Day 1 of Meet a Mentor took us to Karmarama, Farringdon.
We were greeted on arrival by the Create Jobs team, given name tags and a welcome pack with a list of all the mentors and important information on the event. I'm listed my interests as writing and editing as a filmmaker, my mentor was producer and screenwriter, Diederick Santer.
There is still nothing more frightening to me than walking into a big room full of unfamiliar faces. But happily the very welcoming Meet a Mentor team intercept me, slap on a name badge, and thrust a sheaf of papers into my hand. Looking through them, I see that my mentee is Elsa, an aspiring writer and editor. Now it’s time to track her down . . .
Following a brief introduction we were let loose to hunt down our pair, after a stumble or two in a poorly lit room I managed to find my mentor. Diederick and I immediately began chatting, I got to know more about his career path from a Script Editor to a TV Producer, but I learnt he was initially an actor. Then it was down to discussing my aspirations of screenwriting and editing and the goals to set for it. I was drafting my first script so we agreed I would have it finished and sent within the next two weeks. I was also to send examples of my applications and the website portfolio I was building. I walked away excited but nervous, I had made my commitments and knew the script on my laptop had to be finished.
It was lovely to meet Elsa. We immediately started chatting about TV and film that we liked, as I tried to tune into her taste, her interests, and her aspirations. Mentoring someone is, I think, more about trying to give them space to grow their ideas and to help focus what they are seeking to do, rather than to offer “advice” as such.
Nonetheless, I did strongly advise her to see the film Parasite.
We agreed some goals - the main one being that Elsa should finish the short film script she’d been working on, and to share it with me ASAP! I was extremely keen to see it, as I reminded her by email the next morning.
There would be no escape now.
What followed was an intense period of reading up on script writing, and gaining inspiration from as many scripts as I could find. Once finally submitted, Diederick and I had a chat over the phone.
Having that personal feedback was invaluable in bringing my textbook knowledge to life, for example I planned to write 15 pages, I wrote 30. Hearing the story from Diederick's perspective enabled me to see the disconnect between the story in my head vs what was translating on paper and work on it. At the same time I started putting myself out there as a writer, taking on a few script writing projects, which Diederick encouraged me to continue with and then let him know how it was going during the next meeting.
I was excited to get Elsa’s script, and apprehensive too. What would I say if it was terrible? Writing, like any creative endeavour, is such a personal thing, and it takes some courage to share one's work. And any response to it is completely subjective, so before I gave any feedback I was clear with Elsa that what I was going to give her were just my opinions, and that ultimately it was for her to decide what was useful. It can be hard for emerging writers to find their voices when colleagues, readers, critics, friends all share confident views. The key thing is for the writer to remember what it is they are trying to do and to pick through the comments and thoughts and find the things that truly resonate. Happily I loved her script. I had plenty of thoughts, big things and small things, but all I hope were sympathetic to what Elsa was trying to do, rather than a big crazy intervention - ‘I see that you’ve set your story in a girls basketball camp, but I wonder whether you should move the action to a space ship?’
We had a long phone call, and later I summarised and sent over those thoughts, and left Elsa to it.
Session 2 of Meet a Mentor was held at Create Jobs' central office in Old Street. It was about this time that people were being rightfully exiled for coughing on public transport, as whispers of what was to come were gaining momentum. Marching on we had a great time. Diederick kindly shared more on the reasons behind some of his career decisions which I found extremely useful. He also pointed to the benefits of reading imperfect work for my own writing as I began acquiring scripts from other aspiring writers instead of just archives of award winning screenplays.
I definitely gained the most from the emphasis on developing a strategy, I feared I was just taking on projects without rhyme or reason but didn't know how to be more focused. One of the goals of the day was to figure out what my long term goal was and to hold everything to that light, which was infinitely beneficial in the following weeks when more than half the projects I planned were dropped, I already had a goal that kept me moving.
Our weeks after our original meeting I headed to the next session with Elsa and the other mentors and mentees. This time we were not in a swanky advertising office, but rather in the more functional, but perfectly pleasant, Meet A Mentor HQ. It was great hearing what Elsa had been up to - she’d been working on her script, thinking also about her editing work, taking on more script commissions, and collaborating with filmmakers on various projects. We talked a bit about making decisions regarding specific ideas and projects by putting them into the context of a single bigger goal - is working on this idea/with this person/in this role helpiing me achieve my bigger goal?
