20 August 2012
MA TV Fiction Writing graduate Mark Stevenson has been recruited to write for top television dramas Eastenders, Casualty, Holby City and Doctors after earning a place in the prestigious BBC Writers Academy.
Just eight people were selected out of over 600 applicants to undergo the intensive 15-month course designed to produce the next generation of writers for BBC One Drama.
Mark, 33, a former journalist who worked for the Sun then ran the Newsdesk at the Sunday Express in Scotland, admits he took a huge leap of faith when he quit his job to start on GCU’s flagship postgraduate programme two years ago.
“I was in a well-paid, secure career that I enjoyed - but I had also developed passion for screenwriting on the side. I knew how difficult the industry was to break into but after seeing the GCU MA TV Fiction Writing programme I decided to make the break,” said Mark, who lives with his wife and toddler daughter in Glasgow.
“I was writing film scripts after work and at weekends, some of which were inspired by the news stories I was involved in at the time. I enjoyed it immensely and it quickly became my ambition to try to make a living from it. Unfortunately, at that stage, I had zero experience and no contacts in the industry.
“Then I read about the MA TV Fiction Writing degree at GCU. I was impressed that it was led by seasoned pros such as Ann Marie Di Mambro and Chris Dolan, who both have extensive writing CVs and still work in the industry, that was the key for me. The course also attracts a string of industry professionals ranging from producers to leading writers and TV executives.
“The jewel in the crown for me was being able to pitch to the likes of Eileen Gallagher, Ann McManus and Brian Park – who founded Shed Productions. These guys are responsible for amazing TV shows such as Waterloo Road, Bad Girls and Footballers Wives. To get regular face-to-face time with them is something most writers can only dream about. So for all these reasons, I decided to take the plunge and applied for a place on the course. I was also very fortunate to be awarded a Shed Scholarship, which certainly made things a little easier financially after leaving full time employment.
“The course was fascinating although it was extremely hard work. I learned about the structure of scriptwriting for TV drama, an essential core skill, and how to develop characters by immersing myself in their world. We also picked up vital skills such as trimming dialogue and the golden rule of show don’t tell, by allowing the visuals to do the talking. In addition we also learned about storylining for long-running drama series and script editing, both of which are also avenues into the industry.
“On top of all this I attended a talk by Stuart Murphy (Director of Sky 1, Atlantic, Arts and Living), who is just one example of the calibre of industry professionals who want to engage with the course. We had visits from writers for Eastenders, Casualty, Hollyoaks and took part in discussions about story lines and even did day long dummy story conferences.”
Now Mark, who graduated from GCU with distinction in 2011, can’t wait to move to London to throw himself into the BBC Writers Academy programme.
“I know it is going to be extremely tough going but I have been well prepared by GCU. To say I’m excited would be a real understatement!
“After I graduated from GCU, I was very fortunate to get a commission to write for flagship BBC1 drama Waterloo Road. The pressure was incredible, even more than in newspapers. I was doing rewrites with extremely tight turnaround times – even on Christmas Day! It was hard work but I loved every second of it.
“To be eligible to apply for the BBC Writers Academy you must have at least one professional commission for TV or theatre under your belt. So without the Waterloo Road commission I wouldn’t have even been able to apply in the first place.
“And thanks to the course, I also secured a London agent immediately after graduating.”
As a paid member of the BBC Writers Academy, Mark will attend lectures from Britain’s top writers such as Jimmy McGovern, Steven Moffat and Tony Jordan and will be instructed in all aspects of TV production as well as being expected to write episodes for the BBC’s most watched drama series.
More than 80% of Writers Academy graduates continue to work for the BBC on shows including Casualty, Call the Midwife and Eastenders. One graduate has received an Oscar nomination and another is a lead writer on long running Channel 4 drama, Shameless.
Mark added: “Studying at GCU was the best decision I could have made. There was a wide variety of people of all ages on the course, including a fire fighter, a landscape gardener and nurses – life experience and passion were what counted. The more I do this the more I love it and the dream is to make a full time living out of it – that would have been impossible without GCU. Hopefully I can build upon what I learned there whilst working for the BBC.”