents sat to watch at 2 metre distances. Staying engaged with the world, Sumerah’s monologue SAY THEIR NAMES was one of a handful featured in the 846Live event in September, part of the Greenwich & Docklands Festival in conjunction with Stratford East Theatre, (picture right).

Lynn Robertson Hay realised there could be no public readings of her preteen books, so threw herself into the world of internet broadcasting. ‘With so many children confined to home, I took my readings online with live Zooms and a YouTube channel. I've never done anything like that before and have no equipment beyond a laptop! But they seemed to go down well; my Zoomers demanded a quiz on the books and dressing up as the characters for the last session’.

Screenwriter & Director Darren Rapier had a zoom reading for a new sitcom pilot, ‘We then ended up inviting an audience to give some feedback and had a great after show chat, involving about 50 people. It was a really nice way of putting something out there and reconnecting.’. Comedy writer, (and previous featured member), Paul Mendelson, (pictured), has also just had a zoom reading for DLT Entertainment of a new sit-com pilot based on his BBC Radio 4 series ‘Snap!’. Keeping up momentum amid the chaos, Paul says, ‘My sixth novel MUST HAVE GSOH is out in February and I’ve just finished number seven’.. ‘And happily, I’ve just been taken on by Zero Gravity Management in LA and London for my movie and TV work’. 

There’s been socially distanced short film making. As well as getting into her old vinyl collection for fun (picture), Annabel Vine says, I wrote and directed a micro short film as part of a BFI Network BAFTA Crew challenge. It’s a Sci-fi called THE LAST OAK and stars my son Angus who wants to be an actor. I have not met any of the crew yet as we shot it during the height of lockdown, remotely, using what we had. It was zero budget and I needed a severed prosthetic hand as a prop….so I put a shout out on Facebook’. Moments later a friend responded with just the thing. ‘Two days later, said hand was left in our woodshed. Life can be so surreal’. The film’s been doing well in festivals and you can check out via Annabel’s website if they got away with the hand. 

Andy Wooding got down to writing and directing (remotely or socially distanced) a short mockumentary COPING WITH COVID 19: LIFE DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC. Darren Rapier rearranged his short pilot SECTIONS (#sectionsfilm) for September, shooting in a closed building on a covid safe set (picture right).Those three days on set were a real breath of fresh air and a real reminder of that collaboration and human contact that makes what we do so great’..'For me the lockdown’s highlighted that we need to be resourceful and adaptable, but then as filmmakers that’s what we do most of the time’. 

Film Producer Jessie Mangum says ‘Our Microwave feature LOOTED was supposed to release theatrically in April, and then was pushed to November 6, when we all thought cinemas would surely be open again (hello Lockdown #2…), so like so many others, after waiting so long we ended on going straight to VOD anyway. However, in retrospect, this may be the best thing for the film. We had so much more press and review attention that we were expecting, and the viewing numbers are stronger than predicted for theatrical. Our little low-budget indie has found an audience despite all the upheaval!'

This resourcefulness was the hallmark of zoom séance horror HOST, written and produced during the first lockdown. Recent featured member, Gemma Hurley, co-wrote the hit low budget movie and has seen it rocket to success this year, now included in Empire’s top 20 movies of 2020, and placing her and co-writer Jed Shepherd onto the BIFA longlist for Debut Screenwriter. HOST has been a beacon of light in a terrible year and an example of how creativity can adapt and thrive.  

2020 also saw some members start companies! Sumerah says I have launched an arts company in a pandemic (@kahaniarts)’.  Longstanding member Chamoun Issa has helped found new production company Factual Fiction and is enjoying his role as Development Executive. He said in October, I fell ill at the beginning of March. At the time it didn’t even cross my mind that I had the virus, just that I was tired and had a cold. But when I became unable to walk unaided, that’s when fear gripped me. 7 months later, I have improved tremendously but am still suffering from some of the symptoms the virus triggered.

Work-wise, launching a company during lockdown was a challenge but despite it, we managed to adapt and prosper: we have already had one programme broadcast, two more are in post and several in development. One of our aims with the company is to bring fresh and rarely heard voices to tv: those of minorities, from the regions, and from different social backgrounds. Finding and connecting with that talent was made much more difficult by lockdown.’ But now this has eased, socially distanced meetings are proving rewarding and he looks forward to more.  

In the autumn, TV shoots have been back up and running again, with many new restrictions to ensure Covid safety. Actress Shobu Kapoor (pictured left with Sarah for an outdoor, summer meet up.) has been back on several shoots and has wracked up a hefty number of covid-19 tests as there are multiple required leading up to every on-set appearance. Directors and producers in our ranks are back gearing up and dealing with these considerable extra issues. There's a lot going on out there, with many of our members busy with projects they’re not allowed to talk about yet, of course. 

