Once upon a Tuesday (or could it have been a Wednesday?), whilst whiling away a few spare moments browsing the Twittersphere, an actress came upon an unexpected opportunity. Her eye was caught by a tantalising title: Story for Factual Content, an online course based on John Yorke’s best-selling book Into the Woods‘…
In one of those serendipitous turns of events upon which so many screenplays are based – here was the answer to her prayers. Having toyed with various ways in which to challenge her “leetle grey cells”, whilst juggling multiple thespian commitments, the appeal to her latest obsession, documentary film-making, was of epic proportions. Taking the bull by the horns (as was her wont), the actress immediately set to, completing the application for the advertised Creative Skillset bursary within hours of the aforementioned encounter. A couple of days later, her submission accepted, her journey Into the Woods began…
Well, that actress’s oh-so-21st-century encounter was, as you may have guessed, with the Professional Writing Academy’s latest online course, run by revered giants of the television world, John Yorke and Peter Dale.
And that actress was, as it so happens, me.
In my day job, I have been lucky enough to work with writers such as Tom Stoppard, Anthony Horowitz and Stephen Poliakoff, and to have been involved in projects ranging from classic period dramas to Hollywood blockbusters. Each of these experiences has further deepened my passion for stories and storytelling, and has served to increase my fascination with all aspects of the industry.
The opportunity to explore the art of storytelling, and an area wholly unknown to me in my professional life – that of factual television – was just too good to miss. I was excited at the prospect of discovering all I could about this fascinating area, from experts with a wealth of experience, alongside fellow students who (I hoped) would be as geekily keen as myself. The icing on the cake being that, for once, my aims and aspirations would not be thwarted by the unpredictable nature of the acting life.
The Professional Writing Academy’s e-learning format permits flexible learning, ideal for the freelancer. It meant that, just as I would be reading and reflecting in my trailer, or completing assignments in drafty dressing rooms, my fellow students might be logging on whilst in the studio, sitting at their writing desk, or, perhaps most impressively of all, juggling the kids’ bathtime and bedtime.
My hopes were high.
And how did the experience match up?
Pretty darn fabulously, that’s how.
From the outset, the positive, helpful and professional approach of the course co-ordinators, and the clear and intelligent communication of the material, provided a clear and engaging introduction to a fascinating subject. The course content built beautifully over the five weeks, with exercises designed to develop skills, stimulate creative thinking and build confidence. My fellow students and I were encouraged to exchange ideas and offer each other critiques, and this resulted in a course forum full of ideas and mutual appreciation. The content and structure of the course itself was captivating from start to finish, and was supplemented by live seminars and weekly feedback from our friendly tutors.
And the cherry on that icing on the cake? Unique, invaluable, tailor-made feedback on our final draft treatments for factual TV programmes, from none other than Messrs. John Yorke and Peter Dale (Peter being former Channel 4 Head of Documentaries, who devised many of the most popular factual formats around the globe, from Wife Swap to Supernanny).
What a finish.
Since the course ended, my fellow “graduates” and I have kept in regular contact, whether formally via the alumni forums or the more gossipy means of social media, and we continue to provide each other with support and encouragement as we continue our authorly activities. We all hope to meet in person one day, but in the meantime we are enjoying the “virtual” companionship of like-minded enthusiasts.
Following the feedback, I have been re-working my final treatments with a view to pitching them in due course(!), and am reflecting on the fruits of five weeks well spent – watching anything and everything with renewed appreciation and enthusiasm, and spotting subject-matter and stories every way I turn.
Most excitingly of all, my PWA experience cemented in my mind an idea that had hitherto been lurking in my subconscious. In September, acting commitments permitting, I shall commence my studies on an MA in Film & Television, and I am insanely excited! I still consider myself an actor first and foremost, and expect I always shall, but the thirst to tell stories is not easily quenched and I am keen to take every chance I can to better my understanding of the art.
From where I’m standing, explorations behind the camera can only enhance my performance in front, and vice versa. Who knows where things may lead?
And being apt to perceive synchronicities wherever I go, the department introduction by my chosen university’s Head of Film & Television was ultimately too perfect to ignore:
The ethos at the heart of the course?
You couldn’t have made it up.
My journey Into the Woods continues…
Katherine Press is an actress whose professional credits include Foyle’s War (ITV), Dancing on the Edge (BBC), Marvel’s Captain America and Ophelia in Sir Trevor Nunn’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (West End).
You can find her on Twitter @KatherinePress