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Tom McDermott (MA Screenwriting) on changing career & productivity

By Danny Kelly

20 April 2018

This week, we speak to current MA Screenwriting student, Tom McDermott, about his change in career focus, course collaboration, getting the most out of a writing session and a certain much-loved bear… 

On shifting career focus…

After finishing my bachelor’s degree, I initially went to work as a Copy Editor for various websites and journals. The main difference between what I was doing then and what I’m doing now is the level of freedom and creativity I have. In my previous roles, there were always company style-guides and brand guidelines to be followed, so opportunities for me to be truly creative in my writing were few and far between. Now, I’m encouraged to allow my own creative voice to come through in every piece of work I do. It’s a very welcome change.

I’ve always been interested in storytelling and writing but the thing that really kicked me into gear was seeing the amazing work that’s being produced at the moment, especially on television. Production companies are more ambitious than ever in terms of the programmes they make and I want to be a part of that.

On MA Screenwriting course highlights…

I particularly enjoyed the module we did on feature film. We watched several classic films, including Casablanca, Chinatown and Die Hard, analysing them from various different perspectives but always with a view to improving our own work. By the end of the module, I had written the first draft of a feature film (a horror/comedy about a demon cow – I know what you’re thinking: yes, it was udderly terrifying) and had learned a whole host of new skills for when I come to develop a second feature.

On collaboration…

Screenwriting can be quite a solitary process however that really only applies to the actual “hands-on-keyboard” part of writing. Personally, I’ve found the process of developing an idea into a treatment and then into a script to be a highly collaborative one. MetFilm School has been brilliant at setting aside time for the MA Screenwriting cohort to come together to offer feedback on each other’s scripts. Ideas really only come to life when you put them in front of other people. Everyone brings something different to each feedback session; you never know who might hold the key to unlocking the potential of your script.

On a recent inspiration…

I’ve seen a lot of brilliant films since starting this course but one that really sticks out is… drum roll, please… Paddington 2. I saw it on DVD a few months after it has been out in cinemas and after all of the positive reviews I had read, I thought there was no way it could possibly live up to the hype but it absolutely does. It was a brilliantly written film: the plot was clever without being unnecessarily complicated, the tone was consistent throughout and the jokes were genuinely funny. I’d highly recommend any aspiring screenwriters to check it out – in terms of films to learn from you could do a lot worse!

Tom McDermott shares his writing tips…

1. Have a clear point in mind of where you want to be at the end of a writing session, then set yourself a series of realistic targets in order to get there.

2. On some days you’ll wake up feeling more inspired than others but, generally, I find that forcing yourself to keep writing anyway is the best policy. Even if you go back and rewrite all the work you did the very next day, it’s always a good idea to get something on the page.

3. A tip I picked up from one of the tutors here at Met is to start the day by sitting down for 10 minutes of undirected, stream of consciousness writing. It may seem overly simple, but it’s a great way to get your thoughts in order and it really helps in getting over the initial difficulty of starting to write.

4. The internet may be the greatest invention of the last 30 years but when you’ve got a deadline coming up it is not your friend! Disconnect from the web when you’re working to limit the possibility of distractions.

Tom McDermott is studying our MA Screenwriting course. Find out more through the course page, or download a prospectus.