All in all, we find ways to cope and ways around new restrictions, we gradually emerge and if we’re lucky find ways to keep working, however small or large. We also look forward with hope to safer, freer, healthier, and happier times in 2021.

Let’s hope there are some good legacies from this disaster, such as greater acceptance of the viability of flexible/remote/homeworking, which would increase opportunities for many in this work-all-hours business, also greater awareness of our impact on the environment, and greater connectedness with those distant or isolated. Annabel says, I did a weekly shop for a vulnerable neighbour whose husband was dying and I remember thinking that old, vulnerable people should be looked after regardless of pandemics. This simple act of helping someone out was something that pulled me though the hardest moments of my own situation. This year showed me what to be thankful for and it tested my resourcefulness. It reminded me that helping people makes me feel good’.   

I leave you with a very 2020-style bauble from Sumerah’s Christmas tree. Stay safe and well and connected. And maybe we can meet up in person some time in 2021! Merry Christmas!

Monday 3 August 2020

Script Life in Lockdown

Hey there! Really long time no see. Networking drinks have taken a big hit this year as we all went into lock down in March and group gatherings indoors, as well as use of public transport, are still no one’s favourite, high-risk endeavour. 

Like the rest of the population, some members have been hit hard, whether in terms of physical or mental health, financially, or emotionally. Loss of work, space/time, as well as increased isolation all take their toll, even if you are relatively safe from virus. I’m already at least two virus scares and one test, (negative), in and we’ve a long road to go before we can safely claim to be out of the woods. 

Like many, I went into full retreat at the start of the lock down, with illness, and have only very gradually begun to emerge. As a script consultant and screenwriter, I’ve been lucky to be able to gradually get back to working from home, providing online meetings, reports and story development, alongside home school and childcare. I managed to get my thriller pitch in for the Red Planet Prize and was delighted to get to the final 4% (top 50) of 1,280 entries, competing to develop a series for ITV.

Sometimes the best way to deal with the anxiety amidst rising danger is to switch off from social media and not engage too much with the news. I've been pretty absent out there. 

With the extra time at home I’ve made new forays into exercise, gardening, home organisation, décor and DIY (trying to fix a kitchen tap with guidance over video call, no easy feat), cooking (the same meal miles apart), hair experiments, home lattes, Warhammer and chess, family film quiz. For a while I was practically living on a popular video calling app, as a lifeline to loved ones far away. 

There’ve been darker times and humour, new perspectives, and experience. I’m very lucky to have a garden, but the impact of our world narrowing down to one little isolated box away from some of our closest loved ones, without enough hope of it changing soon, is not to be underestimated. 

It was momentous in June when I was first reunited with my partner after months, or able to get out of the local area and into the countryside for a day.

It’s meant a lot as I start to see more of friends and family and even look forward to a holiday perhaps. We may be back in lock down again at some point, so good to appreciate any freedoms while we have them. 

On that note, In Development will stay on ice for August. But all being well, we'll be back, at least in some form, in September. If it’s possible to gather in person we will, or if not then an online gathering to chat about what we’ve been up to and how projects are progressing. 

In the meantime, please do email with a photo from your lock down life and any thoughts you’d like to share, and I can post again in September. Stay safe out there In Devvers. Sarah x

Sunday 21 May 2017

Celebrating our Network

The Cannes Film Market is in full swing, the Edinburgh Film Festival will be upon us in June and members are busy out there launching, selling and developing new films and TV. 

In January, our featured guest was writer/director, member Sean Spencer whose first feature PANIC had just been in cinemas. 

For our upcoming May drinks, our featured guest is writer, member Jason Arnopp whose well received first novel 

THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS was recently optioned by Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment. Jason has just completed his first draft of the screenplay adaption and joins us to discuss this amazing experience so far.

In March our featured guest was member Fiona Kenshole who came along to share in her experience setting up an animation slate for Laika and developing a raft of Oscar nominated features including CORALINE, PARANORMAN, BOXTROLLS and KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS. 

While in April we were joined by writer/director, acclaimed photographer and new member Elaine Constantine, nominated for a BAFTA in 2015 for her outstanding debut feature NORTHERN SOUL.

A good crowd gathered for all events and writer/director, member Jeremiah Quinn was with us in April to take some pictures of the busy event. Amongst the guests were producers, development execs, TV writers, directors, playwrights, distributors, consultants and more, discussing current projects, new ventures and sharing their experience and knowledge of working in the industry right now. 

An invaluable resource for information sharing and building professional relationships.

The ethos of In Development is to provide a relaxed environment to put people together, foster new contacts, as well as support and celebrate the progress of members developing projects and getting things made. 

New connections and exchanges are made all the time and interesting new members join
us contributing to building a lively, active professional network.

We can learn from each other and become stronger and wiser in what we do. In a tough business, to steal a catch phrase; every little helps.