17th October 2019
The ScreenSkills High-end TV Skills Fund Make a Move scheme helped Fred Weston Smith step up from assistant to script editor and forge ahead in his aim of working in development.
It was the ideal next step in his career. He grew up in America, the son of English parents, and studied screenwriting at New York University. After initially thinking he wanted to be an AD, he turned his attention instead to development.
A trip to London, saw him introduced to Sally Woodward Gentle, who was setting up the Sid Gentle production company at the time and made him her assistant. But his goal remained development so Sally would let him read scripts. After 12 months, he moved on to become a development assistant and within another year to development coordinator, which involved assistant script editing. He was on his way.
“I was always fascinated by how stories work. Now I was getting the opportunity to work on them,” he says. His first project was a small show for Sky Arts called Neil Gaiman’s Likely Stories. “It was a cool show with a tiny budget, so we [Fred and Henrietta Colvin, script editor] had to be creative in how we wrote the script and present the stories. Henrietta walked me through how to script edit with that project.”
The popular ITV series, The Durrells, followed, giving Fred the chance to cut his teeth as an assistant script editor, learning a great deal from Sam Symons (script editor) and Simon Nye (writer). But Fred was keen to get a script editing credit.
Chrissie Broadway, head of production at Sid Gentle, was aware of the ScreenSkills Make A Move scheme, having done it herself years before. The scheme offers productions that pay into the High-end TV Skills Fund financial support to employ and train individuals into higher grades. The subsidy is flexible and can be used to cover salaries, mentoring or other expenses such as attending short courses.
She thought it would be a perfect way to help Fred make the transition from assistant to script editor on their series Killing Eve. “I’d seen Fred do assistant script editor work before and he was great, which is why we knew he’d be brilliant as a script editor,” she explains.
Interestingly, Fred had actually been involved in Killing Eve from the beginning. “I’d read the novella, so I knew and loved it, and worked with the project pre-greenlight. But for series one I wasn’t quite ready to take on my first script editing gig. However, I had been involved in the writer’s room and story lining for episode one. When the opportunity to work on series two through the Make A Move scheme became available, I was very keen.”
Freelance script producer Eleanor Day was set up to be his mentor. She went over what he’d done and what he was comfortable to work on. Inevitably, there was a lot of pressure on the project after the huge success of the first series, but Eleanor was keen that Fred still improve his craft on the show.
“She provided a good balance of helping with whatever I needed, while also making sure I got to do stuff on my own. The stakes were high and everyone was trying to get the best script together, so it was nerve wracking, but exciting.”
From day one Fred was introduced as Eleanor’s right hand man in the writer’s room. He was able to put his stamp on the scripts and be involved in the entire process. This included collating detailed notes from executives in the US at BBC America, as well as from the producers, director and executives at Sid Gentle.
“The problem was the last thing you wanted to do was send a writer 30 pages of notes on a 45 page script. So it was a real exercise to go through the notes and establish what we wanted the writers to do,” explains Fred. “This is where Sally and Eleanor proved very helpful.”
Taking part in the Make A Move scheme also allowed Fred to develop outside of Sid Gentle, especially working with Eleanor. “She brought in experience that I wasn’t familiar with and acted as a vehicle for me to be my own entity separate from Sid. I also got to be involved across every version of every script.”
“Seeing him coming into his own has been amazing. Now for any job, we’d be happy to have him as a script editor,” concludes Chrissie.
Make a Move encourages and promotes professional development. The aim is to enable those on the scheme to apply for work at the more senior grade they are targeting, by the end of their participation. All job roles on a production are currently eligible, but the scheme is not intended for entry-level positions.
Potential 'move ups' can include almost anything - location assistant to unit manager, make-up artist to make-up supervisor, production secretary to production coordinator. The roles supported by the scheme so far show the diverse range of possibilities: costume designers, art directors, assistant production accountants, script editors, location managers and production managers. Individuals can only participate in Make a Move after being put forward by their employer. The candidate can be a completely new person to the selected team and department or an individual that has already worked with the team.
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