Rachael Sigee in conversation with Nida Manzoor, Emma Jane Unsworth and Kayleigh Llewellyn
Rachael Sigee: Hello and welcome. I'm Rachael Sigee and welcome to this BAFTA Television session on Screenwriting. This virtual series celebrates some of the nominees from this year's Virgin Media, British Academy Television Awards and the British Academy Craft Awards. The Television Sessions are part of BAFTA's Learning, Inclusion and Talent program, helping to creatively inspire and engage the industry, budding talent and fans alike. Some housekeeping before we start. You can join in the conversation on social media using #VirginMediaBAFTAs. If you've got a question, please use the Q&A function and we'll get to this at the end. If you're a member of the press, please can you state your name and publication alongside your question. And closed captioning is now available, which you can turn on at the bottom of your screen. There's also a live transcript which you can follow in a separate window and the link to this is in the chat, and we've also got our BSL interpreters, Katie and Paula, who will be sharing the work this evening.
Nominated in the Writer - Drama and Writer - Comedy categories as well as our guests this evening are Jack Thorne for Help, Jesse Armstrong for Succession, Russell T Davies for It's A Sin, Nathan Bryon and Paul Doolan for Bloods and Stephen Merchant alongside Emma Jane Unsworth for The Outlaws. Across these categories, we have nominees, apologies today we are celebrating female screenwriters across these categories. We have Nida Manzoor for We Are Lady Parts series one, welcome Nida. We have Emma Jane Unsworth for The Outlaws series one,
and we have Kayleigh Llewellyn for In My Skin series two. Unfortunately not able to join us this evening as Sophie Willian for Alma’s Not Normal series one. Before we get going with the conversation, let's take a look at some quick clips from the four selected nominated works.
So there we have them, such deserving nominees and all very different, but all such dynamic and affecting pieces of storytelling. So let's get cracking. I'm going to start right at the beginning. I'd like to ask you how were the seeds of these projects planted and how long did it take to get them to the shows that we all watched and loved last year? I wondered if Nida you might want to kick us off?
Nida Manzoor: Thank you so much. How did the seed get planted? I think, you know, I was just at a stage in my career, you know being fairly new and just getting offered things to write where I was just trying to create something for myself where I felt I could really lean into the things I was passionate about and that was comedy, you know, music, but also wanting to show women that I knew in my life, like Muslim women, particularly in in a way that felt true to me. Because I had, I think I had at a certain point been asked to write a couple of honor killing stuff and I was like why is this the only thing I am sort of brought in to kind of be that writer for that and I just was frustrated because I was like, well, I just want to write a comedy about these women who I love and who I know. So I think that was the real kind of seed for the idea. So there was a second part to your question, which I forget.
RS: How, how long did it take from from inception to make it onto the screen?
NM: I think it took. I mean 'cause we--it took it like a couple of years from when I had the idea to even getting the Channel 4 Black, which was its first iteration, their kind of sort of pilot program that they have for comedy so that took that long and then from then it was a sort of a year and a half before we kind of got the full the full commission for the series.
But you know, although it took a while, it just sort of it really allowed me to sort of find my voice, hone my voice and you know I had such a good producer in Surian Fletcher-Jones who just kind of gave me space to play and discover it and really kind of, yeah, to really find the story I wanted to tell in the way I wanted to tell it.
RS: Kayleigh, does that ring true for you that you had the story you wanted to get out there in this particular format? Did it pan out like that for you?
Kayleigh Llewellyn: Did it pan out that I got to make the show as I had originally envisaged it? Yeah absolutely, all hats off to BBC actually, because in my skin was commissioned through the comedy department and then it's like there is laughs in there but it is very dramatic and is entered into the Drama category in the BAFTA’s here, so it's like the comedy department have paid for a drama show basically, but they never once tried to force us to add more laughs or to turn it into something it wasn't. They just let it be what it was going to be, which I'm really grateful for.
RS: And Emma, slightly different version of the question to you as a as a writer who was contributing to a show created by somebody else, how did you first get involved with The Outlaws?
Emma Jane Unsworth: So I had a meeting with Stephen and with Luke from Big Talks production company and yeah, just they had sent sort of rough idea of what the show is about, there was one character in particular, Gabby, who's in the car with Stephen Merchant's character Greg in that clip you saw who, I guess I connected the most when I guess they wanted me to feedback on the most, I guess, because she's a wayward woman. Don't know what how offended I should have been by the fact that they wanted my opinion there!
But yeah, she's loads of fun and so yeah so I just sort of pitched in a meeting and it was a great sort of chance for me to step into TV because it was the first TV I'd written, first writer’s room I'd been in. I'd written a film before, but only adapting one of my own books so it wasn't--it was a slightly different process, and before that, I came from like novel writing. So yes, this is like the opening of a whole new world for me, but one that I really enjoy.
RS: What made you want to dip your toe in now? Was it this project in particular, or was that something you've been kind of itching to have a crack at?
EJU: Do you know I'd always been itching to have a crack at screen in general and the film just came along first because that's what the producer, Sarah Brocklehurst, who optioned the book, that's the way she thought it would go best and best serve the adaptation. And so it ended up being film first but I've just always loved screen and always, I think I've always been quite a visual writer even in books. I always kind of think my way through scenes in that way and I always have a soundtrack to whatever I'm writing, even if it is just prose in a novel, I tend to have a little playlist on the go and I also think of the scenes as I'm doing a run or doing something else and kind of play them out that way. So I think I've always been itching to kind of get there.
