UK writing talent mentored by top screenwriters

Rose Cartwright, Yero Timi-Biu, Nicôle Lecky, Daniel Brierley, Amanda Coe, Sharma Walfall, Tony Schumacher, Paul Abbott © ScreenSkills/David Sandison

Nine talented writers were paired with nine established screenwriters in the ScreenSkills New Writers Programme. As part of the initiative, the up-and-coming writers received mentoring support, crucial networking introductions and a bursary. A lunch to introduce the mentees to each other took place at the end of 2019.

Funded by the High-end TV Skills Fund and delivered by the UK-based production company Dancing Ledge, the established writers chose who they wanted to support. The following pairs have been working together:

  • Paul Abbott (Cracker, Shameless) mentoring Yero Timi-Biu
  • Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty, Bodyguard, Cardiac Arrest) mentoring Daniel Brierley
  • Lucy Prebble (Succession, Secret Diary of Call Girl) mentoring Temi Wilkey
  • Jimmy McGovern (Broken, Cracker, The Street) mentoring Tony Schumacher
  • Jack Thorne (His Dark Materials, The Virtues) mentoring Sharma Walfall
  • Levi David Addai (Dark Money, Youngers) mentoring Nicôle Lecky
  • Amanda Coe (The Trial of Christine Keeler, Apple Tree Yard) mentoring Rose Cartwright
  • Kay Mellor (Band of Gold, Ring of Lies, In The Club) mentoring Grace Night
  • Sally Wainwright (Gentleman Jack, Happy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax) mentoring Scott Mather

The programme has just been profiled in The Observer. Speaking to the journalist Kate Kellaway, Sharma Walfall said: “This scheme is amazing because I’ve never had money behind me and I’ve struggled. It’s really hard to do a 12-hour shift, then come home and try to write.”

Mentors did not set out to teach their mentees how to write. Instead they helped them take their writing projects from idea and concept to second draft scripts and focused on helping them overcome common hurdles faced by aspiring screenwriters and answering questions about the industry to help them get commissions.

Accompanying her mentor, Levi David Addai, to events enabled Nicôle Lecky to broaden her network. She noticed there that Addai is approached by many aspiring writers for advice and that he is always eager to help. “I remember what that was like,” he says, “coming into the industry as a young black professional. There’s so much talent out there that isn’t getting a platform. So now that I’ve got a little bit of influence, I have the opportunity to say: ‘Can we try this person?’”

Paul Abbott, who worked with Yero Timi-Biu, also really wanted to help her understand the industry’s commercial side, having experienced how difficult it can be to move from writing a script to seeing it in production. “Knowing what to do when you get a green light on something is quite shocking to some people. They can’t cope with it.”

Mentor Lucy Prebble says: “There are two things I look for in a young writer. Do they write good line-by-line dialogue? And is what they choose to write about exciting? If you have both things, you’re a real writer.”

Kaye Elliott, ScreenSkills Director of High-end Television, said: “This programme was designed with the ambition that the established writers not only offer top-level mentoring, but also champion the emerging talent to producers and commissioners – because getting projects commissioned is often the biggest hurdle. The costs of primetime drama are now so large that it is tempting to use tried and tested writers, making it harder for newer voices to get a break. This programme was designed to not only provide support for new writers to develop their scripts but, crucially, open doors to commissioners for them.”

The full Observer interview can be read here. Look out for the names of all participants as some projects have been already green-lit for production.

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