22 October 2011
Posted in Film
Jody Medland on his journey from Candidate Member to Full Member of the Writers’ Guild
It was eight years ago that I moved to London, and two years before that when I started writing on a serious level. As a young man whose adolescence felt wasteful and occasionally reckless, I enrolled upon a selection of A-levels that included film studies, English Literature and psychology. At the time, my choices felt quite random and were certainly not aimed at forging a potential career for myself. After all, the subjects were chosen by a 16-year-old boy whose career adviser had just told him his ideal job would be working in an independent hardware store in North Devon, so my confidence wasn’t exactly thriving! Inadvertently, though, the classes all seem to have had an influence on where I am today.
To be honest, my heart wasn’t overly invested in college. I knew that I loved telling stories and that I was passionate about films, but I had known that for years. What did stir a reaction from me, however, was the fact that my teacher in film studies was a failed director who seemed incredibly bitter when it came to young talent. This led to much frustration as I felt that I was in an environment where I could excel, but there were times when he refused to help me, and given that he was also the head of the film department, there was little I could do. One day, in a particularly heated exchange, he said the words ‘You will never make a film-maker’ to me. It was at that precise moment that both my direction and my motivation became clear.
Having learned that instances such as this could hold back your education, I decided that university wasn’t the route for me. Therefore, I left college immediately and got on a train to London. I had £400 in my bank account at the time, and I used it to make a feature film. To call the film amateurish is, of course, a complete understatement, but the process of writing the screenplay, auditioning and rehearsing with actors and physically shooting the film was enough to show me that I’d finally found something I loved.
So when I returned to Devon I worked at a video store during the day and put my insomnia to good use by writing through the night. Before I knew it, I’d saved enough money to move to London.
Once the move was complete, I threw myself into finding on-set work experience, which came in the form of several television commercials, and I can honestly say that I learned more about the industry over the course of one 14-hour day than I did in my 18 months at college.
My writing was getting stronger and my contacts were growing. I also started to develop showreels as a director and, when I was 21, I directed a short film called Over The Edge, which was shot on super 35mm, screened at Bafta and received a glowing review in an international film magazine. At that point, I felt certain that my career as a writer-director was about to take off, but that elusive breakthrough project was not forthcoming.
My screenplays seemed to generate a lot of interest, but I would always be offered money for the scripts instead of the right to direct myself, which at the time was not something I wanted. Therefore, I created my own production company, Magic Dust Productions. The intention was never to run it as a financially driven business, but rather to create working opportunities for new film-makers, allowing them to work with seasoned professionals on original projects. I am immensely proud of the work that has been done so far through Magic Dust, but it finally sank in that until I was a ‘name’, I would never be given the funds to make a feature film on the scale that I was planning. A little under three years ago, this led me to a mini-epiphany – to become a writer.
I understand that this seems so simple. I mean, I had been writing rather prolifically for around seven years, but to me it was more about a shift in mindset, and that was something deeply profound. What my creative history had proven was that I was an ideas person who could always find interesting ways of executing them, so I took to writing my first novel – a religious thriller, called 40 Days. Suddenly I found that I could write without restriction. It was incredibly invigorating, and before I knew it, I had completed three novels.
With a newfound purpose, I became a Candidate Member of The Writers’ Guild, and started to attend several seminars to learn the details of how established writers instigated their careers. I found the Guild’s weekly e-letters and the magazines very helpful for selecting these events. It was after meeting Richard Curtis that I took his advice and affiliated myself with a writers’ group, Writers Ink London. I have found it such a benefit to be surrounded by like-minded individuals, and to be able to learn from one another’s experiences, from the creative things such as character arcs and story structure, to the more logistical, such as how best to get your work out there.
It was about 12 months ago that my focus turned to getting suitable representation to help me pursue my personal dream of making a living through writing. However, I had sent out endless submissions in the past and never managed to get close to being signed by a literary agent, so I searched for a reputable editor to help me modify my approach. In hindsight, this is one of the smartest moves I ever made, and in Tania Cheslaw (www.in-scribe.co.uk), I found somebody bold enough to highlight where I was going wrong and suggest alternative methods. She has actually become more like a mentor, and it is no coincidence that my work has received such good responses since meeting her. Suddenly, the progress I was making in my career felt much more consistent, which I would say is down firstly to work rate and, secondly, to being surrounded by the right people. Anybody who believes that they can become a writer overnight is awfully mistaken, and I believe that being a writer is more than just a profession, it’s a lifestyle.
Just before Christmas, I was in the great position of having a world-renowned literary agent reading the full manuscript to 40 Days while also being offered a number of film projects on which to work. It is always funny to suddenly be in demand after spending years begging people to work with me.
Determined to realise my priority and sign with an agent, I resisted most of the offers asking me to work on various screenplays. However, there were two film-makers who had just received a distribution deal on their debut feature, and they asked me if I could write a feature film that was set in one location, used no more than three actors, had ‘special budget requirements’ (no money) and was going to be shot that coming March. The challenge was so great that I had to say yes, and the film, a thriller entitled The Adored, was nominated for Best Film at this year’s Iris Film Festival (www.theadoredmovie.com). I find it simply amazing that there are certain films I have sweated blood trying to get made for the best part of a decade, yet my first sole credit as a writer was turned over within the space of three months - but this is what is so great about our industry, you can never predict which of your projects will be the next to take off, and that is something that is so important to embrace.
Even more exciting to me was the release of my first e-book, Campfire Stories, which kicks off a series of ten books in The Emerging Light Series that will be released monthly (with the exception of two months) over the course of the next year. This month will see the release of Asylum Stories, which correlates with the build-up to Halloween and will be available on i-books, Kindle and smashingwords.com.
The great thing about The Emerging Light Series is that each book is made up of ten short stories, so I am able to offer new writers the chance to get published. I will actively be seeking the hottest new talent as I tour the UK, doing workshops and speeches, to spread word of the project. All submissions guidelines can be found at www.pen-works-media.com.
When I received the news that I was now able to become a Full Member of The Writers’ Guild, it was a very big deal for me. It was a sign that all of the hard work is paying off, that every sacrifice I have made has been just, and most importantly, that I have finally been accepted into the industry that I love beyond all comprehension – and there is no better feeling than that.