Student Corey Montague-Sholay is a writer for the online EastEnders spin-off EastEnders: E20, which is entirely scripted by young people. After workshopping their ideas at a summer school in 2010, the writers are now working on their individual scripts. Corey tells us where his ideas come from, and explains how he juggles school with writing...
Full name/age/job title:
Corey Montague-Sholay, 17, Writer for EastEnders: E20, Series 3.
Please give us an overview of your average day...
When they were teaching us, we’d either go to Theatre Royal Stratford East or BBC Elstree for 10am, then we’d have talks or workshops or we’d write. Some days we were watching TV shows and deconstructing characters, others we were going around Stratford listening to people’s conversations.
Later on, we’d sit in our big group (there were 15 of us) and develop plot and characters, talk about our experiences and put them into writing. Now we work on our scripts solo, apart from some writers who are paired, and I work mostly at my PC from home when I get back from school.
A day of working from home consists of me just sitting there, writing – and when I lose inspiration I pop out and have a listen to conversations on the street. It’s a big change from the group writing in the summer. We all have a group thread so we can stay in contact everyday and ask serious writing questions or share funny links with each other.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
That I can just write anything; my dream is to have all of Walford dressed up as different farmyard animals as much as anyone else, but it just won’t happen. There are tonnes of people above me and you have to be aware that everyone is going to want to change something about your script – it’s their job.
Also, the second I mention the BBC, people think I eat gold and piss champagne when I’m at work, but I don’t. It’s widely assumed that we know everything that will happen in EastEnders but, as fun as it is telling my friends that the Queen Vic is actually a TARDIS and that Peggy returns from the future with the warning that Danielle will rise from the dead and destroy all, we only know very specific things and keep our mouths firmly shut.
What is the hardest thing about your role?
Because we tie in with EastEnders, it can be hard to make sure that your writing and action is in the style of each character, and that it fits in with the main show. A lot of it is about continuity – certain things have to happen and certain characters can or can’t be used. When I started, I wanted to use so many different characters, but you have to reign that aspect of your writing back in.
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you set out to achieve it?
I’m actually training to be an actor at the BRIT school. I never considered myself as a writer, but after failing my NYT audition I was browsing the IdeasTap site (thank you IdeasTap!) and found the jobs section, where the BBC New Writing Project was advertised. I passed it on to a friend, but they were to be on holiday at the time and I thought it was too good to pass up.
The night before the deadline I decided to apply with a story I had been toying around with in my head for ages and, after an interview and another written round, I was offered a place on their project. I had done a little bit of writing before, but literally it was for things like GCSE English and an extra-curricular French club.
On the summer course, Peter and Debs (our mentors) taught me everything I know about a script. It was a four-week course and I just threw myself in and hoped for the best, really. I do count myself very lucky for having the opportunity; when I got the email saying I’d got in, I honestly thought they had meant to send it to someone else. My mum was like, “Quick! If you reply with a yes now, they wont be able to change it!”
What can you do to get a head start?
I think the main thing you need to do if you want to write well is actually have a life – the best ideas come from our own experience. In the writing group, we openly discuss things that we would never otherwise mention (the drunken night out, failed partners, getting lost) and put elements of them in our scripts.
Never write something because it’s the latest big thing (vampires, period dramas etc); write because it’s something you love or feel passionately about, and you’ll be surprised at how naturally it comes out. Writing a pilot script is a good idea too. It’s an hour-long script that you can hand out; it shows your writing style and how good you are – it basically acts as a calling card when you apply for writing jobs.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
We made the characters and stories from scratch, which was incredible. Afterwards you’ve got to iron out the kinks in character or story – finding reason and improving back-stories. If you want to make a character do something during the series, you have to be able to justify it. With the 26-year history of EastEnders to consider, it’s a creative challenge to make it all slot in place.
Unlike theatre, with TV and the internet, if an audience aren’t entertained, they can just switch right off – and likewise you can gain viewers flicking past the channels, so every moment does have to count. You have to be creative to make something dramatic and personal without being cheesy or generic.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
I have no life – everything I do, I consider from a writing perspective now. I analyse my friends’ characteristics and point out their dark sides and all of the things they generally don’t want you to tell them. I never tell anyone that I base my writing on real life, but rest assured that it is.
Which organisations/websites/resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?
BBC Writersroom is the main one I know, and several companies offer annual writing competitions, such as Red Planet Pictures. Creative hubs like IdeasTap are good for drawing together a range of people who may be able to help you.
In terms of inspiration and material: read, watch TV, listen to other people’s conversations, look at Facebook wall chats, crawl underneath their bed before they go to sleep – whatever gives you the stimulus to write. Have a look at any existing scripts and see how they’re laid out, and download the demo for Final Draft to get a feel of the kind of software used.
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