By now Elsa had Googled me, and found a clip of me on Youtube where Holly Willoughby says ‘you’re no fun’ and I visibly crumple. This led to a valuable and interesting conversation about some of the ups and downs I have enjoyed as I have pursued my career goals (and which of them have left an online footprint).
It was shocking how quickly it all happened. When social distancing measures where in full effect, I took advantage of a week long sigh just trying to reorient myself.
In such an uncertain time it was great to just check in with my mentor and make sure he was keeping well, also reassuring to know I still had goals I could somewhat work towards for the end of the month. I was able to continue writing remotely for a few short films I agreed to help with, so I gave him an update on how collaborative script writing was going. The good, bad and the awkward process of trying to unify a vision, which thankfully was taking the majority of my time.
Through the wizardry of technology Meet a Mentor session 3 was held through Zoom. Overall a great time especially hearing from Director Leonn Ward.
Diederick and I had barely said hello in the half an hour we were allocated for our 1:1 so agreed to continue the following week. I was ecstatic to hear he enjoyed the second draft of my script as I felt I was starting to find my voice as a writer. Unfortunately in these strange times I didn't have any goals I could work towards that would produce a tangible finished product by our next meeting.
As someone who loves the sense of accomplishment that comes from deadlines it is hard knowing I have to be accountable to myself especially when stuck at home. But self isolation is a great time to do nothing but become a better writer.
It was great to catch up with Elsa having just read the new draft of her script. She’d surprised me by how radical she’d been with her rewrite, and how bold she had been taking it in a different direction. It’s a real skill to be able to do that, rather than to just cling on to your favourite bits and tweak some stuff on the edges. Most creative endeavours have become more complicated during this lockdown period, but actually this is the perfect time for developing ones skills as a writer. Filmmaking is a collective endeavour, but screenwriting usually isn’t - so being stuck at home isn’t a great impediment. Indeed most writers I know have been self-isolating for years, rarely going out and avoiding direct contact. It’s been exciting mentoring Elsa, and I’m excited to see what she does next.
One of my biggest struggles during quarantine has been navigating the pressure to remain equally if not more productive than usual. Yet I found myself with little motivation to do much at all, just a copious amount of guilt.
Luckily it seems a common problem as many creator communities are broadening the definition of being creative, and in the process I stumbled upon a love for baking.
Ordinarily I am hopeless as I loathe rigid instructions and never use measurements but with present time affording me patience I was astonished at the results. This additional skillset is little in the grand scheme of life but confirmed that I could not expect myself to work the same way as before. So although I haven't made a dent in my new script I am still creating, and dare I say enjoying quarantine.
I’m very taken by Elsa’s broader definition of creativity. I’m going to adopt that insight for myself. Lesson planning by the world’s worst supply teacher - being creative. Tidying out the big cupboard full of old boxes and making it all neat and accessible - being creative. Walking a different route around the park - being creative. I do think that making the best of everyday tasks is one way to keep a grip on things at the moment - everything is so complex and conditional, and it’s so hard to feel any sense of control over anything. During this period I’ve also enjoyed checking in on Elsa and watching her gain confidence as a writer.
The end of Meet-a-mentor seemed so far away until it arrived. With current times being what they are, Fran encouraged us to be understanding with ourselves when reflecting back on our very first goals for the mentorship program. Yet during our call Diederick and I realised 2 of the 3 goals were actually met, and that is thanks to the strong momentum we built at the start which fortunately continued. I feel most fortunate for having a clear plan of attack for when the industry gets moving again, which no doubt has been a strong source of hope throughout this pandemic. It has been invaluable to have Diederick as a mentor and I hope to keep in touch and put this new found knowledge to use.
We had the last Meet A Mentor this week on Zoom, including a talk from Leon Mayne. I really enjoyed his talk enormously.
It was lovely to catch up with Elsa again, and to review her goals which have sort of evolved into one all-encompassing mega-goal. It’s a goal which she feels excited to pursue and which is so clear and focused that she can measure any opportunity along the way or any mini-goal against it.
So, with that clarity, I wish Elsa well! It’s been fun getting to know her, and to see the world through her eyes. I wish her every success, and in the meantime, she knows where I am.