RS: Uhm, with Nida and Kayleigh, obviously you were the creators and writers of every single episode of those series. Was it daunting to go it alone? And if not, then who were your key collaborators on those projects to support bringing your visions to life?
NM: Like yeah, yeah it was so daunting. I think I was, I remember when I got the green light for the show I was I was prepping for Doctor Who and I was, I just sort of like almost panicked because it was, you know, at the same time, like everything I've ever dreamed of but then like having to deliver on the show. And you know it was definitely slightly terrifying but good terrifying, I think, because it was like a platform to kind of really lean into the story I wanted to tell kind of in the way I wanted to tell it. And I think because I got the opportunity to do that pilot, I could be like this is, you know, I directed it. This is kind of the tone that I want to go for, and so it was this amazing gift, but at the same time I was, you know, freaking terrified and it was, I don't know, I think it was less the amount of episodes I had to write, I think what was scary was trying to, you know, get representation right in this sort of--which is obviously BS because there's no one voice that could possibly capture it. But then you kind of end up burdening yourself with this sort of weight of whatever. But I had such a good team of my producers, Jeremy Dyson was my script editor who was just really great and as I said, Surian and Channel 4 were incredibly supportive and, you know, we had a co-production with Peacock in the US, who I was sort of initially like ‘Ooh, are they going to get the vibe’, but they totally did. And so I felt very supported and really just kind of benefited from the notes process and the honing and finding some. So yeah, it was terrifying, but I definitely had a strong team I think around.
RS: Kayleigh, who were the people who were championing you and helping you get your vision to screen?
KL: My exec producer Nerys Evans and script editor Andrew Ellard, who are both amazing and I worked with on the pilot of In My Skin in series one and the same team came back for Series two so you're writing it on your own, in theory, but sometimes I think a smaller team like that if you all are really locked in and you understand one another and you understand the show intimately, I actually find it much easier and more efficient and streamlined to just have that tiny small group because less voices, sometimes more voices complicates things. Uhm, so yeah, I love working with those two and they're so smart. But that said, of course it's still daunting because to get the green light in the first place you sort of had to be your own biggest champion and go around being like I'm amazing and I can do this and you should give me all this money and then you get given the money and you're like can I do it? Was that real that I could do it? Oh my God, I gotta, I've gotta like actually deliver now. So it's definitely daunting but yeah it was a really enjoyable experience.
RS: Emma, you went into as you said, a writer’s room for the first time, a really collaborative process. What did you take from that? What will you take on to further projects even on your own, from those relationships?
EJU: So much and I just loved it. I just absolutely buzzed off it and it was a really great room. It was a great introduction to the writers room. I was really hoping it would be like just lots of people wearing baseball caps and loads of great snacks, and it wasn't far off. The first day I went in it's like at least half the people had baseball caps on, and there are loads of snacks. I was like, yes, this is it, this is the writer’s room dream. I’ve made it! But it was, it was a really warm, friendly room. It was, uh, it was there about four writers and producer and Steven and a note taker who was amazing and had lots to sort of feed him and yeah, it was very generous environment. We were all quite new really, but obviously, Stephen Merchant’s so established he was able to run things and he's run so many rooms, it was just really great to just sort of watch someone who's so experienced at work and just you know when the suggestion was made sometimes he'd just like go quiet and then you'd see him thinking, he's like tracking the through the whole series. And I'm just like wow to have that kind of TV brain that can just do that, so it was really great to be a part of it, and there was no fear. I was quite worried about you, you know, putting stupid ideas forward, I suppose, because as a novelist, it's so it's such a quiet lonely little solo trekking process and this is very different dynamic. But I loved it and I think for the kind of show that it was especially it was just brilliant to have all those voices in the room, all those experiences in the room and yeah, it's something that I've done lots since then, so it really, you know, I really got the bug from doing that room. So yeah, yeah, it's great.
RS: I did wonder, The Outlaws sort of has out of these shows in particular probably the biggest cast, the most characters. How difficult it was to juggle all of those different storylines?
EJU: Yeah, so difficult and I think you know we had quite a few weeks in the room and there were rough outlines at first and then there's like a thriller thing running through it as well and it's kind of a slightly crazy genre mash-up too, because it's sort of a thriller and a comedy at the same time, so it was quite a lot to, you know, genre-wise we were like, well, this is quite risky if you're going to like it, you know how is it tonally going to balance? So it's a huge huge balancing act but I think you know, yeah we you know we got there with the collaboration and how great that was.
RS: Kayleigh, I wanted to, I was just thinking about Emma mentioning that there might be some similarities between her and Lady Gabby in the show which maybe is a bit of stretch. But Kayleigh, I know that In My Skin was heavily inspired by your own life and your own upbringing, and you've talked about it being cathartic to write. What was it like telling such a personal story and were there any moments where you have ever had second thoughts about sharing too much? Did you have to set up any boundaries to kind of look after yourself in the process?
