Trainee Writer

Adventures of a screenwriter in training…

The Origins of a Trainee Writer


I’m going to kick off this post by noting that there probably isn’t a lesson to be learned here. Since I launched the Trainee Writer contest I’ve had a few e-mails asking about my background as a writer.

As I’ve always been careful to point out, I’m not a successful writer by any stretch, as the blog’s original name, Failing Writer, suggests. But I have a driving passion for the medium that I’d like to be able to pass on and encourage in other writers.

It’ll come as no surprise to learn I come from a colourful background; I grew up living just below the poverty line, the son of long-since separated parents, raised by a single mother and, eventually, a step-father. I left home at 17 and began attending a local college, combining an 8-hour day of education with bartending at night, often attending college 9-5 and working from 8-4 each night, squeezing in the chance to eat and sleep sporadically in-between. The focus of my studies between 17-19 was always writing: I studied English, Media, Film and Psychology.

By this time, I was also working towards a career as a professional wrestler which was cut short by both injury, poor training and worse choices; I chose to pursue this career because I had a love of both sports and performing, and there’s no better combination of the two. As a teenager, I also dabbled extensively with acting appearing in school musicals on a regular basis, which (along with school drama lessons) is where I developed my love for live theatre.

For a time, I considered attending stage school when I’d finished with regular school, but the cost was prohibitive. I continued to study, however, and maintain those studies to this day: I’ve been known to devour every book on acting theory and every actor’s autobiography I can get my hands on. I still consider The Empty Space by Peter Brook to be the finest book on acting theory ever written. When I was 19, I made my first foray into the world of stand-up comedy, a sideline career that has seen me supporting two of the UK’s finest television comedians at live gigs, Simon Amstell and Jack Whitehall.

When I finished college, I spent my summer focusing on my training as a wrestler, living with and working alongside my trainer at his day job as a loader in a mattress factory. That autumn, I left to attend the University of Teesside, where my focus was Forensics or, more specifically, Crime Scene Science – the theory of examining and processing a crime scene and the collected evidence.

During this time, I’d become close to a girl who would become the mother of my children – not long after we got together, in fact – and dropped out of school for good. Or for now, at least. We moved in together and I ended up both wrestling and serving as head booker (pro wrestling’s version of a showrunner) for the wrestling organization that she owned.

After years of trying to establish myself as a businessman in my own right, and various other problems, our relationship dissolved around four years ago and I ended up moving back home to live with my maternal grandparents. Since then, I’ve worked office jobs, gone back to bartending and been a medical research lab rat, all the while struggling to climb above the poverty line. In fact, at this stage, I think I’ve actually found a whole new line below the poverty line called “Dude, you’re screwed.”

Throughout all of this, I never lost my passion for film, for television and for screenwriting. I wrote my first feature as a precocious 12-year-old (I’ll be damned if I know where that script is now), began dabbling with sitcom writing aged 17 (Thanks to Jurgen Wolff’s excellent book Successful Sitcom Writing.) and co-wrote, co-directed and co-produced my first documentary at the same age. Typically for me, I couldn’t take it seriously and ended up making a mockumentary instead, focusing on the importance of corners and how they hold the universe together.

Also at seventeen, I was given the opportunity to take up work experience at a television show called Gamezville, also known in the US as Play To Z when it aired on Nickelodeon. Though my remit was largely to make tea, run errands and play video games, I showed my willingness to work hard and was eventually rewarded with being allowed to shoot some B unit segments, take part in production meetings and contribute to some of the writing and ideas process for the show. I even appeared sporadically as either an audience member, part of the now-legendary “G-Team” or, on two occasions, as a guest reviewer. All-in-all, a tremendous experience of shoestring budget television production.

After Gamezvlle I put my pen down for a while to focus on studies, but not before I’d submitted a script as part of my Film course. The script, a feature called Mrs. Mafia, not only gained me an A+ as coursework, but came back with the note ‘develop this further, this has massive potential.’ My teacher was right, and I’m still developing it – it’s one of those scripts I pull out of the draw occasionally, completely rewrite, and always hope to get perfect this time. I consider it one of my magnum opera. If I ever get a draft I’m super-happy with, rest assured you’ll hear about it on the blog!

Post-college, university and horrible relationship, I found myself at a crossroads. I was brokenhearted, I had nothing left to give mentally or emotionally… so I started writing again. And writing, and writing and writing. I’ve barely stopped since, in fact. My confidence grows with every word I write and I occasionally find myself within touching-distance of the lucrative deal that’ll take me from ‘wannabe’ to ‘professional’ screenwriter.

Call me naive, but I set myself a target of breaking a television record when I started writing again in earnest: I wanted to break Josh Schwartz’ record and become the youngest show-runner in television history – he was 26 years old when he sold The O.C. to Fox. Unfortunately, that record is out of my reach (I turned 26 back in April this year) but I know that time is on my side. If I keep writing to a good enough standard, and keep being prolific, somebody is going to take a chance on me some day.

Hopefully that answers some questions about my background and – if I’m lucky – will inspire some of my readers to never give up on their dreams, to make decisions, to stick with them, and to have faith that good things will come if you just keep working at it. They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day; I thought I’d built Rome when I was 17. I hadn’t. But now I’m laying bricks again.

Until next time,

Kriss x

As an addendum to this (which I thought of whilst enjoying my post-publication cigarette) I’d just like to take a moment to thank the people who are all, in some part, responsible for my choosing this career path.

Paul Harrison – My year 6 teacher, the first man to introduce me to the works of William Shakespeare. Without a doubt, he was the man who first helped me discover the true joy of the theatre. Not only was he a great teacher, he was a great mentor and a great moulder of men; he undoubtedly played a large part in making me the man I am today. If you ever happen to read this, Paul, get in touch. I probably owe you a round of golf… and beers.

Alan Kingston – My secondary school music teacher, the director of all of our school musicals and the man who encouraged me endlessly to explore my talents. Oddly, he also taught my step-father mathematics and he, in turn, taught me how to do algebra when I was five.

Annie Evans – My college film teacher, who taught me almost everything I know about breaking down and analyzing a film, and was the first person to formally teach me screenwriting.

Jim Tustian – My college media studies teacher, who let me loose with the camera with which I shot my mockumentary and taught me the art of both reading the subtext in the media (especially that The Daily Mail is evil) and taught me all of the theory I still use in the art of shooting a film.

Ian Banks – Another college media studies teacher, a man who a butted heads with numerous times yet introduced me to Ealing comedy and encouraged me to expand my horizons regarding historical film and film theory.

There was another teacher at the time whose surname escapes me, Adam, who introduced me to the Marx brothers and encouraged me to really throw myself into my writing. I wish I knew his surname, but maybe I can ask around and someone will enlighten me.

Obviously, on top of all this, my family and friends have encouraged me; my mother is a voracious reader and has read more books than anybody I’ve ever met, even if you don’t include Danielle Steele novels as literature, she’s still miles ahead of me. She often reads my work and encourages me to write more.

Also, I should thank God, I suppose. Maybe if I play nice for a change, he’ll cut me a break and I’ll sell something.

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August 4, 2011 - Posted by | screenwriting, writing | , , , , ,

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