In the first panel on screenwriting, Kathryn Burnett, Shuchi Kothari, Roseanne Liang, and Mingjian Cui shared their wisdom on how to succeed in film and TV as well as general tips on tackling the art and business of writing.
Photos by John Rata
Kathryn talked through the lessons she’s learned in her career, and began by identifying two kinds of pitfalls: creative pitfalls and business pitfalls. She emphasised the importance of being careful about the jobs that you choose to take on: learn how to say no! But find the balance between projects that pay, projects that you love, and projects that will help you get your foot in the door.
The panel emphasised that the industry is a collaborative one. Along those lines, the industry is a collaborative one. There is a fine line between listening to your own voice and learning from other people. Shuchi reminded everyone that writers aren’t writers — they’re part of an industrial chain. Don’t hold what you write too closely, and take feedback on the chin.
How are you supposed to balance earning a paycheck alongside working on your own projects? The panel offered valuable insight on keeping the passion alive. One key point was to have more than one project and trust that you, as a creative, will always be able to come up with new ideas! Move from one project to another to keep your sanity, and this will also make rejection easier because you won’t be so wedded to one idea. Invest the time to refine it but also be bold enough to take the leap and start bringing it to life.
Roseanne’s key bit of advice to develop your own taste gauge came out of a personal experience. You’ll make shitty work to develop that taste. But if you know what’s good, you’ll know how to get better.
As a young writer, Mingjian’s advice was that uncertainty can be very good. She related a story about digging deeper into the feeling that something about a place she’d portrayed didn’t seem right. If you think you know the right answer, you probably don’t. To put it in Shuchi’s words, “Don’t take the first milk bottle off the shelf. It expires first.” What you think you know, which is the first milk bottle, isn’t the same as what you really know. And this will lead to uncomfortable truths coming to the surface. But if something is making you uncomfortable, then that’s what you should really be exploring.
Are you so scared about redrafting that you haven’t even dared to open your word document again? Save old versions of your work and save anything that you might want to delete. This frees you up to play around with your writing without being afraid of messing up and not being able to go back.
When one of PAT’s new writers from last year, Mayen Mehta, shared his tendency to over-articulate in the script, Shuchi posed a great way for writers to think: “I want people to feel what I feel, not for people to see what I see.” The focus of your writing then becomes the emotion, and everything else becomes a way to deliver that emotion.