KL: It's a tricky situation to navigate when you when you choose to tell a personal story, because unless you've like grown up alone on an island it’s never only going to be about you, so you're choosing to tell your family or loved ones’ stories as well, sort of on their behalf. So I definitely felt a weight of responsibility to make sure I was just handling them and my family sensitively, uhm. And also you know, being mindful that with a show like this that is about mental health. I'm writing about my experience with my mum, but there's so many people who are touched by similar issues and just wanting to make sure that I represented it in a way that felt tender and sensitive to everyone I suppose, who’s been touched by it, which is that I had a lot of sleepless nights. To say to yourself ‘I hope I make a show that makes every single person who's been touched by having mental illness at some point feel represented’. You could just drown under the weight of that, so eventually I had to just put that to one side and sort of I don't know kind of try and drop down into my gut and go ‘what’s true?’, just ‘what was true?’ and just always fall back on that and I hope that comes through.
And whilst it's kind of, the pilot definitely was the most daunting, but then that went down well so I felt a little bit more confident with series one and then by the time we're coming to series two, I sort of I had I had a better handle on it all and ultimately to kind of have this thing that you felt such deep shame over to tell that story and have people receive it warmly and kind of go, ‘yeah, me too,’ there's just nothing more affirming that I can imagine so, it's just been so wonderful, really.
RS: I mean, I, I think that it's a hugely affecting show for so many people and you could see that on social media the way that people responded when it aired. But what you said about representation and trying to represent everybody, I guess picks up on Nida what you were saying earlier, and I know you've written about and wanting to challenge stereotypes about Muslim women on TV but then the sort of sudden realization that a lot was expected of you! And with a bit of distance since the shows aired, how do you feel about the response that you've got from the show?
NM: Yeah, you know, I feel very, you know, overwhelmed in a in a good way because I think I was really preparing myself for something much more negative. Just because, I don't know, maybe it's what you do as a writer, but uhm, you know, I was just really kind of moved by how it really connected with people and that's kind of what you want when you put, as Kayleigh was saying, something that's sort of personal out there and there is, you know, there's the definite catharsis in the process of doing it, but the whole dream is that people can see themselves in it and it's not just a kind of thing for us, it sort of has that kind of bigger impact. I love the fan art. There's so much Lady Parts fan art and it's the cutest thing in the world and it seems to have really captured, you know, people’s imaginations in a really lovely way that it's really affirming because you know, there's days in the edit where I would just have like a full blown panic attack because I'd just be like no, you know it's just like have I showed too much? Am I going too far? And all these kind of questions, so you know, I kind of wish I was less harsh on myself like when I sort of look back on the process of making it where there's all this anguish in it. And actually, I'm like, well, you know people some people have not liked it, some people have liked it, and that's kind of how it all shook down so it's like this, yeah, again, extremely gratifying but also, like wow, I really put myself through the ringer for, you know, no good reason.
RS: I wonder if the fan art for We Are Lady Parts is because it's a band that that's the kind of fandom that a good band should inspire?
NM: It's just a very comic booky... It's really cute, like some of the fan art is like, you know better than some of like the kind of graphic—so I'm just like there's so much good stuff it's been really cute.
RS: And how much of yourself did you put into the show? Is there one of the girls that you identify most?
NM: I mean, I think Amina and Saira sort of both capture side of myself and you know, as Kayleigh was saying it was again like there was some stories and some moments in there which were drawn from real experience and you know having to be sensitive to that and speaking to people who were part of those stories, that was something I tried to do before I, you know, wrote it and put it all on screen. But yeah, you know a fair amount of myself has definitely gone in there.
RS: And in terms of the stories that you each consume, obviously BAFTA’s celebrating all kinds of fantastic television at the awards, who are the storytellers that you at each admire most? Who should I go for, Emma? Put you on the spot.
EJU: Yeah no, I mean I just love, I just love comedy. I just love great comedy drama really and so you know, Sharon Horgan is just such a master of that. But also you know just really beautiful things. Michaela Coel, just amazing, I May Destroy You is just one of the best things I've seen, it shifted paradigms, you know, just incredible. I think we've just been so lucky in recent years, the quality has just been so high there's been so much great TV and more and more made by women, which is just fabulous. It's mostly women’s TV that I watch.
RS: And Kayleigh, you've had a bit longer to think! What TV show do you always come back to? That brings you joy?
KL: This is one of those questions at the moment I get asked that my brain is like you've never seen any TV ever before. It just immediately goes blank, but I have recently watched and loved Yellowjackets. I just I tend to be drawn to any TV that all story of any kind that can deal with something that's incredibly dark and find a way to pierce it through with laughter. And one of the ones, he was mentioned earlier, It's A Sin by Russell T Davies. I think Russell is such a phenomenal writer and just like blown away to see the kind of reaction he's had with that show. I also loved, these are all nominees as well, but the shows that really moved me this year, It's A Sin and Help by Jack Thorne. Uhm, like it floored me and I think that kind of TV, they turned that story around so quickly so that it could be really present and reflecting something that was going on in the moment which is rare because you know TV can be so slow. It knocked me for six for quite a few days watching that, and I just think that's when TV's at its most powerful when you can't stop thinking about it.
RS: I couldn't agree more and you have to go back and watch it again even though you can't quite bring yourself to go through that emotional ringer, you sometimes need a little break before you go back. Nida, what is it for you, the TV that you come back to that brings you joy or keeps you gripped?
