Recently, the first short script I wrote to be produced (with an actual budget), wrapped in the Netherlands. Its title “Bijltjesdag” (probably not pronounced how you’d think) is a Dutch expression which means “Day of Reckoning” – and feels particularly apt as the last twelve months have yielded several days of reckoning for myself and my career.

The first of these was the day I completed my MA. Although an academic degree can never compete with practical experience, I did feel an enormous sense of personal pride at graduating. However, this soon gave way to feelings of being overwhelmed by trying to ‘make it’ in a famously competitive industry:

Firstly, the script I focused on in my course – an adventure feature called The Psychonaut, was of a studio level budget and had an ambitiously complex narrative, both factors which narrowed its chances of success, particularly as I was (and still am) an unknown. Its original premise received praise from within my MA Course, but the reality is crueller than academia.

I then decided to write, essentially, a micro budget horror version of The Psychonaut, called Darkness and Voices. Because of the mass appeal of the genre and the low projected cost, it was much more likely to be my ‘breakthrough’ script. It has received more traction, positive feedback, producer interest, and I await the result of the Screencraft Horror Competition.

Breakthrough

I was, however, still on the hunt for my first credit, when one day Gideon Van Eeden, a fellow student on the MA course advertised for short scripts. I had written a few, which I’d totally forgotten about. My preference had always been for features. When I chatted to Gideon, however, things started to click – and I also realised that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush – that is to say, a produced script is better than the remote possibility of winning a competition.

So I utilised the skills I learnt at Raindance to refine my short, based partly on observations of my father in his care home – and so more personal to me than my other scripts – and sent it to Gideon. I was thrilled when he chose my script from a shortlist of 2, whittled down from a list of 20.

There were a number of early clues that I had made a smart move in responding to Gideon.

Firstly, in our discussions, it was clear to me that he understood the script on all its levels – from the strained relationship between the protagonist and his daughter to the symbolism of him blowing out all his birthday candles – and this was later confirmed to me when I read his director’s statement.

Secondly, when transferring its setting to Holland, he was able to make suggestions to improve the narrative to a subtly different, yet clearer and more powerful one.

Day of Reckoning

Fast forward to now, the film is wrapped, post-production is done and we are submitting to Film Festivals (and we’ve just been selected for TMFF). I’m incredibly impressed with what Gideon has achieved production value-wise – not because he shot it in 4K, or because it had a budget, but because of his clear understanding of the human narrative.

Secondly, the power of the actors’ performances shines through, again partly thanks to him. Thirdly, the work of the crew which he assembled is second to none, from the concept art to the camera work.

When I reflect on how we got here, from my perspective, I am pleased that I took my ‘feature script blinkers’ off and reappraised how to launch as a screenwriter. My key lessons are:

  1. Produced credits in quality productions are the most powerful calling card.
  2. A personal network, such as the one I built up in the Raindance Postgraduate Degree, is the fastest way to get things moving.
  3. Working internationally, including outside of the English language, really broadens the pool of quality collaborators available to you. This is something Raindance is particularly good at.

And nothing beats seeing your very first IMDb credit as a writer!

However, “Bijltjesdag’s” Day of Reckoning will be when it is released to the wider public! In the meantime, I am learning the hard way what it takes even to promote even a short film… so…

Please follow us @BijltjesdagFILM
Like us on Facebook https://m.facebook.com/bijltjesdagFILM/ where there are lots of fun production videos, images and info.
And check our trailer out on IMDb.  Best of luck with all your projects.

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About 

Peter Stead is a screenwriter based in London who writes features, TV and shorts. Although he works across different genres, his main interest lies in investigating the conflict between the inner world of the imagination and that of reality.