It’s a marathon, not a sprint – the 15-year journey to becoming a screenwriter

I know, I know. I’ve been pretty quiet this last year. Hardly a blog to my name and my hits have plummeted (I’m still amazed so many of you keep coming back to look, if I’m honest). But there’s a reason. And the reason is that, rather than writing about screenwriting, I thought I’d actually do some. And last week something very special happened.

Yes, fifteen years of hard, largely unpaid work finally came to fruition, and my first feature film, ARJUN & ALISON, went into production.Members of the Shooting People Screenwriters Network heard all about it a week ago and I’ve received an avalanche of congratulatory notes. Thanks to everyone for that. It was very much appreciated.

I set off on this screenwriting lark in 1995, sharing an apartment in Hungary with a mate who was about to enter the Budapest Film School. We pored over Charles Deemer‘s site on that new internet invention and worked on our first features and discussed plot points and paradigms late into the night. Good times.

I moved back to the UK with a box full of pristine new copies of my first two spec scripts. I was going to take the film world by storm.  Six months later I had rejection letters from every prodco in London and was temping on a daytime TV show. Bad times.

Dozens of scripts and years of development hell and absolute penury later I began to wonder if I’d ever see a feature film with my name on it.

Today it’s happening: a crew of 30 or more people are filming my script and will be for the next three weeks. I went along and watched the first shots clunk into the can, then slipped away quietly and left them to it. Went home and poured myself a large glass of rum and smiled a lot.

If Malcolm Gladwell is right with his 10,000 Hour Rule and it really does take ten years of full time slog to gain mastery in anything, then I still reckon I’ve got a good way to go. Because I didn’t spend those 15 years hard at it, 9 to 5. I did a dozen different jobs and got distracted in a hundred different ways and, yes, nearly gave it up a few times too. But I somehow wrote about 20 features and I daren’t even tot up the number of rewrites on them all.

Screenwriting is most definitely a marathon not a sprint, except it’s a marathon where someone runs on and kicks you in the crotch at every mile. You’d have to be stupid to carry on.

Nearly every screenwriter I know who started out at the same time as me jacked it in. One by one they opted for sane things like proper jobs, steady incomes, raising families, having a normal life. I maybe only reached this point through sheer pigheadedness and an inability to take a hint (in the form of repeated kicks in the bollocks).

You really do have to be stupid to carry on.

So how did I finally break through?

Well, some people have said I happened to be in the right place at the right time. But I prefer to think of it as something I made happen.

Another screenwriter, the brilliant Phill Barron, recommended me for the gig because he was busy and the producer who needed a writer lived in Birmingham, like me. I’ve only talked to Phill once, when we happened to be walking to the Cheltenham Screenwriters’ Festival venue from the hotel one morning.

Total chance or power of networking?

Read Phill’s blog about it and decide for yourself.

I’ll be writing more about this film and the work I’ve done for it in future blogs.

And I won’t take a year to do it. I promise.


3 thoughts on “It’s a marathon, not a sprint – the 15-year journey to becoming a screenwriter

  1. Pingback: Arjun & Alison: the trailer is out! | Andy Conway

  2. Hi Andy
    You probably don’t remember me since my first year in university but I just wanted to say congratulations and thank you for the work you put in with me when I was at university and it has been a long time coming but I have finally started to write and produce my own short films. You have always been my inspiration because if I hadn’t got through that first module I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it. I graduated with 2.1 degree and you were always the first person that I thanked. It is wonderful that you have been commissioned and there is no one more deserving than you.
    Thank you once again for all that you did.

    • Hi Stuart

      Yes I do remember you! At Worcester. I was thinking only the other day about you winning the pitch contest in the final class before Christmas. Great to hear you’re producing your own films now. I’d love to see your work if you have a link.

      (Sorry for taking so long to respond. Only just seen the alert for this comment).

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