NM: Oh my gosh, I mean this is true I like had a total mental blank even though I feel like I've been watching so much TV and again not to, you know, I love Kayleigh’s show and I think you know Emma your work is awesome as well. And I love that I was going to say I saw the picture behind you and that's a film but such a sick film, Animals is so dope. I'm really liking seeing the kind of sort of different kinds of voices we're seeing coming through and it's not just you know, Michaela Coel’s show was brilliant, but also Rose Matafeo’s show Starstruck, I think, was just charming and just getting to see like a nice kind of all-feeling, kind of rom-com show just done in a funny way which was really fun. Also, you know just anything that's taking risks in the genre space. So as Kayleigh mentioned, Yellowjackets, it's just so cool to see you know people again, leaning into like a sort of horror sort of vibe as well and yeah, it's exciting to see some sort of more kind of yeah female-led stories that are playing with genre in a way. That's kind of where I think I get most excited is that sort of genre with this sort of female perspective.
RS: And something I'd really love to get your perspective on is that we've kind of touched on is that lots of female storytellers in TV at the moment are telling semi-autobiographical stories, and I wondered why you think that is if it's a good thing? Is it a way in for women in the industry? And I mean, I agree that it's also good to see people writing things like horror and really out there stuff as well, but I'd love to love to hear your thoughts on that.
KL: I think you see the same oftentimes in kind of like shows that will be breakout hits in theatre or Edinburgh Fringe, you know the way Fleabag was and various other things it's like I think it probably still speaks a little bit to the TV industry and the world as a whole, thinking that women are probably only going to be good at telling their own story? Like I think men get viewed as people who are just like a skillful genius storyteller who could turn his hand at any piece of art and a woman might not get her foot in the door but if she's like it's my story and I'm the only one who can tell it they're like Oh yeah, well she can, give her that one then. That said I'm very grateful 'cause that's how I got my break. But hopefully once you've told the personal story, you can go ‘and I can just tell good stories as well.’ Umm, but I, I do think I don't think that's the only reason, but I do think that's a quite a big part of it, sadly.
EJU: I think that's really true, Kayleigh. It's a really good point, I think it's the way that women are questioned about their work as well. Quite often it is generally you know how what is this about you? What's it really about you? Where the autobiography? And it's really hunted for in women work in a way that it perhaps isn't in men's work, because men you know they represent the kind of the default, you know human condition or human sort of experience, don't they really? And so yeah, it's like the female one must be a weird little story.
NM: But I also think, uhm, I actually I totally agree with what you're saying but there's also a thing where I think oftentimes that first works happen and tend to be that slightly more, uh, more biographical. Even when I think about you know male writers that I really admire. If you look at their first TV shows it does feel like it's them and their friends and then you go on to Succession or whatever. So there's also like an element of I think there's something about when you start out there's that you can draw from as an easy pool and now, as we kind of continue, it sort of feels scary to kind of venture out into something that isn't your own, and maybe that is a kind of internalized sense of like ‘can I do this? Should I just stay in my sandbox?’ but me, me, me is totally boring after a while but yeah, just those are my thoughts.
RS: I mean Kayleigh, I'm hoping that Killing Eve was a little bit further away from your day to day?
KL: No, I actually only got that job because I have murdered before. No, I have not murdered. Yes, that is far away from me!
RS: We've got a little bit longer on the discussion here, but just a reminder to people watching to drop your questions into the box at the bottom of the screen, and we'll be coming to them shortly. In terms of getting your start. Emma, you talked about being concerned that this sort of fear would hit you when you got into the writers room of a TV series. What do you think gave you the confidence that you could do it? Was it just the supportive environment or was it a love of TV?
EJU: Bit of both I think, and just yeah, I don't know, I just got a good feeling about it. I think you just go with your guts quite often with these things and I just thought, yeah, that'll be fun and that will be, you know, it's a job with Stephen Merchant, I can’t really turn it down! I’d not written telly before so I was like ‘I think I'll probably take that one!’. It was just yeah, it just felt like a great opportunity and then as soon as I was in there, realized that it was very, very different in terms of the sort of the length of time spent in a room with other people. This is pre-pandemic that we did it so you know, there were long days and to be round a table with the same people, it was quite a sort of strange but intimate, brilliant setting and I just ended up really buzzing off that as well. I've done quite a lot of writers’ rooms since throughout the pandemic and just seeing how different it is with you know, with masks on or things like that, and Zoom--I don't know whether Kayleigh and Nida found the same--but just the different experience of writers’ rooms and how they've fluctuated over the past few years and how doing it on Zoom is a completely different experience, again has pros and cons and then yeah did a writers’ room recently where everyone had to wear masks, which was different, had its own challenges again, but you know.
And Nida, you mentioned that We Are Lady Parts started out as a Channel 4 Comedy Blap. How instrumental was that scheme for you? How important was it?
NM: Oh yeah, it was so important. I remember at the time being like oh can't I just get the full series or I have to go through this what felt like a hoop, but actually I'm so glad I did because it gave me the opportunity, I suppose because I was directing it as well, to sort of set up the visual style and to basically show that it worked so it felt like when I actually went to series, there was more trust from everyone who was involved and you know I felt more self-belief as well. So I think it definitely made the process of making this show, I felt more confident going in just having done that, even though at the time I was sort of like oh, do I have to jump. But it was so worth it and it was definitely like yeah, you know, getting the American broadcasters on board as well it just was like you know, it was just a something to show and they could sign up. And I got to find my team, my creative team, all my heads of department who are incredible and you know, bring them onto the show and just really sort of continue that language we'd started.
