By Emma Heath
Dean Craig’s screenwriting career has taken the sort of trajectory many dream of. From working as a runner… to getting his first feature, Caffeine, produced… to his script Death at a Funeral
being made not once, not twice, but THREE times (in the UK, USA and India).
He now enjoys a TV and Film career spanning both continents. So, what can we learn from him? I’ve distilled his one-hour conversation with Chris Jones into ten take-home points.
1. Consider taking any job you can to get yourself into the room
At the start of his career, Dean tried anything he possibly could to work in film: he worked as a script reader, then as a runner. It was during his time as a development assistant that he was able to forge a relationship with the director who’d eventually pass on his first feature script to a US producer. The result was Caffeine in 2006.
2. Write a script that can be made
Dean tries to be savvy with his time, and concentrates on projects that will help further his career. When he wrote his first feature, he deliberately decided to write something that would be simple to make. Caffeine (and Death at a Funeral) were very producible, with one easy-to-shoot main location.
3. Brand is important (although it can also be a poisoned chalice)
Especially at the start of your career, brand is important. It gives people comfort, so that they feel like they have some idea of what they’re going to get back from you. However, it can leave writers feeling pigeon-holed. Dean never considered himself a “comedy writer”; he saw himself as a writer who just happened to write some comedy scripts. So now he will try to take jobs which have other elements, such as drama, as well.
4. There are various routes to getting your script produced
The genesis of one TV show Dean wrote was as an internet comedy. He’d been contacted by a producer, Simon Maxwell, who wanted to do a little web show. After the first five minute pilot, they were commissioned to do another five webisodes; and off the back of that, the BBC commissioned a seven-part TV series, Off the Hook. Sometimes something small will act as a calling card, and it will balloon into something bigger.
5. That said… Shorts can be helpful, but only to a degree
Shorts are good practice, and a great short can be helpful. But it’s not necessarily a shoe in to getting hired on features. Features are really a different ecosystem, at the end of the day. Dean described a friend who had jumped in at the deep end and made a feature without having first produced a short. In some ways it actually helped him, because it meant people couldn’t judge him on earlier work, and just decided to give him a shot.
6. America pays much better than the UK…
Dean was paid twice as much to write a pilot in the US than he was paid for the entire BBC series, Off the Hook. That’s about TEN TIMES as much for the same amount of work.
7. …But it’s also a lot more competitive
Why not just jump on a plane then? Dean stressed the fact there are lots more people in LA, and that the market is hyper-competitive and very crowded. So while there are certainly more opportunities, you have to be in a position to make use of those opportunities. You need to be able to penetrate the business.
8. Trust your inner voice
How does Dean know his comedy is funny? Ultimately he has to rely on his inner voice and trust his instincts. Sometimes after he’s written something he will get feedback from readers. But if you’re instinct is off, that’s the end of it, really.
9. Don’t have an actor in mind while writing a script
Dean warned against having a particular actor in mind when writing a script. While it’s good to have an idea of who could be cast when it comes to the pitch, during the writing stage it can make you lazy, because you’re not so focused on getting the character right; you’re relying on the actor.
10. Write projects that are personal to you
A lot of the time, when you do finally make it into the room, the pitch execs will ask: “Where does this come from? How is it personal to you?” “Oh, it was just an idea,” is not a great answer. Much better to make something up. We are writers, after all!
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