This month our Communications Director Katie Page sat down with Screenwriter and Script Editor Gemma Crofts to chat about their career, what gets them excited about a script and some local women whose work should be on your radar.
Gemma is a WIFT Victoria member and recently joined the team at Media Mentors to offer a 1 on 1 Script Assessment Service.
Read their conversation below.
K: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us Gemma. To kick us off, I was wondering if you could share a bit about your career and what has brought you to where you are now?
G: Of course! I started out working in the festival and events space. I was at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival for 8 years, was working in theatre etc. I always wanted to work in film and tv but never did anything about it. I eventually took an Office PA role on Where The Wild Things Are, and it was from that experience that I went to the VCA to do the producers course. I learnt about development and realised that is what I wanted to do so that I could work with writers to ensure their scripts were the best that they could be.
I was then a Development Executive for 10 years, give or take. It wasn’t really a job in Australia when I got started. It wasn’t normal for companies to have DE’s, so I learnt on the job and found companies that would want them. After working at Mushroom Pictures for a few years, I realised things were pivoting to TV, so I went to LA to skill up as quickly as I could in TV development.
On the side, I was always writing my own work, but I always thought writers were these ‘mystical geniuses’ and didn’t see it as something for myself. But through my work as a DE, my own writing developed, and I eventually was given the opportunity to write an episode of Surviving Summer [on Netflix].
Now working with Media Mentors, I have the best of both worlds as I get to work on my own projects and help others with theirs.
K: So what does a 1 on 1 session look like with you through Media Mentors? Do you conduct one-off sessions with people or is it a more ongoing type of service with you?
G: The service through media mentors is a one-off format. The writer will submit their script, a bit about who they are and what they want out of the service and then I’ll read it. I’m sure you’ve heard of the truism of “You only get one chance at a first read”. What I tell my clients is that I’m giving that first read to writers. I react as if I am an executive or a producer reading the script for the first time, write down my reactions. I then walk the writer through those reactions such as where I got confused or where I thought things could be stronger. It’s about reflecting back what the writer has on the page, rather than projecting my own idea of what I think it should be.
Outside of Media Mentors I also work as a script editor which is a more involved process, usually when hired by a production company or state agency. This is where I work more long term with the writer, going through multiple drafts.
K: Do you ever find that certain genres or types of scripts are easier for you to work on?
G: That’s really interesting because this is part of my development training, particularly from working with producers, as I have learnt to divorce the things that I [personally] like from what I’m looking at in a script to identify what is working. That is something that you have to train in. There are certainly moments where I think “Oh my gosh, I would see that!”, but I need to be able to go “okay this content is not for me” whilst still getting it to a place where it works. It’s less about my reactions, and more about getting the script to where it needs to be.
K: Prior to working in festivals and events, did you engage in any other writing or did it come out of the Office PA work?
G: I was always writing as a teenager – like very, very bad Virgina Andrews rip off type stuff. When I was in year 12 I even wrote a screenplay. While working in festivals and events there was no time to do anything else, but once I started getting back into film and tv I got back to it. I have always written, but it has just taken me a really long time to have enough faith in my own writing, to champion it and stand up for it. As an exec, you read so, so much and I think that experience made me realise that my work was good, and worthy and able to stand up against what else is out there.
K: When you’re reading all of these scripts that come through, is there anything that when it is on a page, you are instantly won over?
G: Ooh that’s a good question! One of the things would have to be a really clever, pithy character description. It is something that a lot of emerging writers miss.
When you’re writing a script, there is kind of a contract between you and the reader. Within that kind of contract, there are a couple sentences after the first time we meet a character that give us some idea of who they are. They’re actually really tricky to do really well because you want to strike a balance between describing the physicality of that person, and also give some insight into their character. You only have a sentence (or a sentence and a half), so if a person can accomplish that… then I’m pretty excited and I know it is going to be good.
K: I remember trying to write scripts back in my drama school days, and trying to identify all of those quirks. It is a lot of effort! My default was always ‘they bite their nails and pull their sleeves down’ to show some kind of anxiety.
G: It is definitely a skill, but it is also something that can be developed. I think that one of the most exciting things about writing is that the more you do it, the better you get at it. Sometimes it is hard when you’re emerging to remember that we all need to start from somewhere.
K: What is the best way for someone to come to a meeting with you? Is it best to be as raw as possible and just have the text, or is there some preparation that will make the time more valuable?
G: The prep time is really in the script. Everything has to be on the page. There is also no perfect time to bring it to me. I’ve used services like myself, because I can’t do what I do to myself. You need that outside eye. You will take different things from the different times in the process that you might come to me. If you bring a first draft we will probably focus more on getting the story and the structure right, whereas if you brought a fifth draft we might focus more on character moments.
K: Given that we are WIFT, and we want to bring things back to women in the industry, are there any women that you look to, whether past or present, locally or globally, that you are particularly fond of or inspired by? This can be in writing or another area of Screen where you think “Wow! What they are doing is awesome”?
G: I am lucky enough to be in a writers group chat with some incredible women writers, and I’d like to shout them out, because they are all working in spaces your readers can absolutely aspire to work in one day.
My first one is Monica Zanetti, who co-created While The Men Are Away. She wrote and directed an episode and is just an amazing powerhouse. It is currently screening on SBS. Magda Wozniak, who also worked on WTMAA and wrote half of Bad Behaviour that is on Stan, which is a huge achievement. Natalie Erika James who made Relic, which is a couple of years old now but I still think about it at least once a week. Anna Barnes, who wrote and created Safe Home for SBS and lastly, Catherine Smyth-McMullen who wrote on The Sandman which is one of the biggest shows in the world. She started here, just like the rest of us. So I’m really inspired by them and look up to them and think that the work they’re doing within the Australian parameters is very inspiring.
K: Oh, that’s amazing! It is really easy to feel like all of the opportunities are outside of Australia. Do you have any tips for people wanting to expand their reach and their work whilst also staying plugged into Australia, or, even more locally, in Melbourne?
G: I did live in LA for a little while, so I spent a lot of the time building connections and meeting people, and subsequent to that I try to go back a couple of times each year to keep connected. But now that we have zoom, you can really connect with people whenever. All the writers I mentioned before, we all met when we were emerging. We weren’t anyone when we met. We were all friends, and now we’re all working and that’s the way in my opinion to connect in the industry: The people you know will introduce you to someone, and then they’ll introduce you to the next person.
K: At WIFT we have a lot of emerging film practitioners… Are there any spaces that you think are great tools for meeting other emerging writers or people that compliment those skills to cultivate a network?
G: Courses are a great way to meet people. I went to the VCA and that created a network straight away because training connects you with people at your level. I’ve heard so many people say “Go to networking events”, but I’m not the kind of person that can go to a networking event and talk to strangers. So if you’re also like me, I’d recommend finding structured things that are going to help. Places such as Media Mentors – they’re amazing and so ready to introduce you to people. Organisations like that are great, but definitely just meeting people and the snowball effect that creates.
Gemma’s books are now open for new script consultations. To book a consultation or learn more about the process, visit the services page on the Media Mentors website, or click the link below.