RS: And on a similar note, oh sorry,
EJU: Sorry I was just going to say it's just interesting, just from what Kayleigh and Nida have both said like the word trust has just come up quite a few times and just the idea, if that's what, that feels so crucial to making something good and making something that can come from the heart because you just have to be working with people that you know you can lay your soul, your soul bare to. I think even in the writers’ rooms that I've been in, which haven't been my own stuff, but just there is a sense of when the door shuts what's said in the room stays in the room because you just inevitably end up telling all these anecdotes from your life just to connect to the characters and it ends up becoming this huge sharing session not a million miles away from therapy. But everyone’s just sort of, you know, putting their deepest darkest secrets and truest thoughts into it and trust is just key. You have to know that that's going to be used in a respectful way and stay in there. I've not sued anyone yet, so no one sued me yet, so it’s working!
RS: You're definitely not the first writer to talk about writers’ rooms being sort of therapeutic, and I've heard that all the secrets come out in there. It's very open. Kayleigh, on a similar note to comedy Blaps, you were part of BAFTA Breakthrough in 2019 and I wondered if you could just talk to us a little bit about what impact that had for you?
KL: Well BAFTA have actually sort of ushered my career along at every step of the way. I I'm only even writing because I won the BAFTA Rocliffe Writing Competition in 2012 with the first script I'd ever written, I wrote it for that competition. So that's where it all began actually, with BAFTA back then and then yeah to Breakthrough in 2019. I mean, obviously I'm on a BAFTA call, so I would say this, but I'm saying it because I mean it, BAFTA have been such a huge support to me and just kind of having this resource and people that you can turn to to ask for advice, who can connect you with people, who can help you network and also just the kudos that being able to put BAFTA near your name brings, it's immediately like, you know, I'm not just a joker, I've got something. If you could say the word BAFTA in the same sentence as your name, it's been so beneficial for me.
RS: Well, actually you kind of answered my next question there, but if I can address this to Nida and Emma, how do you feel the recognition, the kind of recognition that you're getting with being nominated for these awards and the success of these series will support your future projects?
NM: I think it's yet to play out, but it definitely the show has helped me, kind of--I'm sort of in post on my first film and I had always wanted to go into film, but then found television to be its own magical, wonderful thing to do, and it definitely feels like it's opening doors. It feels, I actually have a director friend who put it really well, it's like you're all of a sudden the hot girl like you've taken off your glasses and you're like this new hot girl and everyone’s—I should attribute, that was a Kate Herron thing. And then she's like when people like aren't so rigorous with notes and nod at you when before they would have just been like no. So it sort of definitely feels like have I changed? Am I wearing something? Am I different? So that's nice. But then you always want people to give it to you straight so at the same time, it's nice but I'm like, what do you really think? But it definitely feels like, yeah, there's much more interest and that's kind of exciting because then I could kind of open the door for my sort of even crazier ideas and sort of dust them off and be like, how about this now? For everyone to be like hell no! But yeah no, it definitely feels, it feels like there's a shift.
RS: Emma, how about you? Does it feel like validation for all of your hard work?
EJU: I mean my dad is getting a lot of mileage out of this down the pub, just going to say. Hi dad, I think he's watching. But yeah, in terms of my career, uh, yeah I mean it's amazing, like just being able to put the nomination itself just kind of anywhere near my name is incredible and I'm just so proud of it and yeah, hopefully you know the dream is to be able to get to work on some of my own shows and do some my own stuff in the future. So yeah, but it's just great to be here among such other, you know, great creators. It's just yeah, it's a real honor, genuinely.
RS: So I'm going to head over to the Q&A, got some questions from people watching and so I am going to go straight to Erica James and she has asked or quite a lot of questions. Uhm, how did you learn how to write a script and how long did it take? So I guess maybe for an episode, how long would it take for you to write one episode?
KL: I like to write quickly and purely because I'm ostensibly at my core, extremely lazy, and so when I get like the wind of inspiration behind me I'm like I have to go now and get it all down quick before this inspiration passes and I won't do any work again. There's been times I could write a half an hour script in in a day really. I did do that on In My Skin. I think episode four I wrote in a day just 'cause I was like I'm in it, I'm in it and I'll just I'll go and go and I kind of love that feeling when it comes up. But that has come from a place of having spent quite a few years before that honing five act structure and learning the rhythm of storytelling. I don't think I could, I know I couldn't have done it ten years ago.
But to that part of the question, learning to write scripts, five act structure was really key for me. So my way in was I won BAFTA Rocliffe and then I was hired onto Casualty initially, I did a kind of red button episode for them, which is like a ten-minute kind of interactive thing. I don't even know if they do it anymore and then from there got into the full episode of Casualty, like full episodes of Casualty. And that's just like crash course 'cause it just teaches you what the structure of telly is and how you crank it out. And it's painful and hard, and I cried quite a lot and I found it all very painful. And then I came out the other end and was like, Oh my God, I know how to do this now. But it's I think one of the best things you can do in terms of learning how to write scripts and structure.
Then it’s read other people's scripts. Yes, it's just like the easiest and fastest way. And also if in doubt, just ask yourself what feels true. What would be the next? What would be the next move? Don't try and be too clever and reinvent the wheel. People mostly just want to watch something that feels like ‘oh that speaks to me.’ So it doesn't always have to be like genius, just tell the truth.
RS: Emma, how do how would you say that you learned to write a script and are you as speedy as Kayleigh?
