Share your story - Rachel Barnett-Jones on writing for children's animation

This content was submitted by Rachel Barnett-Jones

Hello, I'm Rachel Barnett-Jones, based in Hertfordshire. I've been a playwright and (very small scale) theatre producer for about the last 20 years. I also lecture, run workshops, and support people with writing funding applications and managing projects. With my colleague, amazing theatre and film director Jemma Gross, in 2019, I set up an international touring theatre company making work for young audiences. When the pandemic hit all our work was cancelled overnight and as I'm Clinically Extremely Vulnerable, we changed the company's focus to creating work for family audiences online. This meant learning a lot of new skills overnight, in a pandemic, remotely, whilst homeschooling my kid. With Arts Council Emergency Funding we turned one of our cancelled theatre projects into a pilot animation. This set a ball rolling which has led me to reconsider my career and start looking at ways of writing for children's TV - both for my own shows and on other peoples. However, I realised there were skills and knowledge I just didn't have yet. And that's where ScreenSkills has come in to the picture.

Have you benefited from any ScreenSkills support and what motivated you to pursue this?

I saw Myles McLeod's Writing for Children's Animation course advertised on the ScreenSkills website, popped in an application and was delighted to be accepted onto the course. Over four dark January Tuesday evenings we met over Zoom, discussed the intricacies of the sector and gained insight from Myles and the guest speakers he invited. Myles proved to be an excellent facilitator, open and generous in the information he shared, witty and patient and very interesting. Each week introduced a different element of the industry with a clear focus on how we could get work in the future. Meeting the other writers who were participating in the course was a huge bonus - even though it was on Zoom - there was a really supportive and friendly atmosphere (with a lot of chat in the chat box) and plans have been made to meet up with some of the participants at a conference in the spring. As is often the way on the best courses (and this was definitely an excellent course) there was a true sense of collaboration and open dialogue. I really appreciated the course being held online - it made it accessible both in terms of childcare requirements and from a health perspective.

What effect has this support had on your career so far?

After the course I definitely felt as though I had more knowledge and confidence to continue to pursue this step change in my writing career. I have a much better understanding of the steps needed both for pitching my own ideas to appropriate commissioners and also in picking up some freelance writing work on existing shows.

What is the most interesting/remarkable/proud moment or achievement of your career so far?

I've had a genuinely fulfilling career so far, with my plays performed at some incredible venues including Chichester Festival Theatre, The Royal Albert Hall, and the Young Vic. However my proudest moment comes from 2008 when I spent a week running a summer drama programme for Westminster Young Carers. One participant had been excluded from school relatively recently and spent the first day facing the wall and kicking his foot against it unable to make eye contact or even say his name. We worked gently through the week, and by the last day this same child led the warm up and took an active part in the performance. He wrote on his feedback form that 'Rachel has helped me to believe in myself again'. I heard that he returned to school that autumn. Whatever else I achieve in my career I don't think anything will ever top that!

If you could give advice to someone interested in pursuing your job role or a career in the screen industries more generally, what would you say?

Whilst I definitely don't have enough experience as a screenwriter (yet) to give anyone any advice on that score, I do think that useful general advice for a career as a writer is to be kind to yourself and find ways of recharging your batteries. It can be draining, there are countless knock-backs. For me I keep myself going by finding people who are genuinely supportive, immersing myself in really great stories, and eating too much chocolate!