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MetFilm School London Undergraduate Open Day

Metfilm School

Entering the ‘Dark’ Writers’ Room with Thea Elmsley (MA Screenwriting)

By Elise Czyzowska

02 August 2022

Thea Elmsley studies MA Screenwriting at MetFilm School Berlin, and during her time on the course, has found a passion for black comedy, thriller, and horror. Her latest job role, therefore, is perfectly suited…

Thea has recently joined the writers’ room to help develop a number of new television series by the producers of Netflix’s Dark, a German mystery thriller, which received critical acclaim, including nominations for the 2018 Golden Camera TV Awards for Best Series, Best Actress, and Best Actor.

We spoke to Thea about this opportunity, as well as her perspective on the world of screenwriting – from what first drew her to the craft, to the likelihood of her ever writing a romantic comedy…

What first drew you to the world of screenwriting?

I think my entrance was a rather slow and hesitant one! I’ve always enjoyed writing, but for most of my life, this was usually in the format of short stories or non-fiction essays.

Screenwriting actually came during the pandemic, when I was trying to put on a musical that I had created. My dream involved a full audience and a live band, but unfortunately none of that was possible.

Instead, we ended up filming the whole show and having to make some major adjustments for it to look good on screen. In the process of turning my theatre script into a screenplay, I started to become interested in writing for the big screen – it all snowballed from there.

How would you describe your writing style?

I think my style could be categorised as space, event or ‘thing’-specific… not sure if that makes sense! I like to find an entrance into stories through a defined environment, object, or occurrence that I’ve been told about. I always end up archiving weird new articles I read or photographs of places I find interesting. Often, these provide the launchpad for what comes next.

I’ve also realised that there are subjects or visual images that I’m consistently drawn to in my work, which I never realised about myself previously. Turns out I’m obsessed with anything nautical and anything to do with murder. I have definitely learnt that I work most comfortably within the genres of black comedy, thriller, and horror.

One day, it would be cool to write a rom-com, but I’ll have to figure out how to avoid killing both of my main characters before that happens!

Can you share a little about any of your favourite projects so far?

One of my favourites would have to be Salmon of Knowledge, a folk horror feature-length film I am still in the process of writing. It reimagines the charming ancient Irish fable of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the infamous salmon, into a story of hardcore revenge, magic, and some mild cannibalism (does a nibble of leg count?).

Another, perhaps most tasteful project that I loved writing was a short film named Beanie, which examines two people who fall in love over the internet while searching for a collectors edition Princess Diana Beanie Baby.

Having joined the writers’ room for a new series by the producers of Dark, how has this experience been so far?

The job I’m involved with at the moment is actually a kind of hybrid writers’ room/development room. Multiple TV series are being worked on at once, and it’s now my job to come up with world, characters, plots, etc. It’s an incredible experience!

Designing pitch decks, mood boarding, coming up with the most outlandish ideas possible when budget isn’t yet an issue… these are arguably some of the most fun things about being a screenwriter.

I’m most excited to get involved in genres that I’ve had little experience with so far. There are so many cool things to learn about and new styles or themes to explore. It’s very nice to be able to do this within the safety of a team.

How did you get involved in this opportunity? And were you initially a fan of Dark?

MetFilm School really helped me get this opportunity. One of my tutors, Neil Ennever, had heard that the Dark Ways Production Company were looking for a British female student, and put me forward for the role. After a very hectic 24 hours of interviews and sending off my writing samples, I got the job!

At the time, I was about halfway through Season 1 of Dark, which I thought was brilliantly cryptic, so obviously I rushed to finish off the rest.

What’s the best lesson or tip you’ve learnt during your MA Screenwriting course so far?

One of the biggest things I’ve learnt throughout this year is to avoid being precious when it comes to your writing. The ability to be able to completely throw something away and start afresh is so rewarding. So many times, I’ve clung on too tightly to an idea or a scene, and ended up in an anxiety whirlpool of my own making.

Knowing that everything is disposable and that new ideas will always come is really valuable to remember. It allows you to have less fear when showing your work to others, and for you to hear their feedback (or criticism) with less of a defensive or protective reaction. Believe in yourself and that others want to help!

Finally, can you share any recommendations or top picks for ‘perfect’ (or ‘close to perfect’) scripts?

The Fargo pilot is absolutely brilliant, although I think a lot of people know that already! In terms of films, I have a big soft spot for The VVitch by Robert Eggers, which I think is incredibly compelling and frightening.

I also like The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos, which is brilliant for the way it uses character names and action to reinforce how dystopian and surreal the world the film is set in is. Finally, I love Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz – always a good laugh!

Watch the trailer for Season One of Dark here