EJU: This is where I have to hope that none of the producers I'm working with are watching because I would I tell them it takes months and months and months. But yeah, I think for half an hour I would say you know, you can do that in a couple of days if you if I've got a good beat sheet. And then I would say for an hour yeah you know, a week or so kind of that. But that's when I'm really, really, really pushed and I've got a really… I work best under pressure. I really do. I don't know, I think a lot of writers do. I really need that pressure. I’m also a great re-drafter, after I like to do fast drafts and lots of them. And I'm lucky when I'm working with producers who work like that as well, and I’m just kind of like ‘let me just get this to you’ because sometimes it's almost as if I don't know what's wrong with it until I I've done a shape and sent it and as soon as I send the thing and I'm like sitting there and I'm like oh there are all the flaws, they like magically appear, so yeah, just that very unhelpful process for anyone who's a producer, I think.
And then I think it's you know, like Kayleigh was saying, the structure, kind of the formula has been really helpful for me. There’s almost a math to it, especially with the film that was the first thing that I wrote for screen, it was just so good that there was a formula that I could sort of follow and was like, oh, that needs to happen on page twenty-five or somewhere around there. And so that was appealing and that meant I could learn it. And reading scripts really helped. Just read so many scripts.
And I think it's made me a better plotter as a novelist, because novels can kind of meander all over the show and you can spend give pages talking about cheese and that kind of thing, and you know, and there's sometimes enjoying that, but I think that now I'm much better at structuring my novels because of screen writing and the skills that I've learned.
NM: I didn't go to film school or anything. But uh, my got onto the Channel 4's 4Screenwriting with a feature I'd written, again, just totally having no experience writing scripts and it was like long and yeah, it wasn't good. But I think there was something that they saw in the in the writing that I got onto that. And that was again where I learned how to you know, work with the script editor, what a script editor was, how to kind of write a story, write an episode of television in that in that way and that, that was kind of my school. And then you know my first few jobs I was making short films and those short films helped me get onto writing for kids, kids TV shows a couple CBBC, CBeebies episodes, short episodes. It was just like you know, it's all story and silliness and that really was where I kind of again working with the script editor figuring out what the process is dumb and that's kind of again where I learned… I think I’m similar to Emma. I actually spend quite a while doing the beat sheet like I want to have a nice safe where I'm going to go and then then you know, I like to do fast drafts as well. Usually before I start to doubt myself, I want to just like get when I'm feeling like funny and you know, especially when I think when you're writing comedy, just not to get to that second guess and just do a fast draft, not question yourself and then kind of I'm a big re-drafter after as well and go from there.
I love getting a whiteboard out and like plotting the show on it and then plugging the episodes on it and then, like I enjoy a marker in my hand. Uhm, I don't know what that says, but then yeah, fast drafts and quite quick to write, but I don't like it when they ask you ‘how long do you think it'll take you?’ and I'm like I could take or I need 2 weeks and then like I do it in a day and am like ‘tell me what you think now!’. So yeah but yeah, I think trying to not get in my way because I think sometimes I do get my way. That's why speed is good.
RS: And so a question here from Linda Reese to Nida: When you pitched your show, did you also pitch that you must direct.
NM: Yeah, first page was just: I must direct! No, I don’t, I didn’t--I'm trying to think when I pitched it because my first pitching was to production companies to see who chimed with it and then Working Title did and Surian and I had made a couple, I made some short films at that by that point, which sort of supported it and I had, I think I directed, a BBC Three show Enterprice, so I had that and I wanted to. So although it wasn't like ‘I must otherwise game over’, it was definitely something that I think no one really questioned, especially because like the show’s, yeah, you know, I really had a kind of handle of the world and I had a very clear when I was pitching it like a visual document. Basically not only like a writing document of stories and characters, but also like the world and the visual language was part of my pitch when I was taking the show around. So it was kind of built in there, but it definitely wasn't something I was kind of yeah, I was telegraphing.
RS: And lots of budding screenwriters in the in the Q&A section, so we've got a few versions of the same question, but I've got one from Tonya Diggery, who says thank you all very much. It's very insightful and inspiring to hear your stories. She is an author and new screenwriter, and her show is also based on a personal story. What was your experience like when it came to finding representation with an agent and also finding a producer who was interested in working with you? Uhm, Kayleigh.
KL: Representation for me came from winning the BAFTA Rocliffe Competition. Obviously, there are other ways to approach agents, but of course they're kind of inundated with scripts and applications from people so if you ideally you have like a personal contact, nepotism is wonderful. Sadly for me that wasn't an option, but you know, winning a competition was, so that was my way in. But I know there are certain agencies that do like open calls. And you know, not only BAFTA Rocliffe, but writers room, BBC Writers Room run various competitions and just anything you can do like that that adds a little bit of credibility to your name and makes you stand out of the big pile of scripts that they're going to receive is handy. And then what was the second part of the question?
RS: It was about finding producer who would want to…
KL: Oh, so once you've signed with an agent, if you do, then they will set you up on general meetings with a load of different producers, and I think I basically view that now as like speed dating and when I first started out I would meet with you know tons of producers and some of them I really vibed with and some of them I didn't. But I used to think, well, I just have to work with all of them. If they want to work with me I have to say yes. And what I've learned over time is actually no, it's good to be more discerning. If you didn't connect in that first meeting it doesn't mean that they're not great at their job, but in the same way that if you don't connect with someone on a date, stop trying to make it happen, just go towards the people who you feel you have the same rhythm with and that's what I'd had with Nerys. We'd met, and I just instantly clicked with her. I trusted her and so when I was telling my personal story I just emailed her directly and said ‘here’s this thing, what do you think?’ I felt, you know, I knew I could trust her with it, but obviously that takes a bit of time to get to that point.
Similarly, if you haven't signed with an agent yet, there are also production companies that do their own kind of open calls for scripts. So you could go the route that you meet producers first and ask them to recommend you to an agent.
RS: And Nida and Emma were both nodding at Kayleigh’s point about being more discerning than perhaps just going with the first person who offers you something. What was your experience with finding representation?
NM: For me, you know, producers are like a Holy Grail when you get a good one it's like you just never wanna let them go because they're so important, but for representation it, yeah, it's such a it's a toughie. But I think what Kayleigh was saying for me, it came after I got onto the Four screen writing, so like that stamp of approval. And it's like always constantly trying to get that and you know, I started getting in touch with agents when one of my short films, which was kind of like a no budget short got into like a decent festival and then again it's like trying to find that kind of slight industry stamp that you can then contact agents with and I was, I think, at the time I was like targeting assistants, I was targeting like agents assistants because they're on Twitter and stuff and you could, you know… I was like, you know my short film’s got into this Encounters Festival, I could be like ‘oh I just got here’ or ‘it's screening at the BFI as part of this blah blah’ and like reasons to reach out really helped kind of yeah get those again when you don't have the connections, it's just trying to stick out and to get above the noise is always is always tricky. And yeah, as Kayleigh was saying, like getting a good producer is like finding you know, yeah, dating and finding someone you really chime with. But I don't know with Lady Parts I found it like it was so clear when someone totally didn't get it. It was scary I was like running, you know, just like taking the pages of my document away because you're like OK, you still don't get it, so it's really listening to your gut when you are with someone. And again, even though it's hard to find a producer, it's not worth it when it's not the right person because they help you make your show, they're so close so it's always, yeah, kind of being discerning.
RS: Emma did you have anything to add on that?
EJU: Representation I got through bit differently, just because I had a book agent already. And then within the same agency, there's a screen agent so that was really lucky, but it is like dating and I think that relationship is, you know, I had to break up with the book agent when I was in my early twenties, like right at the very beginning. It was agony, it was awful. I was really like, you know, worried about how it was going to go down, where we were going to have the chat, what I was going to say, if she thought was already seeing someone else, all that stuff which I felt terribly guilty about. But when you get a good one then, yeah, you know it's gold. The same with the producer. I think the writer, producer relationship is really or it's certainly in my life I didn't appreciate how important that was and how key that was. I think I'd always thought of like writer director before I started writing more screen and I'm like no, it's about you know, finding people who can--I mean, obviously, the relationship with the director’s important as well, but I think with the producers it was, you know it was yeah, you find someone who could really support you and help you get things made and with Animals, with that film it literally wouldn't have got made if Sarah Brocklehurst hadn't pushed and pushed and pushed and found you know ways of keeping it going when various things fell through as they always do. And it was just her passion and her commitment that made that a reality and we're working on things still now and I hope forever because I just feel like it's just that trust is there and that that vibe is there and just that that kind of that shared vision and all the fun stuff as well.
RS: And in terms of first steps in the industry, we've had a question from Assad Ulla. If you're in writers’ rooms, what do you look for from a good writer's assistant? Which I'm sure a lot of people would like to know because that feels like a good entry point.
KL: I've done many writers rooms now, but never been in the person in charge of hiring a writers’ assistant, but I've worked with some great ones and you sort of you want someone who's a good multitasker because essentially they need to be taking notes of everything. There are many cross conversations that are happening, so they're constantly taking notes but also you want to know that they're engaged in what's being spoken about, because every now and then you know they're another voice in the room. You don't want them always pushing themselves front and centre because, and that goes to say for anyone in the room, you don't want anyone in the room constantly pushing themselves front and centre because you're like, OK, shut up. It's not your Vagina Monologue. But you do like, you want their opinion and they're the person who's taking down all the notes. And so I've often been in situations where the writer’s assistant is the one who's come up with the fix because their eye is on all the different strands you've spoken about, and they can go ‘uh-huh would this do it?’ So someone who's like studious, amazing at taking notes, gets really good biscuits, but also when knows when the time is right to raise their hand and go ‘I've got this idea too’. That's what I like.
EJU: Yeah, I would echo all of that. And for The Outlaws the writer's assistant had a background, he'd studied law and so just for the elements where we needed some legal advice on various aspects of the plot because one of the characters get sued at one point and one of the characters is actually a lawyer so it was just great to have that input, so I would say maybe go for projects that you know that you have, you know, a great feeling for or have some insight into, and then you can be, you can feel really valuable in the room in that way as well.
RS: And so we've got a couple of minutes left and we've got a question from Sue Chandrika Chakrabarti. He says this is such an insightful and fun conversation, thank you to everyone. What's been the greatest challenge you faced in your career so far? And I'm going to add: And how did you overcome that challenge?
KL: I don't know, do you guys have anything?
EJU: Well, I just think of the, sorry Nida, were you about to say something? Nope? And so yeah, just about the film when just kind of various lots of funding fell through at various points and when a lot of it fell through all at once, Sarah the producer kind of got the train down because I live in Brighton, she got the train down from London and we went for what will forever be known as miserable pho and just sat eating these noodles and we were just like ‘Oh my, what are we going to do?’ And we had all these like options we were like Blue Sky thinking which is like the worst thing you ever want to do. So we just kind of we had this miserable time but then we rallied ourselves by the end of it. We were like, by desert we were, like, right, we're just gonna do it and because she had the know how on to do that and yeah, she just went into it and we just kind of, yeah, you jigged each other up and just made sure they feel better and just reassured each other that it was worth something I guess, and that we, you know, we both believed in it and yeah, cried a bit and then when it all came good we were just like yes! Sometimes it doesn't, but sometimes it does and I think you've just got--I think in this industry it just feels like the ups and downs are just huge and very common and you just kind of need I think producers need nerves of steel, I really do to sort to deal with it all then I think it's a very adrenaline-y fun industry and you've got to look after yourself as well, and you know, you have got to look after yourself as well as fight for what you believe in when it comes to your own projects.
RS: Yeah, there's actually a question that's just come in which I think fits really nicely with that from Sharon Wallia, which says what's your advice for staying motivated and inspired in what is a tough industry, especially when dealing with rejection? How do you guys handle rejection?
KL: Badly. I've keyed so many cars and no, not really… I very quickly feel burned and then for my own sanity, I turn it around and go ‘their fucking loss. They don't know what they're missing out on,’ and just go well I'm glad because I wouldn't want an idiot to be making this show anyway, so I'm really glad they've revealed themselves. Yeah, I think you just have to kind of stay true: Why did you start? Why do you want to be a writer? Do you have something you want to say about the world? Has something hurt you and you want to share that hurt or you have certain themes and topics that somehow have touched your life and you think ‘if I could write about those it would help someone else’. While you’re here, write it down and return to it and when things get hard be like but no, because my voice is important and this is a story I want to tell and if I keep plugging away maybe I can help someone with it.
RS: Nida nodding along.
NM: Yeah no, that was, yeah, that resonates. I think you know one of the toughest times for me in my career it's weird, it's these small increments, these small wins that you get that don't really feel that you know, writing a short, getting a this—and I think it was when I didn't get the BFI funding for my feature after kind of being in the process for many years, going from you know, developing film and development and I remember thinking like I think this is over like, and then and then TV just opened up in a way that film wasn't and it was incredible because I learned so much about storytelling and you know, you think that, I actually thought, OK is my career kind of over and then? Yeah, and it just kind of opened up in pursuing directing comedy pilots for other people, and it's sort of like not being afraid. Because again, it wasn't, writing is my first passion, I think, but just directing and learning from other comedy writers and observing and like taking jobs that weren't necessarily me doing me, it was me doing somebody else and directing Doctor Who and just exploring what doing something sci-fi would mean and learning. And all these things have helped me kind of grow as a filmmaker and a screenwriter, even though they weren't me getting to do my thing you know from the jump. So I would just say like you know, seeing where you can learn and grow and stay in the industry when you do get those rejections but also like as Kayleigh was saying, it's like what is it that you love? And you know, I love writing comedy and so doing that when I was doing other things and kind of keeping your own voice alive whilst you're working with other people also was something that really helped me kind of stay and keep my focus on the goal, which was to tell my tell my own stories or stories that meant something to me.
RS: Emma, how do you keep the faith? I mean, Kayleigh mentioned keying cars which is quite relevant for The Outlaws. How do you keep the focus?
EJU: I find rejection very motivating. I really do, probably quite in an unhealthy way, but I just kind of think, well, I'll show you. And I don't know whether it's the Mancunian in me or what, but that's just what it does. And you know, every time I've had a bad review for anything, it's just made me think ‘well, just you wait, just you wait’ you know. And I kind of think that that sort of turning it around in that way is good when you can. And yeah, sorry what was the other part of the question?
RS: It was how do you stay motivated?
EJU: How do I stay motivated? Coffee and watching good stuff. I think whenever I'm feeling a bit lost I just dip into things that I really love that are really good and they just seem to, you know, set me back on track and just make me think, right, you know, yeah I want to, you know, kind of make good things too. Even if it's just sometimes just read a page of a book or just watch a little snippet of something and I just think that can just be that little injection of motivation that I need. And so you go back to the stuff that you love and just I think to get in terms of the rejection again, just you have a bit of grit in you if you're writing anything and putting it out there to even get to that point where you're just sending it off and being up to for being rejected. And it's that bit of grit that you've got to remember and that will see you through whatever. It just will, that will keep you going.
RS: Well, we have actually we've come to the end of our hour, but that seems like a good note to finish on, to stay motivated and to dip into the stuff we love when we need a bit of a boost or some inspiration. And so, I’d just like to thank our fantastic panel, Kayleigh, Nida and Emma for all of your insights and for being so generous with sharing your stories, and our brilliant audience for some fantastic questions this evening. It sounds like there are lots of future BAFTA winners watching this evening so fingers crossed we'll see your work soon.
The next event in this series is the Television Sessions: It’s A Sin, which is taking place at BAFTA Piccadilly in London on Monday the 25th of April at 7:30 PM. And tickets are still available for this at events.bafta.org. Also you can catch up on this session and much more over on the BAFTA Guru YouTube channel. But otherwise thank you so much for joining us and enjoy the rest of this sunny evening.
KL: Thank you.
NM: Thank you.
RS: Bye bye.